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. 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. 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.”
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. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 
One of the features of Genesis, as we have seen, is that important sections of the book are framed with the Hebrew word toledoth, meaning “generations.” Some English translations, such as the NIV, use the word “account” for each of the eleven appearances of toledoth. The word appears six times “in the first section of Genesis (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27), four in the middle section (25:12, 19; 36:1, 9), and one at the beginning of the last section (37:2). Two of them occur in the verses we are considering now.”
We are beginning the lengthy main storyline of Genesis with our text this morning: the life and times of Isaac and his son, Jacob. The rest of chapter 25 sets the stage for the story to follow in the next 10 chapters. This short introductory story summarizes the life of Isaac’s son Jacob as the one who continues the line of the Promised Seed. The apostle Paul considered these verses central to his explanation of how salvation comes to both Jew and Gentile. We will pause to consider the bedrock theology behind God’s free choice to save those he chooses. Next week, we’ll return to this section for a deeper look at the storyline.
ISHMAEL AND ISAAC (12-21a)
The previous toledoth in this chapter was of Ishmael, in verses 12-18. Since Ishmael and Isaac were Abraham’s two oldest sons, it’s natural for Moses to set their toledoths side by side. In Genesis 17:20, God promised Abraham he would make Ishmael a great nation and the father of twelve rulers. Ishmael’s toledoth makes it clear that God fulfilled his promise to Father Abraham. Ishmaels twelve sons settled throughout Arabia along the major trade route between Egypt and the Orient.
Isaac, on the other hand, wasn’t married until he was 40 years old. Where was his evidence of blessing? He remained in the Promised Land with all Father Abraham’s wealth, but his wife was barren (25:20-21). His old brother was cranking out children left and right, but Isaac waited 20 years for God to answer his prayers that Rebecca would have children. He was 60 years old when he had children. Unlike his brother Ismael, he had only two sons. God’s idea of true blessing and man’s ideas of blessing are different.
Abraham had waited until he was 100 years old for God to fulfill his promise of a blessed seed. Isaac had to wait until he was 60. Waiting does not seem like a blessing from a loving God. If God loved us, he would give us what we want when we want it. Right? You might even think Isaac had already passed his dramatic test of faith when he willingly allowed his father to bind him and set him upon the sacrificial altar on the future temple mount named “God will provide.” It’s not fair, our human reasoning believes, for such a giant of the faith to have to beg God for twenty years to bring him offspring.
Moses does not tell us how Isaac and Rebecca reacted to two decades of childlessness. We know what he did: “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife.” And we know what he did NOT do. He did not take a slave woman as his concubine to produce an heir as his father had done. That suggests Isaac had come to understand God alone is able to keep his covenant in his way and his timing and that any seed he produced must come from the blessed line of Shem. Isaac prayed and he waited on the Lord. His hope was not in his circumstances, but in God’s covenant-keeping loyalty love.
“God was teaching his people that the promised blessing through the chosen seed of Abraham could not be accomplished by mere human effort. This is how it had been for Sarah. This is how it would be for her daughters-in-law Rachael and Leah. And later it would be the same for the mother of Samson and for Hannah, the mother of Samuel. And ultimately the promise would culminate with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and (in a class by herself) Mary, the mother of our Lord.”
Isaac knew the Promised Seed must and shall come. As Isaiah would later sing:
they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 
God doesn’t just save us from sin’s curse through the person and work of the Promised Seed, he changes us to think and act more and more like Christ, the Seed of the woman. Waiting is very often a part of that process. God is more interested in what’s happening inside of us than what is happening around us.
JACOB AND ESAU (21b-26)
Not only does our text this morning invite comparison between Ishmael and Isaac, it also offers a more important comparison between two more brothers: Jacob and Esau. As believers, when we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied over a situation, we tend to complain that God owes us more than we’re getting. But our text shows us that God’s gifts are totally based upon his grace and mercy alone. Esau was Isaac and Rebecca’s firstborn. As such, he had the right of greater inheritance and the expectation that he would be in the line of the Promised Seed. He was his father’s choice, as we will see next week. But he was not God’s choice. God chose Jacob to be the man in the line of the coming Promised Seed. That teaches us that God has the complete right and power to choose whom he wants and to reject whom he does not want. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, uses Jacob and Esau as an example of how salvation does not come by birthright, bloodlines, or any part of human effort.
- Kent Hughes writes:
The moral lessons that are here do not come from observing the moral virtues of Jacob or Esau, but from their faults. Jacob and Esau together dramatize the human predicament: Both the elect and non-elect are hopelessly self-centered and incapable by themselves of doing consistent good. Jacob is a scheming, Machiavellian figure, and Esau is a free spirit who lives for his appetites.
Earlier in Romans, Paul explained the gospel is God’s announcement that he alone deals with human hearts born dead in Adam’s sin and made alive only when people trust into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial blood-shedding death of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ. He concludes his explanation of the gospel with the wonderful affirmation in Romans 8:28-39 that nothing can hinder God’s promises, and nothing can separate God’s people from God’s love. But that leads Paul into the question of God’s promises made to Israel as a nation.
Could the children of Abraham be both chosen and not chosen at the same time? Paul explains the promises were not made to mere physical descendants of Abraham, but to spiritual Israel – those chosen to trust into the person and work of the Seed of the Woman promised to Adam and Eve. Paul’s argument is that God’s freedom to choose his covenant people is an INCLUSIVE choice, not an exclusive choice reserved for physical Israel alone.
Jesus had this same conversation with the Jewish authorities, as recorded in John’s gospel account. They told Jesus their hope was in their relationship to Abraham (Jn. 8:33). Jesus told them if they were truly descendants of Abraham, they wouldn’t be trying to kill him. Rather, he said, they were of their father the devil (Jn. 8:39-41) because, like Satan, they hated the Promised Seed.
Paul makes the same point in Romans 9:6-8
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Jews of Paul’s day who did not trust into the Promised Seed could have argued that God certainly did not have to choose moon-god-worshipping Abram as his covenant recipient. But once God chose Abraham, the benefit of the saving covenant must pass to his physical descendants. Paul answers this by reminding his opponents that Abraham had many sons—one by Hagar and others by Keturah—but that the promise was to be reckoned only through Isaac. In other words, God made a choice of one son from among many. Paul quotes Genesis 21:12 (“It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned,” Rom. 9:7), and then he comments, “It is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
Paul anticipates another argument. Neither Hagar nor Keturah were descendants of the blessed line of Shem. Therefore, their children by Abraham could not inherit the covenant promises. But all the children of Isaac were, according to the Jewish argument, in covenant with God. This is the part that touches on our passage this morning:
…but …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.” 
Paul shows his opponents that the second generation after Abraham’s covenant, twins were born from parents in the blessed line of Shem, the father of whom was Abraham’s chosen covenant child in the line of the Promised Seed. Before either twin emerged from Rebecca’s womb, God had already made his choice. Clearly, God’s choice could not have been made on any human works, good or bad. God’s choice was not dependent upon their birth order or their character. The choice was based solely on God’s right as the Creator and Sustainer of all things to do entirely as he pleases. Human works and character have nothing to do with God’s divine purpose of salvation in and through the Promised Seed.
Isaac and Esau were both Abraham’s grandchildren. But neither was entitled to any of God’s favors by virtue of their physical lineage any more than moon-god-worshipping Abram of Ur had been. God’s grace cannot be tamed. To the heart dead in sin, this seems scandalous. How dare this god make choices completely independent of MY choices and MY worth? But to those of faith, God’s free choice to have mercy on those he chooses is mysterious, blessed good news! Some Christians find this doctrine offensive, and believe it encourages believers to live any way they please and makes them lazy evangelists. They reject it on the basis of their ideas of fairness. But the fact remains: Esau was passed over in favor of Jacob. Not even Isaac liked that fact.
James Boice wrote of our passage:
Esau was passed over in the choice of the line to produce the Messiah, but this did not excuse his disregard for his birthright, as we will see in our next study. People are responsible to God for what they do, regardless of whether God elects them to salvation or not. They are responsible for a proper use of the life and gifts he gives them. As far as believers are concerned, there are many benefits that come from understanding and accepting the doctrine of God’s grace in salvation.
The doctrine of God’s right to choose whom he pleases has a number of benefits for us. First, it frees us from a need to trumpet our own relative morality (“I’m better than that person!”). God explicitly announces that he chooses his people totally apart from any human attitudes or works. Ephesians 2:8-10 state:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 
If we were saved on the basis of anything in us, no matter how small, we would be able to brag about our relative morality. And, to the extent of our innate goodness, God would not be glorified. Imagine a consumer writing a letter to a laundry soap maker and praising the product by writing, “I love Whizzo Laundry Detergent. It works so well on every kind of stain when I mix it with just a little bit of my special homemade stain remover.” Would the company use that testimonial? No! Why? Because Whizzo Laundry Detergent does not get all the glory. Whizzo only works relatively well. There is nothing in us, even trust into Christ, that is any of our doing. Salvation is totally of God’s gracious choice and work so that all the glory goes to him.
The second benefit of God’s electing saving grace is that it encourages the believer to love God. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love him because he first loved us.” If we play a part in our salvation, our love for God is diminished by just that amount. If God does all the work, then we owe him all of our love. We did not seek him; he sought us. When he sought us, we ran from him. When he came to us in the person of his Son, we killed him. Yet still he came; still he elected a great number of stubborn rebels to salvation. What great love this is! The Bible says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Finally, this doctrine of God’s sovereign right to choose his own people actually encourages us to spread the good news. People who reject God’s freedom to choose, argue that believing in such a thing means there is no need to evangelize the lost. But it doesn’t work that way. The fact that God alone is free to choose a people for himself does not exclude the means by which he accomplishes his saving work. And scripture tells us plainly that God uses his people as the ordinary means by which he draws believers to himself:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21).
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). 
In fact, God’s freedom to choose his people is the only real hope of evangelism. If human hearts and minds are utterly opposed to God, as scripture declares them to be, then God is the only agent capable of replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. If proclamation of the gospel is the ordinary means God uses to bring his people to salvation from sin and death, then we can boldly speak the good news knowing that it is God’s power at work and not our own. We cannot know whom God will choose; we can only know them by their response to his proclaimed word. Those called by God come. Those not called cannot and will not come.
Like Jacob, people come to trust into the person and work of the Promised Seed by an extraordinary birth. We are re-born into God’s saving covenant. One final benefit to God’s sovereign free choice of his people is this. God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. When he sets his love upon someone, that one remains loved. Jeremiah 31:31 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”  How do we know God will continue to love his people even when we are faithless, foolish, and fearful? God will never cease to love us because there was never a time in eternity past that he did not love us. His love has no beginning point in time and space, so it will never end.
If you are trusting into the person and work of the Promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, this morning, there was never a time when God did not know you and love you. As surely as he had no beginning, his love for you had no beginning. So, it can have no end. But maybe you’re listening this morning and your worried you might not be among this selected group. Perhaps you’re wondering if you’re left out. You can put the question behind you once and for all by simply trusting that risen and ascended Christ Jesus lived the perfect law-keeping life God’s holiness demands and he died the infinite hellish death your sin deserves. He did those things for you if you will but trust him. You can be certain your chosen and loved by God if you will simply say, “Thank you Lord Jesus for living and dying for me.”
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 25:19–26.
 Boice, 2:731.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 25:21.
 Hughes, 332.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:31.
 Hughes, 331. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 9:6–8.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 9:10–13.
 Boice, 2:735.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:8–10.
 Boice, 2:735–736.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:21.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:16–17.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Je 31:3.