Beginning in Genesis 25:19, the focus of the story shifts from Abraham to his son, Isaac and Isaac’s children, Jacob and Esau. Over the next several chapters, we see the promises of God transferred from Abraham to Isaac and then from Isaac to Jacob. In the initial section – Gen. 25:19-34 – we see God miraculously provide children to Isaac and Rebekah while also declaring their futures in advance. Much like the stories involving Abraham, we see the truth about God revealed through “normal”, “everyday” life situations.
First, we see Isaac in a situation very similar to his father, Abraham – caring for a wife who is unable to bear children. Isaac prays for Rebekah, and God hears and grants her not just one child but twins! As the children struggled in her womb, she inquired of the Lord and was told that the older would actually serve the younger (Gen. 25:19-28). Clearly, there was “strife” even in the womb between these two brothers – foreshadowing the strife that would come later – even as the next story reveals (Gen. 25:29-34). All in all, the last half of chapter 25 presents us with a picture of a very dysfunctional family. Two brothers fight with each other even from the womb. After they are born, each is preferred by a different parent (which leads to problems in the future). Then, we see the younger brother, Jacob, scheme his way into getting the birthright that rightfully belonged to his older brother, Esau. There is drama all around.
So what in the world does all this drama teach us? First, it reminds us that God is faithful to His promises and powerful enough to do whatever He desires. God had promised Abraham that he would be a “great nation” (Gen. 12:2) with numerous descendants (Gen. 15:5). And yet, it seemed that the promises might be in danger because Rebekah was barren. However, God miraculously provided children for Isaac – ensuring that his offspring continued and multiplied (25:19-28). God was both faithful and powerful. He was able to do what He said, and He did it. As we read this story, we need to remember that God will keep His promises. Even when it seems impossible or hopeless, God is able to do all things. He is both faithful and powerful.
The second thing we see very clearly in this passage is the absolutely sovereign of God over all things. After the children are conceived, God chose to bless the younger of the two before they were ever born (25:23). Just like we have seen with Ishmael and Isaac (and we will see with Jacob’s own children), the firstborn did not receive the blessing and the promises. God chose the younger son to be preeminent over the older son. And this choosing was based entirely on the will of God rather than on any actions (even foreseen actions) either child would do. Paul writes that “when Rebecca 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 his call – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Rom. 9:10b-13). According to Paul, God wanted to make clear His sovereignty – that is, His ability to do what He wants how He wants with whom He wants. Jacob was chosen because God wanted to choose him. This is the sovereignty of God on full display. He does what He pleases, and no one can stop that or transcend that.
We also see the sovereignty of God in the fact that God gave the blessings and promises to Jacob in spite of, and even through, Jacob’s scheming and lying (25:29-34). Jacob exploited his brother’s hunger to gain his brother’s birthright. Clearly, he is held up as a scheming, deceitful character. Nevertheless, God uses it to do what He promised: He makes sure that Jacob is blessed. He allows Jacob to exploit Esau, and He uses those sinful circumstances to accomplish His will. The point here is not to encourage us to imitate Jacob but rather to demonstrate that God’s purposes are carried out no matter what. He is sovereign, and His plans and purposes are not dependent on anyone (even His people) or anything (like the perfect obedience of His people). Rather, His plans and purposes rest on Him. He is sovereign, and He can carry out His will even in the midst of (and through) sin and wickedness – even the sin and wickedness of His chosen people.
As we consider this, we are reminded that God is still sovereign today. He is in control of all things, and He works out everything according to the counsel of His will. This is extremely encouraging for God’s people because it reminds us that God’s will is ultimate. He is the captain of this ship, and He is taking it where He wants to take it. Moreover, it is encouraging because it reminds us that God is able to do His will and accomplish His purpose even in the face of our sin and failure. This should also humble us by reminding us that we are not in control. We must recognize our own inability and limits so that we will bow our hearts before the God who is in control of all things.
You see, ultimately, this text points us to God. He is faithful and powerful. And He is sovereign. Why does that matter? It means we should walk in faithful obedience. Instead of having minds set on earthly things – like Esau, we should set our minds on things above and seek the things that matter and will last (Col. 3:1-2; Phil. 3:18-19; Matt. 6:31-33). Moreover, we should trust that God will keep His promises, and we should live as if the promises are true. In short, we should walk by faith and not by sight.