Tag: people groups

Story 41: The Battling Sons of Rebekah

Genesis 25

Abraham lost his beloved wife Sarah.  She had given him Isaac, the son of God’s promise, and through Isaac, God would keep His covenant with Abraham to raise up a priestly nation to the world.  Abraham married again to a woman named Keturah.  She gave Abraham six sons.  Yet God made it clear that the honor of being the father of God’s priestly nation belonged to Isaac.  The LORD had a very unique and specific plan to bring salvation to humanity, and Abraham and Isaac were on board and willing to do what He willed.  Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac, including the land.  Abraham loved his sons through Keturah, so while he was still alive, he gave them many lavish gifts.  Then he sent them away to a land far off in the east.  Those sons had their own children, and their children had even more children, so that after many years, whole tribes of nations came from her children through Abraham.  God surely kept his promise to make Abraham the father of many nations.

Abraham lived to be a hundred and seventy-five years old.  The Bible says:


“Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age,

an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”


By that time, Abraham had lived in the promise land for a hundred years.  He had become a great leader of a formidable tribe of warriors.  At the news of his death, the whole region mourned the loss of this powerful, righteous prince.  His strength and honorable character had brought security and peace to the whole region.  He had saved many of them from slavery, and his goodness and courage was known by all.  The loss of his life would  have been felt deeply and the world would have felt like a much more dangerous place without him.

Abraham’s honored sons, Isaac and Ishmael, took his body to the cave where Sarah had been buried.  So many years before, Abraham had bought it at great cost from the Hittites to bury his beloved wife.  Now his sons lay him down beside her, united at the death of their noble father.  And after Abraham’s death, God blessed Isaac.

Now, we know that Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, had come from Sarah’s maidservant Hagar.  She was an Egyptian.  Her son was not the one that God meant to grow into a priestly nation.  When God called Abraham into a special covenant with him, Abraham’s wife and their sacred union was a part of that promise, even if Abraham and Sarah made some foolish (and even cruel) choices in the midst of God’s calling.  But God is compassionate, and he promised Hagar that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation.  Curiously, he also promised that Ishmael’s descendents would be warlike and hostile.

What God said came true as it always does.  Ishmael had many sons.  They had many children also, and from their children came twelve tribal nations.  Ishmael lived to be a hundred and thirty-seven years, and then he, too died.  The descendents of Ishmael moved to an area near the border of Egypt to settle down, far from the land of promise.  And just as God said, they were a hostile group who throughout history has struggled get along with their neighbors.

If this was the way of Abraham’s first born son, what would happen to the son of the Promise?  Would he grow up to be warlike, too?  Would he have the violent, deceptive nature of the enemies of God, or would he stand in the beauty of Eve’s repentant transformation?  Would Isaac learn to live in dependence on God like his father?

Rebekah and Isaac married when Isaac was forty years old.  Time went on as Isaac oversaw the vast wealth he had inherited from his father.  After twenty years of marraige, Rebekah still had no children.  But they were wise to the lessons that God had taught Abraham and Sarah.  They did not turn to Rebekah’s maidservants or anyone else to solve this terrible sadness.  Isaac went directly to the LORD and pleaded with him for his wife.  His first response was to turn to God.  In his perfect timing, the LORD answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant.  Imagine their happiness after such a long wait.

Just as with Abraham and Sarah, it must have been difficult and painful to look for a child and not receive one.  But in many ways, that made the coming of the child far more special.  This pregnancy was something they had thought about and looked forward to, hoping and praying over long years.  All babies are a priceless gift from God, but because of their waiting, Isaac and Rebekah knew that this pregnancy was a very special answer to prayer.  God was going to honor his covenant promise to Abraham.

This was no ordinary pregnancy in more ways than one.  Rebekah was going to have twins, and she really felt it.  Scripture says that she could feel them fighting each other.  How uncomfortable that must have been.  “‘Why is this happening to me?’” she wondered.  She worried if all their moving and shaking was dangerous.  What if she lost them both?  What if all that fighting caused a miscarriage?

At this point, for those who are paying close attention to the story of Genesis, we are meant to feel this as a great crisis.  This book was written to tell us how God planned to bring salvation into human history, and a child of Isaac and Rebekah was the way.  But now we have two children, and they don’t get along.  What is going to happen?  How will we know which child is meant to carry on the covenant of Abraham?

So just as Isaac had prayed to the LORD for his wife, Rebekah went to the LORD and cried out to understand what was going on.  Both Isaac and Rebekah had learned to take their lives to the LORD.  They were totally dependent on him.  And he was faithful to answer.

The LORD said to her:


“‘Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples from within you

will be separated;

One people will be stronger than the other,

and the older will serve the younger’”

Genesis 25:23


Well, that sounds strange.  And in many ways it should…we are reading about a culture that existed thousands of years ago.  It was a very different world with very different needs and customs and challenges than the ones we face today.  It makes sense that much of it will be strange and new to us.  That is part of the wonder of the Bible…that its story crosses through so many centuries and yet it still stands true.  We can learn from these ancient people.  Their story is still our story, the sacred story of God.  What does it mean that two whole nations were living in Rebekah’s womb?  Is that possible?

Of course not.  But there were two baby boys in there, growing and fighting against each other.  One day, they would be born into the world.  They would grow to be strong men, and they would have families of their own.  God, who knows everything, knew the future of Rebekah’s sons.  He had designed their future.   They would not die in childhood, their wives would not be barren, they would not go to the grave by war or famine.  The descendents of each of Rebekah’s sons would thrive and grow to become great nations.

Now, God knows everything.  He understands everything that has ever happened perfectly, and he knows everything that is ever going to happen. He could have explained many things to Rebekah about her sons, but he didn’t.  He reduced his infinitely vast archives of information down to a few necessary bits of information.  He simply told her that they would both grow to be powerful, but that the older son would end up serving the younger son.  That wasn’t a lot of news, but it was a very, very big deal.  And because God made a point of telling Rebekah directly, it was something she was supposed to honor with special care.

In the ancient days of Isaac and Rebekah, as with many cultures today, the firstborn son was given many responsibilities and privileges.  It was the oldest son that took the place of the father in the family when he died, and it was the oldest that inherited the most of the family’s wealth.  He usually received a double portion.  It was his job to protect the family honor and help each member in their time of need.  The mother, his brothers and sisters and their spouses, and his nieces and nephews could all call on him and expect his care and concern throughout their lives.  It was a great burden and a great honor.

The younger sons were supposed to honor their older brother and respect his commands.  This held together the systems of order and loyalty in the early family clans of human civilization.  It was how they established their community, understood their roles of responsibility, created a sense of belonging, and survived.  It was often true in the family of God as well.  But God told Rebekah that it would not be the same for her sons.  The older son would serve the younger.  That was a radical idea, but that is often God’s way.  In his utter wisdom and sovereignty, there are times when the Lord breaks his chosen out of the normal conventions of human society and puts them on a unique path that challenges the status quo.  Long before Rebekah ever held her sons in her arms, she knew that her second child would be the one who God used to raise up his holy nation.

When the boys were born, the first child came out and everyone was shocked.  All they could talk about was how red and hairy he was.  He was so hairy that it looked like he was wearing animal fur!  They decided to name him Esau.

Rebekah didn’t have a lot of time after Esau  came.  The other son was following quickly behind.  In fact, the hand of the second son was gripping Esau’s foot as he came out.  So they decided to name him Jacob, because it means “heel.”

As the boys grew up, Rebekah and Isaac learned how very different each son was from the other.  Esau liked to go out to the wilderness and hunt.  Jacob liked to spend time among the tents where the family lived.  He was quiet.  Isaac enjoyed the meat that Esau brought him.  He liked his big, burly son the best, and he didn’t make it a secret.  But Rebekah loved Jacob more, and she carried in her heart the promise of God.  In the future, the older would serve the younger.

One day, Jacob was among the tents cooking stew.  Esau had been out in the open country, probably on a hunt.  It is hard work, and when he came home he was so hungry that he had begun to feel weak.  He smelled Jacob’s stew and that only made it worse.  “‘Quick’” he said to Jacob, “‘Let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’”

Jacob knew he had a chance to use this to get something he wanted.  He had been thinking about this for a long time.  He also knew how hungry Esau was when he came in from a hunt.  He said to his brother, “‘First, sell me your birthright.’”  Wow.  Esau was the firstborn son, and that birthright belonged to him.  It was a very precious, valuable thing.  It was a high honor.

In those days, the first son would inherit twice what all the other sons would receive when their father died.   For every two goats that Esau was supposed to inherit, Jacob would only get one goat.  But if Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, that meant that Jacob would be the one who received more.  Their father Isaac had received all of Abraham’s many animals and servants.  They were a very rich, princely family.  Jacob was asking Esau to trade hundreds of animals and great wealth in gold and silver for a bowl of soup.   But you know what?  Esau made the trade.

“‘Look, I am about to die’” he said.  “‘What good is a birthright to me?’”

Jacob wanted to make sure that he would really receive all the extra inheritance, so before he let Esau eat, he made him take an oath.  “‘Swear to me first.’”  Esau swore an oath to Jacob, promising the birthright to him.

Finally, Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil soup.  Esau gobbled up the food.  When he left, his stomach was full, but his birthright was lost to his conniving brother.


Story 18: Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

This next story explains the ways of the world today.  It goes back before the time of the Table of Nations.  After the Great Flood, all the humans really stuck together.  They spoke the  language of Noah.  They traveled the land together as nomads.  They lived in tents that could easily be picked up and moved.  They herded their animals along with them as they wandered from place to place seeking good water supplies and plenty of grassland for their animals.

As a whole people group, they began to move towards the east.  Finally, they found themselves in a land with a wide, open plain.  It was in a place called Shinar.  One day, it would become Babylon.  We call that ancient area Mesopotamia, but today it is the nation of Iraq.

The numbers seven and ten are often used as symbols in the Bible.  When there is ten of something, it can mean it is complete and whole.  When there is seven of something, it means it is divinely complete and whole.

Well, in Genesis, the direction of going east is often a sign of something, too.  It is a biblical symbol that should catch the reader’s eye.  Moving east meant moving away from the presence of God.  God is everywhere, but His special, intense presence on earth was in the Garden.  Cain moved east after his murder of Abel to the land of Nod and built a city fortress.  Now the entire human race roamed eastward together.  That was not a good sign!  Then they decided to settle down in the east.  That is even worse!  They wanted to stay far from the LORD!

Why would they want to move away from God?  Well, there were two reasons.  For one, God had told them to scatter across the earth and fill it up.    But they wanted to stick together like glue!  But there was something more to their move away from God.  They had begun to worship and obey other powers.  They were making idols.  They were already following the vicious demonic gods of the sons of Caan.  The rebellion was in full force.

After they settled on the plains of Shinar, the descendants of Noah sat down and made a plan.  They were going to build something great, something magnificent.  It would be a sprawling city with a huge tower in the center.  It would be a mighty temple to the pagan gods.  It would be like a massive altar of idolatry.  The tower would reach up to the Heavens as a pathway to the gods, and it would bring the people glory and honor.  Then they would be united as a people!  Then they would never be scattered across the earth, far away from each other.

In their fear of being scattered, in their dread of loneliness and isolation, they were finding their own solution apart from God.  Though he made them, they refused to trust in His loyal and faithful love.  They turned to the security of safety in numbers.  They turned to demonic gods because they thought they could get them to do whatever they wanted.

Humanity was created to obey the good and gracious God of the universe.  These humans did not want to submit to Him.  They wanted gods that would do their own will and give them their desires.  The demonic powers of this world are happy to lie and deceive people into thinking they will be helpful.  But they are really drawing humans into a trap of bondage and slavery.

These early humans felt powerful when they lived in their own strength and in their own way, and so they got to work.  They discussed how they were going to make bricks and use tar to hold them together.  They designed the city and figured out where they would put the tower.  They began to assign jobs to people.  Some would make the bricks, and some would lay them down.  Others would make sure everything was being built where it belonged.  Humanity was all hustling and bustling to get the job done.  Imagine the energy they were giving to these plans, all driven by their pride and rebellion.

How distorted the human race had already become!  They were meant to reflect the image of God and give Him glory, but they planned and schemed to bring glory to themselves!  Here they were, building a city whose temple was a sign of their total rejection of their God.  They were building it to protect themselves from having to obey God!  They were building a tower to Heaven so they could make themselves greater than God!  Can you imagine?  God made the trillions upon trillions of massive, flaming stars in the universe merely by speaking, and these foolish people believed that a tower made of brick and tar could compete against Him.

God saw all that was happening with the people He created.  He watched as they moved eastward, and He watched as they boasted and built their mighty tower.  And then God came down.  Imagine this!  The Almighty Lord reigns in glory on His exalted throne in Heaven.  Yet He chose to look upon these utterly foolish, proud people with concern.  As they swarmed around like ants, God came down to their puny little tower.  He came down to bring an end to their rebellion once again.  What a patient God of grace!  Even when they were still bathing in their sin, He acted on their behalf to keep them from becoming even worse.

The Lord had an amazing plan.   He knew that if He let the people of the world stay together, they would do everything they could to disobey Him.   Together, they would constantly break the good boundaries that He had set for them.  They would be united in finding ways of deeper and deeper sin and rebellion.  So God decided to split them up.  Listen to what the Bible says:

“The LORD said…‘Come, let us go down and confuse their language in

their own territories.”


The Tower of Babel was the beginning of all of that, and it started with giving them different languages.  When we read the Table of Nations, we were reading about the places that God scattered them! Yet God’s blessing to be fruitful and multiply was still on all the nations, and each of them grew into large societies with their own culture and way of life.

The rebellion and sin of humanity continued.  The arrogance and pride that the people had shown towards God at Babel would soon be turned against each other.  Their selfish hatred of God turned into a selfish hatred of other humans.  Tyrannical leaders like Nimrod, the descendent of Ham, would battle, kill, and destroy the peoples of other nations and language groups to create an empire and build cities for his own glory.  Most people would never have the power to do what Nimrod did.  Their selfishness would show through their hatred against their neighbors and their family members and themselves.  The tyranny of sin was alive in every heart.

Because of this sin, this horrible deformation of the heart, human society will never be perfect and stable until the curse is removed.  Humans will cling to each other in unity for protection.  But they also selfishly take from each other, which brings anger and hostility.  Do you have a brother or sister or a friend that you love to play with?  Do you still fight with them over toys?  Do you still get angry if they get to do something that you don’t get to do?  Do you get into trouble for arguing with them?  If you said yes, that is because you are a human in a cursed world.  All of us want to be close and to have unity with other people.  But we are all very sinful, too, and so we selfishly battle to truly love each other the way God loves us.

Your family is just a small picture of how this happens in the rest of the world.  Without faith in God and His strength to love one another, the government systems of the world are doomed to fail.  We can see this in the long history of humanity and the constant wars and battles between the nations.  Humans cannot turn away from God’s love and powerful peace without losing peace and love.  Anything that is truly good and right in the universe comes from Him.  It is His gracious gift.   A man named C.S. Lewis explained that turning away from the only true Source of goodness in the world is like refusing air.  Air is the only way we can breath and stay alive.  The Creator of the universe is the only source of love and good.  Rejecting His ways means turning towards works of evil.  It will always end in wickedness, violence, and suffering.


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