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Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:
“Jacob & Esau – Who’s on First?”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Through the Written Word,
And the spoken word,
May we know Your Living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Opening section of Abbot and Costello’s 1942 “Who’s on first?” skit.
Abbott: Strange as it may seem, they give ball players nowadays very peculiar names.
Costello: Funny names?
Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third–
Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.
Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third–
Costello: You know the fellows’ names?
Costello: Well, then who’s playing first?
Costello: I mean the fellow’s name on first base.
Costello: The fellow playin’ first base.
Costello: The guy on first base.
Abbott: Who is on first.
Costello: Well, what are you askin’ me for?
Abbott: I’m not asking you–I’m telling you. Who is on first.
Costello: I’m asking you–who’s on first?
Abbott: That’s the man’s name.
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Anybody here never see that scene before? Abbot and Costello were hilarious, and this skit defined them – the original was over 6 minutes long! And it displays the confusion over identity perfectly.
What’s the man’s name playing first? – No, that’s Who. – That’s what I wanna know!
In our current Sermon Series we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessons – favorite Bible stories, or stories that we’ve always wondered about or had questions about. Today we read about two brothers, Jacob and Esau, and how confusion over who was whom changes the course of history … and what that means for us today.
In this series we have read the stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, and a few Abraham and Isaac stories.
I invite you to turn with me today, and to listen to, Genesis 25-27 (Pp. 18-20). Hear the Word of God …. —-
Last week we saw that Abraham and Sarah in their very old age (100 & 90) have their first son, Isaac, as the beginning of the fulfillment of a promise from God that their offspring would outnumber the stars in the sky. Then God tells Abraham to offer his son, his only son, whom he loves – Isaac – as a sacrifice.
By the time we get to chapter 25, this son of Abraham, Isaac, is 60 years old, married to a distant relative named Rebekah – but they also are childless. So Isaac prays for a baby; the Lord answers his prayer – with twins – who (the NIV says) jostled each other within Rebekah’s womb. When Rebekah cries out to God about her belly’s wrestlessness, God tells her:
“Two nations are in your womb,
And two peoples from within you will be separated;
One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Well, these two boys, fraternal twins, were born, still wrestling with each other – the first came out red he was like a hairy garment, so they named him Esau (hairy), and the second came out grasping hold of Esau’s heel, so they named him Jacob (Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he takes advantage of or he deceives), and in conflict their whole lives.
One day as they were grown, the older brother, Esau – big and hairy – was so hungry he was “hangry”, so he sold his “first-born-birthright” to his younger brother, Jacob – smaller and smooth-skinned. How do you think this event affected their relationship? And the truth is that they did grow apart, Esau’s family line became the nation of Edom, enemies of the Israelites – and Jacob became Israel! Almost 1800 years later a descendant of Esau was named King of Israel by the Roman Emperor, his name was King Herod – who killed all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger in an effort to kill the baby Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews.
By the time we get to chapter 27 Isaac’s age is catching up to him, his vision is gone, and he knows his end is near.
So he calls Esau, his oldest twin son, and tells him, “You know I’m on hospice now, my time is close. Here’s what I want you to do: Get your gun, go out to the woods, and hunt some wild game for me – you know how I love your venison stew. Make that for me, and I’ll give you my blessing before I die.”
But Rebekah, Esau’s and Jacob’s Mom, overhears these instructions, and as soon as Esau leaves the house she calls Jacob over and plots with him a way to steal Esau’s blessing. She tells Jacob, “Go to the barn pick out two of the choicest goats and bring them to me – I know how to make them taste like wild game, and when you take my stew to your Dad he’ll give you Esau’s blessing before he dies.”
You remember that Jacob already has Esau’s birthright, right? And the word of God to Rebekah that the younger brother would rule over the older brother? Now the younger bro is about to get the last will and testament of Dad instead of the older bro. But there’s a hitch in the plan – while Isaac is old and his vision is gone, he still knows his sons voices and physical differences: Esau is big and hairy and Jacob is smaller and smooth.
So Jacob reminds his Mom that Dad will know that Jacob is not Esau – “How do we fool him, Mom?”
Listen to how this plays out – I’m reading from Genesis 27:14-46 …. —-
14 So he went and got [the goats] and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.
18 He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is this?”
19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied.
21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” 22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.
“I am,” he replied.
25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”
Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank.26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”
27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,
“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.
28 May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness— an abundance of grain and new wine.
29 May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”
30 After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”
33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”
34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cryand said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”
36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? [remember that Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he takes advantage of or he deceives.] This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”
37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”
38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.
39 His father Isaac answered him, “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness,
away from the dew of heaven above. 40 You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.
But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.”
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.”
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?”
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.”
Whaaat? Right? This is a chapter of one lie after another – Rebekah and then Jacob – it’s a chapter of theft and trickery, of lost blessings and stolen blessings, of threats of curses and threats of murder. How is this a Gospel story? Why is it even in the Bible?
I have a couple thoughts about that, and my take-away.
Jacob is listed as one of the biblical heroes of faith – even with this story. One of the things that help make the Bible believable is that it does not hide the ugliness of its heroes!
And these Bible heroes are not simply examples of faith. Even when they make bad choices and do wrong things – they are in the Family Tree of Jesus!
Here’s what may be the most important verse in this story: 36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? [What does Jacob mean? he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he takes advantage of or he deceives.] This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!… Don’t you have a blessing for me?”
Here’s what I think God wants us to hear in this story – we are all sinners – Abraham sinned, Isaac sinned, Rebekah sinned, Esau sinned, and here we see that even Jacob sinned.
But even though we all sin, Almighty God loves us, and He has a plan for us. He wants us to return to Him for forgiveness. God is standing by and ready to forgive, and He longs to do so.
I love that God uses these people, no better than you or me maybe, but God uses them in His salvation story! Next week we read where Jacob’s name is changed to Israel – from one who cheats and lies to one who wrestles with God.
God uses Jacob to reveal His Word of truth from this point forward. Do you remember the story in John 1 where Jesus is just starting to gather His followers, and Philip is so excited about meeting Jesus that he runs and gets his friend Nathaniel. When Jesus sees Nathaniel He says, “Here’s an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit” (“Here’s a true example of ‘Israel’ in whom there is no sign of ‘Jacob’”).
God loves you, and He longs to give that love to you.
Friends, let’s not make Him wait any longer. Let’s open our lives, our hearts, our minds, and accept His love and forgiveness.
Trust that Jesus took your place on the cross – like last week’s substitute ram who died on behalf of Isaac – so that we do not need to experience that final death. Our heavenly Father loves us so much that He sent His Son to pay that price. And whoever would believe in Him would not perish into eternal death but would have life beyond death.
If you have never before believed that God really did raise Jesus from the dead, today is the day of your salvation – believe and receive Him today!
Jacob – the younger brother, the second born son of Isaac, carries the torch of the way of salvation.
Who’s on first? What’s on second? Friends, do not get lost in the sin, just keep your eyes focused on the Son who gave Himself for you. – This was part of the message of Jake’s song this morning, Metronome – God’s love will keep the rhythm of our lives directed on following Him, even when we act like Jacob son of Isaac, son of Abraham – ancestor of our Lord and Savior.
Thank You, YHWH God, for including stories like this one about Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Esau. This story recognizes that people who sin just like I do can be a part of Your story and Your plan. Today, Lord, I ask Your forgiveness; I want Your welcoming love and Your forgiving grace And I want to call You Father and hear You call me Your child. Thank You for Jesus; in His name we pray, Amen.
Abbott, Bud and Lou Costello; “Who’s on First?”; 1942.
Davis, Jake; “Metronome”; 2018.