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Gripped by Grace: Over my wisdom and appetites (Gen. 25:19-34)

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I’m excited to start a new series in Genesis on the life of Jacob called Gripped by Grace: The Gospel According to Jacob. This series will take us to the end of the summer, Lord willing. When you think of Jacob, the words “deceiver,” “cheater,” “schemer,” etc. all may come to mind. In fact, his name means, “to seize someone by the heel, go behind someone … to betray.”[1] You can call him “a heel grabber.” He’s always selfishly grabbing what he wants, how he wants and when he wants. He schemes with everyone and even God! How else would I describe him? Well, he is constantly wandering. He is full of fear. He is weak, arrogant and selfish. Tozer adds, “There was duplicity, there was dishonesty, there was greed. He cheated his own brother. He cheated his father. And he went on to cheat his father-in-law. Jacob seemed to be completely lacking in what we would call common honor. He showed a spirit of disloyalty and faithlessness in dealing with his brother and his father.”[2]At certain points, he himself will be deceived as well. In sum, Jacob is a total mess of a person.

Yet Jacob is the part of God’s plan to save the world. In fact, God will choose to introduce Himself with Jacob’s name. He will be chosen to represent God’s people, as the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). Wow? This guy? Why? The same reason you and I are called by God, because of the Gospel of grace.  God’s grace is relentless in Jacob’s life. We will see that eventually the God of grace will grip this heel grabber. The schemer who walked around with a perpetual strut, “swag” if you will, will end up limping by a wound of grace. God’s grace will never leave him the same again! That’s what I want for us in this series. I want us to be overwhelmed by grace, even if it wounds us. If anyone here feels completely inadequate, useless for the Lord and utterly aware of their weaknesses and shortcomings, this series is for you. May the Lord give us a fresh encounter with His grace!

Remember again that the story in Genesis is actually part of a bigger story. Once sin came into the world through Satan, mankind has been longing for a Savior. God promised that one will come to save, who will crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). This person is called the “seed of the woman.” Satan has been working hard to destroy the seed of the woman, but through God’s triumphant grace, the seed of the woman continues to live on.

Just when you thought the people called to be the seed of the woman could not get any worse, here we have Jacob and his twin brother Esau. We thought Abraham had a lot of scary moments when he jeopardized the seed, but here Jacob’s life is just one miserable moment after another. He is no model. He is the unheroic hero, simply because of God’s grace. God does not let him go. Let’s see it here right in the beginning of his life. Let’s start with this:

I.  God’s grace is greater than man’s wisdom (vv.19-27)

We find that Abraham had another wife after Sarah and many kids after that (Gen. 25:1-6). Finally at age 175, he dies and is buried with Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah (Gen. 25:7-11). We also find out Ishamel had 12 sons (Gen. 25:12-18). Surely Isaac will have more right? He is after all, the seed of the woman, the child of promise. So take note:

a) Grace sees obstacles are opportunities

Let’s follow the story in Gen. 25:19-20. I love the author saying, “These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” Immediately we are reminded again of the grace of God bringing this miracle child to that barren couple. We are also reminded of the miracle of providence in providing Rebekah, as we saw last week. In fact, as Rebekah was leaving, everyone said, “May you become thousands or ten thousands!” (Gen. 24:60). Isaac also knew about the promise too to have many descendants. Easy enough. Right? Ishmael has 12 sons. It’s going to be a piece of cake. That’s how it should work now.

But look at Gen. 24:21. Rebekah is barren! For twenty years! Isaac is 60 when the kids are born (Gen. 25:26) and 40 when he met Rebekah. Wait a minute! Time out. Did the servant make a mistake? Everything in Gen. 24 shows God’s fingerprints all over the story, but why did God lead him to a barren woman…again? Ishmael has 12 sons and Isaac has zero. He’s prospered and Isaac, God’s servant, has not.

Why? Pastor Kent Hughes says,

“Because God was teaching his people that the promised blessing through the chosen seed of Abraham could not be accomplished by mere human effort. This is how it had been for Sarah. This is how it would be for her daughter-in-laws Rachael and Leah. And later it would be the same for the mother of Samson and for Hannah, the mother of Samuel. And ultimately the promise would culminate with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and (in a class by herself) Mary, the mother of our Lord.”[3]

Look at Isaac praying in Gen. 25:21. He has learned from his father’s mistake. He does not take matters into his own hands. This obstacle became an opportunity to pray. How long did he pray? I am thinking 20 years! Praying is a posture of the heart admitting your need for grace. We don’t like obstacles because we think life should go a certain way.  But if we remember that God’s grace is greater than our wisdom that gives us freedom. It brings us to a place where God alone has to do something. It is in those moments that we confess we don’t know what is good for us, as well as the fact that we do not have the resources to do life. And it is in those moments, when we humble ourselves, that God’s grace rushes in and we know He must get the glory.

b) Grace helps us persevere through pain

Look at Gen. 25:22. This is literally that the children “smashed” within her. Pregnancy is hard enough and this pregnancy apparently really puts Rebekah in pain. She means literally, “Why then did I yearn and pray to become pregnant?” or “Why do I go on living?”[4] Isn’t this always the case? We work through obstacles, get prayers answered, only to find us struggling some more. Oh yeah, it’s not a Metra Ride. It is a roller coaster right? We get prayers answered, but find that we need more prayers once they are answered. Why? Write this prayer down:

Lord, may I never outgrow my need for your grace.

 Even when prayers are answered, we must never assume we do not need God’s grace anymore. The moment we think that we can master our own lives and existence is the moment we start to die. There is grace to persevere through pain.

Have you ever noticed that all the stories that Jesus tells us of people who had access to God in prayer were not those who were strong, able and competent, but who were needy and desperate? The persistent widow and the friend who comes at midnight all meet God because they have learned that desperation and neediness is what moves the heart of God.

c) Grace gives us perspective

Notice how just like Isaac running to the throne of grace, Rebekah does as well in Gen. 25:22. Perhaps there was an altar where they regularly prayed to the Lord. And the Lord speaks! First time in a long time! And God tells her that something bigger than her pregnancy pains are going on here. Notice He does not magically give her an epidural-like pain reliever. He does not supernaturally give her an early delivery. He just gives her perspective. What happens when we run to the God of grace is kind of like a child holding a parent’s hand in an elevator. All he/she sees at that moment are belly buttons, belt buckles and boots. But in the parent’s arms, they are still in an elevator, but all of a sudden they see everything much differently. God doesn’t take us out of our difficult situations, but often want us to raise our hands to Him and in His arms, we can see our trial, our lives and ourselves and Himself a lot clearly.

Rebekah is given a greater perspective in Gen. 25:23 She is part of God’s great story and guess what? It will not go along with her wisdom. Two nations here are the Israelites (Jacob was later named Israel) and the Edomites. As Israel is hearing this, they know this prophecy has come true. Israel is the seed of the woman and the Edomites will be another version of the seed of the serpent.  The Edomites are known for not letting Moses and the Israelites through their land when they left Egypt (Num. 20:14-21). They have always fought each other. By the waym did you know that King Herod who wanted Jesus to die when he was born, was an Edomite? But what an encouragement from the Lord here!  Though the Edomites are older and end up being stronger physically, human wisdom might say, “be afraid of them.” But God’s grace overrules human wisdom. The key phrase here is, “The older shall serve the younger.” In that culture, the older son had all the privileges. We will see that more in a second. God is turning cultural wisdom upside down. No Rebekah, my plan is accomplished not my man’s effort or what is normal in society, or how the world picks people, but by grace!

If you want the grace of God to grip you, learn this truth that

“God’s grace is not subject to our expectations, much less cultural conventions. God is sovereign. His grace cannot be tamed. In fact, the uninformed heart may well find the exercise of God’s grace to be scandalous, even infamous.”[5] 

However we think God’s grace works, we are wrong. We cannot tame it. It is surprising and greater than our wisdom and obstacles give us opportunities to experience it more!

The order of nature is not the order of grace. We have seen this in Genesis already. We thought Cain would be the right guy, but it ends up being Abel who loved the Lord. Older Ishmael, from human scheming, is not the child of promise, but Isaac. And we will see more of this later on as well in Genesis. Finally, grace helps Rebekah give birth in Gen. 25:24. Out comes a furry, red-headed monster-like child (Indians must have come from Esau—well, at least the hairy part). I was studying this and my kids had on Sesame Street. I wonder if that’s how they got the name Elmo. And then here comes something even more amazing, his brother comes out holding on to the heel of Esau.

Look what happens as they grow up in Gen. 25:27-28. Esau is an outdoorsy kind of guy. He’s a man’s man. He drives a truck. He hunts. He kills and grills. He grunts when he comes in and he smells like the outdoors. From the world’s point of view and in human wisdom, Esau is a strong man to lead God’s people. He is capable. Look at Jacob: “he was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.” In other words, probably not the kind of person you want to lead anything. He is a homebody and a momma’s boy. He takes care of sheep. How will Jacob be the leader of a nation? God’s grace. Not his own gifting or ability. Grace goes contrary to human wisdom!

God does not follow human wisdom. Listen to Paul: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29). Tradition does not determine grace. Convention does not dictate grace. Neither does giftedness or natural endowments. Grace does not bow to social privilege or status.[6]

If you feel inadequate today in being used by God for anything, rejoice! Grace does not operate on your merit or giftedness. It is greater than our wisdom. If you are facing obstacles, rejoice! Those are opportunities for grace. It is greater than our wisdom. Even in pain right now that we carry, God’s grace comes along to carry us as we carry deep burdens. Grace is messy and cannot be tamed. It gives us perspective. The older I get the more I see that all of life is grace. I want to take credit for my life. I want to say, “I did it!” I have some good in me world. But the longer I follow Jesus, the more I see that God is continually bringing me to a point where I lift up my arms and say, “There is actually nothing good about me, besides Jesus Christ.” That’s when you know God’s grace has gripped you. Secondly:

II. God’s grace is stronger than man’s appetites (vv.28-34)Image

Ok, God’s grace is greater than our wisdom. He does not call the qualified but qualifies the called. But what happens when a man is controlled by his appetites? Will that stop God from working and using him? Grace will prevail over our own appetites too.

Notice Isaac and Rebekah fail as parents in Gen. 25:26. They have favorites. This will be a sin we will come back to in Genesis. Once again we have another dysfunctional family. Aren’t you thankful that God’s grace can overrule destructive patterns of baggage we come with? Notice why Isaac has a favorite in Esau!  Isaac is ruled by his appetites: “he loved Esau because he ate of his game.” Adam fails in eating, Noah in drinking, and Isaac, a gourmand, in tasting. God’s sovereign grace must now prevail over Isaac’s efforts to thwart the divine intention (see 24:36; 25:5; 27:4).[7] And not only does God’s grace prevail over our human wisdom and but also our own appetites rule us and keep us from God’s best.

Andy Stanley, pastor in Georgia, preached on this passage last year,[8] so a lot of the thoughts here come from being inspired by him. God has given us all appetites. What we have here are two men controlled by appetites. Wait, only Esau has an appetite right? No! Jacob does as well. Esau’s appetite is for food and the comfort it brings, but Jacob’s appetite is for recognition, fame, wealth, power and status.  We all have appetites for something. It is a craving of our soul to give us something. A few things about appetites that we should be aware of:

a)    Appetites are created by God, but distorted by sin

God gave us our desires. But our appetites are broken. We want the right things, but in the wrong amount or the wrong time and often in the wrong way, at the expense of other things. We may have appetites for all kinds of things: food, sex, acceptance, fame, recognition, desire to be envied, desire to be seen as beautiful, possessions, respect, etc. But the root is not that we have affection for these things, but it is disaffection for God. Some of us have suffered from our parents’ disordered appetites for honor and wealth and status. We can’t blame them for our own disobedience, but recognize that their choices have deeply affected us and our choices can deeply affect our children as well.

Look at Gen. 25:29. Jacob is cooking stew. He likes to cook. Nothing wrong with that. But it does make you wonder that because his dad could not manage his appetite for food and had favorites, if Jacob is trying to win his approval here by cooking? We don’t know for sure. In addition,

b)    Appetites are never fully and finally satisfied

So they whisper now instead of later. The lie is that there is someone, or something that can fully and finally satisfy an appetite. Esau comes in from the field as usual. But this time he is exhausted and starving. Did he not catch anything today? This reminds me that four worst times we are especially vulnerable to our appetites are: HALT (Hunger, Alone, Lonely and Tired). I would also add: Bored to that list.

What happens when we repeatedly give in to our appetites? Our brain think magnifies it out of proportion. It tells your brain that this thing, experience, or person is going to be extraordinarily satisfying. It focuses our minds on one thing and blurs out everything else. Your brain has the ability to put everything else around you out of focus, and focus you on one thing, person or experience.

Look at Gen. 25:30. The Hebrew actually reads (translated as “red stew,” as “ “red stuff, this red stuff!”[9] Notice he is impulsive: “Let me eat!” Literally, “Let me gulp it down!” All he sees is food. He has to have it. He can’t control himself. Notice Gen. 25:32: “I’m about to die!” Ok. When you can declare your own death, you are probably not going to die. Appetites make temporary things into ultimate things.

c)     Living for appetites cost way more than we imagine

Jacob is not a sweetheart. He is ruthless. He wants the birthright in Gen. 25:31. What is a birthright? The firstborn holds a position of honor within the family. Israel as God’s firstborn receives a position of honor and privilege among the nations (Ex. 4:22; Jer 31:9). The firstborn has privileged status (see Gen. 43:33; 49:3) and the right of succession (2 Chron. 21:3). For his birthright, he receives a double portion of the father’s inheritance (Deut. 21:17). The father’s inheritance is divided among the number of sons, and the firstborn always has right to two of these portions. So, for instance, if there are nine sons, the firstborn receives two portions and the other eight split seven portions. If there are only two sons, the firstborn inherits everything.[10]

Pastor Stephen Cole says, “Someone has said that the difference between school and life is that in school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test, which teaches you a lesson. A lot of times those tests sneak up on you and are over with before you realize what happened. In life, the teacher doesn’t come into the room and announce, “The next few minutes are going to be an important test. Please think carefully before answering, because the results of this test will affect you for years to come.” Instead, you’re into the test situation, you make some decisions based on your thinking and behavior up to that time, and you come out of the test without realizing immediately what just happened. Time reveals the results.”[11]

A firstborn can give that up by making an oath as is what happens here. Notice Esau’s understanding: “What use is a birthright to me?” I would add there…what use is it NOW. Stanley adds, “I wish I could jump into the story and tell him “Esau, you’re gonna have twelve sons, they’re each gonna have families, and all of them are going to end up in Egypt, and become a nation of slaves for 400 years, and become a might nation, and become God’s chosen people. This entire nation of people is going to come from your body, and they’re going to be God’s people. God is going to raise up a guy named Moses. Moses isn’t going to know God’s name. Moses will become a shepherd, and God is going to introduce himself to Moses. The God of the universe is going to introduce himself to Moses as ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.’ God is going to introduce himself with your name, unless you trade your birthright for a bowl of stew.” Esau, do you want to trade all of that for a bowl of stew?”[12] There is always a cost to sin.

He sacrificed the future at the altar of the present. He gave up the ultimate for the immediate. Hebrews says that later when he wanted it back again, it was too late (Heb. 12:16). How do you trade a God-spoken and God-ratified covenant relationship full of promise for some stew?

Loved ones, every day we will be tempted to trade what God has for us for the immediate.

And we make that exchange all the time.

Perhaps you trade the Lord for sexual sin. We trade the Lord for a particular body image. We trade the Lord for our self-pity, for that next drink, puff, or hit; for the purchase that will finally catch you up with your social circle; for unforgiveness of that person who injured us; for materialism; for control of our lives; for bitterness and resentment; for that acceptance from your mom or dad that never seems to come. What is your bowl of stew today? And perhaps we can write down where we see ourselves five or ten years from now. Would we want to trade that today for that bowl of stew? Our best days with the Lord are ahead of us. Would we want to give that up today for a momentary pleasure that will end up costing that and more?

Jacob is not any better here. He is manipulative, not hospitable (Lot was better than he was), ruthless, selfish and scheming.  He is just like Esau. He wants what he wants and he wanted it now! He thinks he knows what is good for him and relies on his cleverness. He does not trust God or wait on His timing to take care of his needs. In the process, both brothers have made their appetites into gods and their hearts become broken.

Why don’t we have self-control? Lack of self-control means that we are out of control and thus a slave to other things; i.e. other things are controlling us. Thus we have trouble controlling our tongues, we have trouble controlling our thoughts, we have trouble controlling our feelings, our impulses, let alone all the millions of addictions that we can also develop like addictions having to do with drink or drugs or sex or spending or gambling or eating disorders or rage.

Biblical self-control is to be controlled by a new master, a master whose love overwhelms our all of our smaller loves.

It is not that our appetites for smaller loves are too strong, but that our appetite for God and His love is too weak. 

So how do we find this self-control? In his book The Obedience Option, David Hegg illustrates what he calls “overwhelming faith.” Hegg was talking to a young man who claimed that he couldn’t stop his pattern of sleeping with different women. The young man knew it was wrong, but he also claimed that his sexual lust was inevitable. Therefore, it wasn’t his fault, especially since God had created him with such strong desires and urges.

Finally, Hegg interrupted the young man and said, “Suppose that I came into your room and caught you and your girlfriend as you were just starting this ‘inevitable’ process.” Suppose I took out ten one-hundred-dollar bills, and told you that they were yours if you [stopped]. What would you do?” When the young man quickly said that he’d rather have the cash, Hegg asked, “So what happened to the irresistible force of lust?” Then Hegg concluded, ‘We both realized a very simple truth: one passion may seem irresistible until a greater passion comes along.’’[13] The reason why we don’t have self-control is because we have no joy. Our appetites are more pleasurable than God. But grace comes to us.  

Conclusion

What is God to do with such a pair like Jacob and Esau? One of them regards his spiritual birthright as less valuable than a bowl of soup, and the other regards it as a commodity to be bought and maneuvered for. Who should God give the privilege of being the seed of the woman? A neutral bystander would say neither. Neither one deserves God’s work in his heart. 

The truth in this passage is not that we should not be like Jacob or we should not be like Esau. The truth is, we are just like Jacob and Esau. We love our appetites more than God. We are idolatrous. We are greedy, selfish and manipulative, at the expense of others. We are impatient, loving our pleasure and our sin more than the joy God promises us. We take God’s blessings and trample on them with our unbelief. We waste every blessing we receive with our impulsive trading for fleeting pleasures of sin. Jeremiah says, “Be appalled o heavens at this, be shocked…for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and put together jars for themselves that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:12-13).

Yet God has sent us a Savior unlike Jacob or Esau or us. Centuries later, God sent His Son who held the birthright. He had status. He had privilege. He was equal in God. He owned all the riches of Heaven. He had the praise of all the hosts of Heaven. But He did greedily grasp it, but freely gave it away for greedy sinners. Jesus gave up His birthright to give it back to us again. Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, to be called children of God! (1 John 3:1). This Son, Jesus Christ, did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). He became a slave so we could become sons and daughters of God, the privilege we greedily gave away. This Son was tempted to instantly gratify himself, but obeyed where we have failed (Luke 4). He did not simply serve us a meal, but willingly offered himself not to take pleasure away from us, but to give us all pleasure, which is satisfied in Himself (Ps. 16:11).

You want that joy today to give you self-control? Come look upon the cross. There the greater exchange has been done for you. Your sin, for His salvation. Your rags for His riches. Your greediness for His generosity. Your selfishness for His sacrifice. Your lust for His love. Your addictions for His approval. That is grace that grips us stronger than any wisdom or appetite.

Such is the Savior that we need! Let that speak life and joy into your soul. And do you know what is promised for us in the end? “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore…For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water…” (Rev. 7:16-17). Total and complete, unending satisfaction and joy waiting for us! All promised to us because of God’s glorious grace!


[1]Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (358). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2]Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (1986). Men Who Met God (51). Camp Hill, PA.: WingSpread.

[3]Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and blessing. Preaching the Word (332). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[4]Hughes, R. K. (333).

[5]Hughes, R. K. (330–332).

[6]Hughes, R. K. (334).

[7]Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (363). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[8]Notes from this message taken from http://awakengeneration.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/andy-stanley-passion-2011-video/ accessed 27 April 2012. 

[9]Waltke, B. K., & Fredricks, C. J. (363).

[10]Ibid.

[11]Cole, S. “Trading Your Soul—For What?”  http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/122996M.pdf accessed 28 April 2012.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Taken from preachingtoday.com accessed 27 April 2012. 

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