Last week we saw that the savior was coming into the world in order to seek for himself a spotless bride. This week we are going to talk about the savior coming in order to fulfill his promises. Promises, Promises, Promises. Who remembers making promises as a child? Do you remember saying things like, “Cross my heart, hope to die.” The Boy Scouts have a promise they make, an oath really, that begins, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country…” These are ways of declaring that what I am saying is true, certain and without reservation.
Did you know that the Lord God makes promises? Over the past year or so as we have been going through Genesis we have run across a number of these promises. There is the promise that Abraham will be the Father of many nations in Gen 17:4, the promise that he will die at a good old age in Gen 15:15 and the promise that Ishmael will live in hostility towards all his brothers in Gen 16:12 and be the father of 12 rulers, and a great nation in Gen 17:20.
In Genesis 25 we find that God’s promises are not just idle words spoken into thin air. They are certain and sure. In the first six verses a list of nations coming from Abraham is declared to have been born from Abraham and his concubine Keturah. In verses 7-11 we are told Abraham lived a hundred and seventy five years. Then he breathed his last and died at a good old age…(Gen 25:7-8) just as God had promised him. And in verses 12-18 we find a record of Ishmael’s family line complete with the hostility and rulers.
Why does Moses take the time to record these fulfillments of his word? Might it be that through Moses the Lord wanted his people to recognize the certainty of his promises so that they could be confident and secure in the words of the Lord. I believe that Moses took pains to record these fulfillments of God’s earlier promises so that as we step into this troubling story about Jacob and Esau and God’s pronouncement concerning them, we might have an assurance that this pronouncement will also come to fruition.
The story of Jacob and Esau and the sale of the birthright is really a story about God’s promises, his election of men to salvation, at least that is how Paul interprets the story in Romans 9, but this isn’t the first time in Genesis that we will encounter the election of one person to receive God’s special favor over another. In Chapter 16 God elected Sarah not Hagar and in this chapter, we find him continuing to elect Sarah over Keturah. In chapter 21 we find the Lord electing Isaac over Ishmael and now we find that the Lord has elected Jacob over Esau to be the special recipient of his grace.
But certainly it isn’t all election, what about human works, free will. I don’t assume that all your questions on this complex topic will be answered today, but let is talk about both of these today and how they relate since this story raises both of these questions naturally within it. In the section, which we are focusing on today, Jacob and Esau have grown up and it is a hot day in the Canaan. As is customary for these two men, Esau has been out hunting. He is the quintessential man’s man: strong, independent confident, and hungry. As the oldest, he was entitled to the birthright. According to Deut. 21:16-17 the birthright was a double portion of the estate given at death. “When he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.”
Jacob on the other hand was anything but a man’s man. He was a girly man, he stayed away from the open country, he hung close to the tents and we are told that he was cooking. In an ancient culture, Jacob is a far cry from a son to be excited about. He is pictured as a weakling, but a shrewd one as we will see.
And like many a people, Esau doesn’t think very far ahead. In his hunger he cries out, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished! (Gen 25:30).” And Jacob in his conniving state, quips back, “First, sell me your birthright.” And then, he makes Esau swear an oath to give him the birthright. And the story concludes with these words, “Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Gen 25:34).
What a perfect vignette illustrating the effects human works have upon our lives. As far as human works go, their end result is always a rejection of God and his good gifts, which are given to people. Men and women go to hell because of their works. The works of a person only condemn them – whether that is Esau despising what God had given him as the firstborn, or Jacob’s works, which tricked, scammed and took advantage of a brother in need; the end result is condemnation. Rev. 20:12-13 tells us about all the deeds which will come back and haunt humanity at the end of time: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
According to Malachi, Jeremiah and Obadiah who all reference Esau’s fate, we find that human works are only adequate for causing God to reject humanity. (Mal. 1:2-3) “I have loved you,” says the Lord. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” the Lord says. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Jer. 49:10) But I will strip Esau bare; I will uncover his hiding places, so that he cannot conceal himself. His children, relatives and neighbors will perish, and he will be no more. (Obad. 18) The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.” The Lord has spoken.
This doesn’t mean that unelect, unsaved people can’t do nice things to one another; they can be nice or even forgiving, and frequently they may ever display behavior more compelling and worthy of emulating than those who are called by God into grace. That is the story of Esau here and later in chapter 33 when he wholeheartedly welcomes his brother back into the land. Given the story of the two men – Jacob and Esau – from a purely human point of view, I would rather interact with Esau than with Jacob. Jacob will likely take advantage of me and leave me high and dry while one gets the idea that Esau was just a rash man, but one who you could take at face value. But doing nice things doesn’t get one God’s blessings and doing poor things doesn’t keep one from God’s blessings.
It is important for us to notice that Jacob’s actions, crooked as they are, even being successful for his aim, these actions do not bring about God’s blessings or even God’s commendation. God doesn’t bless trickery or deceit. In fact he declares very clearly in Leviticus 25:17, “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.” Jesus tells us (Luke 6:31) Do to others as you would have them do to you and I am pretty sure that Jacob resented the trickery he received from Laban as he tried to get Rachel as his wife, but such trickery was the just compensation for one who had taken advantage of his brother. But Jacob’s actions, as shrewd and sinful as they were had no effect on securing the blessing of God, on the contrary the blessing of God does not come by works, but by grace as Paul reminds us: (Eph. 2:8-9) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
And that is the beautiful truth declared in the midst of this story of treachery and deceit, conniving and taking advantage of another. We find that truth all the way back before these two men are actually born. As Rebekah is pregnant, we are told a great struggle is ensuing within her womb and unsure what to make of it she finds herself in prayer where the Lord declares, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated, one people will be stronger than the other and the old will serve the younger (Gen 25:23).
Before these boys are even born God has determined their futures, he has promised that a certain truth will come to fruition, the younger, Jacob will ascend and the older, Esau will subside. This is election. These boys hadn’t done anything to deserve their respective lots in life. That is the very argument that Paul makes from this passage in Romans 9. Let me read it to you,
- 1. Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
Though our actions cause us to receive God’s judgment and wrath, his election alone and nothing more causes men and women, boys and girls to enjoy salvation, or the blessings of God. There is a strange theology in much of the protestant church that calls men to choose God, to choose to go to heaven, to choose the blessings of Christ, but Paul is clearly teaching that such a choice is unfathomable. All our actions condemn us and people can only go to heaven by God’s election. As Jesus and then Luke remind us, (John 15:16) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (Acts 13:48) When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 16:14) One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
It is the election of God, which causes sinners to be made righteous and to become recipients of his blessings. It is the election of God, which sets men free from their bondage to sin and grants them the gift of life and an inheritance that can never spoil or fade. It is the election of God, which guarantees one salvation, the complete forgiveness of sins, even though the chosen disciple has committed much wickedness and done great injustice to God and neighbor.
Now today, in our midst there are both Jacob’s and Esau’s. And I know that some of you are naturally going to want to start thinking – Am I elect? The optimists in the room are saying, “If I am Jacob, then life is easy and I have no worries, nothing more is needed. I can skate through life.” But the pessimists are wondering, “What if I am not elect? What if I am Esau? Is there any hope for me?” But with these lines of thinking, both the optimists and the pessimists are guilty of reducing the doctrine of election to merely an academic proposition. They have tried to simplify it beyond the teaching of Scripture, by failing to take into account all the calls to repentance, all the instructions to preach, and all the commands to obey. Election doesn’t render these parts of Scripture null and void. It is not our job to figure out if we are elect or not. It is not our job to figure out if someone else is elect or not. The doctrine of election isn’t a card that is played in life that is meant to take away all personal responsibility. The doctrine of election is a doctrine meant to comfort the saved and lead one always back to the grace of God instead of their own works. The doctrine of election is something one knows in his or her heart as the Spirit confirms the call of God and assures one of salvation. It isn’t something that lets one behave as they want without thought. That is selfishness, not the doctrine of love and election, being saved to bless others.
So this morning, are you hearing the voice of Christ calling you out of sin and into his marvelous life? Has your dead heart been awakened and your conscience been pricked that Christ alone is your only hope, your only refuge, your only savior? If so, then respond in repentance and belief and go and live in the fullness of the new life to which you are an heir. Let the doctrine of election be a comfort to you that the salvation of God rests in the Lord and not in your feeble body.
For again in the doctor’s words, “The one and single work of election is salvation.” The Saving of our bodies and the saving of our souls so that we might present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Rom 12:1).