Isaac and Rebekah are married. Abraham has died and joined his wife, Sarah, in the tomb he bought for them in Canaan. God renews the covenant promise he made to Abraham by repeating it to Isaac. God would use Isaac to create the mighty nation that would bless the world.
However, like Sarah, Rebekah is also barren and she and Isaac struggle with infertility for almost 20 years. But God answers Isaac’s cry for help and opens Rebekah’s womb so that she becomes pregnant with twin boys.
God’s Unconditioned Choice
But think about this, if only one line is going to carry the promised blessing from God, what happens in the case of twins? Well, before either twin is even born, God tells Rebekah which one he will bless - the weaker and younger one.
But how will that be possible? How would it ever be socially acceptable? Would Isaac even be open to it? In the ancient world, the firstborn gets the father’s inheritance and his blessing. Even if only born seconds before their twin, the birthright goes to the firstborn. The rest of the story unravels this predicament.
God’s Will Through Strange Works
First, in an act of desperation, the firstborn Esau sells his birthright to his slightly younger twin brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. That takes care of the rights of the firstborn.
Second, at the advice of his mother, Jacob engages in an act of trickery. He tricks his elderly dad, Isaac, to give him the blessing instead of Esau.
This story leaves us confused and with a lot of questions. Did God choose Jacob over Esau because he knew what would happen? Or maybe Rebekah helped Jacob trick his father because God told her the younger son would be blessed? But then why would God bless a liar and a trickster? Does God work through deceit?
Where is Jesus?
While we may not find satisfactory answers to every question, the point of the story is still clear. The New Testament explains this story to us in Romans 9.
We are told that God chose Jacob over Esau not because of anything good or bad they did. Paul writes this to prove that we are not saved based on our works. To quote Romans 9:16 exactly, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
God chose a trickster like Jacob over Esau not because Esau was bad and Jacob was good, or the other way around. They both had serious flaws that the story highlights. God chose to show that he is merciful in and of himself. His grace is not based on our goodness.
After all, those of us who are not Jews are like Jacob in a sense. We shouldn’t have received God’s blessing or the right to be called his children. But because Jesus bought our birthright with his very life and cheated death in his resurrection, we tricksters and liars are given what we never deserved.
If you believe in Jesus today, praise God. It is not because you are smarter, luckier, or better than anyone else. It is simply because God was merciful to you.
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit will show you just how kind and merciful God is to save us, even though our works have done nothing to earn it. And that you would see Jesus as our older brother who gave us the birthright and blessing he deserved.