Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23, 28:10-21
There is just a little bit of history that gets us to where were are today. After the occurrence on Mount Moriah, Isaac grew and eventually got married and started a family of his own. While Rebekah, his blushing bride, was still with child she became alarmed with what was going on in here womb and prayed to God for answers. Her answer was that there were two boys in her womb and they were fighting. Each one would become a nation in their own right. Not only would the boys fight even as they were in the womb, but the nations they would become would also fight. God told her that one would be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger.
When she gave birth she had two sons. She named the elder Esau which means hairy because he was covered in hair and the younger was named Jacob, which means heel grabber, because he was born grasping Esau by the heel. Coincidentally, Jacob also means trickster or liar. Esau became a strong and mighty hunter. Jacob on the other hand stayed near the tents, and probably was a shepherd. And as with all “good” parents each one had a favorite. Isaac preferred the elder, Esau, the hunter, while Rebekah found joy in her younger son, Jacob. (No wonder the two boys were always fighting)
To say the boys did not get along would be an understatement. The boys never seemed to get along. At one point Esau came in from the fields, hungry from hunting. He found that Jacob had just finished making a stew. He told Jacob that he was famished and would die if he did not get some of the stew, right now. Jacob, knowing an opportunity when he saw one, told Esau that he would trade the stew for Esau's birthright.
A little background here. Esau was the eldest son, which means that he was second only to his father. When the father passed, leadership of the family passed to the eldest son. The eldest son also received a double share of the inheritance. This was called the birthright. Esau having been born just before Jacob was the eldest son and the holder of the birthright in the family.
So, although Esau was a little taken aback by the high price of Jacob's stew, he was apparently hungry enough to sell his birthright to his brother for a bowl of it. So Jacob the heel grabbing trickster begins to live up to his name.
Which brings us to the story we have today. Isaac is ill, and although he continues to live for quite some time following this event, he is apparently is ill enough that he is going to pass his authority, leadership of the family on to Esau and give his final blessing to his sons, now, before he eventually dies. This is will make Esau head of the family, and serve as Isaac's last will and testament, naming Esau as primary heir and Jacob as secondary heir to all he had, upon his actual death.
My guess, at this point is, that Isaac has a similar way to thinking as Mike and I when it comes to agreements between siblings. Generally, Mike and I agree that any agreements made between sisters must be ratified by an adult for them to be binding. Usually, in our household, these tend to be agreements about helping each other with chores, or the passing of possessions between the girls. If they make an agreement between themselves, that agreement can be rendered null by an adult, if either of us believes that one sister is taking advantage of the other.
Isaac, seemed to be under the impression that whatever agreement, Jacob made with Esau that day when Esau was so hungry he was willing to sell his birthright for soup, could be circumvented by his own authority. He had no intention of honoring the agreement made between the two young men. He was going to bless Esau, anyway.
Apparently he did not discuss this with Rebekah, because when she overhears Isaac's plans to give the birthright blessing to Esau anyway, she hatches a plan, of her own, to assure Jacob of his ill-gotten right to the birthright. Together with Jacob they implement an elaborate deception, which, in the end, results in Isaac blessing Jacob instead of Esau.
Esau, is justifiably infuriated, not only does he have a petty little brother who thinks that a birthright can be bought for the bargain price of a bowl of stew, but he has a lying, conniving brother, who is willing to dress up in an animal skin costume, and lie to his near blind, dying father, to get what he wants. And because of this, he has lost his position in the family and the greater part of his inheritance. So Esau does what anybody would do in this situation, he plots to kill his brother as soon as his father dies. In the intervening time, you know, between the blessing of Jacob and Isaac's actual death, he “silently stews;” by loudly proclaiming his intentions to anyone who will listen. I don't know if it did not occur to him that this would eventually get back to both his mother and his father or if he even cared. I mean, he was doing such a good job at keeping his plot to himself that it seemed everyone knew. So Isaac and Rebekah decided that it is time for Jacob to get himself a wife, you know a wife from among Rebekah's people, who lived, far, far, away from here. And therefore far, far, away from Esau.
So we have before us this morning, a tale of two “virtuous” brothers. One who is fool hearty and perhaps just a bit hot headed and the other who would probably make a very good professional con-man. I am sure, if we had to choose, we would not choose either of these two brothers to be our hero. But the Biblical account follows Jacob at this point.
Jacob is on the run, he is gonna lay low at his uncle's house for a while, so his brother can cool down and come to accept the events as they have unfolded. But he has to get there first, as I mentioned before Rebekah and Isaac thought, a good place for Jacob to go at this point was far, far, away. So, in a world without jet planes, high speed rail or even a broken down Chevies, he has to hike it.
One night, when he had come to a certain place, in other words, some random place along the way, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, he takes a stone and lays down for a good nights' sleep. Instead of a good nights' sleep, and he encounters God. He has a dream of angels, messengers of God going up and down a stairway between heaven and earth. Messengers, doing the will of God passing between the place where God dwells, into the world, doing the work and the will of God, bringing the messages of God to God's people where ever they are. But even as Jacob is watching the angels carrying the messages of God to the people of God, God meets him there in that place, face to face. No messenger, no angel, no go between, God appears to him and speaks with him there, halfway between where he is running from and where he is running to, that “certain place” that was really nowhere at all.
God speaks to Jacob and tells Jacob, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham. . . and the God of Isaac.” God then proceeds to promise Jacob that the land on which he lies will belong to his offspring and those same offspring will be like the dust of the earth and that through them all the families of the earth will be blessed. In short, God reiterates the promise God had made with Abraham and with Isaac before him and is now offering that same promise and covenant to Jacob. God expands upon the bones of the promise by also promising to be with Jacob. God will go with him wherever he goes and will return to this land with him and will remain with him until all God had promised to him was fulfilled, so basically ‘til the end of his life (after all the promise will not be fully fulfilled until long after Jacob's death).
God comes to Jacob. But why? Because he had been chosen before he was born? That would be an easy explanation. God had decided which brother would be chosen before either was born. God picks and chooses humans in the womb, calling one but not another for God's own reasons. If that were true, we would have to believe that decides who be a child of God and who would not be, that we are Christians, here today because God chose for us to be, before we were even born and those who are not here, are not Christians, were not chosen by God.
As Nazarenes, we do not believe this. We believe that each person can accept God's call on their lives, or reject it. We believe that God choses everyone; that God does not want anyone to not believe, not be a Christian, to not be a part of God’s great work in this world. We are children of God because we have accepted God's call on our lives.
This story is not about how God chose Jacob before birth, this story is about Jacob accepting God as his God. This, my friends, is Jacob’s conversion story. Jacob is a liar, a cheat, a fraud, a trickster. He is basically on the run, trying to get as far away from the consequences of his delinquent lifestyle and God comes to him. There in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the mess of his life and says, “I made a promise to your father and your grandfather, and I would like to extend that promise to you. If you agree, not only will I do all the things I said I would do for them, but I will be with you, from this moment on, for the rest of your life.”
At this point Jacob could say anything. He could have continued to try to be a greedy trickster and try to get God to give him the promise, but then not follow through on his part of the deal, which was to make God his God. I mean, if anyone could have believed that he could trick God, to get something, it would have been Jacob. He could have taken one look at the mess of his life and said, “You have not been here for me through all this, otherwise I would not be here. So I can't trust you to be here for me for the rest of my life.” He might have said, “You made a promise to my dad, and you want to carry that promise on through me!!?? Dad never liked me. He always preferred Esau. Why don't you go back to our tent in Beer-sheba and see if Esau wants this promise you made to our father! Maybe he needs a God to walk with all his, days, because I am fine on my own thank you.”
Jacob did not say any of these things or any of the number of other things he could have possibly said to reject God. Jacob accepts the call of God on his life. He accepts the promise, he accepts God's presence in his life. He accepts the whole kit-and-kaboodle. He says this, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it! How awesome is this place!” And then he ends by saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way . . .then the Lord, shall be my God.”
Jacob declares God as his God. This is Jacob's conversion moment. This is when God becomes Jacob's God. This is when the promise passes from Isaac to him, and from this moment when it all happens. God is Jacob's God and Jacob follows God for all of his days, from this point on. God did not chose Jacob per say, Jacob chose God.
This is the first time that Jacob calls God his God. Earlier in the story, when speaking to Isaac, he calls God “your God.” Even in God's introduction, God says, “I am the Lord, God of Abraham and the God of Isaac,” not, “I am your God.” God knew the truth as it stood at that point. But, here, at the end of this encounter Jacob declares God to be his God. “The Lord shall be my God.” He accepts God as his own, his faith is his faith from this point on, it is no longer the faith of his father or his grandfather, or anyone else, his faith in God is his own. And that is conversion, to accept God as your own God, to declare, the Lord, God is my God and shall be from this point on. This moment right there, in the middle of nowhere, Jacob accepts God, he becomes a child of God, for the first time.
Jacob did not do anything to deserve God coming to him. Nothing in his life warranted an encounter with the one and only God of the universe. His life was a mess, he had continually chosen the worst way, in almost every situation. It had resulted in him having to run away from home, in fear of his life; in fear that his very own twin brother might actually follow through on a threat to kill him. But, none of that mattered, the one and only God of the universe, decided to meet Jacob in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a gigantic mess of his own making, and call to him, invite him to allow God to be his God. God came to him, invited him into relationship and Jacob accepted.
This is exciting, this is amazing, this is good news. God came to Jacob, that dirty, no good, rotten, scoundrel, that he was, and invited Jacob to be the recipient of the promise. God could have scrapped the two brothers and all their nastiness. God could have skipped that generation and waited for a more worthy heir of Abraham to come along. God could have done a million things, but God went to Jacob, in all his unworthiness, and invited Jacob into relationship; invited Jacob to be a child of God. This is exciting! Because if God can come to Jacob, and invite Jacob into relationship, if Jacob can be a child of God, anyone can be.
In fact, the good news is that God reaches out to all of us. All of the families of the earth are blessed through Abraham, through Isaac, and through Jacob. I am a part of a family of earth, you are a part of a family of earth; we all are a part of a family of earth. We are all blessed through Jacob. There are many ways this is true, and there are many ways that this plays out throughout salvation history, but one way, is that God coming to Jacob, is lets us know that God comes to each of us. God gives us all the opportunity (and for most of us many opportunities) to allow God to be our God; to accept the promise of salvation for ourselves; to go wherever God takes us, knowing that wherever we go, God will always be with us, ‘til the end of our lives. God came to Jacob in all his unworthiness and invited him to be in relationship, and God and comes to us, each of us, all of us.
In fact, I am so positive of this, I am going to tell you something that I believe to be true, but is not recorded here for us in scripture. Remember how I said, Jacob could have turned God down. That Jacob could have walked away, chosen a different life for himself, to have nothing to do with God, for one of a hundred possible reasons a person might chose to do this. I believe, God very well might have encountered Esau, perhaps this same night, or some other night before or after this night and made the same promise to Esau. There is nothing in the promise that says it can only pass to one son, or had to only pass to the first born son, or the son who inherited the birthright. After all, ALL of Jacob's 12 sons inherit the promise. They become the twelve tribes that eventually make their way back to the land God promised to Abraham and to Isaac. Esau could have been a child of the promise as well. If I am right, and I believe I am, Esau did not accept God's call on his life, at this point or at any other point in his life. Whenever God came to him, however many times God might have done so, in whatever ways God did so, each time, Esau walked away. No matter how many times God chose Esau, Esau did not ever choose God.
Neither one of these brothers deserved to be chosen, neither one of them lived lives that exemplified faith, or righteousness, before God came to them. But, after Jacob encounters God, here in the middle of nowhere, between Beer-sheba and Haran, everything changed for him. He goes to his uncle’s house, and by all accounts, becomes a man of God; a person who listens and follows God, as he weaves his way through the rest of his life. Because this could be true to Jacob, that means, no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter what your track record is, God can come to you too, to anyone for that matter.
In this way, we could say that we all are chosen. God chooses each and every one of us. God comes to us, where were are, in the middle of our mess, in the middle of whatever we have done with our lives, whoever we are, whoever we have become, no matter, God Chooses us, each of us every one of us. God comes to us, in the certain places, where we are, in all the places we live, in the places we work, wherever it is we are, and calls to us, invites us to be children of the promise, to allow God to bless us and all the families of the earth through us. God invites us to be in relationship with God and to be a part of God’s promise, a part of God’s ever growing work in this world. There is nothing we have to do to be good enough for God, there is nothing we have to do with our lives to earn God's call, to be worthy of the promise God wants to fulfill in us. God just comes to each of us, to all of us. And we like Jacob (like Esau) have the choice to accept that call, or deny that call. We can respond by saying, “The Lord God is my God.” Or we can walk away from the call, from the presence of God. Our lives can be marked by change and transformation, as Jacobs is, or we can be like Esau whose life never shows that that change, that transformation.
That transformation is there because Jacob chooses God and God follows through on the promise God made to Jacob that day. God was with Jacob throughout the rest of Jacob's life. God said, “No matter where you go, no matter what happens, I will go with you; when you travel to a far off land, when you return here, I will be with you, until the end of your life, I will be there.” When God reaches out to each of us, when God chooses us and we choose God in return, God promises to be with us for the rest of our lives, no matter what happens, no matter where we go God will be with us.
The road of our lives might be long, it might hard, it might be filled with sorrow, pain, struggles, God will be there with us. God does not promise Jacob that his life will not be hard, God does not promise Jacob that his uncle and soon-to-be Father-in-law will not trick him and steal fourteen years of his labor. He does not promise Jacob that Esau will not continue to be mad at him for a very long time and will not come after him repeatedly to take his life. God simply promises, that when all that happens (and it does) God will be with Jacob through it all.
When we choose God, God is with us through it all. When we are fighting with our family, and can't be reconciled to those we love the most, God is there. When those we trust the most hurt us, use us, abuse us, God is there. When we lose our job and are struggling to make ends meet, to put food on the table, or keep the lights on, God is there. When we are drowning in our own loss and pain, God is there. God is always there, no matter where life takes us, God is with us. God does not ever leave us or forsake us. God does not ever leave us alone to attempt to handle it in our own strength, through our own power, or leave us to our own means. God is there, giving us strength and power, always there with us all along the way.
So we have before us this morning the tale of two brothers. You can choose to be one or the other. Who are you going to be this morning? Who are you? Are you Jacob or are you Esau? Either way you are chosen by God, but the question is, will you choose God in return?
And if you are choosing God; if you do choose God, then God promises to be with you, ‘til the end of your life. When we choose to follow God, to allow God to be our God, then God is with, in all things, through all things. No matter where we go, no matter what happens, God is with us, we can do THIS, whatever THIS might be. We can try to do it all alone, or we can have the God of the universe go through it with us, walking along beside us, guiding us and strengthening us through it all.