Jacob Have I Loved
Sermon 1745 Genesis 25, 27 May 16, 2021
People grow. Just because they were renegades in their youth, that doesn’t mean they should be relegated to the garbage heap as adults. People can change for the better! I can think of three men in the New Testament. The first to come to mind is Paul, the murderous persecutor of the Church who became one of its hardest working missionaries. The other two were half-brothers of Jesus, James and Jude, who, while Jesus was alive, were so caught up in sibling rivalry they couldn’t say a kind word to him. After his resurrection they believed and, in James’ case, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Both wrote a book in the New Testament.
I say that because we have the Sunday School story of Jacob and Esau before us today. Jacob will cheat his brother out of the birthright and the Promise of a Savior which goes with it. Yet Esau seems eager to throw the same birthright away. If we look only at the individuals, we end up scratching our heads at best, coming up with double predestination at its worst (God chooses out of the blue those who will go to heaven and those who will be damned forever in hell). This teaching is not in the Bible. But it is easy for our sinful human nation to come up with. Our sinful human nature also finds it great fun to push Jesus off his Judgment Throne. But, as we Lutherans are trained to do, let’s look for Jesus in this story. When we do, instead of the groans of the damned, the songs of the saved ring out.
Jacob Have I Loved
1. There’s only one way to heaven.
2. Climb on board.
Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, after a number of years trying and praying, finally is pregnant. But is this what it is supposed to feel like? There’s a party every night deep inside her. She and Isaac inquire of the LORD.
“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 older will serve the younger (23).”
Sure enough. She is pregnant with twins. When the boys come out they are as about as identical as that movie, “Twins” with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. The first is huge, and covered with red hair! They call him Esau, “Big Red.” But the midwife notices when Big Red is coming out, there’s a scrawny little wrist tangled up with Big Red’s ankle. It sqwooshes back in and then the other twin comes out, a scrawny runt. They name him “Jacob,” the shyster, the guy who trips people up by the heel. As the years go by Isaac loves Esau, who is everything Isaac isn’t. Esau is a hunter, a man of the fields and woods. Put Big Red in Alaska and the grizzlies would turn tail and run. Rebekah takes Jacob under her wings, because, well, somebody has to love him.
When the boys are grown Esau comes in from an unsuccessful hunt famished. Jacob is the original Top Chef. “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore on oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. So Esau despised his birthright (25.30-34).”
The birthright is the promise of the Savior. One of the two boys will be the branch of the family tree that Jesus will come from. Along with the promise of the Savior comes the promise of the Promised Land, a land of ample rainfall, milk and honey, fruit trees and fertile farms. Everybody expects it to go to the firstborn, which means Esau, even if it is only by a matter of minutes. The birthright means everything to Jacob. It means nothing to Esau. Esau willingly is swindled out of it. Jacob heartlessly cheats for it. Judas would get thirty pieces of silver for betraying our Lord, Jesus. Esau gets a hot meal. Through their actions they are fulfilling the prediction the LORD made when Rebekah was pregnant. “The older will serve the younger.”
Some time later, we don’t know how long, something happens to Isaac. He thinks he is going to die. He summons Esau. “Go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die (27.3-4).”
Esau knows this blessing is no longer his to have, but he keeps his mouth shut.
Rebekah overhears. She wants her favored son, Jacob, to have the blessing. “Bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies (9-10).”
Jacob is more worried that he would be found out rather than that he would be lying to his dying father. “I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing (12).” But Rebekah, her heart hardened, “let the curse fall on me (13)” has it all figured out. She dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes and—and this shows how hairy Esau was—she cuts up the goatskins and puts them over his hands and neck.
In Jacob goes. “Who is it?” “It is…it is I, your son, Esau, my father.” “Why are you here so quickly?” “The LORD blessed the hunt.” Isaac, who can’t see, can still hear and Jacob does a lousy impression of Esau. But the hands are hairy, like only Esau’s can be. Jacob presents the food. It’s a hit, though Isaac is still suspicious. “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” That’s when Isaac smells Esau’s clothes. “Ah the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed (27).” Yup, full of cow droppings and the sweet and sickly smell of decay mixed with flowering clover. He blesses him with the best of the Promised Land (the land the LORD promised to give Abraham’s descendants). Dew, grain, wine, nations serving you, your descendants ruling over your brother’s descendants (they both believe the promise made during Rebekah’s pregnancy that the boys will form two nations and one nation will serve the other). Let’s overlook Isaac’s selfishness in forgetting the older son would serve the younger--there’s just too much deceit in this story to unravel in one sermon. And he gives the Promise, the blessing that the Savior of the world would come through his branch of the family tree. “May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed (29).”
Jacob hustles out. Within the hour, Esau appears. The gig is up. “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing (35).” Now Esau’s past comes back to haunt him. “Isn’t he rightfully named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times. He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing! Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me (36-37)?”
Isaac tells Esau he has given Jacob everything, the rain, the grain fields and vineyards of the Promised Land. There is nothing more. The only prophetic words Isaac can come up with are that Esau’s people will live away from the dew and the earth’s richness. By the sword they will live and serve Jacob’s descendants. The best they can hope for is temporary independence when they are strong enough to throw the yoke of oppression off their necks.
But don’t cry for Esau. As soon as he leaves the tent he tells Jacob he will kill him once Isaac is dead and buried. And when Esau hears Rebekah tell Isaac they have to send Jacob up north to find a godly wife instead of one of these hot mess Canaanites (of which Esau had married two), he goes out and marries an Arab girl. Seldom has a dysfunctional polygamist family been improved with the addition of yet another wife. Hard to call Esau a believer.
But the story is not finished. Twenty-one years later, when Jacob returns from exile, Esau will meet him with 400 horsemen. Esau has become a powerful warlord. He appears in a cloud of dust not to kill Jacob but to defend Jacob and his sprawling family as they journey through some tough territory. Esau has forgiven his brother from his heart. Hard to maintain Esau stayed an unbeliever. The Holy Spirit can change people.
Jacob have I loved.
Remember, the birthright and the blessing are intertwined. The Promised Savior needs the Promised Land. Both the birthright and the blessing are centered on Jesus. As with the blessing of Isaac, it is all or nothing, when it comes to Jesus. There’s only one way to heaven.
Faith in Jesus Christ is the way to heaven. That way is open to all people. Jesus died for all the sins of all the people, as God promised Abraham. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Forgiveness of sins is the greatest blessing. It is not God’s fault if people don’t care about it.
Esau thought there was a different path to happiness. In his early life he thought this life was what he was cut out for. Enjoy the hunt. Enjoy what moments you could with the wives. When they got under your skin, go on the hunt again or go out exploring with your buddies. Outside of the polygamy, I think I have described the lives of many men in Southern Nevada. Everybody’s living for the four-wheeled weekend. Everybody’s looking for two tickets to Paradise. And then it’s back to work on Monday. The sinful human nature has sold its hopes of heaven for money in the pocket come Saturday night.
We get caught up in that thinking, too. Planning for the future means planning for retirement or trying to refi the house and pay it off earlier, making sure the kids get good coaches so they get an athletic ride to college. Making an investment of time in our faith, well, that sounds a lot like attending a Flower and Garden Committee meeting. We joke we will participate when we are pushing up daisies.
But God doesn’t wash his hands of us. There’s only one way to heaven. You can’t earn it with the accomplishments of your life. You can’t have it drop into your lap if you ignore it long enough. Jesus is the way. With him there is forgiveness for all the dirty tricks we’ve done. His blood washes us of all the lies we’ve told, even if they were lies told to our dying parents. A better world is waiting for us. The Old Testament Promised Land pointed forward to an eternal homeland. By God’s grace, Jacob’s branch of the family tree would produce the Savior. No wonder God loved Jacob. Compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ, everything else is hateful, everything else is garbage.
Jacob have I loved. There’s only one way to heaven. So climb on board.
I hope I have given you ample reason to believe Esau did climb on board. It takes more than a big man to forgive his brother the way Esau did. Often when you are surrounded by your band of four hundred, forgiveness is not the quality you show. Esau did. His faith worked. So what if his descendants would be a constant thorn in the side for the people of Israel? So what if his descendants would come to represent all the other people of the world who would not listen to the LORD when he was showing them the one way to heaven. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated,” the LORD would say through Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament (1.2-3). Esau, in his unbeliever stage of life, would be a warning to New Testament Christians. “See to it that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son (Hebrews 12.16).” You don’t have to live your whole life worshipping pleasure. There’s time to change. There’s only one way to heaven, so climb on board. There’s plenty of room and nobody’s going to give you the stink eye for jumping on the Jesus bandwagon. It’s the only reason the world is still here. There are more people God wants to be saved, including you and me!
And if we think the writer to the Hebrews is being a little hard on Esau, the only thing his great “Faith Chapter” mentions Jacob for is the deathbed blessing he will give, after the school of hard knocks has beaten all the pride and shiftiness out of him.
Now here’s the punchline. For the sake of Jesus Christ, his dearly loved Son, God loves you and me, too. It is not because we are so lovely or godly or rich or nice. It is purely because of God’s nature. God is love. Out of his undeserved love for you and me he is bringing his promise to bear on our lives. Jesus died for your sins. We are forgiven. You are going to heaven. Believe it. God’s efforts will be rewarded. Heaven will have another soul.
We don’t have to believe it. We don’t have to climb on board the Jesus bandwagon. We are not forced to believe it. We can say, “Look at the time,” and be on our way. Busy, busy, busy. Eighty years can go by in a blink of an eye with a life lived like that. Lots of nice memories. Lots of nice people saying nice things at our funerals and some of them will be true! But when we open our eyes in hell, who can say that was a good choice?
By faith I love Jacob’s greater descendant, Jesus Christ, and I hate everything, epitomized by Esau in his unbeliever phase, opposed to my Jesus, my Savior.
Jacob Have I Loved
1. There’s only one way to heaven.
2. Climb on board.
So there’s the character reference for Esau which I lay before you today. I am looking forward to getting to know him in heaven. He will be a much better man there than he ever was on earth. I know that because people can change. You are the proof. On my better days, I think so am I.