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deter him from taking such a step, even had his religious principles not revolted from it-One course was, however, open to Isaac. He knew that God is a hearer of prayer, and that with Him all things are possible. He knew also that God would have his people seek his face, and in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make their requests known unto Him : hence to God he betook himself, and intreated Him for his wife, because she was barren. Doubtless, the prayer of the patriarch was the prayer of faith. He would put the Lord in remembrance of his promise to multiply his seed—he would acknowledge that the Lord's time is the best time, and that he was prepared to acquiesce in his decision: yet he would humbly say, “If it be not at variance with thy will, hear and answer my
suit." was nothing improper in the subject matter of Isaac's prayer; for children, and the fruit of the womb are a heritage and gift that cometh of the Lord,” and which may, therefore, be sought from Him. 'Tis true, the gift may cost the petitioner dear, as in the case of Rachael, who said, not unto God, but unto man, “ Give me children or I die.” 'Tis true, likewise, that children may prove a blessing, or a curse,—as arrows in the hand of a giant, or as a sword to pierce the soul of the parent that gave them birth. Nevertheless, the person whose heart's desire is, that the children for whom he prays may be the Lord's, and faithfully serve Him, does not, in asking for them, prefer an improper petition. This seems clear from the instance we are now considering; for Isaac's prayer was heard ; and in due season, Rebekah gave birth to twins, who were named, Esau and Jacob.
Prior to the birth of these children, circumstances led Rebekah to inquire of the Lord respecting her state, who was pleased to answer by delivering to her a remarkable prediction respecting the future fortunes of her expected offspring,--a prediction which intimated, that they
had struggled in the womb, so they and their posterity would, in after times, contend for the pre-eminence; and that the elder, contrary to the order of nature, should serve the younger. We are not told that Rebekah communicated this prediction to her husband; but it is very likely that she did. But be this as it may, she herself treasured it
up in her heart, and seems to have allowed it unduly to influence her conduct at a subsequent period. This was wrong. Her duty as a parent required her to act with strict impartiality to her children, to train them up carefully in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to leave the Almighty to bring about the accomplishment of his declared purpose in that way which seemed best to his godly wisdom.
Esau's habits of life when he attained to man's estate, would have pointed him out as the one most likely to obtain the pre-eminence; for he was a cunning hunter,
-a man of the field; and therefore better fitted for deeds of daring, than his brother Jacob, who loved quiet, and embraced a pastoral life. The Spirit of God, however, teaches us that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; and hence, though nature pointed out Esau as the superior, grace prevailed ; and the elder ultimately served the younger. The Christian may, indeed, be sure that the counsel of God, whether it refers to the believer individually, or to the church collectively, will ever stand; for although he may not see the wheels revolving within wheels,-though he may not see how the Lord over-rules all events, and makes them concur in bringing about his own purpose,—though he may merely see the obstacles which stand in the way of its accomplishment, yet in due season these obstacles will all be broken, as without hand, and God's determinate counsel performed.
Isaac being a child of God, and, as we are taught in Hebrews xi., a possessor of that precious faith which is
“ the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," no doubt, sought, like Abraham, to teach his children and his household the way of the Lord. He seems, however, to have been of an easy temper, and more disposed to say to his children when they did evil, like aged Eli, “Why do ye these things, my sons ?” than to restrain them. He was little fitted, therefore, to contend with an impetuous youth, like Esau, who required to be restrained by the strong arm of discipline, as well as to be instructed in the ways of the Lord. I do not mean to say that discipline can change nature. No: discipline can no more change man's nature, than training or pruning can change the nature of an ungrafted tree. Grace must come in aid of discipline, ere those who are by nature born in sin and conceived in iniquity,—those who bring into the world with them a nature “very far gone from original righteousness, and of itself, inclined to that which is evil," can be brought to hate evil, and choose good.
Esau does not appear to have been a child of grace. The language of the Holy Spirit respecting him is very strong: “ Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” And though I would not go so far as to say, that this passage distinctly affirms the election of Jacob, and the rejection of Esau, yet it does seem to intimate that Jacob was a child of grace, whilst Esau remained a child of wrath. The words of my text seem to affirm the latter; for Esau is there designated a fornicator, and a profane person.
Sacred history does not mention the transaction which justified the application of the word “fornicator,” to Esau, unless it be his multiplication of wives. For this proceeding, he had, indeed, the example of his grandfather, Abraham. Nevertheless, since God made the human race at the beginning, male and female, and joined them together in marriage; and since He had never in any way sanctioned polygamy, the example of a good, but fallible man, could not change the nature of polygamy, or make it otherwise than fornication.
The Apostle justifies the application of the epithet, “profane," to Esau, by adducing a specific instance of profaneness on his part, namely, his selling his birthright for a single meal. This incident is succinctly related by Moses in the book of Genesis. Esau, returning on one occasion from hunting, faint from hunger and fatigue, at the very moment that his brother Jacob was preparing some savoury pottage, naturally longed to partake of it. Brotherly love and affection should have led Jacob to minister to the wants of his fainting brother without any demur; but having, in all probability, been acquainted by his mother with God's declaration, “the elder shall serve the younger,” he seems to have been unduly anxious to obtain the birthright, which, he judged, would secure to him the pre-eminence. Hence, knowing the sensual disposition of Esau, he resolved to take advantage of his present necessity, and to secure the coveted privilege. Instead, therefore, of immediately sharing his meal with his fainting brother, he said, “Sell me this day thy birthright;" and when Esau professed a willingness to do so, he sought to make assurance doubly sure by exacting from him an oath, saying, “Swear unto me this day.” And Esau sware unto him, and sold his birth right unto Jacob. But what is there in this transaction which stamps upon Esau the brand of profaneness? Had the birthright involved nothing more, at least in the estimation of Isaac's children, than precedency, and a double portion of their father's temporal good, Esau's bargain, though a foolish and improvident one, could scarcely have been pronounced profane. This, however, was not the case. It was generally supposed that the prophetic blessing, and consequently the promise of a seed in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, went with the birthright; and hence a contempt of the birthright, amounted to a contempt of the blessing, and of all the spiritual advantages resulting from it; and was, therefore, very justly considered by the Apostle a proof of profaneness. It may be alleged, in extenuation of Esau's conduct, that he did not contemplate any renunciation of the blessing when he bartered his birthright for a mess of pottage. This allegation seems to be supported by his language at a subsequent period; for he said of Jacob, "He took away my birthright; and behold, now he hath taken away my blessing also.” Jacob, however, no doubt designed to obtain, not the birthright only, but all the privileges supposed to be connected with it; and though we cannot commend the means by which he sought to compass his heart's desire, for a good end will never hallow improper means, we cannot but commend his thirst after spiritual blessings, as strongly as we must condemn Esau's profane contempt of them.
Many years passed away after this compact was made and ratified with an oath-years marked by little that was deemed worthy of notice by the sacred historian, if we except Esau's marriage. In this, as in every other instance, Esau manifested his indifference to the mind and will of God. Abraham, to avoid matching his son Isaac with the daughters of the land, who knew not the Lord, and who belonged to nations whose measure of iniquity was well nigh full, and which were already marked out for destruction, had sent into Chaldea, unto his own kindred, for a suitable wife for him. Nor was Isaac more desirous to see his first-born joined unto a heathen. Esau, however, was a sensual man; and being indifferent to true religion himself, he sought not religion in the partners whom he selected, but took his wives of the daughters of Canaan, which thing was a great grief unto Isaac and to Rebekah.