Sermon: An Impetuous Choice Cannot Be Undone
Scripture: Genesis 25:19-34
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date: July 16, 2017,
This morning, we are reading a foundational Story in scripture that outlines three primary biblical themes. First, it narrows down the lineage of Jesus and the Messiah. Second, it outlines the tensions between God’s chosen people the Hebrews and their life-long nemesis the Edomites. Third, it begins to solidify the fact that God uses grossly broken, fallible, unlikely people to accomplish His plans.
Our Story this morning describes what we would call a classic dysfunctional family: We have a cut-throat sibling rivalry; the parents choose favorites amongst their children; there is deception; there are impetuous, rash decisions; and then there is the sin of all sins in any relationship, family members joining alliances and triangulating against other members of the family. Isaac and Rebekah’s family puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional family” and the good news is, God will still use that brokenness to accomplish the Kingdom of Heaven’s ends. Turn to Genesis 25 and we will begin with verse 19. I would very much encourage you to go home and read this family’s whole Story which runs through Genesis 50. It contains three generations of one family; it runs like the TV show Dallas in all its sordid details. If after you read it and tell me, “I don’t see why the Old Testament is worth reading or is boring” then we need to have coffee together! As my former Hebrew professor, David Gunn would wistfully say in his Australian accent, “These are just whopping good tales!” Listen to the Word of the Lord!
19These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.23And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. 
Even before the twins were born, they were struggling and fighting with one another. Even in the womb, momma Rebekah already knew she had a tempest in a teapot brewing. Twins, seemingly the same but who are oh so different. Even at birth, this set of twins will struggle with each other to be the first one out. Jacob, whose very name means “to grab at the heel” or “strive against” tried valiantly to be the first one born but his brother Esau was positioned ahead of him. Esau, who came out all red and hairy as an infant may not have been the prettiest baby to look at but he grew up strong and became his daddy’s favorite. He liked to go hunt, kill stuff and to be out as we would say “tromping in the wilderness” doing all types of manly-man things. Based on Scripture’s description of the two, they were most likely fraternal twins and not identical. Esau was the Grizzly Adams outdoorsman.
Then there was Jacob. Jacob is described as a “quiet man living in the tents.” Quiet is an interesting Hebrew word in that it means one who is complete, perfect, morally innocent and ethically pure. The funny thing is, the more we get to know Jacob, we know that Jacob fails to live into that description at the outset. While Esau was happy to be out hunting and chasing animals on wilderness adventures, Jacob, the supplanter was happy to hang around the tents with all the women learning about home economics as well as being tuned into all the family scuttlebutt. Jacob was shrewd and he used this to his advantage.
Esau was daddy’s favorite and Jacob was a momma’s boy. Esau loved to dote on his daddy Isaac and bring him hunting trophies but Jacob listened and learned from the women; it is while remaining in the camp among the tents Jacob learned to be a political animal.
It’s important to note that in our Story, God is using the main female character to implement His plan of salvation history. Rebekah, as any smart married man would say, wears the pants in the family; she is the one who orchestrates the events that unfold over the next nine chapters in her family history which in turn impact the Storyline of Christ centuries later. Yes, Isaac and Rebekah’s family would give any marriage and family therapist lifelong job security. And yet, in the midst of this stew of family goulash, in the midst of all the conniving, deceiving and favoritism, God works in the swirliness of this broken family to ultimately redeem humanity. It may be our dysfunction but God will turn it to His opportunity in spite of us.
Today’s Story has the family in the midst of their everyday routines. Jacob is hanging around camp and Esau has been out hunting. Esau has been traipsing through the wilderness looking for food to bring home and it seems he was not too successful. He returns home totally exhausted and spent to the point where he really is not thinking clearly. He comes home, plops down, and begins sniffing the air: Ah, Jacob has been cooking! “Hey Jacob, give me some of that red stuff to eat! I’m starved!” Jacob was all too ready to oblige his brother and by having control of the kitchen, Jacob exerts some power over the Esau, who is now nicknamed Edom which means ‘red’. Today we would nickname Esau, “Red.”
Whether it began as a joke or not, the situation soon becomes a life-changing moment for the family and for all salvation history, Jacob replies, “Sure, Red, I’ll give you some of this stew – and let me tell you it’s delicious! Everybody loved it, daddy particularly. But I tell you what, before I give you any of this luscious red stew, you have to sell me your birthright.”
Let’s put this in perspective. Let’s say your late great aunt Milly died and let left you $4 million dollars. Now you have a brother or sister who is not in on the money’s disbursement and they are left off the estate. Imagine calling them up and telling them, “hey I just got $4million from Aunt Milly and you didn’t get anything. What I was thinking, why don’t you take me to lunch at the finest Scottish restaurant in town, McDonald’s, buy me lunch and I will give the $4 million dollars in return.” Shaking your head in disbelief, you repeat back to them what you heard: “You’re going to give me $4 million dollars if I take you to McDonald’s and buy you a McRib sandwich? That’s crazy!” Yup, it is crazy but this is exactly what Esau did with Jacob.
Birthrights were a big deal in antiquity. The rights of the firstborn son in any family were substantial as they were entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. The one who owns the birthright not only becomes wealthy but he also becomes the de facto family leader and patriarch. And yet, here we have heel-grabbing Jacob making a such a preposterous proposition to his brother over a bowl of red bean soup that anyone who overheard this conversation would immediately shake their head and look at Jacob and say, “What? You want Red to sell you his birthright for a bowl of stew!? I don’t care how good it is but it’s not worth a birthright! You’re nuts! Red’s not that stupid!”
Or is he? Will Red bite the bait? Sadly, we discover he is. Was Jacob kidding with him or did he shrewdly know his brother so well that he dared to ask the question? We don’t know. All we know is that Red took the bait, swore away his birthright, ate the red stew, drank up heavily, and then got up to leave. Esau, Red, was overwhelmed with his immediate physical gratification and needs that he took no thought of his future. He defines the Me Generation in that he wants whatever he wants when he wants and he wants it right now! “What good is my birthright now? Daddy’s still alive and I’m starving now!” So he sold his birthright for a moment of sensual pleasure. He sold his birthright thereby selling off his very future for the most basic and common of all meals – soup! At least if he was going to sell it for food, make sure it’s a feast fit for a king with lamb, beef, succulent herbs and side dishes. Not so with Red, with Esau. His lack of discipline, prudence, and vision for the future caused him to flippantly disdain his birthright.
As renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, notes in his brilliant commentary on Genesis, “What is clear is that Jacob, in contrast to Esau, believes in futures to which Esau is indifferent.” He goes on to say that Jacob at least knew of the future promise of God and patiently waits for those promises to unfold. Esau, Red, on the other hand, compromises “the faith for the sake of easier gains: pottage. Esau becomes a type for those who do not trust the promise (of God) and accommodate themselves. The issue for (us) is how to believe (in) the promises seriously enough to withstand alternative forms of (self-gratification) which are available and within our control.”
So, first the bad news; the bad news is that an impetuous choice the likes Esau made cannot be undone. It has lasting consequences. But second, the good news: The Good News is that any impetuous action we take, no matter how much it thwarts our future, no matter how much it hurts us or another person, it cannot thwart the purposes and future God already is creating in the midst of our current life or mess. We may act out of anger, impure motives, resentment or contempt, but the good news is, as we are reminded at the very end of Genesis, that though others mean things for evil, the Lord intends it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people.
Beloved, in the bulletin, is a picture I found on Instagram. It’s a picture of a German Shepherd that in a moment of rage and hunger leaps off a high cliff to snatch a bird out of the air. The picture does not reveal what happens next but we know: Birds can fly but German Shepherds cannot. Beloved, are you like the German shepherd in the picture which is a metaphor for Esau, or are you developing the spiritual discipline of praying and patiently waiting for God to reveal His promises to you in your life? Church, have you ever sold your birthright? Have you ever sold Christ out in a moment of anger, passion, or impetuousness? Let all of us be assured that if have – and all of us have at one time or another – it’s not too late to get it back! You see, what we do not see an image of the Christ who catches that German Shepherd when it fell; it’s the same Christ who catches us when we fall as well.
Perhaps you may want to cut that picture out and place it in your Bible or on your mirror to remind you to wait patiently for the Lord. And all God’s people say, Amen!
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for teaching and preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 219.
 Ibid., 220. Words in parenthesis were added by me for rhetorical clarification.
 Genesis 50:21.