Genesis 25:23 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
JACOB PREFERRED BEFORE ESAU
Gen 25:23. The elder shall serve the younger.
THE common gifts of Providence are bestowed in such a regular and ordinary way, that the hand of God is scarcely seen or acknowledged in them. They are considered as resulting from a settled order of things, and are placed to the account of an imaginary cause, called Nature. But it pleases God sometimes to mark his dispensations in so plain a manner, that his agency cannot be overlooked. He withheld from Abraham the promised seed, till there was not the most remote hope of a child being born to him of his wife, Sarah, according to the common course of nature; and thus evinced, beyond a possibility of doubt, that the child was a special and miraculous gift from him. In the same manner he kept Isaac also twenty years childless; and then at last condescended to his repeated supplications, and granted him the desire of his heart. On that occasion God further manifested, that, as “children are a fruit and heritage that cometh of the Lord,” so all that relates to them, even to the remotest period of time, is ordered by him. Rebekah, who had been twenty years barren, at last found in herself symptoms of a very extraordinary kind; and being unable to account for them, consulted the Lord. God answered her, that twins were in her womb; that they should be fathers of two distinct nations; that their characters, as also that of their descendants, should be extremely different; that they should contend with each other for the superiority; that the younger should be victorious; and that “the elder should serve the younger.” This was not fulfilled in the children themselves; for Esau was stronger than Jacob; being at the head of a warlike band [Note: Genesis 36.] while Jacob was only a poor shepherd, and having many generations of great and powerful men, while Jacob’s posterity were oppressed with the sorest bondage. But in the time of David the prophecy began to be accomplished [Note: 2Sa 8:14.] (we may indeed consider Jacob’s obtaining of the birthright as a partial fulfilment of it), and in after ages it was fulfilled in its utmost extent; Edom being made a desolation, while the kingdom of Judah was yet strong and flourishing [Note: Oba 1:6-10; Oba 1:17-18; Eze 25:12-14.]. We must not however imagine that this is all that is contained in the words of our text. This prophecy is referred to by the inspired writers both of the Old and New Testament; and that too in such a way, as to shew that it is of singular importance. The prophet Malachi adduces it in proof of God’s partiality towards the Jewish nation [Note: Mal 1:2-3.]: and St. Paul quotes it, to confirm the idea he has suggested of God’s determination to reject the Jews, who were the elder part of his family; and to receive the Gentiles, who were the younger [Note: Rom 9:10-13.]. The whole train of the Apostle’s argumentation in that chapter shews, that he had even an ulterior view, which was, to vindicate the sovereignty of God in the disposal of his favours, whether temporal or spiritual; and to make every one sensible that he was altogether indebted to the free grace of God for his hopes of mercy and salvation.
To confirm the words in this view, we may observe,
That God has a right to dispense his blessings according to his own sovereign will—
God, as the Creator of all things, has an unlimited right over all—
[It was of his own good pleasure that he created the world at all: there was nothing that had any claim upon him to call it into existence. When he had formed the chaos, no part of matter had any claim above the rest: that which was left inert had no reason to complain that it was not endued with vegetative power; nor vegetables, that they were not enriched with animal life; nor animals, that they were not possessed. of reason; nor our first parents, that they were created inferior to angels. Nothing had any claim upon its Maker. He had the same right over all as “the potter has over the clay, to make one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour:” nor could any presume to say, “Why hast thou made me thus [Note: Rom 9:20-21.] ?” If this then be true, what claim can man have upon his Maker now? If he had none when innocent, has he acquired any by his fall? Does a loyal subject acquire new rights by rising in rebellion against his prince?]
As the Lord and Governor of all things too, he may dispose of them as he sees fit—
[An earthly monarch does not consider himself accountable to his subjects for disposing of that which is properly, and in all respects, his own. He obliges those who are the objects of his favour, but does no injury to those who participate his bounty only in a less degree. Indeed every individual thinks himself at liberty to bestow or withhold his gifts, according as his inclination or judgment may dictate. And shall we deny to God what we concede to men? Shall we bind Him by a law from which we ourselves are free? If any one were to blame us for using our own discretion in conferring obligations, we should ask without hesitation, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own [Note: Mat 20:15.] ?” Shall we then presume to negative that question when put to us by the Governor of the Universe?
Let this idea be well fixed in our minds, that God has a right to bestow his blessing on whom he will; and it will root out that arrogance which is the characteristic of fallen man: it will bring us to the footstool of the Deity, and constrain us to say, “Let him do what seemeth him good:” “I was dumb, because thou didst it.”]
We cannot doubt but that God possesses this right, since it is clear,
That he actually exercises it—
We may daily see this,
In the dealings of his providence—
[He consulted not any of his creatures how long a space of time he should occupy in completing the work of creation; or how many orders of creatures he should form. He could as easily have perfected the whole at once, as in six days; or have endued every thing with a rational or angelic nature, as he could diversify their endowments in the marvellous way that he has done. But he acted in all things “according to the counsel of his own will.” When it pleased him to destroy the works of his hands on account of their multiplied iniquities, why did he preserve a wicked Ham, when millions no worse than he were overwhelmed in the mighty waters? But to speak of things that have passed since the deluge—Who has ordered the rise and fall of nations? Who has raised or depressed the families of men? Who has given to individuals their measure of bodily or intellectual strength, or ordered the number of their days on earth? Is not this the Lord? Who is it that gives us fruitful seasons, or causes drought and pestilence and famine to oppress the world? “Is there either good or evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
If it be thought that these different events are regulated according to the moral state of mankind, and that therefore they exemplify rather the equity than the sovereignty of God; we would ask, What was the foundation of the distinction put between Esau and Jacob, together with their respective families? St. Paul particularly notices, that, when the prophecy in our text was delivered, “they were not yet born, nor had done any species of good or evil;” and that the decree was delivered at that time, in order “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth [Note: Rom 9:11.].” It is clear therefore and indisputable that “he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and that none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou [Note: Dan 4:35.] ?”]
In the dispensations of his grace—
[In the call of Abraham, and the separation of his seed for a peculiar people; in distinguishing between his immediate sons, Ishmael and Isaac, as also between Isaac’s sons, Esau and Jacob; in giving to their posterity the revelation of his will, while the whole world were left to walk in their own ways; in making yet further distinctions at this present moment, sending the light of his Gospel to a few of the Gentile nations, while all the rest are permitted to sit in darkness and the shadow of death; in all this, I say, has not God clearly shewn, that “he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and that whom he will he hardeneth, or giveth over to the blindness and obduracy of their own hearts [Note: Rom 9:18.] ?” But, as among Abraham’s seed “all were not Israel who were of Israel,” so it is now in the Christian world: there is a great and visible distinction made between the different hearers of the Gospel: some have “their hearts opened,” like Lydia’s of old, to receive and embrace the truth, or, like Saul, are arrested in their mad career of sin, and made distinguished monuments of grace; whilst thousands around them find “the word, not a savour of life unto life, but of death unto death.” “Who is it that makes these persons to differ [Note: 1Co 4:7.] ?” To whom is it owing that “the deaf hear, the blind see, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised?” We answer, It is all of God: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy [Note: Rom 9:16.].” The favoured objects “are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God [Note: Joh 1:13.] ”]
The existence of this right being thus incontrovertibly manifest, we observe,
That all in whose favour it is exercised, are bound to acknowledge it with most ardent gratitude—
Impious indeed would it be to arrogate the glory to ourselves—
[We have not of ourselves a sufficiency for the smallest thing, even for the forming of a good thought: what folly then is it to suppose that we can create ourselves anew, and renovate our souls after the divine image! This is the work of God alone. If then we have any reason to hope that God has wrought this great work within us, what base ingratitude is it to rob him of his glory! Is it for this end that he has shewn to us such unmerited regard? or is it such an use that we ought to make of his distinguishing mercy? Surely, what he has done, he has done “for the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Eph 1:6.]:” and if we have been made partakers of his grace, we should strive to the uttermost to answer the ends for which he has bestowed it.]
Those who have been the most highly favoured by God, have always been most forward to acknowledge their obligations to him—
[Ask of St. Paul, To whom he owed his eminent attainments? and he will answer, “By the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1Co 15:10.].” Ask him, To whom all Christians are indebted for every grace they possess? he will answer, “He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God [Note: 2Co 5:5.].” Ascend to the highest heavens, and inquire of the saints in glory: you will find them all casting their crowns at their Redeemer’s feet, and singing, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and our Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” To imitate them is both our duty and happiness. Our daily song therefore should be, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name be the praise:” “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever.”]
To guard this deep subject against the abuses to which it is liable, and to render it conducive to its proper and legitimate ends, we shall add a word,
[If, as the Apostle says, “there is a remnant according to the election of grace [Note: Rom 11:5.],” we are ready to suppose that those who are not of that number are not accountable for their sins, and that their final ruin is to be imputed rather to God’s decrees than to their own fault. But this is a perversion of the doctrine. It is a consequence which our proud reason is prone to draw from the decrees of God: but it is a consequence which the inspired volume totally disavows. There is not in the whole sacred writings one single word that fairly admits of such a construction. The glory of man’s salvation is invariably ascribed to the free, the sovereign, the efficacious grace of God: but the condemnation of men is invariably charged upon their own wilful sins and obstinate impenitence. If, because we know not how to reconcile these things, men will controvert and deny them, we shall content ourselves with the answer which St. Paul himself made to all such cavillers and objectors; “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God [Note: Rom 9:19-20.] ?” And if neither the truth nor the authority of God will awe them into submission, we can only say with the fore-mentioned apostle, “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant [Note: 1Co 14:38.].” As for those, if such are to be found, who acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and take occasion from it to live in sin, we would warn them with all possible earnestness to cease from their fatal delusions. In comparison of such characters, the people who deny the sovereignty of God are innocent. We believe there are many persons in other respects excellent, who, from not being able to separate the idea of absolute reprobation from the doctrine of unconditional election, are led to reject both together: but what excellence can he have, who “turns the very grace of God into licentiousness,” and “continues in sin that grace may abound?” A man that can justify such a procedure, is beyond the reach of argument: we must leave him, as St. Paul does, with that awful warning, “His damnation is just [Note: Rom 3:8.].”]
[To one who feels his utter unworthiness of mercy, we know not any richer source of encouragement than the sovereignty of God. For, if he may dispense his blessings to whomsoever he will, then the very chief of sinners has no need to despair: the person who is most remote from having in himself any ground to expect the birthright, may be made a monument of God’s grace; while the person who by nature seems to have had fairer prospects, may be left, like the rich youth, to perish in his iniquities. The obstacles which appear to stand in the way of his acceptance may even be turned into grounds of hope; because the more unworthy lie feels himself to be, the more he may hope that God will glorify the riches of his grace in shewing mercy towards him. We do not mean that any person should rush into wickedness in order to increase his prospects of salvation; for, abstractedly considered, the more sinful any man is, the greater prospect there is of his perishing for ever: we only mean to say, that, in the view of God’s sovereignty, that which would otherwise have been a ground of despondency, may be turned into a ground of hope. Let the subject then be thus improved: and while some dispute against it, and others abuse it, let us take occasion from it to make our supplication to God, saying with David, “Be merciful unto my sin, for it is great!”]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.