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July 13, 2014



July 13, 2014

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR


Genesis 25:19-34

19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’* So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
   and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
   the elder shall serve the younger.’ 
24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.* Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.*31Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ 32Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ 33Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’* So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.


Among her many memorable sayings, I think this one by Joyce Williams of our congregation accurately summarizes what we learn about human interactions from Scripture:  “Humans are messy.”  Today’s lesson offers a vivid example of that messiness in the dynamics of one family. 

Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah.  He and his wife, Rebekah, were unable to have children for some years. According to Scripture, Rebekah’s infertility (notice that men are never reported to be the cause of infertility in Genesis) was cured after Isaac prayed so that she became pregnant.  But the pregnancy was difficult.  Through prayer Rebekah learned that she was pregnant with twins and that her prenatal experience was but a preview of conflict that would define the relationship between her children. 


Rebekah eventually gave birth to twin sons named Esau (the firstborn) and Jacob.  The Genesis narrative presents their relationship as defined by struggle and tension.  Esau and Jacob, twin brothers, were distinctly different in appearance and interests.  Esau was a skilled hunter and was Isaac’s favorite.  Jacob preferred indoor life and was favored by Rebekah. 


One day Esau returned from a hunt hungry while Jacob was cooking a stew.  Esau asked Jacob for some of the stew. Jacob didn’t give it to his brother out of compassion for his hunger or a generous spirit.  Instead, Jacob offered to sell a serving of stew for Esau’s birthright as the eldest son.  By that birthright, Esau would have been entitled to leadership of the family after their father and double share of the inheritance.  Esau unwisely agreed to Jacob’s terms and sold his birthright for a meal of bread and lentil stew. 


This example of family dynamics is constantly replayed across human interactions.  Even within the nuclear family that is so often extolled by observers, human interactions can be “messy.”  Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob are examples of the drama that can exist in any family to be sure.  They also illustrate the drama that exists across the human experience. 


  • Parents can pick favorites among their children.
  • Siblings can develop rivalries that out-live their childhood.
  • People develop different interests that can either be used in cooperative ways or with a view toward gaining an advantage over others.


The upshot of the gospel of Jesus is that God’s love does not play favorites like Isaac and Rebekah.  Divine love does not attempt to exploit our vulnerabilities like Jacob played on Esau’s hunger to gain his birthright. 


In Jesus Christ, we understand that God welcomes and provides for hungry and tired people like Esau.  Remember that Jesus fed thousands of hungry and tired people. 


In Jesus Christ, we understand that it is unloving to exploit another person’s vulnerability in order to gain a personal advantage.  The narrative in the Gospels about Jesus using a boy’s lunch to feed thousands doesn’t suggest that the boy sold his lunch to the disciples.  Jesus used the boy’s generosity to bless thousands of people who were, like Esau, tired and hungry.


God’s grace stands in direct contrast to the drama that we create by human self-centeredness, materialism, and greed.  In Jesus we learn that God’s love does not behave like Jacob. 


But the spirit of Jacob runs deep and wide through humanity.  The United States has enough wealth to share with Cuba, Haiti, and the other less wealthy nations of this hemisphere.  But the spirit of Jacob is at work.


The owners of Wal-Mart can afford to pay their employees a living wage.  But the spirit of Jacob is at work.


There are ways pharmaceutical companies can provide life-saving medications to people who are unable to afford them. And as we have seen, there are ways state governments can provide affordable healthcare to people who need it most.  But because of the spirit of Jacob, some people will become sick needlessly.  Some will die.


So the challenge for followers of Jesus is to present an alternative to the spirit of Jacob.  We are not followers of Jacob. The gospel of Jesus affirms that humanity will not be saved by following the sinful way of Jacob, but by living according to the loving way of Jesus. 


And the gospel of Jesus affirms that the way of Jacob is sinful—and inexcusable.  It is customary to condemn Esau as being dull-witted and governed by his stomach than by wisdom.  But Esau’s unwise decision to exchange his birthright for a meal shouldn’t be our primary focus.  Esau’s action was unwise.  Jacob’s action was unloving.  Desperate people are susceptible to make unwise choices.  But their desperation should not make them prey for exploitation. 


We see the spirit of Jacob in payday lenders (think of Jacob as the first of that lot), loan sharks, and other predatory lending practices that target needy people.  We see the spirit of Jacob in decisions that create food deserts in poor communities.  Call it “free market capitalism” if you like.  Scripture calls it unloving and sinful. 


Yet, the gospel of God’s grace also shows that sinful Jacob can be pardoned.  We should not excuse Jacob’s selfishness. But the grace of God forgives Jacob.  God’s love for Esau requires that we denounce Jacob as sinful.  God’s love for Jacob requires that we view him as redeemable.  The grace of God that condemns Jacob’s sinfulness refuses to treat Jacob as beyond redemption.


Let it be said that the followers of Jesus refused to be fooled into exchanging our birthright as agents of God’s grace for the ways of Jacob.  Let us, agents of God’s grace, call on the Jacob followers of our time to share the stew, not sell it. 


As followers of Jesus, let us demonstrate that generosity and sharing is “the more excellent way” for children of God to treat one another rather than greed and hoarding.  In God’s name, let us follow Jesus in loving our Esau and Jacob siblings and follow Jesus in believing that the Jacob-like people among us are children of God to be confronted by the redemptive power of God’s love.





©Wendell Griffen, 2014