These are the Generations of Isaac

Sermon preached on Genesis 25:19-26:5 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/10/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

You may be aware of the slogan, “Real men pray.” When thinking about masculine stereotypes, strength is probably one thing that comes to mind. Yet, that slogan of “real mean pray,” expresses that ideal manhood should recognize one’s weaknesses and drive you to prayer. To pray, inherently acknowledges there are things that you don’t have the strength yourself to deal with. Prayer admits our weakness, that we need God. As we begin this new section in Genesis about Isaac, we find this truth illustrated in a few ways. And this truth is not something just for men. Every man and woman needs to be reminded of our dependence on the Almighty God. Indeed, for the Christian, as we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor 12:10), as it teaches us to rely on the power of Jesus. We will consider this in three points, first by considering Isaac, then by considering Rebekah, and then lastly by considering Jacob and Esau with their struggles.

Let us begin with Isaac and let us start with the final part of our passage, verses 1-4 of chapter 6. There, we see God reaffirming to Isaac the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. God had told Abraham that he would fulfill his covenant through Isaac. Here, we see God reaffirming that personally to Isaac. Isaac is now standing in the place of his father before God.

Now, on the one hand, we could say this is God making a covenant with Isaac. But that is not how we tend to refer to it, because clearly God is not so much as making a new covenant with Isaac but restating the Abrahamic covenant. In verse 3, God references the oath that he swore to Abraham. The promises then that we see God promising Isaac are identical with what God had sworn to Abraham. I speak of the people and the place that God promised Abraham. In verse 4 we see the promise of a great people to come from Isaac, as numerous as the stars, just like he promised Abraham. We also see there the promise of the land of Canaan as the specific land promised. As for Isaac’s part, he is called to live in faith in light of these promises. That means he is to stay in the Promised Land and not leave for Egypt. It also means he is called to pursue a life of godliness, as Abraham did, verse 5.

So, recognize there is a test of faith here for Isaac in chapter 26. God tells him to not go to Egypt, but that is in the context of a famine. Remember, that is exactly the mistake Abraham had done back in Genesis 12. God had called Abraham to to the Promised Land, but a famine came upon the land and that resulted in Abraham sojourning to Egypt for a time, and the text painted that such was a bad choice of him. Well, that interpretation is confirmed here, because we see God specifically tells Isaac that he needs to stay in the land even with the famine. Do you see how this brings a test of faith for Isaac? God promises these wonderful promises, but tells him that there will be trial and testing before he enjoys the fulfillment of these promises. That includes having to endure a famine in the very land that God has promised him. In regards to our theme today of seeing man’s weakness as an opportunity for God’s strength to be shown to us, here is an initial example. In this famine, Isaac and family are commanded to depend on God’s provision instead of trying to solve it by their own strength by going down to Egypt.

Now return to the start of today’s passage and we’ll see another example for Isaac that requires his faith amidst more human weakness. In verses 19-21, we read of how Isaac marries Rebekah, but finds that Rebekah is barren. She is unable to have children. Think about the context for this. Last chapter was a wonderful testimony of how God gave special angelic guidance to direct Abraham’s servant to the perfect wife for Isaac. That’s how Isaac came to be married to Rebekah. I pointed out how Isaac had more divine guidance in finding his wife than people ordinarily receive. But the wife God picks for Isaac is barren. Think about that. God promises Isaac a numerous seed of offspring. Isaac will need a wife for that task. And, yet, the special, divinely selected wife, is barren.

At first thought, this might seem very confusing for why God would give Isaac a wife that was barren. Yet, on further consideration, how very fitting this was. God reprises the same lesson he had for Isaac’s father Abraham. Abraham had to learn that it would not be man’s strength that would bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises. No, rather God would choose to fulfill his promises through Abraham and Sarah’s weakness, so that when Isaac was finally born, all would know that it happened by the gift and power of God. So then too, Isaac, would have to endure a slightly smaller version of that same trial so that the lesson would not be lost on him.

This lesson from God indeed bore good fruit in Isaac. Look at verse 21. Isaac prays for his wife because of her barrenness. And God answers his prayer, praise the Lord! Isaac expresses his weakness through prayer. Isaac couldn’t heal his wife’s barrenness. But he could pray to the one who could. That is what he did, and God the Almighty did what was humanly impossible. And not only does he grant that one child is conceived, but that even twins are conceived. Isaac learns to depend upon God through prayer via this trial.

As a point of application, we see that God’s plan for your life, doesn’t mean that you will have a problem-free life. Sometimes, we can have faulty thinking in such things. We can think things like, if I can only find and marry that one perfect spouse God would have me to marry, then we won’t have any problems. But that wasn’t the case here with Isaac, and surely won’t be the case for us either. The “all things” of Romans 8:28 includes good times and also times of trial.

Let us turn now in our second point to think of these things with Rebekah. Doesn’t her story teach the same point here? She was barren. I can only imagine the heart ache, and maybe the stress that she would have felt. And then she finally gets pregnant! Finally. She is overjoyed, I’m sure. But then look at verse 22. The children struggled together within her, and she says, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?”

She asks, “Why? Why is this happening to me? What is happening?” She doesn’t know she has twins inside her. All she knows is that she is finally pregnant, and something doesn’t seem right at all. Her womb is in some sort of chaos. After finally getting pregnant, she now thinks something is not right. So, again, we see an example here of human weakness. She is in physical turmoil with these two babies inside here struggling against each other. She is thus also in emotional turmoil now, not knowing what is going on, and probably fearing the worst.

So, she too goes to the LORD in prayer. Verse 22 says that she inquires of the LORD, though we are not told exactly what that looked like. And then we see that God blesses her with an oracle in verses 23. In short, God reveals to her the explanation for why she has this physical turmoil. There are the two people inside here that are to be the patriarchs of two nations. In the womb they are already struggling for power against each other. And God basically tells her that they will have that same struggle outside of the womb too.

From there, the text transitions in verse 24 to tell us about the birth of these two boys, Jacob and Esau. But recognize how God answers Rebekah’s prayer that came out of her weakness. She looks to the Almighty God for this concern that she was powerless to solve. And amazingly God responds with this special revelation, in a way that humans don’t ordinarily get such a detailed and specific response from God. Yet, think about the answer to her prayer. God doesn’t take away this turmoil in her womb. He gives her an explanation about it. But actually, he says that the turmoil will even continue after they are born. But we don’t see any further question or complaint by Rebekah. It’s enough for her to know that the Almighty God who sees the end from the beginning says this is according to plan.

Take another point of application. Our prayers don’t always result in our problems being immediately solved. These two boys were fighting each other even before they were born and they kept doing it afterwards too. Their struggles in life will bring further challenges to Rebekah and Isaac. Yet, while Rebekah’s prayer doesn’t solve all her problems in this regard, it was enough for her. And we can see that this word from the Lord will inform her actions going forward, albeit we’ll see at times with some faulty zeal. But that can be how prayer can sometimes answered. We bring our weakness to God, we lay our troubles before him, and maybe he brings to mind a Bible verse like 2 Cor 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you.” That’s what God told the Apostle Paul when God also told him he wouldn’t remove the thorn that was plaguing Paul. God wanted Paul to have some areas of weakness that would cause Paul to rely upon God. This what Rebekah had to do here too, and it is an application for us to take also. Bring our weakness to God, and even if he doesn’t in this life solve your problem, learn through that to trust and depend upon him.

Let us turn in our final point to consider Jacob and Esau. I think these two brothers with their contrasting pictures will further highlight our theme for today about weakness, but from a little different angle.

So, think about their prophecy. They will be divided. They will become two nations. And one shall be ultimately stronger than the other. Isn’t that our theme today, strength versus weakness? And who would the ancient world think as the strongest? That in various ways would have been the older son. They would have received the birthright that meant they got double the inheritance as the other sons. But that human strength is reversed here, for the prophecy says that the older would serve the younger. Esau is the firstborn, but Jacob will ultimately be the stronger of the two, at least from the standpoint of divine election. As we’ll see, God will graciously establish the promises given to Abraham and Isaac, not through Esau, but through Jacob. Like how God chose to work his promises through Isaac and not Ishmael, so God would choose to work it through Jacob and not Esau.

And yet, again, doesn’t the text paint us a picture that we would have assumed differently? Of these two sons, as they are described, who might you think to be the picture of strength, one you might expect God to do great things through? Esau is this hairy, skilled hunter and man of the field, a very manly sounding man, his father’s clear favorite. Jacob’s description is certainly quite different. There is a translation challenge in verse 27, to ask if Jacob is described as a quiet man, a mild man, a peaceful man, an upright man, or a man that is content to be at home. But all translations options cast a positive tone to this man who preferred to stay around the home, a homebody, and the clear favorite of his mother. Yet, clearly Jacob and Esau are painted very differently, and our stereotypes of human strength might tend to think Esau is painted as the stronger man of the two. But, God chooses the one who would have been perceived by human standards as the weaker.

So in terms of birth order, outward appearances, and even parental preferences, Esau looks like the stronger, better choice between the two. Yet, God chooses Jacob who seems weaker in the world’s eyes as the one through whom Isaac’s seed will be named. In terms of divine election, God chooses Jacob over Esau. Let me remind you from last week’s lesson, that this does not mean that there is no hope for the nation that would come from Esau’s lineage. Through Jacob’s lineage, God would establish his visible church and ultimately bring forth Jesus, the Savior. 26:4 even reminds us that such choosing of Jacob over Esau was not meant to absolutely exclude the nations from blessing. Rather, it would be through Jacob’s seed of Jesus and his church that blessing would be held out to the nations. What Esau’s seed ought to do, if they wanted to know those blessings, is to seek to bless Jacob and his line, instead of fighting against it.

So then, think further of the contrast we see between the two boys here in their interaction concerning the red stew and the birthright. It is interesting that the hunter Esau comes back starving. Did his strength in hunting not gain him anything that day? But I digress. You can’t help but read Esau’s words here and think he sounds a bit melodramatic. Was he really going to die if he didn’t get any food right then and there? Then again, we should note that it says in verse 29 that he was exhausted. In other words, his strength was gone after a long day. In his weakness, he chooses to not value something that was actually a great strength to him. He sells his birthright for a bowl of soup. The birthright was the right of the double inheritance that he was to receive as the firstborn. The chapter ends explaining why he would do this. He despised the birthright. In other words, he didn’t properly value it for the great worth that it was. Hebrews 12:16 even faults Esau for being unholy in such despising of his birthright. Esau’s strength here in this passage is painted as failing him, and given the choice of addressing his momentary physical fatigue or choosing something far better for the future, he chooses the immediate gratification. So much for his strength. It failed him when he needed it. So he valued the wrong thing.

But not Jacob. In a sense, Jacob had the right ambition here, in terms of seeing the great value of the birthright that would be bestowed by Isaac, the possessor of the promises of Abraham. You know, ultimately, God’s people will inherit the whole world, and so to fix your heart on the birthright of the chosen people is to treasure a future of such glorious things God has promised. Yet, Jacob goes about pursuing this birthright in a sinful way. The birthright was certainly not his by natural birth, and so to crave something that belongs to someone else is called coveting, not to mention a bad way to love your brother. If Jacob was to nonetheless receive it, it could be through the overriding grace of God through providence. Maybe Esau would have died before coming into the inheritance? Or God might have done it some other way. But Jacob instead seeks to use human strength and human wisdom to secure this birthright from his brother. While I do not doubt the legitimacy of the transaction whereby Esau swears over the inheritance to Jacob, I do fault Jacob for a failure to love his brother. This was not a, “by faith,” moment of Jacob. He desired something that was a thing worthy to be desired. But his actions to secure it sought to purchase the gift of God. Our passage has highlighted today how man’s weakness becomes an opportunity for God’s saving power to give his people blessing, so we are saved by God’s strength and not our own. But, Jacob’s example here is the opposite. It’s his attempt to bring in God’s promises through his own efforts. It is of the same failed sort as when Abraham had a son through Hagar. And it is just the first of more of this that Jacob will be guilty of. Jacob will be true to his name, repeatedly trying to grab the heel of his brother, to take what belongs to him by birth. Yet, by God’s decree in which he makes our weakness strong by his power, God will give his promises to Jacob, not by Jacob’s grasping, but by God’s grace. We’ll see that unfold as we keep working through this section of Genesis.

As we conclude our message today, I’d like to offer an application to our church. At our recent congregational meeting, we discussed that we’ve experienced a bit of decline in membership over the last few years. That creates a certain sense of weakness to our ministry. Yet, I remember what Pastor Miller wrote about in 1976. He reflected on another period of extended decline and challenge our church faced before God brought a great period of growth. He said, “We needed the hardship to teach us to cry out to God”. He went on to describe how God brought a greater boldness in the church’s prayer for the ministry. And he rejoiced at how wonderfully God answered that prayer. Pastor Miller’s words are a wonderful application of the principles we find in today’s passage. And I believe they are very applicable for us today in the current state of our church. Let us have a renewed fervor to cry out to God in prayer that he would be growing us. That his strength would be all the more manifest in the midst of our weakness. That our weakness would remind us of our dependence upon him. That he would get the glory in all things, including in our church’s ministry.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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