A Tale of Nations
Romans 9:6 - 15
A Tale of Two Nations
Does birth order matter?!
To kick us off this morning, I thought we’d do a little survey!
Having Geoff Lin here has rubbed off on me, and we’re going to be a little interactive!
Let’s have a show of hands. Who here is an eldest child?
Who here is a youngest child?
I’m not going to ask who’s a middle child, because middle children don’t matter, for this story, which is always the way for middle children, isn’t it?!
Full disclosure: I’m a youngest child.
And since the days of pscho-analyst Alfred Adler in the early 1900s, it’s been said that birth order affects everything from personality,
To your career,
To how you might parent your own children.
This was proved to me in at least some degrees this week by an article on birth order theory I was reading.
The woman quoted in the article had supplied a photo of herself with her 5 children, except her youngest was missed almost entirely from the photograph, with just the top of its head included.
I couldn’t even tell if it was a boy or a girl!
That would never happen to an eldest child!
But here in Genesis 25, we meet 2 brothers, twins, but what matters in their life more than anything else, is not the order in which they’re born,
But God’s sovereign choice.
God moves his plans forward in answer to prayer (v 21)
Start with me at verse 21 if you will.
Rebekah, Isaacs’ wife, was childless.
Although we saw them get married only a week ago, if you look up a line at verse 20, Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, and then drop down to verse 26, which takes us right into the maternity wing at Beer Lahai Roi and Districts Soldiers Memorial Hospital, Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to her twin boys.
20 years have passed, since last Sunday.
And remember the anticipation, the expectation.
God had said to Abraham, that is would be through Isaac that the promises of a great nation,
The promise of blessing to all the world, would be realised.
But you can’t be a great nation, of just, 2 people!
20 years is a long time to wait for a child, especially when there’s so much hanging in the balance.
It’s great to have Ollie here today with his mum and dad. Imagine, if instead of being born this year, Jess and Brett had to wait 20 years from when they were married a few years ago.
If they had to wait another 20 years, Jess would be like, 35 by the time he’s born!
This isn’t the first time though, that we’ve met a woman in the Bible who’s childless. And it certainly won’t be the last.
Sarah, Isaac’s mum, was childless, until she was 90!
Using the children of women who had been childless, was God’s way of showing that he was the one behind these events.
It’s kind of like God autographing his work, making it clear that no one else could have done this.
We see it throughout the Bible, these signposts marking God’s unfolding plan.
And so, knowing that a child is required for God’s plans to progress, Isaac prays.
Perhaps he’s aware of how his birth came miraculously, as part of God’s purposes.
Quite possibly he’s conscious of the consequences his parents suffered through trying to hurry up God’s plans, by taking their own shortcuts.
They say the one thing that’s better than learning from your mistakes, is learning from someone else’s mistakes. Well, there were certainly times when Abraham didn’t trust God.
Maybe Isaac’s learnt from that.
But not just the bad, also the good.
And certainly many of us would be able to call mind, people whose faithful trust in God has been an example and encouragement to us.
And maybe if you can’t think of someone who’s been that kind of example for you, maybe you’ve been a bit at arm’s length from God’s people.
Have you been allowing the people of God to share life with you, to speak into your life?
There’s great benefit in learning from other people, how to walk the Christian life,
How to go on following Jesus, when things don’t turn out like we’d hoped,
Or when we can’t see what the next step, or 5 steps are like.
But in answer to Isaac’s prayer, God responds and Rebekah became pregnant.
There’s a grammatical thing going on in the original language, with Isaac’s prayer, and The Lord answered his prayer, kind of mirror image of each other.
Just in case we missed the fact, that Rebekah became pregnant through the work of God.
You know those “men at work” signs you see when men are working.
And people ask why do they say “men at work” and not women? And apparently it’s because women don’t feel the need to advertise when they’re working!
But the author has put these “God at work” signs all through the account, to make sure we know what’s going on.
God chooses who will be the recipient of his blessings (Genesis 25:22 – 26)
When I teach preachers, one of the things I tell them, because they’re mostly blokes, is “steer clear of any illustrations about, pregnancy, childbirth, things you know little about, which numbers of your congregation understand much better than you!”
So I’m going to tread carefully here!
The pregnancy was obviously uncomfortable!
The babies jostled each other within her, the root of the word that’s used there comes up again in Judges 9, when a woman drops a millstone on a bloke’s head and crushes his skull!
OK, she was uncomfortable!
It’s enough to make Rebekah go and inquire of the Lord.
And God speaks.
Verse 23, “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.”
I’ve known a few mums who have given birth to multiples, and I reckon at times they felt like they had 2 whole nations within them!
But God means something specific here.
There will be a separation between these 2.
Now, of course the language of nations, and peoples points us past these 2 boys, to their descendants. This isn’t just about them, but generations to come.
But where things really get interesting, is in the last 2 lines.
Because contrary to cultural norms, and family expectations, birth order isn’t going to matter here;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
The eldest is Esau, verse 25. He was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment.
After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob
You might have heard those stories of twins being born in different years. Every year there’s a small handful of twins, one of whom is born at, 11:9 PM on New Years Eve, and their sibling is born a few minutes later.
In the news a while back were the American twins born in different centuries! New Years Eve 1999 and New Years Day 2000. Depending, of course, when you think the new century begins!
And I even read this week of twins my age, who were born in different countries.
Their mother gave birth to the first one in a small village hospital in Wales, they didn’t realise she was pregnant with twins, cut her umbilical cord, then realised there was another baby, so rushed her to a much larger hospital over the border in England!
Well, no such separation here yet!
Jacob’s grasping Esau’s heel
And you’ll see the footnote that the name Jacob means “grasps the heel”, which is a Hebrew idiom for someone who deceives.
If he was born today he wouldn’t be called “Jacob” but “multi-millionaire Nigerian prince who sends emails”!
Anytime someone hears Jacob’s name, that’s what they think. He’s a con artist!
If you’ve ever been unhappy with your name, spare a thought for poor old “multi-millionaire Nigerian prince who sends emails”!
Hard to be taken seriously with a name like that!
Certainly there’s nothing that makes us think Jacob is going to be more deserving of a place in God’s plans than Esau.
There’s nothing about this guy who’s name suggests he’s going to be a con artist that would make us think he’s a logical choice to be the one through whom God’s blessings are going come.
Because that’s what God is saying, when he speaks to Rebekah;, the older will serve the younger.
It’s not just a statement about how things are going to pan out.
God’s not just reading the tea leaves or whatever it is that people do to try and predict the future.
He’s speaking what is going to be.
We’ll see that clearly when we come back to Romans 9.
God has chosen, one of these brothers to be the means of his blessings flowing to the world.
And of course, though maybe we bristle a bit at the thought of God choosing people for relationship and blessing, We don’t want it any other way!
Do you want the good things of God to go to the cleverest?
To those who have the most time to devote to investigating and searching for God?,
Do you think the blessings of God should go to those who deserve them most?
To the goodest?
The most generous?
The most kind?
Pretty sure my name is not at the top of any list like that.
And unless you’re very very confident that your name is, then I reckon you too want the blessings of God to be according to God’s choice,
Not about how much we deserve them,
Or how well we could figure God out for ourselves.
Here God is at work in his world, actively making choices about who will be the means of his blessings reaching others to others, and who will receive the good things that come from relationship with him.
Left to our own devices we don’t choose God, and that’s about to become very clear.
God’s plan for election is revealed through human choices (v 27 – 34)
God chooses, yes, but others reject God’s purposes, and God’s election, or choice of people, is revealed through people’s own choices.
The boys grew up, verse 27, Esau became a skillful hunter, he was the outdoorsy type.
while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents.
The problem comes in verse 28, 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Yep! Recipe for disaster. We know that! But one day things are going along entirely as expected;, Jacob was cooking some stew, He’d just got the latest Jamie Oliver cookbook from Book Depository, and wanted to try out lentil stew.
Esau had been out in the open country, and comes in starving.
“Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!”
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
When I was doing some work for World Vision, one day it was late afternoon, we’d worked through lunch, and I happened to say, “Gee I’m starving!”
Not the thing to say, when you’re working for an organisation that exists to bring food to people who really are starving.
Well Esau thinks he is: I am about to die,” verse 32, “What good is the birthright to me?”
Now there’s not much that my older sister is going to inherit because she’s the firstborn, that I’m going to miss out on. As, far as I know!
But in the ancient the birthright was a big deal.
If you had the birthright as the firstborn, you generally got twice as much inheritance as your siblings.
You were the one who carried the family name,
You were responsible for leading the wider family,
And certainly among God’s people, you were charged with the privilege and responsibility of spiritual leadership of the family.
I once heard a preacher stumble over his words, and accidentally call Esau, Eeyore, the donkey from Winnie the Pooh!
And he is pessimistic and gloomy isn’t he?! It’s not a bad characterisation!
“I’m gonna die!
There’s no point getting all that great stuff.
Just pile it up on my grave, why don’t you?”
So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
got up and left
It’s supposed to feel crass and distasteful.
It’s fast food!
All he can see is the present.
He’s thinking with his stomach.
Esau despised the priorities and blessings of God
Verse 34, So Esau despised his birthright.
As we’ve seen in previous chapters of Genesis. It’s a story about a family, yes, but it’s also the account of God’s plan of salvation.
We need to understand this.
Esau’s not just turning his back on his family, and their name, and their traditions.
God’s using his family to bless and save the world!
For Esau to despise his birthright, is to turn his back on the things of God.
To put himself outside the realm of God’s blessing.
We could say that God chose Jacob, but he passed over Esau, leaving him to his own devices, and, well, look where they lead.
Esau thought so little, of the privilege of standing in the line of blessing from his father, and grandfather,
He thought so little of receiving the blessings of God for himself.
It was his family line, that was going to be the means of God blessing all people on earth,
And he lets his stomach decide.
The here and now counts for everything, and what God has in store for the future counts for nothing at all, with Esau.
You know that experiment psychologists do with kids? They say “you can have one marshmallow now, but if you wait, you can have 2 marshmallows later.”
And there’s a particular point in childhood development where that equation makes more sense. Kid figures out, “It’s better if I wait!”
Well, not Esau.
He chooses to despise the things of God.
I know, that sometimes the things that God says are going to happen, look like they’re a long way off.
Sometimes the things that God says are important, look insignificant, compared the other things.
Sometimes the things that God says should be our first priority, we imagine that we can probably slot them in around everything else in life, filling in the gaps, filling in the space around the things that we’d quite like to have in place first.
But think, if God was working back here, in Genesis 25, in order that we could be holy, and blameless, set apart for him,
Because of course that’s what’s happening here, isn’t it?
This is a step in God’s plan for blessing that culminates in Jesus,
God wants us to be all those things, so he’s already hard at work at it back here,
If these are the lengths that God has gone to, in order for us to be, holy,
Being renewed in our hearts and minds by his Spirit,
And all of those other many blessings that can be ours because of Jesus,
What a tragedy it would be, to turn our back on them,
To despise our birthright, as those who have been given a new birth in Christ Jesus.
The evaluation of Esau’s life, and choices, is so stark.
He despised his birthright,
It’s a condemnation, isn’t it?
But one that warns us.
It’s probably not stomach for us, is it? Although we’re having soup for lunch after church today, so the possibility is still there!
But the, the here and now,
Saying yes to our appetites, and therefore saying no to the things of God.
What are the things that you’re at risk of setting your mind and heart on now, that might get in the way of you receiving the blessings of God?
It’ll be different things for different ones of us, but I’m pretty sure that there would be something, for each one of us.
The thing that can seem so significant,
So necessary to do now, that everything else can fit around it.
God would shower us with blessings, it is all of grace!
And yet here Esau makes a choice, and puts himself outside this particular realm of blessing, that centred on his family.
Don’t despise the priorities, the blessings of God.
Esau made a choice.
The author’s very clear.
There’s no room at all for him to say, “Well, God said that stuff before I was born about me serving Jacob, so there wasn’t really anything I could do about.”
No, he is responsible for his actions, which show God’s sovereign choice.
If Esau and others miss out, can God’s word still be trusted? (Romans 9:6 – 9)
But the fact that Esau misses out,
And there were plenty of others in Israel who missed out, weren’t there?
Does that mean that God’s promises are a little shaky?
Well, flick forward to Romans chapter 9, page 1134 of the blue Bibles.
In doing that we leap forward about 1900 years, and in those intervening centuries, the promise of blessing for all people has reached its climax.
Jesus Christ, who, as we saw last week, Matthew 1 verse 1, the son of Abraham, is the fulfilment of the promises of which Isaac and Jacob were channels,
The promise that all people on earth, would receive the gracious gifts of God.
And the blessings are almost unfathomable.
Forgiveness for our rejection and rebellion against God.
Jesus takes on himself our guilt, takes the punishment we deserve for living in God’s world with no regard for God.
He takes our penalty, so that relationship can be restored.
We’re adopted into God’s family,
Blessing, blessing, blessing! It’s all unfolded!
But now Paul is writing, to the Christians in Rome because he’s concerned that it might look to some, that God’s promises didn’t come true.
God had promised these things to Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel, but heaps of the Israelites didn’t believe.
Lots of Israel rejected Jesus.
What went wrong?
Why didn’t all the people inherit the blessings that God had promised?
He’d been working at it for so long, but then in 70 AD, the nation of Israel gets obliterated by the Romans.
How can God have promised a great nation,
How can God have promised blessing to Abraham’s descendants,
How can God have intended to use them to bless the world, when the nation’s gone, The emperor Titus surrounded the city of Jerusalem and knocked it flat, and the historian Joseph says that 1 million 100 thousand people of Israel were killed, and many many more were scattered around the empire.
What happened to God’s promise?
Was it a, non-core promise?
1996 Federal election. That was where we learnt about non-core promises! Ones you didn’t have to keep!
Certainly would make us less likely to trust God next time, wouldn’t it?
And that would be bad enough. “God’s promises don’t come true.” If that were a fact, that would be a bad outcome.
But there’s something even worse, is most, some, any, of God’s people missed out on the blessings of forgiveness and reconciliation that come through Jesus.
See, if God had chosen Israel, which, we know he had.
If God had called Israel, which, again, Genesis is pretty clear that he did!
If God entered into a covenant relationship with Israel, which, yet again, he did!
If that’s all true, which it is, then Israel’s disbelief,
And rejection of Jesus,
And failure to inherit the blessings that come through Jesus,
That experience would mean it’s possible to be called by God,
Set apart by God,
Drawn into relationship with God,
But then to miss out, on God’s blessings.
If God’s promise to Abraham, Genesis 12, Genesis 15, repeated to Isaac and the nation continually, was to all of Israel, the whole of the nation,
And yet they failed to receive it,
Not trying hard enough,
Not being good enough,
Doubting too much,
Wanting other stuff,
Sin, in general,
All of that could cut you off from God’s blessing.
Your doubts, would be more powerful, than God’s call.
Your sin, would be too much, for God’s salvation.
If that were true, that Israel missed out on what God promised to them, then it would also be possible for you to miss out on what God promises you,
It would possible for God to call you to himself, to adopt you as his child, but for you to be lost for all eternity.
No wonder Paul wants to set the record straight!
Because let me say before we go any further, that that is absolutely not possible.
That so many of Abraham’s descendants missed out on the promises that centre on Jesus,
Is because they were not all Abraham’s descendants.
Romans 9:6, It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children
Or verse 8, In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring
So God spoke to Abraham, and made promises to him,
But the promises weren’t made to just any of his descendants, as if simply having a biological relationship with someone is enough to get you into relationship with God.
We’d never fall for that, would we?!
That being in the right family,
Or being married to the right person,
Or having the right parents, that that’s enough to get you into God’s good books?!
Well, if we ever did think that, it gets blown completely out of the water here.
God wasn’t just looking for physical descendants of Abraham, he was looking for what we might call spiritual descendants of Abraham.
You don’t receive the blessings of God automatically according to whose family you’re in.
God blesses people the basis of his sovereign choice (Romans 9:10 – 15)
So who does receive the blessings of God?
Well it’s always been that God chooses people so they can enjoy blessing and relationship.
It was the case with Abraham. God called him from obscurity and blessed him.
Abraham didn’t choose God.
He didn’t set out from his homeland, on a spiritual quest, looking for God.
God called him, and blessed him.
Isaac didn’t choose God. He wasn’t even Abraham’s first son, was he?
But God chose to use him.
It’s the same in Genesis 25 and the twins we’ve been thinking about.
Jacob didn’t choose God.
He didn’t work hard to be the kind of guy that God could use.
God chose him.
Ultimately Jacob becomes the father of the nation of Israel. God changes his name to Israel, which is where the nation gets its name from. That’s how significant he is in God’s purposes!
But he doesn’t get to have that role because of all the good stuff he does in his life.
Because A, he mostly does rotten stuff in his life! Certainly the early part! I mean how much of a scumbag do you have to be to demand your brother’s birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew?!
When we have our winter lunch over there in a moment, you can have all the stew you want! For free!
But actually, B, even more than that! We know he doesn’t get the blessings of God because of how good he is, or how clever he was in seeking God, because God chooses him before he’s even born.
Romans 9:11, 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
If Jacob is the example of how you can enjoy the wonderful things of God, it can’t possibly be through anything good that do.
I’ve told the story before, but it’s such a good one! About Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, who once said, “I am telling you, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed.
I am heading straight in.
I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
That is, “the blessings of God are mine”
On what basis?
Well, he listed off the various good things he’d done in his life, including his work for gun control,
His anti-smoking policies,
And healthy eating campaigns, banning super-sized soft drinks and so on.
What have we seen?
God chooses people for relationship and blessing. We don’t choose God. The rest of Romans makes it clear that, left to our own devices we’re running headlong away from God, we’re never going to choose God unless he first calls us.
And God doesn’t choose us based on anything good that we do, as if life was some kind of audition!
God’s choice of Jacob came before he was even born;, not by works but by him who calls
Jacob, did not deserve, God’s blessing.
God chose him, for his own purposes;, to show us, how a relationship with God works.
But the question comes then, well Is God unjust? Verse 14.
He chose Jacob, the scumbag!
The Nigerian email guy!
Well, God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” r
16 It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy
Why did God choose Jacob?
Because in loving Jacob, God shows that he can love anyone!
God chose Jacob,
In just the same way he chose Isaac,
In just the same way he chose Abraham.
In just the same way that God choses any of us who receive the blessings of being in Christ Jesus.
We don’t inherit all those glorious promises because we decided to,
Or because we earned them.
We inherit them because God chose us.
God’s sovereign choice gives us great confidence
So how do you know you’re chosen?
Well, do you trust in Jesus?
Do you know the blessing of forgiveness?
Do you have the blessing of peace with the God who made you?
Do you have the blessing of reconciliation with the God you’ve ignored?
The blessing of adoption into his family?
Do you call God “Father”?
Do you have the blessing of the God’s own Spirit at work in you?
The blessing of knowing your prayers are heard and answered,
Of hearing the living God speak to you through his word,
The blessings, and blessings, and blessing,
That’s the evidence that God has chosen you.
Or of course, you might not be there yet, you might not call yourself a Christian, and so you want to know, well has God chosen me? What’s the point of finding out about Christian stuff if I’m not chosen?
But do you want the blessings of God?
Do you want to be forgiven for rejecting God?
Do you want to be reconciled to God?
Do you want to be part of God’s family?,
Do you want to spend all of eternity with Jesus, God’s king?
If you want them, then that’s all the proof you need!
You’re not going to want to live with Jesus as your king, unless God’s called you and enabled you to want that and to live like that.
People sometimes talk like God’s sovereign choice in election as something that’s scary,
That undermines our confidence in our salvation.
But it’s none of that!
But it gives great assurance!
It’s how you can be absolutely confident, that you will inherit the promises that you cling to,
That you won’t miss out.
Because it’s not about you, or how good you are,
But about God, and how good he is.
If God had not come looking for me, there’s no way I would ever have looked for God.
There’s no way I could have ever gone looking for God, stained and broken as I am by sin. I’d never seek out God.
To think I would is just delusional.
And if taking hold of the blessings of Christ was a matter of my good works, I’m pretty sure I would have given up or fallen short a long time ago.
Still though, we might be tempted to wonder, why was a guy who was such a nasty piece of work that even his name meant “dishonest”, why was he chosen by God?
It doesn’t seem fair!
But actually, friends, we don’t want God to treat us fairly. Do you realise that?
Fair means getting what you deserve.
What we deserve from God, is separation and condemnation. All of us, without exception.
What we want, what I hope you want, is mercy, and grace.
The very same mercy and grace God showed Jacob.