How Did We Get Here?

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Genesis 25:1-26 | October 3 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
October 3
How Did We Get Here? | Genesis 25:1-26
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Oh Lord God Almighty, if we are among those who have come to the feast, it is only because of your grace, your creating grace, electing grace, redeeming grace; and so we ask that you would give to us more grace to hear from you, to feast upon you and Y3our Word that we are about to hear and then later in the Word that we are to receive and eat. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our text this morning is Genesis 25. We are going to spend most of our time dealing with verses 19 through 26, but we are going to read through from the beginning of the chapter, stopping briefly as we go through these transition sections. In the span of a few paragraphs, we are going to transition from Abraham, who has been the subject since the end of chapter 11, and now moving to Isaac, his son, and actually to think about his son, Jacob.

So, follow along as I read at the beginning of chapter 25.

“Abraham took another wife whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Joskshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummin. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts. And while he was still living, he sent them away from his son Isaac eastward to the east country.”

What this paragraph is establishing is that Isaac is the only legitimate heir. Yes, Abraham had other sons, and after Sarah died, he married Keturah, and we see here that there were some other concubines, and he had other sons.

But notice, verse 5, “He gave all he had to Isaac.” So the inheritance went to Isaac. There is a distinction between the official inheritance to Isaac and the gifts to his other sons; and notice, he sent them away. And as we have seen several times in Genesis, sending away to the east is the place away from the presence of God, away from the promise. And so he sends them away to the east, not so much as a punishment but to signify here that Isaac is the promised child. He is the promised line. He is receiving the promised inheritance.

Verse 7.

“These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron, the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There, Abraham was buried with Sarah, his wife. After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac, his son, and Isaac settled at the Beer Lahai Roi.”

So Abraham, you may recall, was 75 years old when he departed Harran, and so he lived here in this Promised Land for an even 100 years.

Verse 8 says he died in a good old age. It had been promised him, that explicit promise in chapter 15, that he would die at a good old age; and it is fitting that at the end of Abraham’s life, two realities are highlighted. One, that he was buried in the cave of Machpelah. In chapter 23, he bought that as a burial plot for Sarah. She is buried there and now he is buried there. That’s significant because of this whole land which is promised to him, this is the only piece he actually purchased. It’s the only thing in his official possession, is this cave. And so, as a kind of first fruits of the promise, reaching its ripened fulfillment, he is buried there with Sarah.

And then notice the other reality in verse 11. “God blessed Isaac.” God came to Abraham in chapter 12 and said, “I am going to bless you with this sevenfold blessing.” And so the bookend of his life is to say, “That blessing now is being passed on to your son, Isaac.”

Verse 12.

“These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmarl, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people. They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt, in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen.”

Ishmael did not receive the promise, and so his decendents settle outside of the Promised Land, but he does receive something. So, it’s noted again, twelve princes, twelve being a number of fullness and completion. We hear nothing more about Ishmael after that. Fittingly, the last thing we are told about him is that he settled over against all his kinsmen in verse 18.

Just as it was predicted in chapter 16, Ishmael’s hand would be against everyone. And so we see with Abraham and then with Ishmael that their conclusion is fitting as a sort of bow upon their lives. And now we come to our main text this morning.

Verse 19.

“These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham fathered Isaac and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan Aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer and Rebekah, his wife, conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me.” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided. The one shall be stronger than the other. The older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward, his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.”

We’ve started another section. There are 10 of these toledot sections in genesis. Toledot is the word translated generations. So, we saw one in verse 12. It was very short. “These are the generations of Ishmael.” And then a new toledot section in verse 19: “These are the generations of Isaac.” But actually, it’s more about Isaac’s sons than about Isaac. Perhaps the story is familiar to you. Rebekah, his wife, has two sons jostling within her. The first to come out is red; but don’t think of a redheaded sort of Middle Eastern Irishman, not like that, but ruddy, reddish of complexion, and exceptionally hairy. The word for hairy in Hebrew, “say-r,” sounds like Seir, which will be the region where eventually the Edomites will dwell. The word red, adom, sounds like Edom, which is the other name for Esau.

Now, the second son comes out holding the heel of Esau. His name is Yaakov, which means he grasps the heel, Jacob. From the womb and from the day of their birth, these two were struggling. The younger, though given the culture, should have been subservient to the older, yet God says, “I am going to overturn that and the younger will be stronger than the older and the older will serve the younger,” overturning this principle of primogeniture.

But what is really going on here? Because it is more than just a story about birth. Why is this here? What is this meant to tell God’s people and tell us? Beyond and behind all these details about one smooth-skinned child who’s sort of holding on as he comes out of the womb and one very reddish, hairy child, what is this story about?

Well, it’s actually fairly simple. This is what we would call today in the movies an origins story. It’s a question, “How did we get here?” If you’re an Israelite, and you’re reading this some centuries later, Moses wrote this and this would have been hundreds and hundreds of years later. And you’re reading it on a scroll or someone is reading it to you or someone is passing down this story to you around the family campfire. This is a story to remind you, as the Israelites, where you came from and how you got here. Almost all of the most famous epic movies in our day have origins stories. Star Wars, I don’t want to ruin if for you but surprise, Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father. And I don’t want to ruin it about the midi-chlorians, but George Lucas ruined that for us.

So, you got all this sort of backstory, what happened there. Harry Potter, right, something about Voldemort and a curse and a mark of a lightning bolt on his head or the Avengers; all have stories. X-Men have stories, Batman has some very dark brooding backstories. Superman, the planet Krypton. Spiderman is a high school kid who gets bitten by a spider. Lord of the Rings is basically just a backstory and then another thousand pages of backstory and then a language to give a backstory and more and more – endless backstories.

And if you watch Disney movies, you know the most dangerous place to be in, in these stories, is to be a parent because so many of them: Lion King, parents; Frozen, parents; Tarzan, parents. Think of how many stories, the backstory is mom or dad or both died finding Nemo, Snow White, Bambi, Fox and the Hound, Mulan, Princess and the Frog, Lilo and Stitch; go look it up. Bad things happen to parents in Disney stories. But there’s a reason, because that gives a certain gravitas or it explains something about this character is missing something or they are looking for something or there is some story of pain in their history.

Every country has an origins story. To a large degree, that’s what has been so divisive over the last years in our country, trying to explain, “Well, how do we tell our own story, where we’re from, what we’re like, how we got here?” Your family, good, bad or otherwise, has a story. How you got here. Where you’re from. The DeYoungs know that we’re Dutch, because if you ain’t Dutch, yeah, you ain’t much. You know.

And we go back to as far as we can trace, back to the 17th century, all the way back to Dordrecht in the Netherlands. And we came to America in the beginning of the 19th century, settled in southwest Minnesota. There’s a story, don’t know, I’ll have to confirm it or not, but it’s passed on that one of our ancestors fought in the Civil War. Yep, fought for the place up there, and that’s how the spelling of our name was changed from the Dutch DeJong to DeYoung with a Y, Anglicized, as he fought for the Union in the Civil War.

My dad grew up on a farm down state from Chicago. When he grew up, everyone in his family were Cubs fans, except he was 10 years old when the Go-Go Sox won the pennant in 1959. So he decided he was going to be a White Sox fan and my whole family now. I’m a White Sox fan, they won the pennant, so we only had to wait like 90-some years, not 108 like Cubs fans.

So, now because of that decision, that origins story my dad made when he was 10 years old, now I’m a White Sox fan and my boys are White Sox fans. I was born in Chicago, so I root for all of the Bears and the Bulls and the Blackhawks and all the Chicago. We moved to Michigan in 1985 when I was in third grade. I went to college there. I went to seminary out in Boston, met Trisha there, we got married, we moved to Iowa for two years, we moved to Michigan for 13 years, we came here over 4 years ago. I could go on and on. That’s how we got here. You have your own story. How did you get here? Where are you from?

And it says something about who you are. You share those stories, hopefully not because they are determinative. But they do explain something, good or bad; and we’re all, every family is a mix of both. Your origins story, your family history, is something you repeat, something you retell because it explains something of who you are, why you are, and where you are.

Churches, denominations have origins stories. They tell them. The Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973 because the PCUS, the Southern Presbyterian Church, was drifting into theological liberalism. This church has its roots in the 1970s and officially began as Christ Covenant in 1981, which is why we’re celebrating our 40th anniversary later in a few months. We were planted to be a resource church and to plant a presbytery in the Charlotte area. That’s how the church started. That’s where Christ Covenant comes from. It says something about how we got here and what we’re about.

This birth in chapter 25 is the origins story for God’s people. Now, of course, it goes back to Abraham, and you can trace it all the way back to Adam. Yes, they were children of Abraham. That’s the beginning in one sense, but so is this, the birth of Jacob; because Jacob will later be called Israel. And so God’s people, the Israelites, now they were children of Abraham but they weren’t called the Abrahamites, hard to say, the Israelites. This was their namesake. They were all sons of Jacob. And so you have to imagine yourself as an Israelite leaving Egypt, awaiting your place in the Promised Land, hearing this story. God has done all of this for you. The plagues upon Egypt to save you, to bring you, to give you the Law, and as Moses writes this down, you are on the cusp of entering the Promised Land or perhaps positioning yourself under David or Solomon in the glory days of Israel. Or maybe in the darkest moment of your history in captivity in Babylon, you would go back to this story, reminds us who we are, where we came from.

And as those who are children of the promise, grafted into this olive tree as the gentiles were by faith, we can also say for all of us in Christ, this is our story. So, we too are meant to think whether we are in moments of greatest triumph or in the darkest pit. We are to think of our origins story.

How did Jacob come into the story? And the answer to that is staring us right in the face. There are two things that we are meant to see. In Israel’s national origins story and in our faith origins story, and they are right here in Jacob’s birth.

Number one. God created him.

Number two. God chose him.

So look at the first. God made him. Now that’s true of everyone, of course. Any life is owing to God. But the point is underlined here because notice Rebekah, like Sarah before her, is barren. Isaac gets married when he’s 40. The twins are born when he’s 60. So 20 years, not quite as long as Abraham and Sarah had to wait, but 20 years of their married life, Rebekah is barren. Notice Isaac and Rebekah don’t resort to another woman. They’re they only patriarch to be truly monogamous. They’re not going to try some other way, some other maidservant. This is going to take a miracle.

So, Isaac prays. You see that in verse 21 “And the Lord granted his prayer.” Of course, every new life is from God, all of this, you have children, you know this is a great gift from God. God is the maker of us all. But this is a unique point, one that we are not meant to forget. We can say in a sense, God made these twins ex nihilo, out of nothing, because by emphasizing that the couple was unable on their own to have children, God is telling us, however, the science was not working. The raw material was not there in Isaac and Rebekah to make this work. So, we are meant to see these children, this was not the inevitable outworking of ordinary biological function. Of course, we realize children are a gift, but there’s a sort of, yeah, this is what you thought would happen. And you get married and you come together and then you have kids. And that’s what people grow up thinking. So many of you have stories that were otherwise. It was very difficult or even unable. It took many, many years. Here it took 20, to the point where Isaac and Rebekah knew that this was not going to work just by their own natural function. If they were to have children, it would require a supernatural birth.

One response is to simply give thanks for life. We shouldn’t be here. That’s what the Israelites should have remembered. All those centuries later, when they swelled to be millions in number, if they looked back to the story of Jacob’s birth, they would remember, “We should not be here, just biologically naturally we shouldn’t be here. By the laws of nature, we would not exist. We were not supposed to happen. Our lives are a gift.” And that’s good, however we were born. That’s good for all of us to remember and give thanks. And even more profoundly than that, they were to remember on a spiritual level, they came into being because God willed them to come into being. We owe our existence as God’s people to His power, His mercy, His Will.

Here’s how the Gospel of John puts it. “We were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” If you’re here, and you are, I see you, that’s amazing. If you’re here, and you’re a sincere born again Christian, that’s doubly amazing. That’s a miracle on par with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; on par with Isaac and Rebekah having children after 20 years when they had no biological rationale that they would have children and God said, “Let there be life,” and there was life. It sounds so prosaic, but if we believe that God made us and that He gave us life once, spiritual life again, that has massive implications. If your existence is owing to the creation of God, that means we ought to be grateful people. It means we ought to be humble people, obedient people. It means that we say, “I am not my own, but I belong body and soul to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” It means that God tells you how to use your body. It means that God establishes your identity. We don’t establish it for ourselves, let alone defining God and His identity. It means that every person in this room who truly belongs to Christ is a miracle of supernatural sovereign grace.

This is the point. They were to remember our mother, great, great, great, great, great grandmother, Rebekah. Her womb was as good as dead. But here we are. And they were then to think our spiritual lives were as good as dead. But here we are because of God. God called into existence the things that were not. He made us, and if we don’t get this right, he made you, not infinite virtually processes of random chance, but God made you, knew you, formed you. And it sets us on a trajectory of thankfulness, obedience, humility, and faith. Remember the story, remember where you came from. God made you by a miracle.

And then, here’s the second. Not just did God make you, He chose you. The story of these twins and their gestation and their birth was to explain, in part, the lifelong tension between Esau and Jacob and the centuries-long conflict between the Edomites and the Israelites. So, part of this is to explain why did Jacob and Ishmael, why did they have such a hard time? Why do we have such a hard time with the Edomites?

Well, you see it here from the very beginning. Verse 22. “The children struggled within her.” And just notice, as an aside, the children. They don’t become children if we choose to birth them. They are children from the moment of conception, not a clump of cells, not yet to be born, not simply beings with a fetal heartbeat. They are children. And these children struggled within her. It’s a strong verb. Some commentators say you could translate, “They were crushing each other.” So, just take heart. You have brothers, you have sons, crushing each other and you say, “Just being biblical, Mom.”

Well, from the very beginning, in their life, there is a violent collision with these twins. So much so that Rebekah in verse 22, “Why? What’s going on?” This is more than just, “Oh, here Isaac, come. Isaac, they’re moving. Do you feel that leg? I got to lay down. They’re hurting each other and hurting me. What is happening? This is beyond just cute baby movements.” And so the Lord comes to her. “You have two nations in your womb, two peoples, and they’re going to be divided and one will be stronger than the other, and the older is going to serve the younger.” It was a precursor of things to come.

Have we not seen many times already, and will continue to see in the book of Genesis, families fight. Now, we don’t want it to be so. We want to grow and we want to love one another, but there’s at least some small comfort. The Bible is realistic. This book about origins, about beginnings, it’s about a lot of things. It’s about blessing. But it’s also about families fighting all the time. Cain and Abel, the sons of Noah, Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Laban, Joseph and his older brothers; there’s lots of family conflict.

And in verse 23, we read that the natural order of things is going to be overturned. One of many surprising reversals in Genesis. Cain was older, his offerings rejected. Abel’s is accepted. Then, as Cain’s banished, Abel is killed, the youngest brother, Seth, becomes the chosen line. Ishmael was older than Isaac, but Isaac is the promised line. Rachel is chosen instead of her older sister, Leah, Joseph instead of his older brothers, even Judah instead of Rueben. It’s a common theme in the Bible and a common theme in Genesis. God often, you might even say usually, does things in ways you don’t expect. In all throughout the book of Genesis, you go “Well, that’s different. I didn’t see that coming,” until you learn the pattern and expect the unexpected.

But more important than simply overturning the cultural expectations for the firstborn, this is a story about election. For all the years, and the centuries afterward, the Israelites were meant to think, “Let’s not forget how we got here. Why are we special of all the people on earth? Why are we God’s treasured possession? Why are we a holy nation? Why are we a royal priesthood?” And the answer is right here in their origins story – because God. Because God chose you. Lest they say, “Well, it must be a family connection.” Nope, can’t say that, same mother. “Well, maybe it’s an ethnic thing.” Nope, can’t say that, both Shemites. “Well, surely there was something deep down that we had done, just some little bitty thing we had done to make ourselves a little more deserving.” God says, “Nope, you can’t do that because this was before you were born, before you had done anything good or bad, I said Jacob will be mine.”

Paul famously makes this exact point and relates it to all Christians in Romans 9. “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue not because of works but because of Him who calls, she was told “The older will serve the younger.”

Yes, it is essential that we understand. God wants us to understand, as a part of our origins story, as a church, as Christians, the doctrine of election. You say, “Pastor, this is really so divisive and it’s difficult and a lot of Christians see it different ways. Do we have to talk about it?” Well, we talk about things when they are in the Bible. And here it’s right here in front of us, and I know I’ve had all sorts of conversations. I have my own questions. I know this is a difficult doctrine. It raises difficult questions. Well, God’s sovereign. What about human responsibility? Yes, well, both of those things are true. What about my family members and what about the fairness, and there are lots of questions that you have. And this is not the theology class or the Romans 9 sermon to go into all of those questions and answers. It is, however, to make sure we do not miss the larger point.

As you sit here this morning, and you’re a Christian, if you’re a Christian or take it collectively as a church, as God’s people, and you think to yourself, “Why am I a Christian?” I know lots of people that aren’t. Why are we singing songs to Jesus this morning? Most people, even in Charlotte, aren’t doing that? Why are we? How did we get here? Where did we come from? What is our origins story? And ultimately, there are only two options. Either, you got here because there’s something, however small, in you that was more worthy, more deserving, more spiritual; or the ultimate answer is God. God chose us. God elected us. God put His love upon us. Isn’t that what we were singing in the hymn? Why was I made to hear your voice? And enter while there is room, while thousands make a retched choice. Why are so many making a retched choice, and I’m here, God? Because God chose you.

Now, the wrong response is to say, “Well, I guess it’s just all fatalism.” The right response, as you think about loved ones in your life who don’t know Jesus, it’s well, I guess there’s hope for all of us, because it doesn’t ultimately depend upon me. Yes, I must exercise faith, but I only can do that if God gives me and grants me the gift of faith. Jesus says, “You cannot come unless the Father draws. You simply will not do it.” But then he also says, “And He will never cast anyone out.” So don’t think you ever come to Jesus and Jesus says, “Let me check my list. Umm, sorry, not chosen.” No, he says “You came. You know why you came? Because I chose you. I chose you before the foundation of the world. That’s why you came, and I’m so glad you came, and I will never cast you out.” God made you. God chose you. That’s the story.

How did we get here? Yes, there’s other parts of the story. There’s other secondary causation in the story, but that explains our story. And so, we are meant to see just like the Israelites were. It’s not because of your family. I hope you don’t think that being a Christian is just a family thing. Kids, young people, so glad if you have parents who bring you to church and raise you in the Lord, and maybe you go to a Christian school or your parents at home teach you the Bible, that’s wonderful. That’s good. You want to follow in their footsteps. But you do need to make it your own. You can’t just say, “Well, this is, my family kind of does this.” You say, “I’m not here ultimately because this is a family thing,” though God loves us and our families. You certainly cannot think this is somehow an ethnic thing. Your race, your ethnicity, the color of your skin, does not make you one bit closer nor one bit farther away from God and his mercy. And it is not anything you have done. It’s not even God, well he looked into the future to see that you would make some really good decisions. There’s nothing about that here. Quite the opposite. Paul makes just the opposite conclusion. The reason why this choice happens here, because God doesn’t look and say, “Well, Jacob,” in fact if you know the rest of Genesis, you know Jacob, he’s not so great a lot of the time. He’s got a lot to learn. His name means trickster, but God said, “I will set my affection upon you.” So, it’s not anything you’ve done. It wasn’t your works. It was God’s call. It wasn’t your purpose that started this story, it was God’s plan.

You must remember, we must remember as God’s people, where we have come from. God made us. He chose us. Listen, the world is so pressing in to shape you into its image, and the world is always telling stories. The world doesn’t come usually with, “Here, here’s a tract of propositions and I want you to reject Christian ones and I want you to believe these propositions.” No, that would be too obvious. The world tells us stories, and the world is telling you a story of where you are from, how you got here, and where you are going. And so many of those stories in the world are lies. Actually, it’s worse than that. If they were lies, it would be obvious. They are often half-truths, which are the worse kinds of lies. And so you must be absolutely clear that you were made through Christ, you were chosen in Christ, you were saved by Christ, you will live for eternity with Christ, you belong to Christ, you believe in Christ, you obey in everything Christ. That’s our story, and it explains how we got here, and it explains where we are going. So, as you think about our national story, you think about your own personal family’s story, don’t miss the far more important spiritual story of how you got here. Because in those moments when things are going so well, you’re meant to remember, “Okay, I can’t pat myself on the back. If I’m moving from strength to strength, it’s because God made me and God chose me.” And in those moments, in the darkest, deepest well, say, “I don’t see how this is going to end, but God made me, God chose me.” It gives humility in the moments of prosperity and it gives hope in the moments of adversity to remember who you are and where you’re from and where you’re going.

Let’s pray.

Our Father in Heaven, we give thanks for Your Word, which tells us the real story amidst so many false stories, the story we need, and we pray that we would not forget it. And as we come to your table, may you remind us once again the story you have called us to inhabit and to enjoy and promised to us forever. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.