top of page

Living as Children of the Promise

Date: 23 Jun 2024, 9.30 am

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong Sermon Text: Genesis 25:1-34

CLICK HERE to join in our Livestream service on Youtube

23Jun24 Herald
Download PDF • 445KB


When I was in the army, I was called to represent my formation in the SAFSA track and field competition. For all things, they got me to run the 4x100 relay. I’m not a sprinter, I’m have never ran track for school, I don’t even own a pair of running spikes. But it’s the army. If they ask you to jump, you only ask “how high?” If they ask you to run, you only ask “how far”?

So, 4x100m relay. Four runners in the team. I’m the second runner, and I’m supposed to hand off the baton to third number 3, and here’s where it gets sticky. Because the third runner happens to be a proper track and field athlete. And he represented his school in sprint events at all levels.

In a baton relay, there is exchange zone, 20m in length, and we had to pass the baton within that zone. Now, the outgoing runner doesn’t collect the baton from a stationary position. What happens is, the outgoing runner waits for the incoming runner within the exchange zone, and when he sees the incoming runner approaching, he begins to accelerate, so the team doesn’t lose any momentum while the baton is passed, you see.  

At our first practice, what happened was, I collected the baton from the first runner, I ran as fast as I could for close to 100m, and by the time I approached the exchange zone, my lungs were burning, my legs were heavy, and I was slowing down, and when the third runner saw be close behind, he began to accelerate, and he was really good runner, so his acceleration was insane. My Toyota is coming in, his Ferrari is taking off, and I could never hand off the baton to him.

And we spent so many practice sessions just fine-tuning the hand off, I’ll conserve energy at the start so I can burst off at the end, and he would wait till I’m a lot closer before he began to accelerate. And we made it work, we got silver in the end. Would have gotten gold if it wasn’t for me, to be honest. But two off-days for silver. Not bad.

Now, some of us conceive of discipleship as a marathon. You run a long distance, your whole life, towards Christ, the finish line. But it’s your personal race, there are others running alongside you, but there’s no teamwork involved, it’s you and the finish line.

Some of us, more biblically, think of discipleship as a rowing a boat. It’s all about teamwork, you pull together in the same direction, helping one another towards the same destination.

Our text today calls us to think of discipleship as a baton relay. It is incumbent upon both the preceding generation to hand off the baton well, and on the succeeding generation to collect it properly. And we, right now, the generation who are alive who have the baton in our hand, must then run the race rightly.

Let’s pray, we’ll get into our text.

Heavenly Father,

By your Holy Spirit, and through your word, illuminate our minds, open up our eyes of our hearts, that we might behold, clearly and vividly, the great promises given to us, that we might live by faith into their fulfillment.

Let’s see how the passage begins.

GEN 25:1-61 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

Our text opens with a genealogy. The sons of a particular woman whose name is Keturah. We know almost nothing else of her, except that Abraham took her as his wife after the death of Sarah.

But it’s almost as if all her sons were listed purely to serve as a foil to Isaac. That is, they are mentioned so as to contrast their fate with that of Isaac’s.

5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 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.  

Why did Abraham do that? Because Isaac alone was the son through whom the Abrahamic covenant would be established. Isaac was the chosen heir, the promised son.

Abraham is creating the conditions necessary to ensure that Isaac is recognized as his rightful heir. He would not allow ambiguity or power struggles to undermine Isaac’s position. He sends everyone else away with gifts, but Isaac inherits Abraham’s household for he alone inherits his promises.

And we see why. Because Abraham is about to die.

GEN 25:7-11 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 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, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

Two things we want to notice from this death and burial report of Abraham.

First, notice where he’s buried. He’s buried with Sarah in the cave he purchased from the Hittites, which, if you recall the previous sermon on Genesis, points to the idea that God’s promises survive the grave. Abraham and Sarah are buried in Canaan, the Promised Land, though the actual possession will only come centuries later. Abraham and Sarah are buried in the cave of Machpelah by faith.

Second, notice whom God blesses. Two sons were present to bury Abraham, both Isaac and Ishamael were mentioned, but after the death of Abraham, God blesses Isaac. As God blessed Abraham before, he now blesses Isaac, indicating that the baton has been passed on to him.

And then we read of Ishmael and his descendants.

GEN 25:12-18 12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham...
16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria.

Two phrases I want us to notice in this report on Ishmael.

First. Ishmael fathered twelve princes. His sons grew up to become twelve princes according to their tribes.

Second, Ishmael settled over against all his kinsmen. That is, his descendants will dwell separate and apart from Isaac’s descendants, but will be in tension and conflict with them.

What are we to make of these statements?

Both of these statements are taken almost verbatim from what God had previously said to both Abraham and Hagar.

GEN 16:11-12 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

GEN 17:20 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.

And here’s the fuller context.

GEN 17:19-21 Abraham asked God to bless Ishmael with the promises. 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

What we have here, in the blessing of Isaac after Abraham’s death, and in the listing of Ishmael’s descendants, is the revelation that God is behind the scenes, sovereignly pulling the strings, faithful keeping to his word.

God’s promises live on, after the death of Abraham, through the chosen offspring.

And almost as soon as arrive at this idea, that the baton of promise is passed on from Abraham to Isaac, we are introduced to the third runner, another chosen son.

GEN 25:19-21 19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 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. 21 And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

Before the writer reveals the identity of this chosen offspring, he first tells us of his manner of conception.

Isaac prayed, because Rebekah was barren. God answered the prayer, therefore Rebekah conceived.

In other words, the birth of this son is not attributed to the effort of man, but to the sovereign power of God.

When your child asks you, “Where do babies come from?”, as I’m sure many parents in our midst have be asked, I wonder how many of you have answered, “Babies? They come from praying”.

Ordinarily speaking, you do the deed, your wife conceives.

Here, however, Isaac prays, and Rebekah conceives.

God’s sovereign, creative, life-giving power is the effective cause of conception. A barren woman bearing children, you could well describe it as a miracle.

And not just one child, but two.

GEN 25:22-23 22 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 here’s what the Lord has to say about them.

23 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.”

Rebekah will bear two sons, and they form two nations, two different peoples. And contrary to the custom of the culture, the older will serve the younger, that is the younger son will be the one in authority, the heir who will carry on the lineage of Abraham and Isaac. The chosen one who will inherit the covenant promises.

The apostle Paul in the New Testament comments on this birth prophecy and as an illustration of God’s sovereign election.

ROMANS 9:6-13 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 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— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The chosen offspring, as the adjective describes, are chosen. They are elected by God to inherit the promises. It is not depended on birth order, or on human decision, or even on the basis of moral goodness. This choosing, this election of his people is based entirely on God’s sovereign choice.

And it needs to be that way because if it was based on our works, no one at all would qualify for inclusion into God’s covenant community, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

And family of God, and the good news is that we are the chosen ones.

COLOSSIANS 3:12 12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones holy and beloved, compassionate hearts

1 PETER 2:9 But you are a chosen race,  a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession

EPHESIANS 1:4 he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

And do you see, what we are chosen for? What we are chosen to be?

In each of these instances, where we are described as chosen, we are simultaneously described as holy.

In other words, God’s sovereign election has practical implications. Our election is not an academic exercise, it is a transformative enterprise.

Being Chosen and being Holy are two sides of the same coin. And I want us to remember that because we’ll be coming back to it.

For now, we return to the narrative and, so it came to pass, that these two twin sons grew up and they could not be more different from each other, it was though they were two nations, two entirely different peoples.

The entire narrative of their birth and adolescence employs the language of contrast.

GEN 25:24-28 24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.

The first, the older, came out hairy, and they called him Harry. Not Harry Potter’s harry, but hairy. That is what the name Esau means. His younger brother came out grasping on to his heel, and they named him Jacob, meaning “he grasps the heel”. The phrase, “grasping the heel”, took on the meaning of “to deceive”. We still use it, “you’re pulling my leg”, you’re kidding me. But the name Jacob only took on that connotation later on, as a result of Jacob’s manner of life. At his birth, the name “Jacob” simply meant “he grasps the heel”. Of course it did. No parent would name their child “the deceiver” the moment he was born.

So, first difference between the brothers. One was hairy, one wasn’t.

Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.

The second, one was a hunter, primarily found outside of the home. The other, Jacob was quiet and homely. If you wish to find for him, start by looking in his tent.

28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

The third difference, Isaac loved Esau, because like me, he likes to eat meat. But Rebekah loved Jacob, likely on account of him spending so much time with her at home.

Now, we mustn’t do not understate or overlook this report of parental favoritism. Remember how Abraham sent away all of Isaac’s brothers, in order to ensure the baton is passed on to the right son?

Isaac, in contrast, doesn’t appear to share the same concern for Jacob, even though he ought to have known, from their birth prophecy that Jacob is to be the chosen son to inherit the blessings. “The older will serve the younger”, remember?

If Esau is the older son, and also the favoured son of Isaac, then the baton relay is in jeopardy. If Isaac only has eyes for Esau, the baton runs the risk of being handed off to him. Both Rebekah and Isaac knew this.

Which led to this infamous episode between the brothers.

GEN 25:29-34 29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32  Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

One curious observation about this episode. Therefore his name was called Edom, Edom meaning red). Wait a minute, I thought his name was Esau. Yes, his name is Esau, but his descendants will not be known as Esaudians, but as Edomites, the enemies of Israel. His legacy is forever stained by this red stew, for which he traded his birthright.

This is how our passage this morning ends, and it does not end well for Esau.

Hear how the author of Hebrews describes him.

HEBREWS 12:15-17 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

After listing positive examples of men and woman of faith in Hebrews 11, he offers a warning of a negative example, and he chooses of all people, Esau.

Do not be unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

Remember how we established the chosen-ness and holiness are two sides of the same coin? Being chosen and being holy go hand-in-hand? If that is the case, then chosen ones, we must avoid making the mistake that Esau made – the unholy Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

Wait, I can see how that’s foolish, but what’s so unholy about that – about selling his birthright for a single meal?

I’m glad you asked.

The word for Holy in the New Testament, in the Greek, is word “agios”. The word translated here as “unholy”, is not “un-agios”. It’s the word “bebaylos”, not even remotely related. And bebaylos carries with it the connotation of worldliness. Being worldly?

And this sense of the word provides a clearer connection to Esau’s story. By selling his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau is behaving in a worldly – thus unholy – manner. The essence of worldliness is that your worldview is bounded by the cares and concerns of this present world. The here and now, the desire for immediate gratification of the body, the mind that is fixated on this present, beholden to that which is real to the five senses, with eyes that see no further than the horizon of one’s earthly life.

His birthright is not typical. It contained the promises of God to Abraham and to Isaac. The promises of worldwide blessing that would reverse the curse. The promise of an everlasting relationship with God.

Yes, the birthright didn’t belong to Esau, but that’s besides the point. The point is that he didn’t care for it. He didn’t value it, he didn’t treasure it, he prized a bowl of soup over it.

That’s worldly, that’s unholy, that’s the opposite of faith. That is not the characteristic of God’s chosen people.

The essence of faith is forward-looking, at that which is not yet revealed, at promises which fulfillment cannot be seen at the present.

HEBREWS 11:1 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain.

HEBREWS 12:18, 22-24 18 For you have not come to what may be touched (and seen and heard)…

What then have we come to?

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

None of these things can be found on this earth, in this world. None of these things can be presently perceived by the five senses. It takes faith to see it, it takes faith to appropriate it.

That is the nature of our promised blessings as his chosen people.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

We the chosen are blessed how? In Christ?

We the chosen are blessed where? In the heavenly places.

We the chosen are blessed with what? With every spiritual blessing!

We are given no promises of a good career, no promises of houses or lands, no promises of spouses and children, no promises of power and position, no promises of health and wealth.

The promises lie ahead. The best is yet to be. Faith points forward.

The thing is though, there is a shadow of Esau in all of us.

We are attracted to the things we can touch and feel. Enamored by the things we can see and hear. We want the blessings here, we want the blessings now. We want the present world rather than the kingdom to come.

Consider your prayers. What are they primarily concerned with? God’s kingdom to come, or your present needs and cares? If a non-believer listens in to your daily prayers, would he conclude that you are living for a world to come, and not for the present one? Would he be able to discern from your petitions that your hope lies not in the things of the world, but in Jesus Christ, who will return to establish his eternal kingdom?

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

That is, give us today, the food that we need for the day. This is not the prayer of one who is in love with the world. This is the prayer of one who is determined to live day to day dependent not on the abundance of the storehouse, but on the providence of God.

Consider your spending habits. If a non-believer audits your credit card statement, would she able to tell that you love your neighbour just as you love yourself, that your heart is turned towards the poor and needy? If they receive a copy of your bank statement, will they be able to conclude that your are storing up your treasure not on earth, but somewhere else, where moths and rust do not destroy, because you seem to be saving up so little here on earth?

Hear how Paul exhorts the church with regards to it’s use of wealth.

1 Tim 5:17-19 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Consider your temptations and your habitual sins. Are they not a case of preferring immediate gratification, over future eternal joys with Christ? In other words, have you been trading your birthright for a bowl of stew, like the unholy, unchosen, worldly Esau did?

Are you seeking the things of the world, or the things of the kingdom? Is your mind set on things above or on things that are on earth?

If you are chosen, live by faith towards the kingdom, and not by sight for this world. Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t trade the eternal promises of heaven for a temporary slice of the world. It’s not a good trade. It’s not how the chosen ought to live.

COLOSSIANS 3:1-5 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…

Put to death what is earthly in you. Put to death any hint of Esau in you. Put to death your worldliness.

And take hold your birthright. Take hold of Jesus Christ in whom we are blessed with every spiritual blessing. Live by faith for the kingdom, and take hold of that which is truly life.

42 views0 comments


bottom of page