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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 1045am service, 2012-10-07

Text: Genesis 25:19-34

Every stage of life that we go through presents its own set of problems for us to handle. In our youth we find ourselves competing with one another, and sometimes even at home where there is sibling rivalry. If that is what you are facing now, then you may empathise with Jacob and Esau in the rivalry they had at the latter part of this passage. Perhaps you may be a married couple trying to have children. For many years you have tried to have a baby, but without success. Or perhaps you are able to conceive but you have to cope with a difficult pregnancy. Then you may be able to identify with Isaac and Rebecca and the challenges they faced, first of infertility, and then of becoming parents of a pair of fraternal twins who were constantly at war with each other.

The common denominator of these scenes of life depicted in this passage is the role of man’s prayers and the surprising ways in which God answered them and worked out His divine purpose. This morning we will learn precious lessons as we study a series of events beginning with….

I. Isaac’s Perseverance in Praying for Rebecca (vv.19-21)

It all started with Isaac’s praying that was occasioned by his wife’s inability to conceive. Today, about 90,000 couples in Singapore face a similar problem – after married for many years but are still unable to have any kids of their own. But unlike Isaac and Rebecca, couples today are able to avail themselves of medical help to conceive a child (e.g. in vitro fertilization). In Isaac’s time the only recourse available was prayer. Verse 21 tells us, “And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”

There are two points we want to note here: Firstly, what a good husband Isaac was to be praying for Rebecca’s needs. He loved his wife and entreated (i.e. pleaded with) the Lord for her. Isn’t this what all of us who are Christian husbands should do? I say this to all husbands here: Follow Isaac’s example. Part of your role of spiritual leadership in the home is to pray for your wife and also for your children. Please remember that the needs of your family should always be your concern, and that you should always look to God for help, and always direct your loved ones to look to God with you.

Secondly, I want you to note how long Isaac intreated God for his wife before she was able to conceive. This can be worked out by comparing verses 20 and 26. Verse 20 informs us that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebecca, and verse 26 tells us that he was threescore or 60 years old when his sons were born. This means that he prayed for 19 years! That’s a really long time – it requires exceptional perseverance to keep up his praying for 19 years. It was this quality that made Isaac a hero of faith – his perseverance in praying not for himself, but for his wife.

In the chain of patriarchal history, many consider Isaac to be the weakest link. The story of his life is only 3 chapters long (Genesis 25-27). Compare this with Abraham – 12 chapters long (Gen 12-24), and Jacob – 10 chapters long (Gen 27-36). Isaac’s short account is sandwiched between these two long accounts.

After the exciting account of Abraham’s life, the story of Isaac seems to lack excitement. The only striking events in Isaac’s life are that of his birth, his being offered as a sacrifice at Mt Moriah, and his marriage, and in all of them Isaac only played a very passive role. The first two events spoke of his father’s faith, not his; and his matched-made marriage had nothing to his credit – it was his father’s decision for him to marry Rebecca. Because of this, some may conclude that Isaac was a somewhat passive and colourless Bible character, almost weak at first sight.

But Isaac goes down in history as a great hero of faith, mentioned no less than four times in Hebrews 11, the great ‘Hall of Faith.’ His name occurs no less than 128 times in the whole Bible and 40% of these are outside the book of Genesis! Why is this so? What was it that made Isaac great in God’s eyes? I believe it was the fact that he persevered in prayer for 19 years. He was really patient in trusting God to answer his prayer.

In comparison, his own mother, Sarah, was not so patient – instead of trusting God to provide a child for her, she took matters into her own hands with disastrous results (Genesis 16). Ishmael, the son that Sarah had by proxy, could not inherit the promise that God gave to Abraham. Therefore it is to Isaac’s credit that he persevered in praying for his wife for 19 years. Doesn’t this make him like Jesus Christ who has persevered in praying for the Church for more than 19 centuries in His heavenly intercession?

The lesson that we all must learn from Isaac’s example is to persevere in prayer. There are times when the Lord may answer us at the very first time we ask of Him. But there are also times when He will only grant what we ask for after we have prayed and prayed for a long time. Why does the Lord do this?

Because this is the way He exercises our faith and makes it grow. At times our faith needs to be stretched to its very limits in order to develop further. James wrote about this at the beginning of his epistle, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (1:3) In Isaac’s case, we see that after years of praying and having his faith thoroughly stretched and exercised, he finally received God’s answer: And what an answer it turned out to be – instead of having one child, he had two!

This teaches us to persevere tenaciously in prayer. We are to ask, seek and knock fervently at the throne of grace until we receive the answer from God. Later on, Isaac’s son, Jacob wrestled with God and refused to let Him go (Genesis 32:24-28). He held tightly on to Him despite suffering the agony of a dislocated hip joint and said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” In the end, God blessed Jacob and said to him, “as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

What God wants to find in you is not just faith to look to Him in prayer, but faith to prevail with Him in prayer. Therefore you must not give up so easily, but keep seeking the Lord for things that are agreeable to His will, such as praying for the salvation of your loved ones, or for a job, or deliverance from illness. And when God answers your prayers, you may be surprised to find that it far exceeds all that you ask of think!

When Isaac prayed for his wife to conceive, God surprised him by giving him twins. When Hannah prayed for son, God surprised her by giving her one who became one of the greatest prophets of Israel – for Samuel had the distinction of anointing the first two kings of Israel. When Cornelius prayed, God surprised him by sending the apostle Peter to his home and giving the Holy Spirit to every member of his household (Acts 10). When the disciples prayed for Peter’s release from prison, God surprised them by bringing Peter right to their doorstep (Acts 12:12-16).

Recently, one sister shared at our Tuesday prayer meeting how she and her husband had prayed for 30 years for the salvation of his mother. They had shared the Gospel with her many times but always received the same negative response. But when they did this again a few weeks ago, they were utterly amazed that this time she wanted to believe in Christ for salvation. It took them completely by surprise. Who knows what unexpected answers God may have in store for you if you only persevere in prayer! So please do not be slothful or discouraged, but pray without ceasing! This is the important lesson that we learn from Isaac’s perseverance in praying for Rebecca.

II. Rebecca’s Enquiry to God (vv.22-26)

Our next lesson comes from the other prayer that is mentioned in our text. It was the prayer that Rebecca uttered when her joy of being able to conceive gradually gave way to the anguish and pain of a difficult pregnancy. Rebecca probably did not know that she had twins until God told her. Today, all parents-to-be would know quite early that twins are on the way when the gynae detects two heart-beats and the ultrasound scan shows two fetuses developing in the womb. But in ancient times, it was not easy to tell, even until birth.

Poor Rebecca! How many days of extreme discomfort she must have endured, when all she could do was to sit or lie down because of the things that were going on inside her tummy. Whatever remedy she tried to use to deal with her difficult pregnancy did not work. And so she did the only sensible thing to do. According to v.22, “…she went to enquire of the LORD” and she received an answer.

In your prayer life have you ever asked the Lord concerning things that bothered you a lot? Like: What steps should you take to solve an insurmountable problem? Or Why has God given you burdens that are too heavy for you to bear? Perhaps the Lord answered that prayer by revealing His will to you through His Word or through someone’s godly counsel. One lesson we can learn from Rebecca’s enquiry is on what to do whenever you face any problem in life: Bring it to God in prayer, and accept whatever answer He gives to you. Instead of worrying yourself sick over it, why not take it to the throne of grace? This is the best way to deal with every issue. [cf. Habakkuk did the same.]

We are not told here how Rebecca received God’s answer – It was usual in those days for the answer to be given through a vision or a dream. But the answer may have surprised her: The Lord told her that she had not one but two lively babies growing inside her tummy. Besides that, she learned that her extreme discomfort was due to a wrestling match they were engaged in inside her! This is the meaning of words ‘struggle together’in v.22.

And added to all that, Rebecca was told in the next verse that of the two sons she would bear, the elder one will serve the younger one. This is contrary to human thought, where the younger ought to serve the elder. Here is something interesting: Since the two sons were twins, they were actually the same age biologically as they were both conceived at the same time. However during delivery they cannot both come out at the same time. Hence, the first to be born would automatically become the elder son, and the other one would become the younger son by default. Their births may have been only a few seconds apart, but it made a big difference in their lives as it put the younger son at a disadvantage.

Could God have reversed the order in which they were born? Yes, He certainly could. If He had done that, then the younger one would have ended up serving the elder one, in line with human thought and that would be nothing unusual. But the Lord deliberately ordained the births to take place in the given order. Why? Perhaps it was done to show that God’s sovereign purpose never follows human laws, customs and purposes. He works out His purposes contrary to what we think. God would do the same thing later on with Joseph, who became greater than all his elder brothers. He would also choose David to be king, although he was the youngest and the least significant among Jesse’s sons. God’s ways are so much higher than our ways! In Isaiah 55:8 He tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”

Thus we have seen that God’s answers to our prayers may exceed our expectations, and may even be contrary to all human thought. This brings us now to a lesson that comes from the rest of our passage, which is on

III. God’s Outworking of His Purpose for the Sons of Isaac and Rebecca (vv.27-34)

In v.23 we saw God declaring to Rebecca that her elder son will serve her younger son. But Rebecca had no clue at all on how this was to happen. In fact, the way that her two sons developed after they were born seem to indicate that it would not happen. Everything was stacked in Esau’s favour: He had the birthright which belongs to the elder son. In Hebrew families, the eldest son’s birthright gave him precedence over his brothers. His birthright also assured him of getting a double portion of his father’s inheritance. Besides that, Esau was a cunning hunter and a man of the field (v.27). This means that he was strong enough and skilled enough to survive on his own. To the people of those times it was obvious that Esau was destined to succeed! Moreover, according to v.28 he was his father’s favourite son. Why? because Isaac loved to eat the venison which Esau brought home regularly from his hunting trips. So when the time comes for Isaac to bless his sons, who do you think will receive the greater blessing? Esau, of course! With all these things going for him, how could he not become greater than Jacob, and especially when Jacob had none of these things?

Let us look at what Jacob had: Verse 27 tells us that he was a plain man (i.e. he was an ordinary, quiet sort of person). It adds that Jacob dwelt in tents (i.e. he loved to stay at home and probably developed domestic skills). Verse 29 tells us that while Esau was hunting in the fields, Jacob was cooking some food at home. If Jacob lived today this may mean that he could become a great chef one day. But in those days this only made it clear that he was not destined for greatness. Besides all that, v.28 tells us that Jacob only had his mother’s favour – but could she give him an inheritance? No. Humanly speaking, all the odds were stacked against Jacob!

Looking at these two brothers as they are here outwardly, it would seem a plain, foregone conclusion who would end up serving who! And yet God was about to work out events in such a way that Jacob would take the lead and Esau would be left far behind! And the way that God did this was nothing less than astonishing. He did it by using the most unlikely tools one can imagine – He used the defects in their character!

Esau may have been a mighty and cunning hunter, but he had a serious defect: He had a wrong sense of values. He lived for things that could satisfy his immediate desires. This is seen in the way that he handled his birthright. This particular birthright included something special: a spiritual inheritance: It included all the covenant blessings that God had promised to Abraham and to Isaac. And yet Esau was willing to give up all these just to fill his empty stomach. In v.32 he claimed that he was about to die but this was somewhat exaggerated, since he was able to eat, drink, rise up and go on his way after that. It was definitely not a life and death situation. Verse 34 gives us the real reason behind his actions: Esau despised his birthright. It had no little or value in his sight.

It is sad that many people are like that today. They despise the things that are truly valuable and good, and they are willing to give them up just to satisfy their immediate desires for a short while. They live only for the things of this world like food, fame, fashion, fads, fun and Facebook. A recent survey of more than a thousand Singaporean youths revealed that they spend a lot of time on the Internet – especially in on-line media and on-line gaming. Many of them aspire to own properties and cars and to get a good job that pays them well. As you can see, they would rather invest their time and energy in earthly things that perish, rather than in heavenly things that last for ever.

I hope that none of us are like that. And if you are, I trust that you will realize how foolish it is, and will now correct your sense of values. Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20 – “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

Now, unlike Esau, Jacob had the right sense of values. He knew how immensely valuable his brother’s birthright was. The defect in Jacob is that he had a terribly distorted code of ethics! He would do anything at all to get what he wanted regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Firstly, it was wrong for him to covet what was not his. He should know that Esau’s birthright was off-limits to him. Secondly, it was very wrong for him to lure his own brother into selling him his birthright.

Jacob must have observed that Esau was weakest whenever he returned from hunting all tired and hungry. So, like a lion stalking its prey, Jacob got ready to pounce on him at his weakest moment. Jacob may also have studied his brother’s eating habits for some time, and had discovered that nothing could entice him more than a pot of hot red bean stew and some freshly baked bread. This was the perfect bait to use on Esau. That day, Jacob deliberately timed his cooking to coincide with his brother’s return from hunting. And as he saw Esau coming, he turned up the heat so that the fragrance of red bean stew would waft toward him. And soon Esau walked right into Jacob’s trap, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. You know, Esau might even have thought, “What a wonderful, caring brother I have who has taken the trouble to cook such a nice meal for me just when I needed for it most.” If this was his thought, then he was truly deceived by Jacob.

Can you see how wicked Jacob was, to plot and scheme like this against his own twin brother? Here, Jacob lived up to his name, which means ‘supplanter.’ Whatever brotherly love he might have had for Esau vanished into nothingness with this act, when he viciously exploited Esau’s weakness Jacob was just like a conman who robs a poor widow of all her life savings! It is sad that many people are doing that today. They look for ways to take advantage of others. You may have witnessed it in all the office politics going on in your workplace. You may even have seen you’re your siblings scheming and fighting over inheritance rights.

I hope that none of us are like that. And if you are, I trust that you will how realize how displeasing it is to God, and that you will change to be conformed to God’s code of ethics, which is based on love for your fellowman. Thus we have seen how each brother’s defects worked together to change their destinies forever. Esau’s wrong sense of values worked together with Jacob’s distorted code of ethics to bring about God’s purpose that the elder would serve the younger. Now, these character defects were not put in them by God. They were already there, as part of their own sinful nature. God merely permitted their respective defects to interact in such a way as to fulfill His purpose.

In all this we can see the mysterious outworking of God’s purpose. This is stated in verses like Psalm 76:10 –“Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” God is somehow able to procure glory for Himself even out of man’s selfish acts of wrath. This may be hard for us to understand and to accept fully, but it is true.

A word of warning is necessary here: This teaching can be helpful to us, but it must never, never be used as an excuse, to say that since God will somehow use our sins for His glory, it is alright for us to sin. That would be a terrible abuse of this teaching. But it should properly be used to provide the right perspective of all the evil that goes on in the world. Despite all the wicked things that are being perpetrated by sinful men, all is not lost. They will somehow work together in the end to fulfill God’s righteous purposes and to bring praise to His name! Doesn’t this prove how great our Lord is to have such complete sovereignty and control even over the sinful acts of men? And so we learn this lesson from the account of how Jacob got Esau to sell him his birthright.

This is not the end of the story. In the chapters that follow, God gradually unfolds His purpose until it reaches full bloom by the end of the book. He fully transformed Jacob’s life and made him the father of the nation ofIsrael. This is a truly great work of God in the lives of men that we can only marvel at with much amazement.

And I trust that as you have seen how God answered the prayers of Isaac and Rebecca in the most unexpected ways, and how He brought about a reversal in the lives of Esau and Jacob, you will also appreciate how God is working in your own life, and will respond to this with much thanksgiving and praise. May you also be encouraged to persevere in praying and trust God to accomplish His purposes for your life.

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10