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Sermon delivered October 8, 2011 by Paul Smith

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

The Most Ridiculous Trade

Genesis 25:27-34

(RealAudio Version available)

I'd like to talk to you about the most ridiculous trade ever.  As we move into this subject, it's only Hollywood that you would expect the most absurd movie plot.  Simple, twisted, eating yourself to death.  That's the plot.  How could people spend two hours wasting their time on a plot like that. 

A group of man are sequestered and they enter an Irish castle with the purpose of gluttonous living.  To over eat, over drink, overstimulate, with the intent of dying.  Death by gluttony.  What an oxymoron.  Living in such a way that it promotes death. 

Our senses and appetites are a gift from God.  They were given to us to enhance life and make pleasurable those things that are necessary to enhance and sustain life.  The appetite for hunger and thirst assures us that we're going to have the nutrients and hydration that we need.  The appetite for sex assures us that the generations will continue and there's that bond between husband and wife that draws them together and supports the family.  There's the appetite for rest which provides the restoration of sleep.  When it comes to our appetites, God created them, but Satan has distorted them.

 A year ago now, I attended a Christian leadership conference, and the keynote address, the message was given by Andy Stanley.  His treatment of this chapter, our Scripture lesson for today was very influential to me.  He shared about some profound truths that are embedded in this chapter.  It was a very compelling message.  The ideas that I learned there and gleaned there and sifted through there have been going around in my head now for some time.  I can't shake them.  Not that I want to, but after personally living with this text and pondering the story, I'd like to share with you my personal take on this very intriguing story.  So in the spirit of the apostles confession of First John 1, what I've seen with my eyes, what I've heard with my ears, what my hands have touched and I have handled of the word of truth, I share with you. 

Several weeks ago we studied the patient patriarch, Abraham, and then we remembered Lot's wife.  Today the most ridiculous trade.  We're going to look at Esau. 

But first, before we go into our story of consideration, Genesis 25 recounts Abraham's life.  A life of loss.  He lost Lot, his close family.  Lot's hiding out in this cave with his daughters.  There was the loss of Sodom, that very influential cultural trade center of the valley.  There was the loss of Sarah, his wife.  The ancient Jewish antiquity states that for 3 years, Sarah's tent remained empty.  There was gloom and loneliness and it prevailed there where there once was light and life.  Where it had been pulsating as long as Sarah had lived. 

So from this dark chapter in Abraham's life, he emerges to find companionship, and once again there is joy in his journey.  The first few verses of chapter 25 share that Abraham married Keturah and she bore him six sons.  Abraham is very generous to all his offspring.  He gives gifts to them while he's living but he sends them away.  He sends them to the East.  We shouldn't be surprised then that wise men from the East came searching for the promised one.  But it was to the promised son in the promised land, to Isaac, that he gave all that he had.  He gave him all his wealth.  He gave him his blessing, and he gave to him is inherited covenant promise from God of land and son. 

It's a touching story.  Abraham's commission to Eleazer, his longtime friend and servant.  The oldest one in this household, and he said to Eleazer, go back to my father's house.  Go back to my kinsmen and find a wife for my son Isaac.  Two times it says, don't take Isaac back there.  I don't want him to go back.  Perhaps the temptation, perhaps the draw back to his roots, back to all that was there.  And so Eleazer goes on his mission.  He sends up a heartfelt prayer for success in his assignment.  In answer to this very specific prayer, Rebecca, Abraham's grandniece, the daughter of his brother's son, greets Eleazer and offers him a drink.  Not just to him but to his caravan of camels and everyone else that is with him. 

This God-led romance continues to unfold in Genesis 24:63.  And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening, and he lifted up his eyes and looked and behold camels were coming.  Rebecca lifted up her eyes and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel and she said to the servant, who is that man walking toward us in the field?  And the servant said, he is my master.  Then she took her veil and covered herself.  Now I should've thought that Isaac would have liked a good, long look, and here she covers herself.  Is she playing, teasing him, is this just part of the custom.  It was the custom.  But there Isaac is as big as life, and his eyes meet hers, and this romance, this intriguing mysterious story unfolds as eye meets eye and Isaac's prayer and dream comes true.

This incident reminds me of God's compassionate discernment.  It's understood and expressed in Isaiah.  Before you call, I will answer, and while you are yet speaking, I will hear.  I believe that passage.  I have experienced that passage.  God is good and he provides for us even before we ask. 

We read further the story, in verse 66.  The last two verses of chapter 24.  Tender verses.  The servant told Isaac all the things that he had done and then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent and he took Rebecca and she became his wife and he loved her.  Thus Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.  Isaac married Rebecca when he was 40 years old.  Abraham sees the promised one, his son, joyful with a beautiful wife Rebecca and there is celebration.  After watching all this play out, perhaps holding his grandchildren, Abraham dies a happy contented man at the age of 175.  The Scripture says that Isaac and Ishmael buried their father Abraham beside mother Sarah in the cave of Macpelah.  Have you noticed how funerals bring the family back together again.  We wade through the drama and the bumps and bruised relationships that every family has. 

It came about after the death of Abraham that God blessed Isaac and he lived in the Negev and dwelt in the South country.  The covenant promises made to Abraham were passed on to Isaac.  He inherited them.  The promise of land and sons and the coming of the promised deliverer was to come through Isaac.  Genesis 25:19 records the generations of Ishmael and the generations of Isaac.  There it mentions that Isaac prayed for his wife.  Well that's a good thing isn't it?  Has it been a while since you prayed for your wife, gentlemen?  It's a good thing. 

Rebecca was barren.  She couldn't conceive.  Finally God hears the prayer and intervenes, and 20 years after they're married, Rebecca conceives.  Now Rebecca notices that something's happening.  There's not just one, there's two.  How does she know it's twins?  Because of the turmoil in her tummy.  Because of the tussle going on within.  It wasn't a 3d sonogram, it was the fighting, the sibling rivalry, the quarreling that was happening right inside. 

Now we come to Esau's entrance.  Esau was a rough, tough, aggressive kind of guy.  He was a ruddy hunter.  A manly man.  A womanizer.  Quick to prove his abilities.  If there had been extreme sports back then, he would have been head of the line.  Esau loved a challenge, and Isaac loved Esau.  I picture Esau as the Incredible Hulk. 

Then there was Jacob.  He came into the world holding onto his brothers heel.  The heel catcher meant something in those days.  A trickster.  A con man.  A scoundrel.  A rascal.  It was not a compliment.  True to his name he was conniving and mischievous.  A dreamer, a schemer, and it turns out that he became rather deceptive.  He hung around the house.  He worked in the kitchen, and Rebecca loved Jacob.  Have you noticed how the favoritism that a parent gives can cause discord and difficulty in a home? 

Because of the struggle going on in Rebecca, she inquired of the Lord and God revealed to her that within her there were two nations and that the older would serve the younger.  Now that was not prescribed by God, but rather predicted.  God knew Esau's choices and how his character would develop.  I'm of the opinion that this was not an arbitrary act of God, choosing Jacob.  I'm a free will Adventist.  Aren't you?  God's sovereignty does not eclipse our choices.  Oh that Esau had made better choices.  What might have been.  Esau's choices, his abuses of his appetite, changed the course of his life. 

Now we come to that place in the story where it's pretty extreme.  It's unusual.  It takes an unusual twist.  Here is recorded the most ridiculous trade ever.  Now to understand this, we need to review the practice of the birthright.  The oldest son received from the father three special gifts.  First of all there were financial benefits.  The one who received the birthright would receive two to three times more than any other sibling, monetarily.  There was the authority that was given.  The one who received the birthright was kind of in charge.  Took the lead.  Made the decisions.  Hopefully, he would call the family together and they'd talk and he would consult, but he didn't have to.  All he had to do was make a decision and that was it.  That was what they did.  Then of course there was the blessing of God.  The special presence of God was offered and given, bestowed upon this recipient. 

Let's look at Genesis 25: 29.  So they grow up and Esau is out in the field and Jacob's in the kitchen and Esau stumbles in.  Famished.  About to die.  He says to Jacob, give me some of that red stuff that you're making.  Jacob says, Sell me your birthright.  What kind of a dysfunctional family is this?  He didn't get the memo, serve one another in love.  Jacob was pretty conniving, looking for an opportunity.  He was an opportunist.  To his brothers plea for some food he manipulated the situation and got what he wanted.  He did that a few times in his life. 

Jacob says, Sell me your birthright.  A bowl of stew for a birthright?  Are you kidding me?  Who would do that?  Who would trade their future for something as temporary and transient and consumable as a bowl of soup?  Who would throw away their marriage, who would throw away the respect of their children, their reputation in the community, their ministry, their influence for something as small and insignificant as a bowl of stew?  Who would throw away their future? 

Well, it happens all the time, doesn't it?  Do you know who would throw away their future for a bowl of stew?  You would.  If it were the right bowl of stew.  And I would, if it was the right bowl.  Because appetites are powerful, and they never are fully and finally satisfied.  This tension represented here in this story and in this text, this short verse, all of us will carry to some level and some capacity for every day of the rest of our lives, and it will never go away.  You'll be offered a temporary bowl of stew for something that is now, not later.  You will actually be tempted to trade, to resolve this internal tension, by bringing something to yourself that you think will actually finally and fully satisfy you. 

Verse 32 says, quoting Esau, look, I'm about to die.  So I'd like to dialogue a little bit with Esau.  Would that be all right?  Esau, really, you're about to die?  You walked in here didn't you?  Your blood sugar may have dropped a bit, but really.  You're not about to die. 

There may come a time in your life when you're tempted to trade something that's offered to you, that will be all about now and not about later, and you will feel like saying, I'm about to die.  I need this, or I need her or whatever it might be.  There's not a person in this room today immune to this dynamic.  Appetites are powerful and they're never finally and fully satisfied. 

Esau said, what good is the birthright to me?  Well I would say, you get twice as much money as your brother.  You get to be your brother's judge for life, and you get God's special blessing.  Who wouldn 't want that?  Yes, but what good is the birthright to me when I'm about to die?.  There are times when our appetites become larger than life and get blown all out of proportion.  If you will just get this thing or get this person.  Your brain tells you it's going to feel way better than it actually is.  You imagine how good it will feel to open that car door and slide in and smell that new car smell.  I'm going to look good in that.  And yet, this appetite promises much more than it can deliver.  You've heard of buyers remorse?  It's that letdown that happens after the rush of your appetite has subsided and worn off. 

So Esau actually trades his birthright for a bowl of stew.  I'd like to jump in and talk to Esau just a bit more.  I know you're hungry Esau, but could you stop.  Hold it just a minute.  Timeout.  Jacob, I know this is a memorable moment.  Your older brother actually needs something from you.  Esau, I know you're famished and you need something to eat.  But there's something I really need to talk you about.  Before you take the stew, I want to give you a reality check.  Let me explain it this way. 

You're going to marry, have a family, 12 sons.  They're going to grow and become a very large family and eventually you'll become a nation.  There's going to be a famine in the land and you're going to go to Egypt and you'll become a slave nation there.  Your descendents are going to cry out to God for deliverance.  This is the God of your grandfather  Abraham.  So wait a minute Esau.  Before you take that stew, you've got to hear my story.  After 400 years, God is going to raise up a deliverer named Moses.  He's going to introduce himself, something like this.  Hello Moses.  I'm God.  Nice to meet you.  Let me be more specific.  I'm the God of Abraham, Isaac and Esau.  Stay with me, Esau.  I want you to know that if you take that stew, all that changes.  It will be, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  You think you're jealous of your little brother now?  You think you want what he has now?  You take this stew and it's going to be, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And Esau says, oh, I didn't know that.  I didn't realize that. 

And Esau, let me fast forward just a bit, afew thousand years.  There's going to be a bestseller called the Bible.  Matthew, one of the writers, is going to begin his portion of the story like this.  This is the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  The son of David.  Son of Abraham.  To Abraham was born Isaac and to Isaac, Esau.  You want to trade all that for a bowl of stew? 

Before we read the rest of the story, the end of the story, I think we need to admit here openly and publicly that you and I are a lot like Esau.  We are a big bundle of appetites and desires.  Appetites are good.  God placed them in us.  Our appetites can motivate us to grow and to develop and better ourselves and this is all good.  God wants us to progress, to be influential, to accomplish things, to do jobs well done, to be responsible.  He wants our responsibilities to grow, and our recognition and respect, and he wants us to win just as much as we want to win.  But no matter how many times you win, you want to win again.  You want to win more.  We're humble on the outside but inside is a real competitive edge.  There's something in all of us when it comes our appetites that we want more.  Appetites only have one word they understand.  More.  More. 

Appetites are God-given but they can be abused, and they can clamor for our attention and they can take hold if we let them.  Appetites are never finally and fully satisfied.  Never, ever.  They never go away.  We live in ways that demonstrate our childishness and stupidity. 

How do we know this is true?  I suppose we could explain it like this.  Marketers are always trying to get our attention, aren't they?  With something more.  Something newer.  Something slick.  I remember watching my grandfather shave.  He was born back in the 1800s.  He lived a long life.  Fun guy.  But he shaved with a single edge razor. He would take a cup, a bar of soap, a little bristle brush, and he's wiggle it around.  Work on his face and with that single blade razor he shaved.  He did pretty good. 

You know, now there are razor blades that are a little more distinguished.  Here's one that has five blades.  Not two, not three, but five.  It even vibrates.  There's always something out there that gets our attention and we may want it, and the appetite will cause us to gravitate toward it. 

I remember as a child growing up at Tacoma Academy. High school.  I was an audiophile.  I would study the specs, the details of just what to buy next to complete my stereo system.  I remember deciding which speakers to get, and you'll be happy to know that they were Advent speakers by the Cambridge company.  I studied a cassette deck.  Do you remember cassette decks?  The Nakamichi was state-of-the-art and I had to have it.  And I got it because I worked hard. 

There's a town in Pennsylvania called Needmore.  Every time we drive through there, Linda says this is your town.  This is your place. 

Automobiles.  They come out new every year.  A new grill, perhaps, or a little tweak here or there and we want those things, don't we?  We spend our lives, really, making some poor decisions.  Trying to find the grass that's greener, the pot of gold at the rainbow's end, to get to the place where we finally can be content and say, aaaah.  Finally, I have a car that's cool enough.  I have children who are perfect enough.  A house that's nice enough.  A wife who's pretty enough.  A life successful enough. 

But no matter how much we've gotten, or what we've accomplished, none of our appetites are ever fully and finally satisfied.  There's always a tension in this area of our life.  Your response to your appetites and your ability, or lack of ability, to manage your appetites and your ability to remember that they are never finally and fully satisfied.  I cannot let them rule my life.  Our ability to embrace that truth will make a big difference in the direction of our profession, of our life, of our family. 

How do we know that's true?  All we have to do is just look around us.  Look at our parents.  Look at those around us.  Some have wrecked their life over an appetite they thought would somehow satisfy them.  Some of your parents  have ended well because somehow they were able to manage and tame and carry within them this tension that never goes away.  They didn't live their life as if somewhere out there there was some one or some thing that could finally help them exclaim the ultimate, aaaaah.  I've arrived.  I've found it.  I've experienced it. 

Not many have lost their influence and their ministry over theology, but there's a long list of those who have fallen because of a relationship.  Some of you may be veering toward a relationship.  Gravitating toward a relationship that could totally wreck your marriage.  Do you really want to give up that?  Do you really want someone who's just a little prettier or little cuter?  Do you really want to give up your future?  If you're ruled and controlled and deceived by that little voice inside that's always saying, a little more, little more, just want a little more.  I want to achieve a little more.  Get a little more recognition.  Have a few more letters after my name.  Have a faster car.  A more efficient car.  A prettier wife.  A husband who listens.  If we live that way, ultimately we will come to the place of embarrassment and we will lose what we currently consider most important in our lives.  Most valuable. 

So here's how the story ends.  It's the last verse of chapter 25.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew and he ate and drank and he rose and went on his way.  Thus Esau despised his birthright. 

Whatever you want, you're only going to want more.  All of your appetites whisper, now.  Not later.  Your only hope is by the grace of God and the presence of his spirit to develop the habit of reframing your appetite in the broader context of what God has called you to be and to do.  We need to reframe our appetite and then refrain. 

You remember that little voice, that inner voice that directed you when you were younger.  When you set your sights high and you made promises.  When you had a clear vision of what could be and what should be.  But your appetites can blur all that and focus you on the moment, and they always say, now, not later.  And they always say, more.  More.  There are opportunities that perhaps you shouldn't take advantage of because they're going to pull you away from what God has called you to be.  There are places you should never go that are bigger and better but they're not really bigger and better, they're just bigger and messier.  You need to stay put.  We have the appetite for more recognition.  More responsibility.  These are all valid but if you allow your appetites to dictate your choices, your leadership, your influence, at some point you will trade your future for a bowl of stew. 

You've got to reframe the appetite.  And refrain.  You've got to say, no, sometimes, and limit yourself.  If someone had only broken into Esau's life at that moment and helped him reframe his appetite, his future might have been totally different. 

What do you want God to do in your life?  In your marriage?  In the life of your children?  In your grandchildren?  What do you want him to do through your professional life?  Through your community?  Through our church?  In your business and through your employees?  By seriously pondering this question, we reframe all of our appetites. 

Answering this question is a process.  Not something you probably already have the answer to.  It could take weeks and months, but we need to think about our preferred future and where we would have God lead us.  Where we would be.  The clearer and more defined we reframe our appetites that never go away and never have enough, the less grip they will have on us.  You've got to reframe your appetites because they will never go away.  If you give in, you will be just like Esau.  You'll give up your future for something as small as a bowl of stew. 

So the question of the day, the take-home question for you right now is, what is your bowl of stew?  What is it that's being held out to you right now that you're having, honestly, a difficult time saying no to?  What's hard for you to say no to that can't possibly deliver what it's promising?  You know what you'd tell someone else if they asked you.  If they were in your shoes.  You'd say, I know this is wrong.  It's not going to take me anywhere good.  It's just me caught up in the moment.  I know I shouldn't be there.  I know I shouldn't do this, simply because it may be the first step in the wrong direction.  What are you contemplating that your spouse is not comfortable with?  What is it that you're doing that is not immoral or illegal but you wouldn't want to be caught doing it, or wouldn't want anybody to know?  Some good counsel might be, don't do anything you don't want to have to explain.  You'll be glad that you reframed that appetite and refrained. 

Thinking like this about life is reframing our appetites, and it blows the appetite back into its proper perspective.  So Esau, do you really want to give up Abraham, Isaac and Esau for a bowl of stew?  You're about to trade what's most important and blow your legacy. 

What's true of Esau is true of you and me.  You have no idea what God wants to do through you and through your children.  Through your grandchildren.  But God knows and you are going to want to be there, so reframe your appetite.  Reframe and refrain and whatever you do don't trade your future for a bowl of stew.

Hymn of Praise: #320, Lord of Creation
Scripture: Genesis 25:27-34
Hymn of Response: #331, O Jesus, I Have Promised

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 10/23/11