Rev. George Miller
July 12, 2015
Last week we studied the tale of Cain and Abel and witnessed how Cain allowed sin to pounce on him like a cat of prey.
Today we study another brotherly pair: Esau and Jacob, and how one inflicts a different kind of pain upon the other.
First a word- I love the Old Testament. You’ve heard me say it before; you’ll hear me say it again and again.
Compared to the letters of Paul or the ramblings in John, the stories of the Old Testament are earthy and pop with real humanness.
As one writer stated, the Old Testament does not feature plastic saints, but recognizable sinners.
We encounter fathers who at times may be too distant, mothers who may be a bit too clingy and siblings who just can’t get along.
In our country worked into a frenzy about what marriage should look like, the Old Testament features folk who blow apart any ideal image we may have.
Also, rarely does the narrator make a judgment call about these people we read about; rarely are we told what to think or how to feel about all the jiggery-pokery that is going on.
The stories are told as they are and we are free to decide, debate and dialogue what we think about them and the people’s actions.
And God in the Old Testament? God is free and wild, loose and unpredictable. God is funny and serious; familiar and mysterious.
So let’s review the events leading up to today’s tale. It features 4 characters- Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob.
Isaac is the son of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac is the promised child who God will use to bless all the nations of the world.
Isaac marries Rebekah and she gets pregnant with twins, which is great because they can continue God’s promise of blessing.
But bad news- even in the womb her 2 two sons do not get along.
Rebekah is upset about this so she has a little heart-to heart conversation with God, who tells her that her youngest child is actually going to rule over the oldest child.
Rebekah gives birth and here comes Esau, born first, with a thick head of hair. Next comes Jacob clutching his brother’s heel.
Though born moments apart, Esau is designated the oldest, and the boys couldn’t be much different.
Esau is burly and brawny, a hunter covered from head to toe in hair and his father’s favorite.
Jacob is smooth and prefers to stay inside, cooking stews and baking bread. He is the one his mama likes best.
Esau doesn’t always make the best life choices. Jacob has learned how to maneuver situations to get what he wants.
Which brings us to today’s reading with this fabulously flawed family.
Isaac has aged and can’t see well. Worried that he may not have long to live, he decides to give Esau his blessing, a scared Father-to-Son ritual in which the words spoken shape the rest of one’s life.
Rebekah overhears his plan and tells Jacob what to do in order so that he can be the one who is blessed.
Jacob’s only concern is that his father may not be fooled by his smooth skin and invoke a curse upon him.
But Rebekah is willing to absorb the risk and she takes the sensory steps needed to complete the deceit:
a savory stew that tastes good, a man-wig that feels right, and some unwashed clothes that will smell like the 1st son.
This story is like Peyton Place or Empire.
It’s a story we can pick apart, exploring the motives of all four characters; we can ask if any of them are fully innocent, if any of them are fully guilty.
We can spend the next ten minutes on the wonderful word-play between Isaac and Jacob in which one wonders if Isaac actually knew all along he was being duped by the wrong son.
But let’s instead focus on someone else. There’s a 5th character in this story: God.
Though barely mentioned here, God is present; after all, these 4 “recognizable sinners” are God’s chosen family.
They are the family of Abraham and Sarah. They are the family God is going to make more numerous than the stars. They are the family that will bless all families, even if it doesn’t look like it.
Now, let’s keep in mind that God told Rebekah that she would have two children. God who told Rebekah that her youngest son would rule over the elder.
This was not something Rebekah asked for; it’s not something she planned.
So if God told her that the younger would be the one to rule, how was it going to happen?
Was God going to make it so without Rebekah and Jacob’s actions?
Was God saying to Rebekah in not so many words that she was to play a part in making this so?
Would Jacob still have been the blessed, ruling child if Rebekah didn’t do a thing?
We will never, ever know.
But here is what we do know- after this fur-or-no-fur incident, things will never be the same.
Jacob becomes blessed; yes he is assured water from the sky, milk from the earth, and juice from the vine, but at a price.
Yes, Jacob will have power and popularity, but it comes with a consequence.
Yes, Jacob becomes blessed, but it fractures the family.
The consequence is that his brother becomes furious at him, putting all his energy into seeking violent revenge.
Yes, Jacob may be blessed but now his father, afraid that one son will kill another, sends Jacob away.
Yes, Jacob may be blessed, but he flees and runs away. For 20 years he is separated from his family. For 20 years he does not get to see mother or father.
For 20 years he experiences his own foibles, he is tricked by an uncle and he endures hardships that he may not have experienced if he hadn’t fooled his father.
But here’s the amazing thing- God finds some way to work through all this messiness, all this chaos, all this extreme dysfunction.
God finds a way to work through all the family fractures and fissures even when it seems they are too, too broken to be fixed.
Which raises the question- do all things happen for a reason or is God able to work through all things?
I personally, pastorally prefer the 2nd option.
I believe that God does have a plan; God does have an idea of where things are going, God is working to make things happen.
But I do not believe that God is controlling all things; we are not puppets- we are not Walt Disney animatronics machines.
I believe that we have free will; we have options, we have choices; we are flawed and faithful; we are actors and acted-upon.
God has plans to bless and to redeem, to create and rebuild, to judge and to save, and that we all get to play a part.
And that even when we make a mistake, even when we misstep, God has a way to work through that.
Even if we are deceived or are the deceiver, God has a way to work through that.
Even if we get to stay where we are or have to run away for 20 long years, God has a way to work through that.
Shoot, if God could work through 3 nails, a cross and a sealed off tomb, God can work through anything.
Does that mean the ways in which God works will be easy? No.
Does that mean the paths will be direct, free of zigzags and unexpected dead-ends? No.
Does it mean we won’t get in our own way or God’s way from time to time?
But what it means is that if God could speak nothingness into creation, God can work through any situation.
That means if God could place a mark of grace upon Cain and ensure the continuation of the human story, God can work through any family drama.
That means that even if fathers are fooled, mothers are worried, and brothers are upset, God can still find a way to construct a ladder to heaven and to allow blessings to come on down.
The characters in the Old Testament are not plastic saints. They are recognizable sinners. But- they are our recognizable sinners.
And it’ll be through the crazy mess of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob that’s we’ll experience Joseph and Judah, Boaz and King David, Solomon and Mary’s husband Joseph.
It is through this Peyton Place of people that we will get Jesus Christ; the brother who restores us all; the brother who gladly gives up so that we can gain; the brother through which we truly get to understand and appreciate the gift of grace.
Isn’t it good to know that even when things get rocky, God has a way to smooth things out?
Isn’t it good to know that even when we are not at our best, God finds a way to make the best out of it?
Isn’t it good to know that no matter what, God is still God?
Amen and amen.