Genesis 25:27-34 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Do you believe you deserve God’s love and mercy and grace? Do you believe you deserve God’s kindness and blessing? Do you believe you deserve to be in fellowship with God? Your answer to these questions will determine almost everything about how you live. In our passage for this morning we find the beginning of the Bible’s answers to these questions. To help you see them more clearly, let’s start with the end in mind.
In other words, in this passage we find the start of the Bible’s teaching on several keys to truly understanding the good news, the gospel, of Christianity. The first thing to see is that we do not deserve to be included in the blessings of God. Nothing in us deserves to be loved by God or saved by God. That is because we are sinners (Romans 3:23) and our sin (even though for most people it doesn’t seem or sound or look like it) is a declaration of war against God (Romans 5:10; 8:7-6).
Another key to really grasping the gospel, and which we begin to see in this passage, is the fact that apart from the grace of God we would never understand Christianity to be good news and, therefore, we would never even seek it. The bible says that apart from God’s work in us the gospel will always seem foolish (1 Corinthians 1:18) and that we would never believe it on our own (Romans 8:6). We don’t deserve God’s favor and we would never even pursue it apart from God’s help. Our only hope, then, is that God would intervene on our behalf; that God would extend His mercy and grace and love to us even apart from our deserving it or even wanting it.
The last key to the gospel with seeds planted in these verses, then, is that God has in fact set His mercy, grace, and love upon His people in awesome ways. While we were still in sin and rebellion against God He loved us and sent His Son to die for us (Romans 5:8). If we do come to truly love God and trust in Him to save us and lead us, it is only because He first set his love and grace upon us, not because we deserved it but because He chose to be merciful (1 John 4:19).
Again, teaching the very beginning of these three things (especially the first—that nothing in us deserves God’s kindness) is largely the point of this passage. Based on the actions of every one of the people in this passage, it’s easy to see that none of them deserved God’s covenant promises. They all acted foolishly and in ways that are contrary to God’s will. Truly, Jacob, the one God had chosen as the recipient of His promises, may have been the least deserving of all. And yet God chose him. God set His love and blessing upon him so that Jacob would choose God.
In all of this we must find ourselves. That is, in this story about these undeserving people, we find a mirror. And if, by the grace of God, we’re able to rightly see ourselves in that mirror, we’ll see clearly that we do not deserve God’s favor any more than the people in story did. And if, by God’s grace, we’re able to rightly see ourselves in that mirror, we’ll also find hope that God might set His favor upon us even though we do not deserve it. Let’s pray that God would be pleased to do just that.
On mornings that I wake up before the family I try to stay quiet. I’ll grab breakfast, get the fire going, and listen to a podcast. Inevitably, eventually someone will come down, glance at me and chuckle at my discheveled hair. Sure enough, when I finally make it to the bathroom and glance in the mirror, it looks like I lost a fight with a windstorm the night before. The mirror didn’t do that to my hair. It just helped me see what was already there.
Again, this story is a gift of God to all who encounter it in that it serves as a kind of spiritual mirror. It doesn’t make anything true about us, but it might help us to see what’s really there. I mean to hold up the mirror for you all by briefly recapping this story, pointing out five aspects of the undeservedness of the people in it, helping you to see how the bible relates these things to us, and then highlighting the amazing news that even though we do not deserve it, God has chosen a people upon whom to lavish his mercy, grace, and love in Jesus.
The basic story is pretty simple. Isaac and Rebekah each had a favorite twin. The text tells us that on account of his hunting and farming prowess Isaac preferred Esau. And for reasons we’re not told, Rebekah loved Jacob more (27-28).
One day, after a long day of working in the field Esau came home exhausted and starving. His brother happened to have some stew ready. We can almost picture Esau stumbling through the door and smelling the soup on the fire. Esau, believing himself to be on the edge of consciousness (and life itself), demanded some from his brother. Jacob used this opportunity to swindle Esau, the first born, out of his birthright—an extra portion of their father’s inheritance intended to help the firstborn keep the family together for future generations. Esau agreed, ate and drank, and then, with a strange combination of frustration and indifference “rose and went on his way.”
FIVE WAYS TO EARN YOUR UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
If that’s the basic story, what is its significance? What is the point of recalling such an unfortunate exchange? On the surface, it is simply to explain how Jacob rather than Esau ended up with the physical blessings of their father. As I mentioned in the introduction, however, there’s a much deeper meaning as well. The real point of the story is to help God’s people see that we are His people, not because we deserve it or would have even sought it on our own, but because God was pleased to set His favor on us. God’s people are God’s people by the grace of God alone.
Last week we heard the birth story of Jacob and Esau. From it we found out that God had chosen to carry on His covenant promises through Jacob, the second 6-13) we learned that this choice was entirely owing to God’s “purpose in election,” not anything He found particularly impressive in Jacob (or unimpressive in Esau). That is, God chose Jacob over Esau, but not because Jacob deserved it or Esau lost it, but because God chose it.
In large measure, once again, this passage serves to drive that point home. In describing the first actions of these men (and their parents) after their birth (“when the boys grew up”), this passage gives us five reasons God should not have chosen any of them. Or, to word it another way, it shows us exactly why God’s election must be unconditional if anyone in this story was to be elected. Here, then, are five ways they earned the unconditionalness of God’s love:
- Play favorites (27-28). If you want to prove that you don’t deserve God’s kindness, play favorites.
27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
As we saw earlier, Isaac’s favoritism came from his stomach. He liked Esau better simply because he was able to give him better food. We’re not told why Rebekah preferred Jacob, but we are told here that she did prefer him, and we’ll soon see that her preference would go to dramatic lengths. For bad, selfish reasons (Isaac) or for no reason at all (Rebekah), the twins’ parents picked favorites among their kids. This was not honoring to God. God does not show partiality (Romans 2:11) and He calls His people to love indiscriminately as well. Isaac and Rebekah chose favorites and in this way neither deserved to chosen by God.
- Be profane (29-30, 34). If you want to prove that you don’t deserve God’s favor, be profane.
To be profane (in this sense) is to be secular, godless, indifferent to God and the things that truly matter. This one is subtle, but also unmistakable with a careful look. In fact, this whole passage is mainly focused on Esau’s godlessness; his profanity. We see the clearest example in 29-30.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.)
Our English translations don’t quite capture the profanity of Esau’s rant. More literally “the red man” said, “Let me gulp down some of that red stuff.” This kind of unteathered worldliness was so significant that we are warned against it centuries later in the NT. In Hebrews 12:16 Esau’s profanity is called “unholy” and prohibited. “15 See to it …16 that no one is … unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.”
Esau’s exit was equally profane, “34 he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” In almost every way he presents himself as the vain man in Ecclesiastes who lives entirely under the sun. God calls His people to be set apart, holy, godward. Instead, Esau was profane—he lived as if there were no God—and, therefore, did not deserve to be chosen by God.
- Be selfish (28, 31). If you want to prove that you don’t deserve to be loved by God, be selfish.
In v.28 we see Isaac’s selfishness. He loved venison and so he preferred the son who could provide it for him. “28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game…”. Who doesn’t like a good steak, right? And yet it’s easy to see the petty selfishness of Isaac’s heart.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Like father, like son. In v.31 we read of Jacob’s selfishness. Rather than help out his brother in a time of distress and need, “31 Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’” Desiring the power and money imparted by the birthright more than good for his brother and honor for his father, Jacob selfishly took advantage of his Esau.
God calls His people to be servants of all. He calls us to be selfless and lay our lives down for one another. In contrast, both Isaac and Jacob were selfish. Therefore neither deserved to be chosen by God.
- Be manipulative (31-33). If you want to prove you don’t deserve God’s grace, be manipulative
Just as Esau’s profanity defines role in this story, Jacob’s manipulation defines his.
31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.
Again, in a moment of need Jacob was selfish and his selfishness drove him to manipulation. He used his brother’s weakness to swindle him out of that which rightfully belonged to him.
God calls His people to fight for the cause of the vulnerable, not take advantage of them. In fact, there are dire warnings against it. Jacob was manipulative and therein undeserving of being chosen by God.
- Be Flippant (32, 34). Finally, if you want to prove that you don’t deserve God’s mercy, be flippant.
Jacob’s selfishness led to his manipulation. Likewise, Esau’s profanity led to his flippancy. That is, it led to a lack of seriousness, wisdom, thoughtfulness, respect. Again, in v.32 we read, “32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Esau’s flippancy shows up again two verses later. “34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” There is no sign that Esau was really on the brink of death. After a bit of bread and stew he walked away unharmed and unfazed. There’s no doubt he was hungry, but there’s also no doubt that he was far too thoughtless as well.
As one commentator put it (Kidner, TOTC, 162-3), Esau embraced “the present and tangible at any cost, going through with the choice [in spite of its terrible terms], and, according to v.34, walking away” rashly. All of these things describe an excessively foolish man.
God calls his people to be sober-minded and wise. Esau was flippant and imprudent. Therefore, he did not deserve to be chosen by God.
The bottom line is that there’s almost nothing admirable about the hearts or actions of any of the people in this passage. There is not a single thing presented here that anyone in the story could point to if God were to ask them why He might bless them; not Jacob, not Esau, Not Isaac, and not Rebekah. And yet, as we all know, this is the family that God had chosen to carry out His covenant promises through.
WE DO NOT DESERVE GOD’S MERCY, GRACE, FAVOR, LOVE, OR CHOICE EITHER
Clearly Jacob and Esau along with their parents were flawed, sinful individuals, unworthy of God’s favor (at least as we see them here). But maybe we’re different. Are we different? It’s clear that God’s choice to bless these people needed to be unconditional if any of them were to be blessed, but what about us?
Well, in Romans 3:10-18, where the fuller picture of all if this is presented, Paul writes, “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.'”
Likewise, a few verses later we read, (Romans 3:23) “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
That all sounds pretty theoretical though, doesn’t it? Let’s come at it from another angle. We’ve already said that the characters in our story didn’t deserve to be chosen by God because they played favorites, were profane, selfish, manipulative, and flippant. Well, how about you?
Do you ever play favorites? Do you ever love people differently because they are better looking, cleaner, safer, nicer, more moral, or because they have a greater ability to give you something in return?
Are you ever profane (looking at the world apart from God)? Do you ever talk to others, spend money, take a vacation, consume media, hangout with your friends, or make life choices apart from a clear desire to honor God?
Are you ever selfish? Do you ever do things mainly in self-interest—just because you want to? Do you ever seek personal gain at the expense or to the neglect of someone else?
Are you ever manipulative or flippant? Do you ever try to work things out to your own ends by your own means? Do you ever make rash or unwise decisions? Do you ever try to shape a situation in shady ways or fail to take into account the ramifications of your decisions?
The bottom line for you and me is this: We are Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau in this story. In this passage they all rebelled against God in many ways and therein provided us with a mirror designed to help us see ourselves as we truly are in our heart of hearts. They didn’t deserve to be chosen by God and neither do we.
In their own words you heard each of the people baptized this morning express their realization of this; acknowledging that they’d sinned against God and deserved His wrath rather than His favor. But how do we get from knowing that we don’t deserve God’s blessing to getting God’s blessing?
GOD HAS CHOSEN A PEOPLE
That is, if all that is true, what hope do we have? The same hope as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Our only hope is that God might choose us apart from anything in us that deserves to be chosen. Our only hope is that God would provided for us what He requires of us, just as He did for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And here’s the key, Grace, thanks be to God, that this is exactly what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. That is the heart of the gospel as it is so clearly taught in Ephesians 1:3-14.
Ephesians 1:3-14 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
In simpler terms still, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). For Christ’s sake, not our own, God chose us such that “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This is amazing grace, Grace. And as I said earlier, our passage for this morning is intended in large measure to begin showing all of this to us. The seeds planted here would not come to maturity for many years, but they help provide depth to the riches that are secured an revealed in Jesus. And they are at the heart of why these people were baptized today; because they understand that even though they don’t deserve it, God has lavished His grace upon them through faith in Jesus.
Do you believe you deserve God’s love and mercy and grace? Do you believe you deserve God’s kindness and blessing? Do you believe you deserve to be in fellowship with God? If so, if you believe you deserve God’s grace, you have cut off access to it. The first requirement for receiving the mercy of God is admitting that you do not deserve it. The means of salvation, this passage helps us to see, is not through good works, but through knowing you don’t have any to offer. It is only when we humble ourselves before God that He will exalt us. Would you ask God, then, our gracious and awesome God, to help you see yourself clearly in the mirror of this passage and even more so in the mirror of the gospel? And would you do so in faith in the promise of God that as you do it is because God has already set His love upon you and secured your ransom in Jesus? Amazing grace!