About 20 years ago there was a wildly popular song called “La Macarena”. It had a great beat and no one could keep from dancing to it, not even the really big baby in my womb at the time! We thought it was so funny that every time that song came on the radio, Jeff would get very active, slamming about in my belly. Well, that was nothing compared to what Rebekah was going through so many years ago.
Lately, we’ve been reading through the story of Abraham in the book of Genesis. Today we learn about Abraham's son Isaac and his wife Rebekah. Like Sarah before her, Rebekah was barren, so Isaac prayed to the Lord.
The Lord answered his prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins, who fought each other in her womb. It was so uncomfortable, she said, “If this keeps up, I can’t go on living!” So she asked God what was going on. God said to her, “Two nations are within you; You will give birth to two rival peoples. One will be stronger than the other; The older will serve the younger.”
Rebekah gave birth to twin sons. The first one was red, and his skin was like a hairy robe, so he was named Esau (which sounds like the word “hairy” in Hebrew). The second one was born holding on tightly to the heel of Esau, so he was named Jacob. (which sounds like the word “heel” in Hebrew.)
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilled hunter, a man who loved the outdoors, a macho man. Since his father Isaac loved to eat game, he was very fond of Esau. But, on the other end of the spectrum was Jacob, a meek, quiet man who stayed at home and was his mama’s favorite son.
One day while Jacob was cooking some lentil stew, Esau came in from hunting. He was hungry and said to Jacob, “I'm starving; give me some of that red stew.” (And his new nickname became Edom which means “red”) Jacob said; “Sure, I’ll give it to you if you give me your birthright.” Esau said, “All right! I’m so hungry, I’m about to die; what good will my rights do me?” Jacob answered, “First promise that you will give me your rights.”
Esau promised his birthright to Jacob. So Jacob gave him some bread and some of the stew. He ate and drank and then got up and left. That was all Esau cared about his birthright as the first-born son.
Let’s pause here: if you know someone named Jacob please raise your hands. How about Esau? That’s what I thought. Not too many Esau’s out there. Why do you think that is?
Let’s step back and look at the big picture here. Jacob, is the son of Isaac, and grandson of Abraham who is the father of the Jewish people and a very wealthy man. Jacob wants Esau to promise his birthright in exchange for some lentil stew. This birthright issue is a big deal because the eldest son, the birthright holder, receives a double portion of the inheritance and he also becomes the head of the family and its spiritual leader. In this family, the holder of the birthright, would also inherit the covenant God made with Abraham!
It seems that Esau is nuts to give all of this up for some stew. Why did he despise his birthright? Well, we all know another similar story: Edward VIII, the British king abdicated his throne to marry Wallis Simpson. He said that he could not carry the burdens of state without the woman he loved, so his younger brother had to step up to be the king. Young Prince Harry recently confessed that no one in his family wants to be king or queen, but they will carry out their duties when the time comes. So this idea of a despised birthright isn’t that odd.
Remember when Rebekah was having so much trouble with her pregnancy that she was ready to die? She asks God for help and God makes a prophecy about two nations in her womb, two divided people, one stronger, one weaker and the elder shall serve the younger. This story is all about the fulfillment of that prophecy. Esau will become the leader of the Edomite people while Jacob will lead the Israelites. Jacob, the weaker and younger of the twins will triumph overall.
Why would God choose Jacob? Mary pointed out in bible study that he was kind of a jerk, stealing his brother’s birthright for a bowl of stew. I agree with Mary that Jacob is a schemer and a cheat. I like him even less when he and his mom later conspire to trick his old dad into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. Juliana Claassens writes: “There is nothing in Jacob's behavior that deserved God's favor - actually God's favor comes in spite of Jacob's actions. This line of interpretation makes a strong case for God's grace.”
God has chosen Jacob as the one to lead his people. This is not without precedence: Isaac was chosen over his older brother Ishmael; Rachel was chosen over her older sister, Leah; Joseph was chosen over all of his older brothers; King David was the youngest in his family. In every case, God’s blessing comes to those who do not deserve it. God values the weak and Jacob is the weak brother. This theme is present throughout the bible.
Remember, we are reading this story from the Hebrew bible, from the point of view of the Jewish people. In this telling, God chooses the tiny, weak nation of Israel, not because it is great but because it is not great. Israel understands itself as a small, powerless people who live in the midst of much stronger nations.
When Jesus talked about the coming of the kingdom of God, it wasn’t the elite who heard him, it was the people on the margins of society. Jesus says that the meek shall inherit the earth. The last shall be first. There seems to be a special place in God’s heart for people who are overlooked, for people in low positions.
Remember the prophecy? “The greater will serve the lesser.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Magnificat sings; “[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly”. In 1 Corinthians we read: “God has chosen what is weak to shame what is strong.”
God looks over the whole world to find the people to call his own and he chooses poor, powerless, meek, lowly people, again and again. He doesn’t choose the powerful and rich. He chooses people just like us. God chooses us. We don’t have to be strong, or perfect. God chooses and blesses us just as we are and as God’s chosen people we must go out and be a blessing to the whole world.