Genesis 25 - 27
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Imagine, if you will, that you are standing at the place where two roads diverge. Frost speaks about looking down the road as far as he can see to find out which was the better path. What if we could see what the path of our life is like and where the road ends up? This is not just literature, it is life and we are standing at the place where two roads diverge. Which path will we take? Wouldn’t it be great to know where each road ends up and what it means to walk along each? The text we will look at today, Genesis 25-27, helps us gain such a knowledge and make such a decision.
Last week, in Genesis 24, we looked at the story of Isaac finding a bride. Now we learn that Abraham has died and was buried by his sons Isaac and Ishmael. Then in Genesis 25:19, we begin “the account of Abraham’s son Isaac.”
As we have already seen, one of the key issues in Genesis is the story of God’s plan. When Adam and Eve sinned, God prepared a plan by which he would save people from their sins and re-establish a relationship with them. He chose to carry out that plan through one family who would carry the knowledge of God to the world and through whom He would send his Son to redeem the world. That one family began with Abraham, who was called and responded in faith to God. It goes on through Isaac and also to the next generation. After 20 years of marriage, Isaac and Rebekah still had no children. They prayed about it and Rebekah conceived. Her pregnancy, however, was not easy and she was in so much anguish that she inquired of the Lord why it was so difficult. God answered her with the prophecy given in Genesis 25:23, “The LORD said to her, ‘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.’” In this prophecy we see that although both were children of Isaac and Rebekah, only one would be the child who would carry the promises of God forward to the next generation. One was chosen to be the family line of those who follow God. In these two nations born to Rebekah, we see the two paths. One path leads to God the other one leads to destruction. In Malachi 1:2-4 God speaks again about these two paths and their ultimate outcome. There we read, “I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Edom (another name for Esau) may say, ‘Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.’ But this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD.’”
These two paths were present when Jacob and Esau were born and the two paths are still with us today. Just because we are born of a Christian family or attend church regularly does not mean that we are walking on the path of God’s people. The things which characterize the people of God and those who do not follow His path are revealed in the stories of Jacob and Esau and we need to learn these things as we make choices about the road we will follow.
It is in the life of Esau that we see why he was rejected by God. There are two incidents which demonstrate the characteristics of those who are on the path which leads away from God.
Esau was the older son of Rebekah and Isaac. The first thing we learn about him is that he loved to hunt and was a skilful hunter. Jacob, on the other hand, was a “quiet man” who was more interested in tending livestock and staying at home. We also learn that Isaac, who loved the taste of wild game, loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob. It is evident that this favoritism of the parents did not make for good family relationships.
One day when Esau had been out hunting, he came back and was very tired and hungry. He found Jacob cooking some stew and asked for some. Jacob’s meaner side showed up when he offered some “if Esau would sell him his birthright.” Although not always the case, we have already seen evidence that sometimes a father would give the major portion of his estate to the oldest son and much smaller portions to other children. This was the case with Ishmael and Isaac in the sense that Isaac was the oldest son of Abraham and Sarah and the other children of Abraham who are mentioned in Genesis 25 are merely given gifts. So to be the oldest son was important. Prophecy had already indicated that, in the case of Jacob and Esau, the older would serve the younger and this is the beginning of that progress. Jacob desired this birthright and seized this opportunity to get it. Although we may wonder how desperately famished Esau really was, he seems to think that he was in such a desperate situation that if he did not get food he would die and so willingly agreed to give up his birthright for a meal.
The text comments on this incident in Genesis 25:34 where it says, “So Esau despised his birthright.” This comment interprets what happened for us and is negative towards Esau. Further commentary on this incident is added later in Hebrews 12:16,17 where it says, “See that no one is… godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.”
It is evident that this was about more than giving up the financial inheritance. The Bible recognizes that Esau was a godless man. The birthright he was giving up was a significant birthright. It had to do with the plan of God. It had to do with being the one who would carry the redemptive work of God to the next generation. When Hebrews says that he was godless, what it interprets this story to mean is that Esau did not care about the things of God. A commentary on Hebrews says that he had a “lack of any sense of spiritual values.”
And so it is with those who choose the path that leads away from God. Those who walk on it are people who do not care about the things of God. They have no interest in following God or knowing God. If you find that your own desires and appetites are more important to you than the things of God, you may be on this path away from God. I remember the joy of a young fellow who came to youth group. He was excited to know God and after high school attended Bible school and rejoiced to grow in faith. I heard about him not too long ago and found out he was not walking with the Lord any more. After he got a job, making money and becoming a success became more important to him than the things of God and so he left them. It made me sad.
We see that not only was there a carelessness about being on the path of God, there was also a carelessness about a godly lifestyle.
In Genesis 26:34,35, we read that Esau married and the women he married were Canaanite women. In the story of Isaac, we have already realized that for the people who want to follow God, this was not acceptable. He married two wives and Genesis 26:35 indicates that “They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” It is interesting that even though Isaac loved Esau, he was still grieved by his choice of a wife. The dangers of wives who were not interested in the path of God was that they would lead Esau down a similar path and he was willing to go down that path.
Further into the story, we encounter Esau after he had been cheated out of the blessing of his father by Jacob. He became very angry and in his hatred and jealousy, Genesis 28:41 tells us, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” This determination reminds us of Cain and Abel and we see what kind of a heart there was in Esau.
This is characteristic of those who do not want to follow God’s path. They are willing to engage in activities that are contrary to God’s righteous and holy way. They are willing to disobey God’s commands and follow their own way instead.
What does your lifestyle tell about where your heart is? Do the actions of your life reveal that you are not interested in God’s way of righteousness? If so, you are on the path of Esau, the path away from God, the path that leads to destruction.
As we look at the life of Jacob and even of Isaac and Rebekah, we may be puzzled when we realize that in some ways they were no different than Esau. If we were to say, “don’t imitate Esau, but do imitate Jacob” we would get ourselves in big trouble. There are so many ways in which Isaac, Rebekah and Jacob were not perfect.
In Genesis 25:28, we read that there was favoritism between parents and children. Isaac and Rebekah didn’t have one heart regarding their children. One loved one son and the other the other son. It was serious enough that it impacted their relationship with their children.
The behaviour of Jacob is hardly worth imitating when we realize what a grasper he was. He was born holding on to his brother’s heal, as if to pull himself up on the back of his brother. In fact, he did do that. He took the opportunity of Esau’s moment of weakness to exploit him in order to get the birthright. He also was willing to participate in the scheme his mother cooked up to deceive his own father in order to receive the blessing intended for his brother. We can say that the blessing belonged to Jacob and even the passage in Hebrews we looked at before seems to support such a perspective, but that does not excuse his deception. It would teach that the end justifies the means and that is not a godly way of operating.
We see other aspects of ungodly behaviour. A story in Genesis 26 tells us that Isaac had learned some things from his father Abraham. Both Abraham and Isaac ended up in the territory ruled by Abimelech because of a famine in the promised land. Both of them were afraid and lied about their spouses by saying they were their sister. With Isaac, the lie was even worse because Rebekah was his cousin once removed, whereas Sarah was Abraham’s half sister.
All of these are examples of the fact that they were not always wonderful, righteous people.
But in spite of these character failures, there was something different about them that marked them out as people who fit on the path of God’s people. What are those things?
The attitude which disqualified Esau was that he didn’t care for the things of God. Jacob, on the other hand had a strong desire for the things of God. Although his methods were far from godly, his desire was commendable. He was interested in God’s plan. He just had to learn that you don’t accomplish God’s plan by scheming and deception and as we follow his life, we find that he does learn that. What was significant is that he cared deeply about it. He was so interested in it that he was willing to buy the birthright from Esau and steal the blessing from him. One writer says, “Jacob showed an appreciation of the heritage promised by God.”
So we ask ourselves, “Do I care about God? Do I want what He wants? Am I interested in what He is doing in this world?”
The founder of World Vision, Bob Pierce, is described in the biography of Franklin Graham as a driven man. Sometimes he stepped on toes, but his passion was great and that is why he succeeded in establishing this organization. He was deeply committed to the things of God. Do we care about the things of God?
Another thing we discover about them is that their concern for the things of God led them to seek the Lord. When they were in need, they were willing to go to God to find help.
This is particularly illustrated in the lives of Isaac and Rebekah. When Rebekah had been barren for 20 years, we read in Genesis 25:21 that Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife.” Later, when her pregnancy was difficult, we discover in Genesis 25:22 that Rebekah went “to inquire of the Lord.”
A further incident of seeking the Lord is found in Genesis 26:25 where we read that Isaac built an altar to the Lord and “called on the name of the Lord.”
If we are on the path of God’s people, There will be a recognition that our help comes from the Lord and we will be quick to seek the Lord. Prayer and communication with the Lord will be evident in our lives. We will desire to relate to Him and know Him and find out what He wants.
A third characteristic of those seeking the Lord was that they were obedient. Unlike Esau who disobeyed God by marrying not one, but two Canaanite women, Isaac and Jacob were obedient to the Lord.
When the famine struck, as recorded in Genesis 26, God specified in 26:2 that Isaac should not go down to Egypt. Then we read in Genesis 26:6 that “Isaac stayed in Gerar.” He obeyed the voice of God.
Later, we read about Jacob, in Genesis 28:1 where Isaac instructed Jacob that he should not marry a Canaanite woman. Genesis 28:7 shows that Jacob obeyed his parents in regard to this. His obedience to his parents was an obedience to God.
In our fear of legalism, we have sometimes gotten to the place where we have downplayed obedience. Some are tempted to be careless about obedience because they believe that the love of God will cover their faults. Yet a heart of disobedience reveals a heart which does not care about the things of God. When we know what God wants and we do it, it is evident that we are on the path of God’s people.
A final characteristic is that the people on God’s path acknowledge God in their life. Genesis 26 reveals how wealthy Isaac became. He was the recipient of the blessings which came through Abraham, his father. After Abraham died, Isaac became even wealthier. Because of his wealth, he had trouble finding a place where he could live in peace. He was always in trouble with neighbours. Finally, Isaac and his men found an area and dug a well where they were not bothered any more. The comment of Isaac following this incident, in Genesis 26:22, is “Now the Lord has given us room…” He recognized the hand of God in his life.
That too is a characteristic of those who are on God’s path. They will see how God is at work in their lives and the lives of those around them. They acknowledge what God has done and give Him the glory.
The Robert Frost poem I read at the beginning speaks about a decision between two paths. Every one of us needs to make a decision about two paths. One path is characterized by carelessness about the things of God and carelessness about obedience to God. That path leads to destruction. The other path is characterized by concern for God’s way, a desire to seek the Lord, obey the Lord and the willingness to acknowledge God. This path leads to blessing, to growth in the Lord and to life.
In the poem by Robert Frost he writes, “I took the one less traveled by.” Jesus talks about two roads in Matthew 7:13 when he says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Jesus tells us that the narrow road, the one less traveled on is the path to life.
All of us are already on one or the other of these two paths. Frost indicates that once a choice is made, it is hard to go back to the beginning and choose the other path. When it comes to the path that God invites us to, that is not true. We have made a choice about which path we are on, but we can change our mind. The invitation today is to choose the path which leads to life.