Before you read: Of course, Rebekah married Isaac. Of course, God answered the servant’s prayers. Abraham remarried, too, and had many other children who are not even named in the Story, because the Story is about God’s rescue mission – His promise – and the promise flows through Isaac.
Read Genesis 25:19-34
At the very start of the Story we read about a river that flowed from Eden, watering everything. The promise God gave to Abraham is like that river. It starts out small: one man, one woman, no children.
But God promises a nation.
The trickle that will become a nation begins with Isaac: not Ishmael.
God can be exclusive because He’s doing something very precise, and Ishmael is not forgotten – he is blessed. But Isaac is the trickle.
And he has two sons, too. And only one of them gets the blessing: Jacob. The trickle flows through Jacob.
We recognize this because of the way God talks to Rebekah. He uses the same sort of language he used with Abraham, talking about nations where we see only babies.
God tells Rebekah that the younger son will rule over the older, and be the stronger nation.
Which was all wrong, by the standards of the day. You see, legally, the older son would get twice as much family inheritance as any younger one, and would become the family leader upon the father’s death. This was called the “birthright”.
It always went to the oldest son. Always.
But Jacob steals it. Esau is weak and hungry and Jacob takes advantage of him, walking away with the birthright.
Something about that sentence, “So Esau despised his birthright” suggests that Esau should’ve tried harder to keep it, but he didn’t. And of course, God knew all along. He called it while the two were still in their mother’s womb.
This isn’t an inspiring story at all. Neither Jacob nor Esau come off looking good. Jacob is a sneaky thief and Esau is ruled by his stomach, and maybe dim-witted too.
If I were God, I might be rethinking my plan to make a river of blessing from this family – scrap the whole thing and look for someone else.
But he made a promise.
And clearly, he is at work: Jacob gets the birthright through trickery, but first, before all that, God chose him.
He seems an unlikely candidate for grace but then, if he weren’t, it wouldn’t be grace.