A Troubled Birth - Genesis 25:19-34

God Blesses and Re-creates Regardless  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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To aknowledge that long-standing conflicts often have deep roots.

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Introduction/Seeing the Need

In today’s Scripture passage we Jacob taking advantage of his brother Esau’s hunger in order to pull away from him the family’s birthright. This was a series of events with tragic consequences for Jacob and his family. The lesson begins a new unit of lessons that continues our studies from Genesis this quarter. The unit highlights God’s ability to work through the life of one flawed man in particular: Jacob.
Initially, Jacob had very little regard for anyone except himself. He was a man who lived by his wits, by his ability to outwit and outmaneuver anyone who crossed his path. Eventually he learned to acknowledge God, not himself, as the one in control, though the consequences of his deceitful tactics dogged him through much of his life.

Distressed Mother -

Genesis 25:19–23 NRSV
These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The 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. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
The book of Genesis is arranged by the use of the phrase the account of. The verses just prior to this one record the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Ishmael. But that account lasts only through verse 18. By contrast, the record of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac that begins here continues through - more than 10 chapters. That speaks to the relative significance of these half brothers.
records the arranged marriage of Isaac to Rebekah (last week’s lesson). Bethuel is the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor. His brother Laban eventually becomes father-in-law of Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah, through Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel, Laban’s daughters. The term Aramean is a geographical designation rather than an ethnic one. The term Paddan Aram means “plains of Aram.” It is a part of Mesopotamia, to which Abraham had sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac.
In verse 21 we see barrenness as a characteristic in three prominent women in the book of Genesis: Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. This condition, viewed as shameful in biblical times, becomes the backdrop for God to show his power to reverse such circumstances. But God does not grant this request simply to relieve heartache. He is committed to let nothing - not even a seemingly irreversible condition like barrenness - prevent him from keeping his covenant with Abraham.
Isaac, distraught over his wife’s condition, turns to the Lord in prayer. Thus did his father Abraham express to the Lord his own concern over Sarah. In each case the barren woman is empowered to conceive.
How can we ensure that life’s difficulties drive us closer to God rather than further from him?
An expectant mother can often feel the baby inside kick. Rebekah, however, seems to be experiencing an unusual amount of such activity. She does not yet know that she is carrying twins; she is only questioning why the movement within her is so intense. Perhaps she suspects that there is more than one child responsible for this. In truth, though the sibling rivalry has begun! She asks the question “Why is this happening to me?”
In some clear and unmistakable manner, the Lord speaks to Rebekah and answers her inquiry, just as he has answered Isaac’s prayer for a child. Rebekah is carrying twins, but they are described as two nations. The nations are not specifically named; all that Rebekah is told involves the future of each.
The prophecy then focuses on the children themselves. The promise here is not the norm in the Old Testament world. Typically, the older sibling is to be given greater prominence within the family. The Law of Moses later stipulates that the firstborn be given a ‘double share” of the family’s wealth (). But in Genesis, the younger sibling is generally more favored. In addition to Jacob, this is true with Abel, Isaac, Rachel, and Joseph.

Distinctive Boys -

Genesis 25:24–28 NRSV
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward 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. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
A child’s name in the Bible often reflects some detail in the circumstances of the birth itself or includes a statement of hope or vindication. In this case the unusually hairy appearance of the firstborn son yields the name Esau, from the Hebrew for “hairy.” Also quite striking is the redness of his skin. Both details will play an important role in the sibling rivalry that will characterize these boys: the color red will figure in Jacob’s act of cunning in obtaining Esau’s birthright, and the hairy appearance will enter into the deception of Isaac in .
The second of Rebekah’s twins is marked not by his appearance bu by a rather curious action for a newborn: his hand seizes Esau’s heel. From this he is given the name Jacob, from the Hebrew word for “heel.” At this point, no one can anticipate what kind of “heel-grabbing” this infant will eventually engage in. Nor can anyone anticipate how the characteristics of Esau will play themselves out in his life someday.
Jacob’s heel-grabbing will come to have a much more sinister connotation to it: grabbing the heel as if to pull a rival back and impede his progress so that the heel-grabber can move ahead of him. This is what Jacob will become known for doing - especially to his own brother and father. The notation about Isaac’s age at the birth of his sons is significant - he waited 20 years for the birth of his sons.
The account now moves forward in time, though no specific number of years is given. The text simply reads that the boys grew up. Of more importance is how different the boys become, though they are twins: Esau becomes an outdoorsman, a skillful hunter and a man of the open country. Jacob is more of a homebody. The Hebrew word rendered content to stay at home describes someone who is orderly and methodical, more of a quiet and private person. Jacob is certainly not the rugged, robust individual his brother is.
Not only are these boys different, but their differences affect the attitudes of their parents toward them. Isaac is drawn toward Esau, while Rebekah favors Jacob. With Isaac a reason is given for his preference: he likes the kind of food Esau prepares from what he captures when he hunts. No reason is given for why Rebekah becomes especially fond of Jacob, but this is likely because he spends so much time “among the tents” where Rebekah presumably spends most of her days. If there is already any degree of sibling rivalry between Esau and Jacob, the fact that the parent play favorites can only exacerbate the problem.
How can parents ensure they do not exhibit favoritism regarding their children?

Despised Birthright -

Genesis 25:29–34 NRSV
Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
In that culture, the birthright was extremely important. The firstborn son inherited the largest portion of his father’s estate. Some scholars suggest that the firstborn received two shares of the estate, while other sons received a single share. Thus, Esau stood to inherit perhaps twice as much of Isaac’s estate as did Jacob. Clearly, Jacob must have bridled at this arrangement, for he instantly proposed the swap: food for birthright.
Perhaps due to long-standing jealously and animosity, Jacob tricked his brother. He was seeking to get even, saw his chance, and took it. Did Esau take the bargain seriously? Scripture simply records him saying, “Since I’m going to die anyway, what good is my birthright to me?” ()
How can we ensure that our decisions are driven by a sense of right and wrong rather than self-gratification? How do we distinguish between those who make selfish choices intentionally and those who do so because of ignorance of blind spots?
To this point, the idea of a birthright has not been mentioned in the book of Genesis. Obviously, Jacob is well aware of the birthright’s importance. Esau may have returned from a hunting expedition, but Jacob is now the hunter who sees his prey, and his “heel-grabbing” skills go into action. He sees in his brother’s appetite an opportunity to offer a deal and thus take the lead within the family hierarchy.
What can we do to protect ourselves from those who use our weakness to take advantage?
Esau has no qualms whatsoever about selling his birthright. He has despised his birthright, something that involves far more than mere material possessions or wealth. This birthright is linked to a spiritual legacy that Esau should have viewed as a sacred trust. Instead he has bargained it away for a bowl of stew. He may walk away with a full stomach, but his heart is pitifully empty.

Conclusion

Both Esau and Jacob fought another battle even more intense than the one that developed between them. This battle was within each man. The Scriptures place special emphasis on Esau’s treatment of the family birthright. Both Old and New Testaments are equally grim in their evaluation of his actions. Our text says that Esau “despised his birthright” (). Esau would likely have professed a belief in God, but his interest and actions are linked solely to what gratifies his desires.
Jacob had his own battle, as demonstrated by his actions in today’s lesson. He could have simply given Esau what he wanted - a bowl of stew. But Jacob, the schemer and “heel-grabber,” saw an opportunity to further his own standing; and he took full advantage of it. Just like Esau, he too was looking out for number one (himself).
Eventually Jacob’s craftiness yielded a bitter harvest of additional deception produced within his wives and sons. While there was certainly sibling rivalry between Esau and Jacob, each man was his own worst rival. Each gave into the temptation to make himself and his desires of supreme importance.

Prayer

Father, our world today encourages us to be very Esau-like and Jacob-like in our thoughts, words, and actions: to live for the moment and to make the achievement of our personal desires and wishes more important than anyone else’s. Deliver us from such a self-centered point of view. Keep our minds on higher, holier pursuits. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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