A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Genesis 27-28 on Sunday, 17 November 2019
You may well be wondering, Why on earth is this story in the Bible? I mean, these are people we learned about in Sunday School. Isaac. Rebekah. Jacob. And we think we have a right to expect that our Bible heroes should be more heroic. And yet none of the people in this story comes out squeaky clean.
Take Isaac, for example. It would be a mistake to feel sorry for him. There are at least two reasons why he should not have insisted on blessing Esau. Firstly, the voice of God had clearly told Rebekah while the twins Esau and Jacob were still in her womb:
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.
The older will serve the younger. Meaning that Esau would serve Jacob. Secondly, we saw last week how Esau despised his birthright, his double helping of the inheritance for a helping of red stew. He sold it for almost nothing, because he thought it was nothing. But when Isaac was old, his sight was failing, he felt his time was running out, he insisted on blessing Esau, his favourite son, because he loved the taste of the meat he brought home from the hunt.
We may admire Rebekah’s love for Jacob, but Isaac did not deserve to be treated the way she treated him. She played on his poor sight and deceived him by dressing Jacob up in Esau’s clothes and in goat skins.
And Jacob was no angel either. He was not just a child, an obedient son just doing what his mother told him. He was a grown man, whose only reason for balking at the deception was his fear of getting caught. “But mother, if my father finds out he will curse me instead of blessing me.” And it would serve him right, because he went through with it only on his mother’s assurance that any curse would fall on her and not on him. Jacob had nothing to lose except his father’s respect and his brother’s love. And everything to gain. And so he lied to his father and cheated his brother and seemed to get away with it.
It’s just a little too sordid, a little too “Home and Away”, to be in the Bible. We want our Bible heroes to be more heroic, and we want our Bible stories to have clearer morals. We want our cheaters to never prosper, not to seem to get away with it.
Well, if you like morals, then you will probably be glad to know that no one got away with it. Esau despised his birthright and so lost his blessing. Isaac had tried to give it to him, but God had over ruled him, by using the wrong that Rebekah had planned and transforming it into his better plan. Jacob had to leave the land. His brother was planning to kill him as soon as his father died. His mother sent him away to her brother’s people, and she would send for him as soon as it was safe. And so Jacob went. He left, not just the land of his birth, but the land that God had promised to Abraham and to his descendants after him. It was not a kind of exile. It was an exile far from home, far from family and far from God’s promise. His name Jacob meant grasper. He had been born second, grabbing on to his older twin brother’s foot. And he had grasped at his brother’s birthright and blessing, proving his true nature. And for that he was sent into exile. And his mother Rebekah, who loved him as her favourite, never saw him alive again.
These are our Bible heroes. People of faith. People of doubt. People of twisted love and unfounded fears and hidden motives and double standards. They are regular folks. They remind me of Jesus’ disciples. Judas who betrayed him. Peter who denied him. James and John who wanted to sit at his right and left in glory. Nathaniel who said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth.” Thomas who said, “I won’t believe until I put my finger in the marks of his hands.” Regular folks. Ordinary people following an extraordinary God.
God is the true hero of this story. God, whose plans of blessing are fulfilled through using real people living in the real world. Jacob left his home and set off for his uncle’s place hundreds of kilometres away. He stopped at a place for the night. He lay down on the ground, using a stone for a pillow. And he had a dream. He saw a stairway to heaven and angels were climbing down and climbing up. And above it all stood the Lord, who said,
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
The message of the vision and of the words is the same. God is saying, “I am with you. I am with you, Jacob. Grasper. Deceiver. I will go with you into your exile, and I will bring you back, because my promise of blessing for the world will be fulfilled through you.”
It is not a reward for Jacob’s deceptions. Jacob’s life from this time on until the day he dies will be full of grief and suffering. It is not a reward. It is a promise that God’s purpose will not be hampered by men like Jacob. Listen to Jacob speak after the vision.
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
No, he wasn’t. The Lord had promised this land to his grandfather. The Lord had promised this land to his father and his descendants. He is his father’s descendant and he didn’t know the Lord was in the land. Listen to his vow,
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
This is the Grasper’s vow. His promise is conditional on the Lord’s blessing. He will give a tenth when the Lord has given everything to him. This man must change. This man has unfinished business if the true and living God is to become, not just his grandfather’s God, not just his father’s God, but his God as well.
This story is a promise to exiles. To rebels. To those who have wronged their neighbour unaware that they have sinned against God. To those who have grasped after what God has promised, but by their own strength and by their own cunning. That he is with us wherever we go. For in Jesus Christ, the almighty God, our maker, our creator, shared our exile. So that whoever we are, whatever we’ve done, we may look at the grace of his words and deeds, his life and death, and say, “The Lord is in this place, and I was unaware.” All our wrongs, all our ignorance, all the good intentions we never carried through all the things that have sent us into exile far from God are taken from us and placed on Jesus Christ and crushed and put to death in him. God is with us. And if he is not to be not just our grandfather’s God, not just our father’s God, but our God as well, we have business to do with him as well. It is not about living up to what the heroes of the Bible were. It is not about making bargains with God. “If you love me, if you keep me safe, if you give me everything I want, I will give a tenth back to you.” It is about humbling ourselves before the true hero, our God who ends our exile, by sharing it and by bringing us back to him.