As preached by Timothy O'Day.
God will bring about his promise of salvation:
1) By His mercy and pleasure.
2) Through a faithful covenant mediator.
3) Despite human sin and sabotage.
Salvation Amid Sin and Sabotage
December 10, 2023
If you watch enough movies, you will realize themes and patterns that will help you predict where the story is going to go. An easy example of this is to watch old Western movies. While no one literally wore a sign that said "This is the good guy" and "This is the bad guy," essentially those signs did exist through symbols. The cowboy with a clean-shaven face and wearing the white hat is a guy good. The fella wearing black and the untidy face is pure evil. Those patterns are comforting.
But just when you think you understand the pattern, you watch a spaghetti western (so named because they were often filmed in Spain and Italy). No one wears a white hat, that's a trope too obvious to practice by that time. But there are characters that do things that make you think they are good. But then they don't. By the end of the movie, you see that these figures are protagonists, but not heroes. That is to say, they are the main character that drives the story, but you don't necessarily want to be like them. Yet, the story is still engaging because you can Identify with them because you are like them.
That's often what happens when we read the Bible, too. We come across characters that we do not find admirable, but we do find them relatable because they struggle in the same ways that we do. Such is what we find in Genesis 25:19-28:9.
Genesis 25:19 begins a new section in the book. We are alerted to this by the expression "These are the generations" in verse 19. Every other major section in Genesis begins with that expression and it marks a transition in the narrative. We have now officially left Abraham as the driving patriarch and covenant partner of God and have entered into the period of Isaac standing in that role.
And just like watching another Western movie, we catch some similar themes with the Abraham section. First off, Isaac's wife, Rebekah, is barren--just like Sarah was. But we see that in verse 21, Isaac prayed and the Lord opened her womb. She has twins, which in a way is similar to something else in the Abraham narrative: two sons. And the reality of two sons brings up another similarity with the Abraham narrative because two sons mean there must be a decision made about who will be the heir. Ishmael was sent away because the promise was to come through the line of Isaac. Now the line of Isaac has two paths since it has two sons. Which one will carry on the covenant partnership and be the head of God’s project of redemption?
That's the burning question of the rest of Genesis 25, 26, 27, and the first part of 28. That is a lot of text to answer one question. But it is actually answered right away in Genesis 25:23. You see, after Rebekah conceived, she had a difficult pregnancy. We read in 25:22 that the children (yes, she conceived twins) struggled in her so much that she said, "If it is thus, why is this happening to me." If you read in the margin of the ESV, you can see that another way of translating this phrase is, "if it is thus, why do I live?" I have it on good authority that having twins is hard, but this pregnancy was especially hard. So she inquired of the Lord and received an answer in verse 23. Put simply, these weren't just twins in her womb, but budding nations (Remember how God promised to make nations of Abraham? It is still happening). Eventually, these two sons would become two nations: Israel and Edom.
But only one of these nations would be the chosen line that would come to be God's chosen people from whom God's Messiah, who would be a blessing to all peoples by his work on the cross, would come: Jacob, the younger brother.
So if God actually answers this question of who the heir will be right away, why are so many chapters devoted to this question? It’s because the Lord wants to impress upon our hearts this reality:
God will bring about his promise of salvation.
Let’s take the rest of our time to examine how these chapters make this claim.
First, God will bring about his promise of salvation by his mercy and pleasure.
25:23 is a word from God to Isaac and Rebekah that Jacob, the younger son, is the heir to the covenant promises. This is similar to what we saw in the Abraham narrative. Ishmael was born first, but Isaac was the child of promise. Now Esau would be born first, but Jacob would be the child of promise.
But like a Spaghetti western there is a twist here. Things look the same, but they are not all the same. That's because God is wanting to make a different point.
When God chose Isaac, he chose him in order to display the reality that salvation comes by God's supernatural power and not by human effort and works. Ishmael’s birth was the result of Abraham and Sarah’s attempt to bring about God’s promise by human effort. In contrast, God wanted to show them that his promise was something that only he could bring about. Wasn’t the miraculous birth of Isaac to the old Sarah and Abraham sterling evidence of that?
But now God wants to make a different point. His selection of Jacob over Esau makes the point that salvation comes through God's pleasure and mercy, and it does not come by anything else.
When we compare Ishmael and Isaac, we see a stark contrast. Human effort, which included abandoning God’s direction for marriage to be between one man and one woman, led to the birth of Ishmael. In contrast, Abraham and Sarah had to trust that the Lord would keep his promise to give them a child.
We do not see such a contrast with Esau and Jacob. Rebekah is barren, Isaac prays, she conceives, and then she delivers twins. Isaac and Rebekah are trusting God, and have one pregnancy, and two legitimate sons from this pregnancy. Yet God chooses Jacob over Esau. And this announcement comes before they are born before either does good or evil. Why does God make this choice at this point? It is so intentional! He is making the clear point that salvation comes through God’s pleasure and mercy and nothing else.
What’s particularly shocking in this choice is that it disregards human expectation. Humanly speaking, we expect the older son to have preeminence. Likewise, we read in 25:28 that Isaac favored Esau over Jacob, which would incline you to think that Esau would be the natural and likely choice. Culturally, he is the natural choice. By his skill set and his relationship with is dad, he is the natural choice.
That’s why God’s choice of Jacob sends a resounding message that Paul picks up on in Romans 9. There Paul, inspired by the Spirit, writes in verses 10-12, “When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, and though they weren’t yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.” He concludes from this in verse 16, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
“I Don’t Like That”
Perhaps you are hearing this and you think, “I don’t like that.” I can relate to that. I don’t like being dependent on others. I remember absolutely hating group projects when I was in school because inevitably I was let down by a teammate. I don’t even like playing team sports, so I started playing tennis and not be let down by my teammates.
But my feelings of dependence completely change when I realize my inability in a dire situation. When a doctor told me that I had a slow internal bleed and they needed to put me under in order to do a scope to figure things out, I dropped on the bed held out my arms for an IV, and was put to sleep. I was totally and happily dependent on others because I could not help myself.
Pride says, “I am good enough to handle this on my own,” humility says nothing because it puts you to sleep in the arms of the one upon whom you depend.
That’s the reality of salvation. No human will or exertion will save you. No pedigree or a particular set of skills will deliver you from the condemnation that you deserve because of sin. It all depends on God’s mercy.
So let me ask you two questions: Do you feel at peace with God? On what grounds do you feel that peace? Perhaps you say, “Yeah, I feel peace with God. After all,” you say, “I’m faithful to attend church, I share the gospel when I can, I read the Bible regularly, I pray, and I care for those in need.” But if that is your answer, then you are like the Pharisee in Luke 18, pointing to your works as the basis of your right standing with God.
Now, maybe some of you catch the trick here and say, “No, no, no. I am not going to be like the Pharisee in Luke 18 and thank God for all of my good works.” But do you feel fear that God is angry with you when you let fear keep you from sharing the gospel, don’t read your Bible all week, and forget to pray because you are scrolling social media? In other words, are you fearful because you give your efforts more weight than God’s mercy?
Rest in his mercy. Sleep in his mercy. Your hope should be built on nothing less.
Second, God will bring about his promise of salvation through a faithful covenant mediator.
This idea is nestled away inside of Genesis 26. In this chapter, we see that Isaac has replaced Abraham as “The Blessed of the LORD,” as it says in 26:29. In a sense, he is the new Abraham. You can see this in at least two ways.
First, while Isaac is sojourning in Gerar, the land of the Philistines, because of a famine, God confirms that the covenant promises have passed to him in verses 2-4,
“And the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the actions of the earth all be blessed.” Clearly, this is the same promise that God gave to Abraham.
Second, God protects and prospers Isaac in the same way he did Abraham. In verses 6-33, Isaac shows the family traits. While sojourning, he is afraid that Rebekah’s beauty will get him killed. Like his father, he lies and says that Rebekah is his sister. But Abimelech (which is a title for the Philistine ruler and not a name, thus this might be a different Abimelech than the one who dealt with Abraham), looks out of his window and sees Isaac “laughing.” With Rebekah. The Hebrew here basically says that this is the kind of laughing a happy married couple might do when they think no one is looking. So Abimelech calls Isaac to him, upbraids him for the lie, but then orders that no one touch Rebekah. After this, Isaac sowed and reaped a hundredfold, which, in case you are wondering, is a lot. As verses 12-13 make clear, this was God’s blessing and Isaac became prosperous, just as Abraham had done while sojourning during a famine. He is so prosperous that the Philistines cannot help but deny that he is the “blessed of the LORD,” and they make a treaty with him just as they did with Abraham. Clearly, the Lord is with Isaac in the same way that he was with Abraham.
But why does Isaac experience all of these blessings? While the Lord does confirm that the covenant has passed to Isaac by making the same promises to him that he made to Abraham, there is one difference. Look at 26:5. There we read why God will bless Isaac in these ways, “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
Here’s what this verse means: it is because of Abraham’s faithfulness that Isaac and his heirs will now receive the outcome of the promise made to Abraham. To be very clear, this is not the basis of Abraham’s salvation, that is faith as stated in Genesis 15:6. Abraham’s faithfulness, however, is the means through which the blessing of the land and nationhood come to his descendants.
Abraham As a Picture of Christ
All of this is simply a foretaste of what God will do in the New Covenant. Just as Abraham’s faithfulness was the meritorious ground for gaining the typological kingdom for Israel, Christ has merited salvation for all who belong to him through his obedient life, substitutionary death, and justifying resurrection. All who are united to Jesus by faith have him as the mediator of a better covenant, the New Covenant. In Christ, you can rejoice that you are counted as the blessed of the Lord.
When you are in Christ by faith, this absolutely revolutionizes how you view obedience and conviction. In Christ, you are counted as righteous because of his perfect obedience. Thus, your obedience is never something done to gain a right standing with God. Obedience is not an attempt to earn from God, but an overflow of belonging to him and a natural reaction to being indwelled by his Spirit.
Likewise, in Christ conviction over sin in your life is not God’s rejection of you, but his loving discipline of you. Put differently, our flesh wants to run away from God when he convicts us of sin. But conviction is God conforming us to the image of Christ by calling us to put off worldly ways and to walk in the new life that is purchased for us in Christ.
Christ has purchased and earned for those who belong to him all the benefits of salvation. When you come to Christ, you get these things because he has achieved them. Just as Isaac was able to walk in the blessings of Abraham, so too all in Christ can walk in the blessings earned by Christ, including calling God our Father.
Third, God will bring about his promise of salvation despite human sin and sabotage.
Esau and Jacob weren’t blind to these blessings that came to Isaac. They knew that one of them would inherit this position and they both longed for it. We get two glimpses of this, in 25:29-34 and 26:34-35. Then we get a panoramic view of it in Genesis 27.
In Genesis 25:29-34, we see Jacob’s desire for this position and Esau’s indifference and assumption that it was his. These verses record an incident in which Esau, fatigued and hungry after hunting, comes upon Jacob, who has made a stew. Esau is so hungry that he tells Jacob to give him some of the stew. Jacob, however, tries to use the situation to his advantage and tells Esau he will only give it to him if he gives up his birthright in exchange. Esau, claiming to be near death, says he will do it, and Jacob follows this up by demanding Esau swear to it, and Esau does.
Having the birthright meant you were entitled to two-thirds of the possessions passed on upon the patriarch’s death, but it also meant you would receive the covenant blessings that passed from Abraham to Isaac. By giving up his birthright, Esau showed indifference to receiving the promise. Likewise, he showed indifference by taking Hittite wives, which he does in Genesis 26:34-35. If you recall, Abraham forbade Isaac from marrying the Hittites because God promised to take the land of Canaan from them and give it to Abraham’s descendants. Thus, it would be necessary for them to remain a distinct people from the Hittites. Esau completely disregards this, showing disdain and indifference to the promise of God. He wants the blessings of the covenant, but he does not want to walk in the covenant.
This becomes all the more clear in Genesis 27. Remember, God has already made up his mind on who will inherit and carry on the covenant line in Genesis 25:23. This is what makes Genesis 27 so messy. In this chapter, we see sin and sabotage planned by every character. Let’s focus on each one and see how we can relate to them and be warned by them.
First, there is Isaac. It strains credulity to think that Isaac was not aware of the Lord’s pronouncement that Jacob would be first. Likewise, it seems safe to say that Jacob, upon getting Esau to swear away his birthright, would keep this information hidden from his dear old dad. But, as we read in Genesis 28, Isaac saw Esau as his favorite because Esau caught delicious food. So, since he is getting old and does not know when he will die, he tells Esau to go catch some of the game that he loves so that he can eat it and then bless Esau with the covenant headship.
Isaac’s plan, then, is to disregard God’s plan because it doesn’t fit with his preferences and desires. He is putting feelings over faith and his desires over God’s decrees. Perhaps that feels relatable to you. The Lord says to you, “The anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. But then you say, “But the Lord doesn’t understand how bad my kids are!” So you yell, scold, and skulk about the house all the while murmuring about how hard life is. That is putting your passion over God’s program. Or perhaps you hear that sex is a sacred union between man and wife, a fire meant to be kept inside the hearth of marital union. “But,” you say, “I really love him” or “I really love her.” So, like Isaac, you justify putting your desires before God’s decrees. Like Isaac, you sin by trying to overturn what God has said because of your desires and preferences.
Or, second, maybe you are like Rebekah. Upon hearing Isaac’s plan, she springs into action. Genesis 25:29 says that Rebekah favored Jacob, plus God has said that Jacob was to receive the blessing, so how could she stay silent? She calls Jacob to her and tells him her plan: she will make food that Isaac likes, Jacob will pretend to be Esau, and they will trick Isaac with his poor eyesight to bless Jacob instead of Esau! Where Isaac put desire before decree, Rebekah puts planning over God’s promise. God has promised that Jacob would be the one, so she doesn’t need to scheme in order to make it happen. Often times in the Bible actions are an expression of one’s faith, but here actions are a substitute for faith.
Does that ever happen to you? God calls you to cast your cares and anxieties on him, so you lay them up to the Lord in prayer but then lay in your bed scheming for how you can bring about the resolution and end that you want to the situation. “I trust God,” you say, “but I also need to help him!” We can often get ourselves in trouble by trying to help God. Perhaps you’ve experienced this before when talking with unbelievers and cautiously avoiding topics like judgment because, you know, they wouldn’t like that. God has a PR problem, you think, and you are going to help him by curating the truth. When you do that, you are being like Rebekah, and acting your your plans is necessary for God’s promises to come about.
Or, third, maybe you are like Jacob. When he hears Rebekah's plan he protests, but not because she is calling him to lie to his father. He protests because he thinks the plan will fail and he will be cursed. When Rebekah says that she will bear the curse if it comes, Jacob happily complies and lies to his father. In other words, Jacob is fine with sin as long as he doesn’t get caught. He wants to be honored more than he wants to honor God.
Do you ever think that way? Are you the kind of person who sweats when someone else gets on your computer because maybe you didn’t clear your search history enough? That sin wasn’t a big deal to you until now maybe someone is going to catch you in it. Or you feel conviction and you think, “I need to confess this,” but you hold back because you don’t want others to think less of you. If that is you, I have this warning: God sees you even if you feel all the Isaacs around you and no sweet Rebekahs are going to stand in for you while you lie, but Christ will bear the curse for all who confess their sin and tell the truth.
Or, fourth, maybe you are like Esau. I hope not. When he comes back to find that he has missed out on the blessing, he weeps and curses Jacob. Before you feel sorry for him, remember the fact that he loves his pleasure more than God’s promise. He treated the promise with indifference when he sold it for soup. Again, he treated it with indifference when he married a Hittite woman. He believes he is owed good things but has no desire to honor the Lord in anything.
Sin, Sabotage, and Salvation
Thus, this chapter is full of sin and sabotage. Everyone is trying to get what they want in their own way. Yet, do you notice what happens anyway? God does not approve of the sin of Jacob and Rebekah, but his word comes true all the same. In the midst of all this sin and sabotage, God’s promise comes to be true. Jacob receives the blessing in chapter 27. Then, after Esau threatens to kill Jacob once Isaac has died, Rebekah pleads for Isaac to send Jacob away in order for him to marry one from her household. This leads to a confirmation of the blessing in 28:1-5 and Jacob’s departure. In all of this, Jacob is set apart as the new future patriarch of the line of promise, and the future line is preserved from being corrupted by marrying people of the land. As the story continues to unfold, we see how God preserves his promise and brings it about even in the chaos of sin.
And there is something very relatable to that as well. When Jesus went to the cross, it was in events full of sin and sabotage. From a human perspective, it was hard to see what God was doing and how he would bring redemption from it. But, on the third day the tomb was empty and the disciples were rejoicing.
If you are in Christ, God has promised to save you. But right now maybe your life is full of sin and you feel sabotaged by circumstances, the world, and others. Christ has promised to rescue all who come to him, yet you want to cry out and say…
“But I am sick and dying.” Fear not, he promises to be with you and to raise you from the dead. His resurrection guarantees this reality. Your best days are still ahead of you.
“But I am a great sinner.” Remember that Christ is a great Savior. He knows all of your sin already and is able to forgive all who come to him.
“But I don’t know how to be faithful.” Then come rest in Christ, who is faithful and just. He will forgive you when you sin and he will empower and teach you to walk in faith.
“But I have doubts.” He has mercy on those who doubt and has given you the church, his body, to walk with you in mercy.
We Need a Hero
These chapters reveal that we need a hero. These are characters that we can identify with, which is all well and good I suppose, but it isn’t enough. We don’t need someone like us, we need someone better than us. We need someone to whom God can point and say, “Because of him, I will surely bless you.” And praise the Lord, he has provided that needed man in Jesus Christ. We can’t identify with Jesus in the sense that we look at him and say, “He is just like me!” We look at him and say, “That man is not like me at all. He is faithful when I am faithless; he is righteous when I am sinful; he is resolute when I am fickle; he is wise when I am foolish; he is kind when I am cruel; he is gentle where I am rough; he is edifying when I am condescending; he runs to the rescue when I just want to run away; he comforts when I want to scold; he confronts when I want to assuage. He is everything I am not.”
Yet, he is like me in that he is human just as I am human. God the Son took on flesh and became a man just like you and me. So when he went to that cross and bore the wrath I deserved for my sin, died under the condemnation I had rightly earned, and rose again conquering death that I rightly fear, then he actually became the hero that a sinner like you and I need.
God has promised to save a people for himself and no sin or attempt to sabotage his plan will succeed because Jesus is greater than sin—yes, even your sin—and too wise and powerful for sabotage.
So come to Jesus, you scheming sinner. He is the friend of sinners, the helper of his enemies, the justifier of the damned, and he loves to help those who have no excuses left.