************ Sermon on Genesis 36 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 29, 2014
Read Genesis 36:1-10a, 15, 20, 31, 40
"Blessings Fall on Esau"
The URCNA website was recently redesigned to look more modern and to be more user-friendly. The delegates to Synod applauded after we showed it to them. Early in the process I was sent a proposed home page. Front and center was a country church building somewhere in Kansas or Iowa surrounded by grass and prairie flowers. The building was old. Light was pouring out of every window. The scene was altogether lovely and even touching. Members of the Web Oversight Committee were asked for their reaction. Everyone agreed it was a vast improvement on our original website.
But then someone asked if we really wanted the URCNA to be represented by a country church building. Is that the impression we want people to have when they think of the URCNA? Or, is there some better picture or image to put on the website? One of the suggestions was people – show a family doing devotions, show a family at worship, and that sort of thing.
I liked these suggestions. To me they sounded more biblical because many parts of the Bible are largely a collection of stories about families that are connected to God through covenant promises. Consider what we have looked at so far in our study of Genesis. We have looked at the account of Adam and his family, Noah and his family, Abraham and his family, Isaac and his family. Our next chapter begins the account of Jacob and his family. We see that God worked through covenant families to accomplish His purposes.
The New Testament continues the same theme of God working through covenant families to accomplish His purposes. Did you know Peter came to know Jesus because his brother Andrew brought him to meet the Savior (Jn 1:41-42)? And, do you remember what Peter said on Pentecost?
(Acts 2:39) The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call.
We see, then, that the Bible is the story of a faithful God Who uses covenant families to accomplish His purposes.
I Esau Part of the Covenant Family
A This might surprise you: Esau, too, is part of the covenant family. He is part of a covenant line that went from Adam to Seth to Enosh and Noah and others. This covenant line continues with Abraham and Isaac. As a son of Isaac, Esau is part of this covenant line. We see that God was working in him and through him. For instance, Esau had threatened to kill his brother Jacob. Yet, by the grace of God, the two brothers were reconciled so that Genesis 35 ends with the death of Isaac and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him together (Gen 35:29).
B Yet, I am always surprised that Esau and his line are included in Scripture. Let me mention a couple of reasons. First, did you notice the name Moses gave to Esau? Moses reminds the children of Israel that another name for Esau is Edom (Gen 36:1). Edom. This is the nation that stood between the children of Israel and the Promised land. This is the nation that refused to let Israel cross through their territory even though Moses promised,
(Num 20:17) We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king's highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.To back this up, Edom came against Israel with a large and powerful army (Num 20:20). So, the children of Israel had to take the long way around; it wasn't an easy journey as the people complained about a lack of bread and water and faced poisonous snakes (Num 21:4). In spite of this God commanded Israel not to look down on Esau's descendants (Deut 23:7).
Furthermore, consider the matter of Esau's wives. We are told "Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan" (Gen 36:1). In other words, he married heathen women, unbelieving women; to use New Testament language, Esau was "unequally yoked." Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said about this?
(2 Cor 6:14-18) Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. 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? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (16) What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. 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." (17) "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." (18) "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."Believers are not to marry unbelievers. Pure and simple and easy to understand. Believers are to marry believers. In spite of what some people may piously claim, marriage is not evangelism. We don't enter a marriage thinking, hoping, and praying that God will use us to convert our spouse.
Now, consider the names of Esau's wives in Genesis 36: Adah, Oholibamah, Basemath (daughter of Ishmael). Who are these women? Earlier, in Genesis 26 and 28, we were introduced to Judith, another Basemath (this one the daughter of Elon), and Mahalath (another daughter of Ishmael) as the wives of Esau. Now we are told about three other wives. Even though God's intent from the beginning was one man and one woman, Esau had numerous wives. This fits with the New Testament description of Esau as "sexually immoral" (Heb 12:15-17). He who lived for the moment by selling his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen 25:29-34) had no problems giving in to his lusts by taking as many wives as his heart desired. All of these wives were heathen unbelievers. All of them were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 26:35; 28:8). In fact, Esau married them simply to spite his parents (Gen 28:8-9). What a godless son!
Finally, keep in mind that Esau was not chosen as the seed of the woman in whom the promise of Genesis 3:15 was to be fulfilled.
To sum up, Esau was not a man of faith. He was a wicked man. Esau may have been part of the covenant line but he was a covenant breaker.
On this Preparatory Sunday we need to examine our hearts to be sure we are not covenant breakers as was Esau. Says Hebrews,
(Heb 12:15-16) See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (16) See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.
C Yet, in spite of this, Esau and his family are still included as part of Scripture. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Moses is telling us that Esau's future is worthy of being recorded.
Don't we see the exact same thing with Ishmael? Ishmael and his line are also included in the sacred text of Scripture (Gen 25:12-18). Ishmael, too, was not chosen as the seed of the woman. Ishmael, too, was a wicked man. Remember how the angel of the Lord called him "a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers" (Gen 16:12)?
It is no accident that Esau and Ishmael ended up being joined by marriage. Doesn't the psalmist tell us that "the nations conspire and the peoples plot"; that "the kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One" (Ps 2:1-2)?
II God's Concern for the Nations
A Earlier, in Genesis 10, we saw the Table of Nations: seventy two of them are listed. In Genesis 25 we see the account of Ishmael and his sons. Now, we see the account of Esau.
Telling us what? Telling us that Esau and Ishmael and unbelievers in general are not irrelevant to God. Telling us that even though the line of Esau was outside of the promise, it was not outside the reach of God's mercy in Christ Jesus.
Remember God's initial promise to Abraham? God had said "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen 12:3). Doesn't this promise include Esau and Ishmael and their children? Doesn't this promise include all seventy-two nations mentioned in Genesis 10? Doesn't this promise include you and me?
B Now, let's think about this from the point-of-view of Israel. What thoughts came to their mind as they heard Moses read off the list of nations? What thoughts came to their mind as they heard the account of Ishmael and the account of Esau?
Yes, the children of Israel are to God a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Pet 2:9). Yes, they are heirs of the promise given to the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15. But that doesn't mean God has written off all other nations and peoples.
Let me ask what might seem like a strange question: Who came out of Egypt? That's easy, you might say, the children of Israel came out of Egypt. Really? That's your answer? How, then, do you explain Exodus 12:38? According to that verse, "many other people went up with them" (cf Num 11:4; Zech 8:23). Who were these other people? They were Egyptians, other slaves, foreigners, heathen born. The same God Who allowed "others" to leave Egypt with His people was showing His continued concern in our Scripture reading for the family of Esau.
Don't we see a concern for others throughout the Old Testament? Think of Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho, who was taken in as one of the people of God. Think of Ruth, the Moabitess, who left her people and country and god to be with Naomi and joined the people of God. Throughout the history of Israel God has shown a concern for "others." God's concern is never limited just to those who are part of the faith community. Outsiders, too, may receive God's mercy and God's grace in Jesus Christ and be added to the family of God.
It is especially in the New Testament that we see God's concern for outsiders. The mission of the church started with Jerusalem and extended from there to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The result? The book of Revelation pictures before the throne of God men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation who have been purchased with the blood of the Lamb (Rev 5:9). But this is nothing new because already in the Old Testament we see God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). As Moses wrote, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Ex 34:6; cf Ps 86:15).
III Physical Blessings Fall on Esau
A Genesis 36 stresses the physical blessings that came to Esau despite his sin and lack of faith. His sons, for instance, founded the great nation of Edom (Gen 36:9). Thus was fulfilled the prophecy given to Rebekah that two nations and two peoples were within her womb (Gen 25:23). If God kept His promise for the faithless son of Isaac, we can be sure He will keep all the promises He has given us, His people (Mt 6:25-34).
Look, too, at the riches and wealth given to Esau. In a story that is reminiscent of Abraham and Lot, the land where they were staying could not support both Esau and Jacob because of all their livestock (Gen 36:7; cf Gen 13:6). Yet, Esau was an unbeliever!
Too often we measure human worth by riches and other physical blessings. Too often we view riches and other physical blessings as proof that we belong to God. Too often we make the mistake of thinking the rich have God's ear while the poor have something wrong with them. A song we will be singing shortly speaks to this:
No weight of gold or silver
can measure human worth;
no soul secures its ransom
with all the wealth of earth;
no sinners find their freedom
but by the gift unpriced:
the Lamb of God unblemished,
the precious blood of Christ.
Likewise, the blessings we see in our lives are by themselves not sufficient proof that we belong to God. Proof of our true devotion to Christ is not found in our riches or in the number of our children. Rather, on this Preparatory Sunday I want to remind you that proof of our true devotion to Christ is found in our repentance for sin. Proof of our true devotion to Christ is found in faith and godliness. Proof of our devotion to Christ is found in seeking first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (Mt 6:33). That's why, on this Preparatory Sunday, we are told to examine ourselves before we eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
B All the blessings were given to Esau even though he was not a man of faith. These covenant blessings were given to him as a gift of God's grace in the Promised Land. Likewise, many blessings and benefits come to those who profess faith and join a church even if they do not trust Christ. That's why Paul admonishes us to examine ourselves to see whether we have true faith (2 Cor 13:5).
Now notice what Esau did: he moved outside of the Promised Land and settled in the hill country of Seir (Gen 36:8). Think about this: God's covenant promises were tied up with the land. So, by moving outside of the Promised Land, Esau was moving himself outside of the covenant, the covenant promises, and the covenant blessings. Likewise, those who leave the church also remove themselves from many blessings and benefits.
Esau not only moved outside of the Promised Land but Scripture makes clear he moved in with the wicked inhabitants of Seir – that's why Moses lists the sons of Seir and the kings who reigned in Edom. Instead of keeping himself holy and separate, Esau became just like them. He became one with them. He became one of them. In a few generations all thought of the one only true God was but a distant memory.
We've been looking at Esau and his children. In comparison, let's look at Jacob's family.
Two of Jacob's sons put an unsuspecting city to the sword, killing all the men (Gen 34:25). The other sons of Jacob proceed to loot and pillage the city (Gen 34:28-29). Shortly after this we are told that Reuben slept with his father's concubine (Gen 35:22). Do you remember what happens next? Joseph's brothers sold him as a slave (Gen 37:28) and Judah slept with his own daughter-in-law when he thought she was a prostitute (Gen 38).
Not a promising group, are they? They were, in truth, Jacob's children – fallen like him, deceitful like him, sinners like him. They were no better and no worse than Esau and his children. But that's the point, isn't it? God can take people like these and use them to do His will and advance His purposes and, ultimately, to create His church. God's sovereign purposes prevail even in the lives of wicked people.
Here we see the truth of God's grace. God's plan does not depend on Him finding suitable, willing, and holy people. He is able to accomplish His purposes with even the most deeply flawed individuals. Even sinners like you and me cannot stand in His way and frustrate His plan and His grace towards us in Jesus Christ.
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