Though it’ll be a few months before we arrive at the end of Joseph’s story, the powerful statement concerning God’s sovereignty that he made to his brothers who had sold him into slavery and left him for dead may be well-applied to the story of Esau and Jacob—not to mention all of our lives. For Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good….”[1] This is an important reminder that evil will not win in the end for God’s goodness and greatness are so much greater that he has overcome any and all evil that exists. As we continue to see in the story of Esau and Jacob, even the deceptive ways of God’s fallen children weren’t able to undo his good plan of sending his Messiah, the Christ, for the sake of their salvation. Therefore we can take heart in knowing that no sin or deceit is able to hinder the good that he desires for those who are his.

Now last week we saw how Jacob stole Esau’s birthright at the start of their young adult lives and then later stole his blessing. Though before he died Isaac had desired to give Esau his eldest—and favorite—son his blessing, by way of the deceit of Rebekah, his wife, and younger son Jacob—her favorite[2]—he had inadvertently given his blessing to their younger son instead. I mentioned at the time that it would have been difficult for Esau to be content with the secondary blessing given by his father upon his pleading for it. Our passage opens by making clear how Esau felt about all that had transpired. As stated in verse 41, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” Upon losing not only his birthright but also his blessing and inheritance, Esau vowed to kill his younger brother once his father had passed and the time of mourning for him had ended—something which, as it turned out, wouldn’t occur for at least twenty more years.[3]

As a result of Esau’s vow, Rebekah once again jumped into action. Beginning with verse 42 we read,

42 When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”

If you’ll recall, Harran was where Abraham was from[4] and it’s the region where subsequently he had sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac from among his own people. When he did, Laban and Bethuel, Rebekah’s brother and father, had agreed that her marrying Isaac was indeed from the LORD.[5] In the same way Rebekah now desired to send her younger son back to her homeland and that of Abraham for protection until Esau’s “fury” subsided. Again, it would be at least twenty years before the twins saw one another again—that’s a long time to take for someone’s “fury” to subside yet the fact that Rebekah never did send for Jacob indicates how deep was the grudge that Esau held against his brother.

Now when Rebekah had encouraged Jacob to deceive her husband, Isaac, by posing as Esau, she had been willing to take the responsibility.[6] However, subsequently she distanced herself from what had transpired for she now spoke to Jacob about “what you did to him” (verse 45). Even so, she sought to protect her favored son by sending him back to her homeland for, as she said, “Why should I lose both of you in one day?” Though Moses and the giving of God’s Law were yet to come, early on the LORD had already disclosed to Noah, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”[7] Therefore, were Esau to kill Jacob, his life, too, might be forfeited for committing such a heinous act.

Next, rather than tell Isaac that they needed to send Jacob away in order to save his life from his brother Esau, Rebekah instead said to him, verse 46, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.” “Which Hittite women?,” you might ask. These were wives Esau had previously married who were mentioned in a portion of Genesis 26 I jumped over. At the end of that chapter we’re told, “34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Esau had married his first wives when he was the same age as his father, Isaac—which means Isaac would have been 100 when Esau married since he was 60 when his twin sons were born.[8] Unlike his father who had married a woman from Abraham’s homeland, Esau had chosen to marry women who were already living in the land of Canaan. And as we saw when we considered the Tower of Babel,[9] the Hittites were descendants of Ham, Noah’s youngest son—and specifically of Canaan, Noah’s grandson—whose line had been cursed by Noah due to the evil he had done against his father.[10]

Now we’re not told the why these daughters-in-law were a “a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah,” but it’s safe to assume that part of the reason may have been due to the customs they practiced, not the least of which would have included worship of the foreign gods the women followed. But, again, rather than tell Isaac that she feared for Jacob’s life, Rebekah focused instead upon Esau’s pagan wives noting that if Jacob were also to marry a Hittite woman from the land of Canaan, her life would no longer be worth living.

Apparently Jacob agreed with her for as chapter 28 opens we see him acting upon Rebekah’s stated concern. Beginning with verse 1 we’re told, “1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.’” Paddan Aram was located in Northwest Mesopotamia. As Isaac stated, this is where Abraham’s kin were from, specifically Rebekah’s family—her father, Bethuel, and brother, Laban. Again, though there’s no mention here that Jacob should leave in order to escape his brother’s revenge, the possibility of his marrying a Hittite woman from the land of Canaan was of sufficient concern to send him back home.

Next Isaac once more blessed Jacob saying, verses 3–4, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” If you’ll recall, “God Almighty”—“El–Shaddai” in the Hebrew—was the way that God had disclosed himself to Abraham when he was ninety-nine and God made a covenant with him prior to Sarah giving birth, at the age of 90, to Isaac.[11] If God Almighty could bless Isaac’s parents with the miracle of his birth, surely this very same God Almighty could do the same for Isaac’s son, Jacob. The blessing Isaac gave Jacob was in keeping with that which the LORD had given to both Abraham and Isaac. It’s a prayer that Jacob and his descendants would receive “the blessing given to Abraham,” specifically to “take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham”—although as we know the land wouldn’t be possessed by those descendants until much later during the time of Joshua. Jacob obeyed his father, verse 5, as Isaac then “sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.”

As to Esau, given all that had transpired—his selling away his birthright and consequently losing the blessing and inheritance of the firstborn—it may be that he began to have a slight change of heart for beginning with verse 6 we read,

Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

Apparently prior to this Esau hadn’t been fully aware that the wives he had previously married, “Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite… were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”[12] Nor had he known that his mother was “disgusted with living because of these Hittite women.”[13] But upon learning that his father had told his brother specifically not to marry a Canaanite woman because the Canaanite women were “displeasing…to his father Isaac,” Esau then decided to marry “Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth.” In other words, he married a woman from Abraham’s line. For Nebaioth was the firstborn son of Ishmael, who was Abraham’s firstborn by Sarah’s servant, Hagar.[14] And Mahalath was Ishmael’s daughter, therefore Abraham’s granddaughter, and sister to Nebaioth. Yet given that upon Sarah’s urging Abraham had sent away Hagar and Ishmael and that Isaac, not Ishmael, was the son through whom the promises the LORD made to Abraham would be fulfilled, Esau’s choosing to marry a woman from this non-messianic line would have been only marginally better than marrying a Hittite woman from the land of Canaan. Or perhaps, as noted by one commentator, another way of seeing this decision is that “Acting out of rivalry with his brother (v. 6) and a desire to please his father (v. 8), Esau sought another wife from among his relatives, the family of Ishmael (v. 9). Even in this effort Esau lacked spiritual perception for Ishmael was the rejected natural offspring of Abraham….”[15]

Well, given that today we live in a time of great tolerance and openness to people of all cultures and backgrounds, we may be left wondering what all of the fuss was about. Why was it that having Jacob marry a woman from Abraham’s lineage—as opposed to a Hittite woman from the land of Canaan—would have been so important to Isaac and Rebekah? The reason wasn’t due to the fact that the Canaanites were foreigners for throughout Scripture we see that foreigners who embrace the God of Israel are embraced by Israelites in return—perhaps the most prominent example being that of Ruth, a woman from Moab who ended up having the messianic baton pass to her and her descendants.[16] No, as already noted, the reason that Isaac and Rebekah didn’t want Jacob to marry a woman from Canaan was because the Canaanites worshiped foreign gods. Therefore, to marry someone who worshiped a god or gods of another nation could result in luring a person away from worshiping the only God who is worthy of worship, the God who made us and everything that exists; the God of Abraham and Isaac who had disclosed himself as God Almighty. Therefore if, like Ruth, a foreigner turned from their own god or gods to worship the One, True God, there would be no problem with marrying that individual. Recall that when her husband died, Ruth adopted the God of Naomi, her mother-in-law, as she begged her, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”[17] Subsequently Ruth, a Moabite, would come to be known and commended for her upright character.[18]

This is in keeping with what Scripture teaches—that we should treasure God above all else. Our relationship with him should take precedence over everything else in our lives and should even govern the relationships we have with others. This is implicit in our morning’s passage from Genesis and Paul makes it explicit in our New Testament passage from 2 Corinthians 6. In verse 14 Paul frames his remarks by stating, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” Paul applies the prohibition against the unequal yoking of animals from the book of Deuteronomy[19] to the unequal yoking of believers with unbelievers. Since believers are those who treasure God above all else, they ought to be relating most intimately with those who are pulling in the same direction. Therefore our service to the LORD ought to be done with those who share the goals and values God has given us in his Holy Word.

As Paul goes on to ask, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” Now though this passage is often applied to dating and marriage relationships—and this is certainly one appropriate application of it—what Paul is actually stating is even more far-reaching for throughout Scripture we are taught about the importance of watching the company we keep. So we read, for instance:

“Bad company corrupts good character.”[20]

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”[21]

“Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.”[22]

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers….”[23]

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers.”[24]

You get the idea. As Paul strikingly contrasts, righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common; light can have no fellowship with darkness; there is no harmony between Christ and Belial—a name for Satan.[25] In that which ought to matter the most to us, our relationship with our loving and gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, believers and unbelievers have nothing in common.

In verse 16 Paul continues addressing the importance of this spiritual foundation for our most intimate relationships by going on to ask, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” The answer is that those who treasure God have no agreement with those who worship idols. The reason for this, as Paul goes on to state, is because “…we are the temple of the living God.” All who have believed in and received Christ are now “the temple of the living God” for they are indwelled by his Holy Spirit who seals us, thereby guaranteeing our eternity with him,[26] and indwells us, and thereby is conforming us into his image.[27] Paul supports what he’s saying by linking together a number of Scriptures from the Old Testament:

“As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’[28]

17 Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’[29]

18 And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’”[30]

If we treasure God, then God will make his home in us, declaring us to be his people even as we have declared him to be our God. Therefore, let us turn away from anything that is unclean, from any sin or temptation or anything that might draw us away from the God we treasure. For we are his children; we are children of our heavenly Father; we are children of the Almighty Lord.

And it is by Jesus Christ his Son’s life, suffering, death, resurrection from death, and ascension to heaven and his subsequent sending of his Holy Spirit to those who believe and receive his Son, that God has now made us, individually and corporately, his temple, his dwelling.[31] He has set us apart and indwells us in order that we might be holy as he is. In and through Christ he has taken away our sinful nature and given us his holy and righteous nature. Therefore, as his adopted children we now have access at any and all times to our gracious and loving heavenly Father! So let us treasure him!!

As his children, let us treasure our relationship with him above all others and allow our love for him to condition whom we choose to draw close to. Now this doesn’t mean that we should only associate with those who are believers for we ought always to be sharing the good news of who Christ Jesus is with those around us. But when it comes down to what we treasure; to those with whom we share our hearts—and our lives—and the values and priorities that matter most to us; when it comes down to whom we turn to when seeking counsel—and advice—and encouragement to live as God has called us to live, let us turn to those who similarly treasure God and have devoted themselves to following Christ. For only another believer will encourage us to turn away and repent from sin; only another believer will remind us of God’s constant presence and care in our lives—of his ability to bring good out of evil suffered even at the hand of others; only another believer can understand both our worth and our unworthiness; only another believer will encourage us to live according to what the Scriptures teach rather than what our society teaches.

Therefore, dear sisters and brothers, today and always let us treasure God—let us demonstrate that we love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—by forming our deepest relationships with those who are of like mind.

Let us pray.

[1] Genesis 50:20. This is the way both the English Standard Version and Revised Standard Version translate this verse. The New International Version translates it as, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good….”

[2] Genesis 25:8. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

[3] Jacob stayed away for at least this amount of time. See Genesis 31:38a, 41 (Jacob is speaking to Laban, his father-in-law): 38 I have been with you for twenty years now….41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times.

[4] Genesis 12:4–5:So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

[5] See sermon preached on September 13, 2020, God Knows before We Ask on Genesis 24. See, especially, Genesis 24:50–51: 50 Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. 51 Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.”

[6] See Genesis 27:11–13: 11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

[7] Genesis 9:6.

[8] Genesis 25:26: …Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.

[9] See sermon preached on June 7, 2020, How God Brought Clarity out of Confusion, on Genesis 11:1–9.

[10] Genesis 11:6, 15:The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan…. 15 Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.; Genesis 9:24–25: 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son [i.e., Ham] had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

 

 

[11] See sermon preached on August 2, 2020, Almighty Humor–and Blessing on Genesis 17. The specific verse is found in Genesis 17:1–2: 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[Hebrew El-Shaddai]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

[12] Genesis 26:34–35.

[13] Genesis 27:46: Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

[14] Genesis 25:13–15: 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah.

[15] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 28:6–9. Other passages from Genesis reference include Genesis 17:18–21: 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” 19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”; Genesis 21:12–13: 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” The ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 28:9–10 suggests instead, “Having heard his father’s instruction to Jacob that he should not take a Canaanite [sic] wife, Esau seeks to make amends for his earlier actions. To gain his parents’ approval, he marries one of Ishmael’s daughters. Esau, however, still retains his two Hittite wives.”

[16] In listing Jesus’ genealogy, Ruth is included. See Matthew 1:1, 5–6: 1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:… Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

[17] Ruth 1:16.

[18] As Boaz, her future husband declared (Ruth 2:11–12): “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

[19] Deuteronomy 22:10: Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.

[20] 1 Corinthians 15:33 (quoting Menander, a Greek poet).

[21] Proverb 13:20:

[22] Proverb 25:26.

[23] Psalm 1:1.

[24] Proverb 4:14:

[25] The Crossway ESV Study Bible note on 2 Corinthians 6:15 states that the Greek Belial—or Beliar—comes from a Hebrew word meaning “worthlessness” or possibly “destruction”: “This name for Satan is not found elsewhere in the OT [sic] or NT [sic] but was used in the Judaism of Paul’s day. Derived from one of Satan’s characteristics (i.e., that he is “worthless” or “treacherous”; see the same word in Deut. 13:13; 15:9; Judg. 19:22; 1 Kings 21:13, etc.), it was often used in contexts that stress Satan’s activity as an opponent of God, which fits Paul’s concern with his opponents.”

[26] 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[27] 1 Corinthians 6:19–20: 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

[28] Leviticus 26:12: I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.;  Jeremiah 32:38: They will be my people, and I will be their God.; Ezekiel 37:27: My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.

[29] Isaiah 52:11: 11 Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house.; Ezekiel 20:34, 41: 34 I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath…. 41 I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will be proved holy through you in the sight of the nations.

[30] 2 Samuel 7:14, 27: 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands…. 27 “Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.

[31] 1 Peter 2:4–5: As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[Or into a Temple of the Holy Spirit] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.