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Faithlife Corporation

Saved? Or Lost? Esau: Daddy's Fair-Haired Boy.

Notes & Transcripts

“These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

‘Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you shall be divided;

the one shall be stronger than the other,

the older shall serve the younger.’

“When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

“When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

“Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!’ (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” [1]

Esau’s name lives on in infamy in the pages of the New Testament. This is in spite of the fact that almost any parent would be pleased to have a son like Esau. Nevertheless, Esau does not receive accolades in the New Testament passages when he is mentioned. Writing the Roman saints, Paul speaks of Jacob and Esau. “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” [ROMANS 9:6-13].

Esau is again mentioned in the Letter to Hebrew Christians. Again, the reference is not in the least flattering. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” [HEBREWS 12:15-17].

These two New Testament references have led many to question Esau’s salvation. Admittedly, it is not ours to question God’s choice or to attempt to second-guess the Lord God. However, Esau’s life and his choices mirror lifestyles and choices witnessed among contemporary Christians. Often, the manner in which we live and the choices we make can raise questions concerning our grasp of faith and the transformation salvation brings. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to ask the question of whether Esau was saved or lost. In seeking the answer to this question we may well encourage our own hearts to pursue the Master, honouring Him through the choices we make and the manner in which we live.

THE PROPHECY — Rebekah was pregnant. She had married Isaac when he was forty years of age, and they had been married twenty years at this point. Marriage had not resulted in a pregnancy as she had hoped; so she prayed, asking God to grant her a child. The LORD graciously granted her request. I can hardly mention this without noting the contrast with so many women in this day. In the Word of God, women find joy in bringing children into the home; they experience fulfilment as the happy mother of children. Today—not so much!

However, after Rebekah conceived, she experienced a difficult pregnancy. At one point, it seemed that the children would be the cause of her death. She didn’t consult a midwife or a physician, perhaps because there were no such individuals to consult in her nomadic life; instead, she inquired of the LORD. We aren’t provided specifics on her consultation. If she went to a shrine or to a prophet, we are not told. Nevertheless, she did receive an answer to her query.

“Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you shall be divided;

the one shall be stronger than the other,

the older shall serve the younger.”

[GENESIS 25:23]

What was left unsaid was that Rebekah was a participant in God’s plan to bless mankind. Perhaps she should have known this since Isaac was a descendant of Abraham, and Abraham had received a great promise from the LORD God. Years before Isaac was born, God had said to Abram, “‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’ Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, ‘Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God’” [GENESIS 17:1-8].

This was an iteration of God’s earlier promise to Abram. “The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” [GENESIS 15:1-6].

God continued to emphasise that Sarah would deliver a child [cf. GENESIS 18:9-15]. Abraham’s descendants would inherit the land God had promised. Though the Word does not say so specifically, it is virtually certain that Rebekah had heard this promise. She undoubtedly knew that Isaac was the child of promise. Despite the divine promise, after twenty years of marriage to the son of promise she was still childless. Small wonder that she prayed! The knowledge of God’s promise would have only intensified her anxiety. However, she did pray and God had answered.

I stated earlier and I am compelled to emphasise the fact that it is doubtful that either Isaac or Rebekah fully understood their role in God’s work through their lives. It is doubtful that any of us actually understand what God is doing in our lives at the time events are taking place. This is the reason that we are told that “We walk by faith, not by sight” [2 CORINTHIANS 5:7]. At best, we are forced to concede that, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” [1 CORINTHIANS 13:12].

In the womb, two sons were growing and already struggling for dominance over one another. The struggle that began in the womb would continue throughout the life of these two boys; and their parents would stumble into their struggle for supremacy over one another. What a surprise at the birth of these two boys! It wasn’t a surprise that they were twins; Rebekah had received a divine revelation that this was the case. What was surprising was what occurred at the birth. First, a furry, testosterone-redolent, redheaded boy broke forth from the womb. Those assisting at the birth must have marvelled at the ruddy little bundle of fur. Compounding their surprise was the fierce determination of the second child whose little hand was clinging to the heel of his brother as though he was trying to pull his aside to advance himself!

The firstborn son was given the name Esau, (the word means “Red”). Later, little Red would be known as Edom—the name emphasising a shaggy red mane. On the surface, it isn’t possible to determine whether Esau’s name referred to his skin colour or to his hair colour; however, scholars appear confident that it referred to his shaggy red hair. [2] Later events appear to confirm this supposition when Jacob deceived his father by putting a goat skin on his arm so he would appear to be hairy. [3] He did this because his brother was “hairy.”

The second child was named “Jacob,” a Hebrew word sounding like the word for “Heel.” The name spoke of protection—for example, those who followed the rearguard of an army were given a name that sounded much like Jacob. In light of Jacob’s deceitful actions, the name came to signify an assailant, an overreacher or a deceiver. [4] However, it is doubtful that the parents named their child “Schemer,” though the name would assume that characterisation in time.

Let’s clarify some things about God’s choice. [5] God does not operate according to an earthly standard. Paul cites God’s choice of Jacob over Esau in this prophecy [see ROMANS 9:13]. The LORD had told Rebekah, “The older will serve the younger.” Addressing this issue, God speaks through Malachi to state, “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated” [MALACHI 1:2, 3]. The two boys were morally equal, sons of the same father. This teaches us that we cannot assign God’s choosing to a standard of our creation. If we protest against what we believe to be injustice in God’s choice of one and not of the other, we must consider the biblical context.

Paul answers our objection by quoting God’s affirmation that is provided in EXODUS 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” The context in which God made this statement was Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel after they had crafted and worshipped the golden calf. The divine explanation of what is going on is provided when the Apostle writes, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” [ROMANS 9:16]. Underscore in your minds the import of what has just been revealed concerning this prophecy of God—God elects for the sake of bringing His plan to fulfilment! Divine election is not in order to recognise or champion man’s efforts or projects! This is humbling in the extreme.

Our fallen nature wants to compel God to choose on the basis of justice or goodness or righteousness or piety. However, if He chose on what we presume to be proper bases we would be excluded! God’s wanton disregard for our moral and spiritual worthiness makes fellowship with Him possible! None of us are worthy of God’s choosing! His love ensures that we are chosen despite our unworthiness. Our own sinful condition distorts our view so that we fail to see with the eyes of God. Thus, we want to accuse God of being arbitrary; we imagine that God’s choice is a matter of contingency or that it is motivated by mere whim. Even when we accept God’s Word, we still worry that the biblical account of God’s choosing is reduced to a sort of divine game of “Eenie, meenie, miney, mo.”

Let me take a moment longer to address this issue. It deserves more careful attention than I will give it in this message, I fear. Nevertheless, it must be stated that our perception of divine election is tainted by our own experience. We choose, and we have a reason for our choice. However, when we are unconcerned about the consequences of our choice, we let go of reason, allowing the choice to play out as it will. We order breakfast and the waitress asks, “White toast or brown toast?” I usually reply, “Yes.” It doesn’t matter to me. Most of us make our choice without thinking. At other times, the choice is constantly changing. I start out to visit a friend, but on the way I change my mind and go somewhere else. Unconsciously, we begin to think of arbitrary choices as unstable and unreliable, without purpose or without thought; this becomes our concept of predestination—a remote deity moving pawns on a cosmic chessboard. Is it correct? Is it true that a choice for which I cannot give a reason implies indifference?

We assume that every choice for which we disregard reason implies indifference. However, when God ignores reason according to our standard, it does not imply indifference; rather, God tosses aside reason in order to ensure that one who does not deserve to be loved is loved! Immediately, in our contaminated condition we complain that God is arbitrary. Think about that even in your own situation. If a man loves his wife because of her beauty, he might discard her when he meets someone who is more beautiful. Likewise, if a woman loves her husband because of his high moral character, it is possible that she will cease to love him if she meets someone of higher moral character.

The noblest ideal for mankind is that we love another person, not because of his or her beauty, or character, or other qualities—we love because that person is. In this ideal situation we choose to love without referral to any influence other than the existence of the individual. When love predominates reason is discarded in order to focus on the one who is loved. Such love is neither indifferent nor fickle; love without motive or reason invests everything in the one loved. This makes love invincible—nothing can speak against love that has no reason.

Our love is never without reason. Though we want to love without condition, we fail in time. Eventually, we do take note of the appearance of our beloved. We begin to see the rust on the armor of our white knight. The fair maiden with breath as sweet as an apple awakens with the breath of a dragon. We begin to note the deficits in intelligence, the distorted humour, the flawed character of the one for whom we professed undying love. In the final analysis, we judge even those we profess to love. Contrasted with our flawed and transient love is God’s love—love that is omnipotent and unchanging. As Reno has written of God’s covenant with Abraham and the manner in which His choice is exerted in the birth of these two boys, “God plunges into human affairs with a terrible determination. Only a sudden, reasonless love can strike so quickly, so deeply, so permanently. And we cannot enter God’s embrace without abandoning our objection to his lack of reasons.” [6]

We cannot survey God’s love from above nor even while standing beside Him. If we attempt to place ourselves above Him, we will be forever frustrated because we exalted ourselves and doomed ourselves to failure. If we attempt to stand beside Him, we reveal our overweening pride that imagines we can object to His choice or somehow influence Him through our objections. No, we are compelled to stand before Him; and standing before Him we marvel at the arbitrary nature of His love. We cannot pretend that His love violates justice, for we are attempting to impose our self-made principles on Him and on His actions. God’s fierce love eclipses reasons, motives and judgements we might share. We share in God’s nature only insomuch as we know that God reaches out to grab us, and not because we know why. Christ was crucified and has been raised from the dead, defying our reason and defying our judgement, but imposing perfect justice. At the cross, the prophecy of the Psalmist is fulfilled:

“Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;

righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

[PSALM 85:10]

Even in the realm of human love, when we stand before one who loves, we marvel and confess our inability to understand. Parents worry, “Are you sure he’s the right one?” Friends who have stood with us and consoled us when things went wrong in the past will offer counsel: “Be careful. Think this through!” Nevertheless, the one who loves is heedless of such expressions of concern. Love’s flashing, fiery heat reassures us; reason is abandoned to love’s burning necessity. Though the human heart may eventually give way to our own sinful nature, God reveals a love that continues to burn hot throughout eternity for the one He loves. This is the reason that God reveals Himself as Yahweh—“I am Who I am.” The Name of God is not Perfect Justice, or Everlasting Goodness, or Sober Reason. His Name is Yahweh, and that Name drives us toward the deepest mystery pronounced in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—“God is love” [1 JOHN 4:8].

THE BIRTHRIGHT — I have invested a great deal of time focusing on the nature of God as well as focusing on His sovereign choice precisely because God does choose. In the text before us, God’s choosing is not choosing to salvation or to damnation—God’s choosing of Jacob rather than choosing Esau focuses on fulfilment of His divine plan. Because God focuses on fulfilling His divine plan, mankind is the beneficiary. God’s choosing expresses the reality of the famous verse found in John’s Gospel—“God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son” [JOHN 3:16]. There is so much more here than lies on the surface; yet, we need to review what is going on at the surface.

We are told nothing concerning the childhood years of these two boys. They did grow, developing the character that is revealed through reading the text. Moses informs the reader that “Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field.” He appears to have been his father’s favourite. Yes, parents do have favourites, though we try ever so hard to be even-handed. We know it is wrong to play favourites with our children, but it is done nevertheless, and always with sorrowful results. Maybe Tommy Smothers was right when he complained “Mom always liked you best.”

Engaging in a bit of speculation, I’m inclined to say that Isaac was living his dreams vicariously through the older boy. There may have been a lot of “self” in his decision. The Word tells us, “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game” [GENESIS 26:28a]. I have more than a sneaking suspicion that I would have like Esau—a lot! Esau appears to have been a manly sort of man, someone who could be depended to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of his father. Esau had some marked flaws that seem often overlooked. The writer of the Letter to Hebrew Christians says that Esau was “godless,” [7] “irreverent,” [8] “profane.” [9] We read the words recorded in Hebrews and we are likely to miss what is being said. GOD’S WORD TRANSLATION captures the thrust of what was originally written when it says, “Make sure that no one commits sexual sin or is as concerned about earthly things as Esau was. He sold his rights as the firstborn son for a single meal” [HEBREWS 12:16]. [10] Esau clearly deserved his poor reputation.

Despite his brother’s obvious flaws, I don’t want anyone to imagine that Jacob was a total loss. He is often presented as a Mama’s boy; however, Jacob was manly. He wasn’t a hunter; rather, he entered into the family business. He was a shepherd—and shepherding isn’t normally a life described as “cushy.” Later, Jacob would spend years shepherding in exchange for the privilege of marrying Rachel. He was wildly successful at shepherding.

Despite managing the family business, he appears to have spent quite a bit of time in his mother’s tent. The Hebrew word chosen to describe Jacob is deliberately ambiguous. It is translated “quiet” in the text. The word could have meant “plain” or “simple,” but however it is translated, it seems always to have carried positive connotations. It usually spoke of one as single-minded or as marked by integrity. [11]

Don’t read too much into the fact that Isaac loved Esau and Rebekah loved Jacob; however, neither should you ignore this information. My grandmother used to say that she “loved Mikey, because no one else would.” That didn’t mean that she didn’t love my brother. There was never a sense that she loved one of us more than the other. Nevertheless, whether intended or not, the parents did have favourites.

Isaac loved Esau because he loved wild game. Perhaps Rebekah loved Jacob because he was at home. The boys were valued for that they could do for the parents rather than being valued for who they were. Children differ—some are athletic and some are musical. Some enjoy reading and some enjoy getting their hands dirty in their work. Some enjoy surfing the Internet and some enjoy spending time in the field hunting. As parents, we must guard against loving best the child whose interests and aptitudes most closely match our own interests and aptitudes. For Rebekah and Isaac, the ground was being set for a lifetime of strife between the two boys. One scholar has aptly noted, “In time, the sin of Isaac and Rebekah would come home to roost in a fitting judgment of God: Isaac would be deceived by his taste for wild game, while Rebekah would find her stay-at-home son propelled far away from her.” [12]

What is important for the moment is that Esau treated the birthright as unimportant. Candidly, neither of these men is seen in a positive light. Esau was shallow—a man governed by his feelings. He didn’t value the things that were truly valuable. Esau has been described as “a backwoods lout,” [13] and the concept appears appropriate.

Jacob doesn’t appear in any better light; his character invites a flood of negatives—opportunist, cheat, schemer, heartless, self-seeking, self-serving. It is difficult to be attracted to him. The wonder is that when you see these two men side-by-side that God could love either of them! Indeed, when we think of our own lives, we marvel that God loves us. However, as was undoubtedly true for these two men, we minimise our flawed character traits and exalt what we consider our best features.

We aren’t shocked by the account before us, no doubt because we don’t understand the concept of the birthright. In the ancient Jewish culture, the firstborn son received a double portion of the inheritance. If there were three sons, the eldest son would receive one-half of the estate at the death of the father and the other two would each receive one-quarter. In this case, because there were two sons, Esau was to receive two-thirds of the estate and Jacob would receive one-third. Part of the reason for the extra provision for the eldest son was because he would be responsible to care for any family members remaining. The birthright spoke of responsibility to the family—it spoke of the family’s honour and of assuring the continuation of the family name. To despise the birthright was to disgrace the family and to treat responsibility as though it meant nothing.

Duty and honour may not be valued as greatly in modern culture, but that does not mean that duty and honour have no value! It is precisely because so many have forgotten that we do bear a duty to the generations that have gone before and that we are responsible to honour our family that modern culture grows more coarse, more self-centred and spins steadily downward in what can only be described as a societal death spiral.

The story told is that Esau came in from hunting one day, famished as is often the case for hunters. His pickup skidded to a stop outside of Jacob’s tent because he caught the scent of a delightful stew. The mouth-watering aroma was carried on the breeze, drawing Esau as if in a trance. Walking in, Esau saw a beautiful red stew. He said to his brother, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving” [GENESIS 25:30]. [14] That’s a rather literal translation of the Hebrew. Give Esau credit, he was polite—he did say “Please,” which was more than Jacob would do in the exchange.

If your brother came in starved and asked you to feed him, wouldn’t you say, “Sure, brother, pull up a chair and dive in?” However, Jacob didn’t do that. He said, “Sell me your birthright now” [GENESIS 25:31]. Esau appears to concede that he was willing to let the birthright go when he responded, “I’m about to die; of what use is a birthright to me” [GENESIS 25:32]? This apparent agreement wasn’t enough for Jacob, so he bound his brother with an oath, demanding, “Swear an oath to me now” [GENESIS 25:33a]. [15] It wasn’t enough that his brother agreed, Jacob dragged the LORD into the sordid affair by forcing Esau to swear a solemn oath. The Bible states rather plainly, “So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob” [GENESIS 25:33b].

God had promised that the older would serve the younger. Jacob didn’t need to intervene. He didn’t trust God or the divine promise. What Jacob did was to take Satan’s shortcut to get what he felt was rightly his. Despite God’s promise, which Jacob surely knew, Jacob acted like so many of us and thought he would “help” God to fulfil the divine promise. Jacob seems to have though that his craftiness and his skillful schemes would accomplish the divine work.

Churches do this all the time. God has promised, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [MATTHEW 16:18]. Despite the divine promise, preachers and church boards plan bingo nights, fund-raising schemes, talent nights, talents nights, musical productions and movie nights to entertain the lost into the Kingdom of God.

What churches do is but a reflection of the prevailing attitude of members of the congregations who imagine that through lowering their standards to laugh at salacious and lascivious stories they will show what easy-going people they are. By doing this, they will entice the wicked into the church. “If we don’t embarrass anyone by naming sins,” they imagine, “people will like us and come to church.” Let me say quite clearly that our purpose is not to get people to come to church—our commission is to proclaim the message of life that begins with the bad news of mankind’s fallen condition.

The focus of the message is not Jacob, however—the focus of the message is Esau. Let’s be clear that Esau wasn’t going to die of starvation. He revealed his character in this incident. He was living for the moment, driven by his appetites and incapable of valuing what was of great worth. He surrendered the opportunity, humanly speaking, that his line would bring forth the Messiah. He counted that privilege of less value than a bowl of lentil stew.

Like too many church boards I have known, Esau knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. He wanted results—NOW! Why worry about a solid foundation when you can do what you want to do now. I’ve heard the whining. “We want to be respected in the community. Your preaching makes people uncomfortable. Something has to give!” The baleful bleat pleads, “People won’t like us if you don’t quit preaching about people’s sins.” Esau exchanged that which was of eternal value for a brief moment’s pleasure. The Hebrew makes it clear that he didn’t even pause to savour the culinary experience. [16] He gulped down the stew and immediately left the tent. He wasn’t so terribly different from many of us.

Let me ask a probing question. Is there a sin, some cherished act or attitude that you hold onto? Are you are releasing the greater weight of the Kingdom of God for some momentary pleasure? How often have people made shipwreck of their careers, their reputations and even their lives as they pursued one moment’s satisfaction! We Christians too often place little or no value on the privilege of being called God’s children, of being known as members of the Body of Christ. Let us be cautioned against casting stones at others in this instance.

THE FALLOUT — We don’t read, “Thus Jacob took advantage of his brother and Esau despised his birthright.” Rather, the divine account states in stark terms, “Thus Esau despised his birthright” [GENESIS 25:34b]. There are great and significant lessons we must learn if we will honour God. One of the first lessons is that each one is responsible for his or her own actions. Though God had already determined to give the covenant blessings to Jacob, that didn’t absolve anyone in the family from their obligations to the Lord. Rebekah was responsible to act with integrity rather than urging her son to engage in deceit. Isaac was responsible to embrace the divine Word rather than being driven by his own love of wild game. Esau was responsible to accept graciously the divine decree rather than treating the honour with despite. Jacob was responsible to trust God rather than attempting to take matters into his own hands. Each member of the family was responsible for his or her own actions. Just so, each of us is responsible for our own actions. We must give an account to God.

Another lesson is that God is at work despite human effort to thwart His plan. The prophecy given to Rebekah did not fix the future. Jacob served his brother by dishing up a bowl of red stew; in serving, he gains the advantage. Esau was culpably negligent for not providing for a meal after hunting; so, he exchanged Abraham’s birthright for a single bowl of lentil stew. His was a wicked act flowing from God’s sovereign choice. God didn’t cause Esau to act as he did; Esau made his own choice and he shall give an answer for his action. Elected to serve the younger, Esau no more acted willingly to fulfil God’s purpose than did Adam and Eve play their roles in the divine drama.

Another lesson is that it is never right to do wrong in order to have a chance to do right. Jacob is not excused for his scheming—he acted wickedly. Forever after he remembered his duplicity, his perfidy. Though the text says nothing about his ruthless act, he would himself be the victim of a schemer when his father-in-law duped him. He would live in fear of meeting his brother ever after and he would be estranged from his father and mother, never being near them again in this life. Sin carries a very high price—much higher than we can ever pay.

I do want to answer the question posed in the title of the message. “Was Esau saved? Or was he lost?” That is not for me to say; I am not in the place of God. Considering the sweep of Scripture it does seem to me that Scripture indicates that Esau failed to trust the LORD. Esau does seem to be fully driven by his own natural desires—so controlled by those desires that he is prepared to treat the precious gifts of God with despite. Elsewhere in Scripture, the theme of opposition to the plan of God seems to flow out of Esau’s lineage.

Writing of the descendants of Esau, Obadiah writes of Edom:

“Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,

shame shall cover you,

and you shall be cut off forever.”

[OBADIAH 10]

Granted, this prophecy is neither a revelation concerning Esau nor does it even ascribe judgement on him as an individual. However, it is well to bear in mind that the character Esau demonstrated is reflected in the attitude of his descendants—Edom.

Similarly, when Amos pronounces judgement on Edom, he reveals the negative character traits that marked Esau, progenitor of the nation.

“Thus says the LORD:

‘For three transgressions of Edom,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because he pursued his brother with the sword

and cast off all pity,

and his anger tore perpetually,

and he kept his wrath forever.’

[AMOS 1:11]

At the heart of Esau’s fall is the reality—the sad reality—that he did not believe the Word of God. In his estimate, God’s promise was intangible and unreal. Contrast Esau’s view with that of Jacob who believed the promise. Jacob’s character failure came precisely because he did believe God’s promise. True, he didn’t believe God’s promise could be apart from his own sinful manipulation of his brother. Nevertheless, Jacob stands as a man of faith.

Are you offended by this story? Are you scandalised by the exercise of God’s sovereign choice? If so, it is because you do not know yourself; you do not know how profoundly sinful you are in every facet of your being. We speak of mankind being ruined by the fall; but we don’t like to deal with the fact that we are utterly devoid of goodness. Left to ourselves, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” [EPHESIANS 2:1]. We have nothing with which to assuage the wrath of God. Isaiah has truthfully exposed our condition when he wrote:

“We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away”

[ISAIAH 64:6]

Again, if you are offended by this story of man’s evil, you do not understand God. He is King! Not us! God is not compelled to do our bidding. Our cultural conventions, our suppositions, our limited knowledge do not constrain Him to act according to our designs! God does not submit to our notions of how He should act or what He should be. Unlike us, God is loving, righteous and good. God, in Christ, suffered for our sin. Therefore, He is free to dispense grace as He chooses.

Finally, if you are scandalised by this story, you do not understand grace. If grace is earned, it is not grace. Grace is given to those who do not deserve it. Grace is given at God’s discretion and not according to our directives. Grace is there for any who will receive it. You, also, can receive this grace because it is offered freely. And if you do receive this grace, you will discover that it is all of God from beginning to end. [17]

I close with this divine offer. If you openly agree with God that Jesus is Master, believing with all your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be set free. With the heart one believes and is made right with God, and openly agreeing with Him results in freedom. That promise concludes with a citation from the Prophet Joel, who wrote, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved” [cf. ROMANS 10:9, 10, 13]. Believe and be saved today. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary (Word, Inc., Dallas, TX 1998) 2

[3] Cf. GENESIS 27:5-23

[4] Allan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 1998) 441

[5] The following discussion is significantly informed by the discussion presented by R. R. Reno, Genesis, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI 2010) 217-222

[6] Op. cit., Reno, 221

[7] The NET Bible

[8] Holman Christian Standard Bible

[9] King James Version

[10] God’s Word Translation

[11] See David A. Clines, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England 1993-2011) 638

[12] Iain M. Duguid, Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel in the Lives of Isaac and Jacob, Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves (eds.), The Gospel according to the Old Testament (P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ 2002) 10

[13] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, Preaching the Word (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2004) 336

[14] The NET Bible

[15] The NET Bible

[16] See GENESIS 25:30, New American Standard Bible

[17] These final three points are adapted from Hughes, op. cit., 337-338

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