Not 4 Sale

16 Aug Not 4 Sale

Not 4 Sale

Genesis 25:19-34

August 16, 2020

Michelle Fincher

Calvary Presbyterian Church

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Craigslist.  Facebook Marketplace.  eBay.  Whether it’s because of a downturn in the economy and you need the extra cash, or because it’s time to retire and downsize to a smaller home, or you just want to declutter and find the feng shui you’ve been missing, lots of folks are paring back on nonessentials.  One of the silver linings in the coronavirus crisis is that, as people have spent more time at home, they’ve tackled the onerous chore of cleaning out what in some cases is decades of accumulated “stuff.”  As a result, online auction and classified advertising sites are full of items for sale—things that people no longer need and figure they can part with, snagging a few extra bucks in the process.  For shoppers looking for a deal, it’s a bonanza.  For sellers, sometimes it is a welcome relief, but for some, it can be more than a little painful.

If you’re selling the bicycle your ten-year old has outgrown because she has graduated to a bigger and snazzier model, that’s one thing.  But parting with family heirlooms, especially if it’s because you’ve lost a job and really need the money to make ends meet, brings a very different set of emotions.  China and flatware, antique furniture, jewelry, cars, gold and silver, art, even vacation homes—all of it is listed for sale.  In typical capitalist fashion, if you can name it, someone, somewhere is selling it.  Everything seems to be negotiable.

That raises a question, though.  Are there some things you would never sell, under any circumstances?  If your situation became so dire that you were between rock bottom and a very hard decision, what would you absolutely hold on to, regardless of the cost?

And I am not just talking about material things here, those precious family mementos, favorite possessions and the like.  In a fallen world, where sin dehumanizes people into commodities, a lot more than Great-Grandma’s wedding ring can be at stake.  Selling your children, for example, is reprehensible; and yet it happens.  Selling one’s body has historically been a response to bad economic conditions, which is why prostitution is known as the world’s “oldest profession.”  In numerous places around the world, the sex trade sells people, many of them children, into slavery on a daily basis.  Selling illegal drugs puts people at risk of the slavery of addiction.  When human life is judged only by its dollar value, then virtually nothing is off the table.

But some things should just never be for sale.  Integrity, for example, or freedom, or love should never have a price tag, any more than one’s body should. You likely have your own list of things that should never be on the market.  In the ancient world, one item that would have been high on such a list incorporated not only material things but a person’s identity and a whole lot more—the birthright. Sell that, and you would have sold out completely.

The birthright was the special privilege given to the firstborn son of a family.  Depending on the father’s prosperity, the birthright’s economic value was often enough to set up the firstborn for life.  At his father’s death, the eldest son received a “double portion” of the inheritance, or double what his brothers would get.  Twice the flocks, herds, and slaves, which was the primary currency of the times.  The inheritance wasn’t just economic, however; it was also about leadership.  Having the birthright meant exercising leadership in the family, replacing the father as patriarch.  The holder of the birthright made the decisions and ruled over his brothers, and the family line would be continued through him.  In short, the birthright was designed to ensure the future of the entire family.  Mess it up, and you mess up the family.  Sell it, and you’ve sold away the future.  That’s the context for Genesis 25.

A lot has happened since Abraham and Isaac’s fateful trip up Mt. Moriah in chapter 22.  At the ripe old age of 127, Sarah died, and Abraham eventually remarried, fathering six sons by his wife Keturah.  Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, grew up to become the father of twelve sons, and Isaac, too, has taken a bride, a woman named Rebekah.  Like her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebekah was unable to conceive, until in response to Isaac’s prayer for his wife, Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins.

Genesis tells us that Isaac’s twin sons were already vying for power as soon as they exited the womb.  The son to emerge first, Esau, seemed to be the prototypical leader, given the description of him as red and hairy (read “very manly”).  Jacob, who comes out of the womb holding onto Esau’s heel, was quiet, soft, and interested in “living in tents” (read “with the women”) rather than living and working in the field.  As a result, Esau was clearly Dad’s favorite, while Jacob was Mama’s boy (vv. 26-27).

The boys couldn’t have been more different.  Even in utero, the turmoil between them was so evident that Rebekah “went to inquire of the Lord” about her pain in having twins.  God told her that the two boys struggling within her would eventually come to embody the struggle between two nations (Israel and Edom), and yet their roles would soon be reversed. “The one shall be stronger than the other,” God said, “and the elder shall serve the younger” (v. 23).  We’re not sure if that’s why Jacob, the younger, was her favorite, but later in Genesis, it turns out Rebekah is more than glad to help this oracle come true.

We also don’t know if Jacob knew about the oracle on the day he was cooking up a stew (v. 29), but it’s pretty clear that he was already working on a deal to take advantage of his strong but impulsive older brother.  We get the impression that Jacob wasn’t just making stew; he’s marketing it.  He knew from experience that his brother was the kind of kid who wouldn’t let his allowance even get warm in his pocket before spending it on the first shiny or sweet thing he saw. All Jacob has to do is advertise, and Esau will be quick to make a deal.

Esau was “famished” when he came in from the field.  He saw his situation as being absolutely desperate, thinking he was “about to die” (v. 32). It seems hard to believe that Esau was that bad off after hunting, but when circumstances are uncomfortable, humans have a tendency to exaggerate the effects of what’s causing them pain, and they’ll do anything to alleviate that pain, be it real or imagined.  To make matters worse, high anxiety often goes hand in hand with poor impulse control and instant gratification becomes a way to dull one’s pain, if only for a moment.  That leads to an all-or-nothing way of thinking that amplifies even the smallest inconvenience into a life-or-death crisis.  Effective marketing plays on this kind of anxiety and can cause us to believe that our lives without this product or that service will be diminished at best and threatened at worst.  Wanting it all and wanting it now is the fastest route to bankruptcy of both wallet and spirit.

 Jacob, for his part, times this perfectly.  You can almost see him pausing long enough to let the aroma of the stew make Esau just a little crazier.  “I’ll be glad to give you some of this ‘red stuff,'” Jacob says, “but first, sell me your birthright” (v. 31).  Jacob knows that the value of a bowl of soup and the value of one’s entire economic, social, and familial future aren’t equal, but he also knows that Esau, blinded by anxiety, doesn’t see it that way.  Esau is willing to mortgage everything he could possibly become simply to have a taste of stew that he had probably had many times before.  His stomach rules over his brain, and he sells his future for practically nothing.  Jacob even gives him a minute to think about it, asking Esau to “swear” to the deal.  Esau signs on the dotted line and eats perhaps the most expensive bowl of soup in the history of humankind (vv. 33-34).

Is Jacob culpable here for duping his older brother?  The Bible doesn’t make a value judgment on Jacob’s actions at this point.  Later, he will also cheat Esau out of their father’s “blessing,” which is essentially the patriarch’s last will and testament and charge to his successor.  Jacob, with his mother’s help, deceptively, but in a legally binding way, seals the deal that was originally struck at the soup bowl (27:30-40).  Jacob sells his integrity to gain wealth and power.  Both brothers are guilty of selling out in one way or another.

This story is a constant reminder to us that some things should never be for sale and that one impulsive decision, made amid anxious circumstances, can have devastating ramifications for the future.  We see lots of examples of how this story gets repeated throughout history and in our own communities:

* The respected leader who sells away career and family for the momentary pleasure of an illicit affair.

* The businessperson who compromises his or her integrity by pocketing huge profits at the expense of fair wages for the company’s employees.

* The teenager who wrecks his or her future by dabbling in drugs just because “everyone else is doing it.”

* The driver who takes the wheel after drinking and takes a life in a crash.

The point is if we see ourselves as being valued by God and blessed by God, then we have inherent value regardless of what we own or what our circumstances might be.  Do we allow God to determine our worth, or do we let anxiety drive what we feel that we need?  Have we given ourselves to the God who created us and cares for us, providing what we need, or are we still willing to sell ourselves so cheaply to things that don’t matter and can harm us in the long run?

We know that despite the deception and even stupidity in this story, God still ultimately works it for good.  God doesn’t abandon Jacob or Esau, and they will eventually reconcile.  Jacob becomes Israel, and a new nation is launched from his family.  Esau will be the father of another nation, Edom, which, despite the twins’ reconciliation, will always be at odds with Israel.  Even when we have sold out to the world, God still values us as his children, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences to our actions.

Later, in the New Testament, Paul will remind the Corinthians that their value is intrinsically tied not to who they are or what they have done or not done, but to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  We were “bought with a price,” says Paul (1 Corin. 6:20).  May we recognize our value!

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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