A Tale of Two Sons

This week’s taste of Torah begins a section in the annual cycle of readings known in Hebrew as toledot or generations. This word toledot is often translated as “these are the generations of.” It occurs ten times in Genesis. And in each case it introduces a new section of the book. This reoccurrence of the term toledot makes the structure of Genesis very clear. And while the person named at the beginning of each toledot section is not necessarily the main character of that section, the death of that individual closes the section which bears his name. The idea here is that these toledot sections give an account or record and tells what became of a particular person. And the big –picture theme in today’s toledot concerning Isaac is the acquisition of blessing and the corresponding development and protection of that blessing by the Lord. In short, we see here that Isaac’s son Jacob is selected to receive covenant promise.

Now the focus of our portion within this portion is a tale of two sons. And those two sons are Jacob and Esau. The text is Genesis 25:29-34. It reads, 29 Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. 30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff– yes, this red stuff– because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright (NET).

What we have here are two sons with two very different sets of priorities. Esau cared only for physical and material things. Jacob on the other hand valued the spiritual aspects of life. Esau was focused on the immediate satisfaction of his bodily needs and desires. Jacob was willing to wait for something better that God had promised in the future. And even though Jacob is often portrayed as the bad guy in this event, in verse 34 Moses puts the blame on Esau not Jacob.

Now why was this business with the birthright such a big deal? Well, let’s unpack that concept just a bit. The birthright was the privilege of being chief of the tribe and head of the family (Gen. 27:29). In Isaac’s family it entitled the bearer to the blessing of Yahweh’s promise (Gen. 27:4, 27-29), which included the possession of Canaan and covenant fellowship with God (Gen. 28:4). It included a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17) and the privilege of being the priest (spiritual leader) of the family. Also, with regard to spiritual benefits, possessing the birthright spoken of here included being in the Messianic line, because this is the birthright of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Now there are two New Covenant passages which shed critical light on this incident. First, Romans 9:10–12 states that the choice of Jacob to be the recipient of this birthright blessing was based solely upon God’s election. In other words God chose Jacob for reasons that were in God Himself. He chose Jacob before he had done anything good or bad; before he manifested a character worthy or unworthy of God’s special blessing. Plus, the fact that Jacob actually became a less admirable person, in some respects, than Esau, shows that God’s choice was not due to Jacob but to Himself. This was not about the superior merit of Jacob but rather the sovereign prerogative of Yahweh.

Secondly, in Hebrews 12:16–17, Esau is described as a profane person who despised his birthright inheritance and willingly threw it all away to quickly satisfy his bodily desires. He was “godless” in that he relinquished his covenant rights for the sake of immediate gratification.

When and how does the legacy of Esau show up in our lives? What are we susceptible to that left unchecked results in spiritual compromise? What pushes our buttons in that way? We all have our own list. But as Messiah followers God has given us the promise of His presence, strength, provisions, fruitfulness, glorification, and rewards. Yet when we chose to live primarily for the present rather than for the future we express an Esau like disdain for these precious spiritual realities.

Profane secularism is a dead end street. There’s no future in it. The mere satisfying of fleshly appetites tragically results in the loss of more valuable things of lasting spiritual worth. And as believers, if we chose to live for ourselves and basically treat God like a utilitarian genie, while we will certainly NOT lose our salvation, according 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 we can definitely lose some of our spiritual reward. May this tale of two sons help us keep our eyes on that prize. Because it’s not about the stew, it’s about the ultimate Jew; not Jackie Mason, but Jesus!

Real Deal Appeal

This week’s taste of Torah features Abraham giving a real deal appeal. And the back heel of this appeal is the LORD proving Himself faithful to Abraham and Sarah by miraculously giving them a son (Isaac) in their old age. And that led to Abraham facing his greatest test. He was told to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, the place of the future Temple. And in response to Abraham’s willingness to obey, the LORD promised that He would greatly multiply his offspring and that in his seed (singular) all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 22:17-18).

This brings us to the current parsha known as the “life of Sarah,” which paradoxically begins with the account of her death. It’s also a section which retells how the first great matriarch of the Jewish people was buried at a burial site which Abraham had legally purchased from Ephron the Hittite for four hundred shekels of silver (Gen. 23:25-26).

Now Abraham did not live a perfect life in Canaan. In fact it took a lifetime for him to shed the ways of his pre-Yahweh days and consistently walk with the LORD. But the reason we’re calling this a real deal appeal is because by the time Sarah died, the Hittites were so impressed with Abraham’s lifestyle and his relationship with the one true God that initially they offered to provide, at no cost, one of their best burial sites for Sarah. The reason I say that initially this was the Hittite offer is because what appears at first to be generosity actually turns out to be part of an ancient Near East negotiating process (cf. Gen. 23:3-18). And in many respects that’s a cat and mouse game that continues to this day in that part of the world.

Now the key details concerning Sarah’s burial is recorded in Genesis 23:1-6; 19-20. It reads: Now Sarah lived 127 years; these were all the years of her life. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Then Abraham got up from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites: 4 “I am a foreign resident among you. Give me a burial site among you so that I can bury my dead.” 5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6 “Listen to us, lord. You are God’s chosen one among us. Bury your dead in our finest burial place. None of us will withhold from you his burial place for burying your dead.” 19 After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field at Machpelah near Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field with its cave passed from the Hittites to Abraham as a burial place.

Now as a reflection of Abraham’s ever developing character, we should note that Abraham’s purchase of a burial site in the Promised Land demonstrated his intention to remain in Canaan rather than going back to his native homeland. Since he was a sojourner in Canaan no doubt it was assumed that he would bury Sarah back in the area he was originally from, namely, Mesopotamia. Typically ancient Near Easterners buried family members in their native land. And so Abraham’s desire to bury Sarah in the Promised Land demonstrates that he had turned his back on Mesopotamia forever. Canaan, the Land of Promise was his new adopted homeland.

Now here’s the real-life/real-time principal can we glean from this incident. We should live godly lives before unbelievers in order to demonstrate that we are truly God’s children. As Abraham grew in his faith, he knew he was an alien among the Canaanites. He understood that he was God’s representative in an ungodly culture.

So how does this relate to us as Messiah followers today? Simply this, in order to follow the honorable example of Abraham’s sanctification journey, we need to take the following words from the apostle Peter very seriously: 11 Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul, 12 and maintain good conduct among non-believers, so that even though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears (1Pe 2:11-12).

Obviously, we will face difficult challenges living for Messiah in a culture that is ever increasingly hostile to biblical values. And yet we are called to reflect God’s holiness and be a dynamic witness to an unbelieving world. According to Acts 2:47, when first century Jewish believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to apostolic teaching, fellowship, and praise; unbelievers viewed them favorably, why, because they observed their good works and because the Holy Spirit convicted these unbelievers of sin. And the result of that, is that every day the Lord added to this upstart Messianic congregation those who were being saved!

Here’s the deal, we have the same divine mandate that those first century Jewish believers had. Plus, we have something they didn’t have; namely the Word of God in its entirety! So instead of being a fumbling stumbling mumbling schlemiel, we can be the real deal, and that gives credibility to our evangelistic appeal.

Get God Get Going

The Messianic life is a series of new beginnings. And in order to be in rhythm with that, often we need to regroup – refocus – and reconsider – so we can get what God is about. And once we get that, we’re able to get what we should be about. In that way, we need to get God and get going.

We’re all aware of the distinctive weather seasons of winter, spring, summer, and fall. However, we’re not always aware of the distinctive life seasons of transient responsibilities, relationships, and ministry. Today’s taste of Torah records the seminal game-changing event in the life of Abraham that compels Abraham to literally physically relocate from one season of life to another.

Our text is Genesis 12:1-3. It reads: Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go out from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

This passage is the central text of what is known as the Abrahamic covenant. It records God’s call of Abraham out of ancient Babylon and the specific promises that were made to Abraham. God promised Abraham three things: a land, numerous offspring who would become a great nation, and a special blessing that would affect everyone on the earth. The land was Canaan. The numerous offspring who would become a great nation are the children of Israel. And ultimately the blessing referred to here is the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. These central themes of land, seed and blessing are later amplified and expanded in the subsequent unconditional biblical covenants of promise given to the Jewish people.

Another vantage point from which we can get a big-picture feel for the Abrahamic covenant, is to recognize that the promises God made to Abraham fell into three categories: personal, national, and universal.

Personal promises God gave to Abraham included a great name, vast wealth, and abundant spiritual blessing for himself. Scripture confirms these promises were fulfilled literally.

The national promise is that Abraham’s descendants would multiply and be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17) and that God would give Abraham and his people the land of Canaan as their “everlasting possession” (17:8), with its boundaries extending from the river of Egypt in the west to the Euphrates River in the east and the land of the Hittites in the north (15:18–21). This means that regardless of present day political disputes, God has granted the title deed of the land of Israel to the Jewish people even though this land promise has not yet been fulfilled in its entirety.

And regarding the universal aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham’s descendants (22:18). And again the ultimate fulfillment of this promise occurred through the ministry of Jesus the Messiah of Israel. Through His death and resurrection, Yeshua provided atonement for the whole world (Gal. 3:16).

Now concerning application, Abraham’s national promises also gave Israel a unique position as God’s barometer of blessing: Those nations that would bless Israel would be blessed and those that cursed Israel would be cursed (12:3; 27:29). Genuine Christian Zionism, of the biblical variety, is not just about education and advocacy, it’s also about evangelism. It rejects so-called “dual-covenant” theology as a lie from the pit. It realizes that the greatest blessing Israel can ever receive is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. And in terms of getting that message out we all do well to get God and get going!