A Stolen Identity
Identity theft is a form of stealing someone's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else
by assuming that person's identity,
Having our identity stolen can be tragic.
We can have our identity stolen in a number of ways, including while swiping credit or debit cards
at the cash registers of reliable retailers.
Identity thieves use computer programs to infiltrate retail systems, and then steal bank-card numbers
when purchases are made.
According to one security expert, his company has discovered about 130 million unique malware programs
that hackers use to steal identities and that is up from just 1 million in 2007.
We are told that identity thieves look for specific pieces of information such as:
User names, passwords and PIN numbers.
Social Security numbers.
Phone and utility account numbers.
Bank and credit account numbers.
Employment and student identification numbers.
Driver's license and passport numbers.
Professional license numbers.
Insurance identification numbers.
College or university financial-aid form information.
We are also told that it is often impossible to locate the perpetrators of identity-related crimes,
which makes them among the most difficult cases to solve.
One lady, who will remain anonymous, received some surprising news from her accountant.
An identity thief had stolen her personal information, and filed a tax return in her name and claimed her refund.
Her accountant couldn't file her tax return, because someone had already filed a tax return
under her Social Security number.
She reported the fraud, and was told it would take at least six months to sort out the matter.
Meanwhile, she would have to wait to receive her $2,700 tax refund.
This lady is among thousands of taxpayers victimized by a fast-growing form of identity theft
in which stolen personal information is used to file fraudulent tax returns.
And although fraudulent tax returns are popular with criminals right now, they only represent
the tip of the iceberg.
Identify theft, defined as the successful or attempted misuse of credit-card, bank-account
or other personal information to commit fraud, is expected to surpass traditional theft
as the leading form of property crime.
Security analysts say everyone should prepare to become a victim at some point.
Identity theft is not new.
In the Bible we see a serious case of identity theft involving twin boys -- Esau and Jacob.
We read of it in Genesis beginning with Genesis 25:27 and following:
"When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field,
while Jacob was a quiet man living in tents.
Isaac loved Esau because he was fond of game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the fields, he was famished.
And Esau said to Jacob, 'Let me eat some of that red stuff for I am famished.'
Therefore he was called Edom.
Jacob said, 'Well first, sell me your birthright.'
And Esau said, 'I'm about to die of what use is a birthright to me?'
Jacob said, 'Swear to me first.'
So, he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau bread and Lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way.
Thus, Esau despised his birthright.'"
Then the story continues Genesis 27: 30 - 41.
Genesis 27:30, "As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out
from the presence of his father Isaac, his brother Esau came in from his hunting.
He also prepared savory food and brought it to his father, and he said to his father,
'Let my father sit up and eat of his son's game so that you may bless me.'
His father Isaac said to him, 'But, who are you?'
He answered, 'I'm your first born son, Esau.'
And then Isaac trembled violently and said, 'Well, who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me;
and I ate it all before you came and I blessed him.
Yes, and blessed he shall be.'
When Esau heard his father's words he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry
and said to his father, 'Bless me, me also father.'
But he said, 'Your brother came deceitfully and he's taken away your blessing.'
Esau said, 'Is he not rightly named, Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times.
He took away my birthright and look now he's taken away my blessing.'
Then he said, 'Have you not reserved a blessing for me?'
Isaac answered Esau, 'I've already made him your Lord.
And I have given him all his brothers as servants and with grain and wine I have sustained him;
what then can I do for you, my son?'
Esau said to his father, 'Have you only one blessing, father, bless me, me also father.'
Esau lifted up his voice and he wept.
Then his father, Isaac, answered him, 'Behold thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth,
and of the dew of heaven on high.
By your sword you shall live and you shall serve your brother.
But when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.'
Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him
and Esau said to himself, the days of mourning for my father are approaching
and then I will kill my brother Jacob."
This is a serious story of identity theft.
In this story savory stews and hairy goatskins are used.
A tricky and shrewd Jacob stole the identity and the fortune of his elder twin brother, Esau.
Jacob cheated Esau out of his rights and privileges as Isaac's firstborn son.
Ancient customs of that day entitled the firstborn male to a special "birthright" and "blessing"
from the family patriarch.
This meant receiving the largest inheritance and assuming headship of the family after the father's death.
And Jacob, wanted all of it.
He was only seconds behind Esau emerging from his mother's womb.
We learn that he came out grabbing Esau's heel, and by hook or crook he had been trying
to get Esau's blessing ever since.
When Esau finally realized what Jacob had done and of all that he had lost, he was devastated.
Identity theft or loss is a very personal and traumatic experience, it can leave a terrible, terrible scar.
That wound was deep for Esau.
There was no way to cancel the initial birthright and issuing a new one.
The deal was done.
Esau's brother had permanently supplanted him as heir-apparent to his father's wealth and authority.
We can see Esau's fault in all of this.
He does bear responsibility, especially in that first scene where he forfeits his birthright.
He doesn't just accidentally give his "blessing" away -- he knows exactly what he's doing.
Esau was an outdoorsman, a skilled hunter, a man's man his father's pride and joy;
whereas Jacob was more of an indoor type, a homebody -- some would say a mama's boy.
Jacob liked to cook and apparently made a lentil stew in some kind of thick red broth.
And one day while he's whipping up a batch, Esau comes in from the field worn out and starving,
and he asks for some of this stew but not very articulately.
A literal translation would be something like: "I beg you to let me gulp down this delicious red stew
because I am so tired and hungry."
Esau is powerfully attracted to this "red-red" stew.
He would give anything for it including his birthright.
And Jacob knows this.
He initiates the bargain my red, red stew for your birthright.
And Esau takes the bait "I'm dying here of hunger; who cares about a lousy birthright; you can't eat that!"
And so he sells his birthright for a measly "mess of pottage."
It was not a good trade by any standard.
Esau has no sense of proportion here.
He's not going to die if he doesn't eat something in the next five seconds.
A moment's gratification is not worth a lifetime of blessing.
A really dumb deal.
That's easy to see in hindsight.
But there's really something primal about the human condition revealed here.
Our most basic desires for food, for love, for safety (and other things) are essential to life
and enormously satisfying when met properly, and proportionately.
But when our good and necessary God-given desires get out of balance,
they can turn sour and become self-destructive.
Remember that Isaac knows his days are short: he's old, he's blind, he's weak and frail
and it's time to give a final "blessing" or last will and testament.
Now Isaac, who still favors Esau, tells him to go hunt for some choice game,
prepare it in that "savory" way that Isaac loves (there's food again), bring it to him,
and receive the "blessing."
And so Esau goes out to grant his father's final wish.
But in the meantime, mother Rebekah overhears all this, and she and Jacob "cook up"
an alternative plan literally.
They prepare Isaac's favorite dish and put Jacob in Esau's clothes and strips of goatskin
so that he would be hairy and smelly like Esau.
The only thing they don't have covered is Esau's voice, they don't know what to do with that.
But Issac's hearing is not good, so they hope to get away with it.
And it works!
Even though Isaac does sense that there's a little bit of a difference in the voice,
he doesn't worry too much about that, and so he gives his blessing to Jacob,
all the while he is thinking that it is Esau.
But just as Jacob leaves his father's presence; the real Esau comes in from hunting,
and goes through the whole routine.
He prepares the food, and brings it to Isaac, expecting to be blessed.
It doesn't take Isaac and Esau long to decide that Jacob had fooled him.
Isaac "trembles violently," but sticks with the blessing he gave.
Jacob may have tricked him, but Isaac will not go back on his word.
Now see how does Esau responds.
Well, whereas before he could care less about his birthright, this loss rips him apart;
and so he pleads in anguish: "Father, have you only one blessing?
Don't you have something for me?
Isn't there something left, father, bless me, me also"
There's a pathetic tinge here almost a childlike whining, as he begs as a grown man,
for his father's approval.
Well, Isaac does have something left for Esau, though it's not exactly a "blessing."
It's more a warning, a warning of a life of hardship and violence, struggling to break loose
from Jacob's domination.
Well, it doesn't take very long for that rage to well up within Esau.
Anguished pleading gives way to angry plotting.
He determined that after he mourns his father's death, he is going to hunt Jacob down, and kill him.
What could we say to Esau?
What could we say to anyone who has lost his identity (or hers) for whatever reasons?
What would God say and do about this concerning us?
We don't have to guess the answer to that question!
Jesus makes it so clear that we can know -- we don't have to guess.
When we come to Jesus, and receive Jesus as our Saviour, our identity is established forever.
In John 10:27-29 Jesus said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish,
and no one shall pluck them out of my hand.
My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all;
and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (ASV)
I have quoted that verse to many adults and many children.
I have asked if there is any one stronger than God, and there is no hesitation.
The answer is always "No, there is no one stronger than God."
And we know that God always keeps His word.
If we had to hold on -- we couldn't.
But look again at those words -- God does the holding, and no one -- nothing can take us
out of the hand of God.
And Paul says that our identity in Christ is settled for all eternity.
In Romans 8:38-39 Paul says, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels,
nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
As Christians, we have a spiritual birthright that no one can steal from us.
Praise the Lord!
"I know not why God's wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.
But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I've committed
Unto Him against that day."
By Daniel W. Whittle, 1883
Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White