How does God work through time?
It's now a good time to look back and summarise where we have got to in our story. Abraham was the one who found favour with God. He showed great faith by first obeying the call and moving to an unknown land, then by accepting that he was to become a father despite his advancing years and finally by being willing to sacrifice his son in the sure hope that he would be brought back to life in order to fulfil God's promises of descendants like the dust of the earth, becoming a great nation.
He had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, but it was the younger who would inherit these promises, just as it would be with his grandchildren, when Jacob, the younger twin, would be the one to gain the blessings and to provide descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.
And what of the older brothers? Well, true to the prophecy, Ishmael had twelve sons, who became twelve tribal rulers. It is said that they lived in hostility towards all their brothers, a situation that, sadly, seems to have continued in history right up to the present, with Muslim Arabs in their current conflict with Israeli Jews. Esau, also called Edom supposedly after the red stew that led to his downfall, naturally became the father of the Edomites in the hill country. These people were to become a thorn in the side of the descendants of Jacob, particularly through the descendants of Amalek, whom God later urged his people to blot out.
So God's chosen family line was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We see God identifiying himself over thirty times in the Bible as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was making a point. It wasn't Abraham, Ishmael and Nebaioth or Abraham, Isaac and Esau. Interestingly, this blessed line consisted of second sons, not first borns. Neither Isaac nor Jacob were the first fruits of their father's loins. Just being the first born guarantees you nothing in God's eyes and an interesting verse in Malachi, illustrates this graphically:
"... 'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' the LORD says. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated ...'" (Malachi 1:2-3)
This is a bit extreme, isn't it? It's just unfamiliar use of language, showing the gap between the ancient Jewish culture and ours. What is meant here is to emphasise God's love of Jacob, by lessening His regard for Esau. In our terms we would say that He 'loved Esau less'.
The blessed line follows through to the next generation, to the sons of Jacob, or, as they are more commonly known, the Children of Israel. Again we are surprised in that God doesn't choose the first born son to continue the line. Neither does He choose the second born, nor the third born. It's the fourth born, Judah, who carries the blessings to the next generation. Reuben, the eldest, forfeited his blessing by sleeping with his stepmother. The other two, Simeon and Levi, had too violent a nature (they slaughtered all the men in a city in vengeance for the rape of their sister) to be trusted with a divine mandate. But Judah received the following blessing:
"The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his." (Genesis 49:10)
It is interesting to observe that up to this point God meanders through the family line. He chose Isaac, but not Ishmael. He chose Jacob but not Esau. The discards go off and found other nations who, from then onwards, are always outside the purposes of God. But then we arrive at the twelve sons of Jacob, the Children of Israel and we see a nation being founded.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)