I’ve been reading Genesis 25-33 about the life of Jacob. He is a very strange figure indeed, but I began to think about the events in his life from the perspective of grace.
Here is a guy who is chosen beforehand more clearly than just about anyone else in history by God for blessing. He is the example Paul uses to talk about predestination and the foreknowledge of God in Romans 9:9-18.
Yet here is a guy who seems to have grown up completely unaware of the word pronounced over him. Through deceit and manipulation and subterfuge he plays on Esau’s weakness to swindle him out of his inheritance (Gen 25:29-34). He also colludes with his mother to deceive his father to steal Esau’s blessing, leading Esau to such murderous anger that Jacob must flee (Gen 27).
So, Jacob has a history. He is a sinner. He is fleeing his brother’s wrath, which is richly deserved. Jacob is a usurping lying conniving swindling snake. He is a mama’s boy. He arrives at Bethel, wherever that is, where God appears to him in a dream with an amazing vision, which we know is a tremendous theophany of Christ and the grace that comes through Him. Read it now (Gen 28:10-22) and notice these things:
- God does not mention his sordid history or his guilt
- God does not chastise him for his reprehensible behavior
- God does not mention anything about his current predicament
- He makes a set of completely unconditional one-sided promises to him
Does any of this sound familiar? There are worlds of revelation in this first instance where Abraham is listed as his father, and not Isaac. Abraham is the one who believed in the one-way promise, and this is the kind of life God is seeking for Jacob. However, what we see is that most of this escapes Jacob, and instead he immediately interprets this revelation as a call to idolize the place.
Once Jacob lands himself in Paddan-Aram with Laban (Gen 29:1-30), we see that Jacob has conditioned himself to interpret life according to his shame. He must connive and work for his blessings. He does not contest with Laban to marry Rachel as he and Rachel desire, he works for her for 7 years. He does not contest with Laban when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead, because he himself is a trickster and he knows in his battered and horrid conscience that fate has decreed this turn of events. He has reaped deceit and trickery, and so he sows it. His conscience will not let him say, “I do not want to work 7 years for Rachel, I am blessed by God and I do not need your blessing to marry her.” He does not say 7 years later, “I agreed to work 7 years for Rachel, and now you will give her to me, because I will not bow to your deceit.” Since he is accustomed to the world working by deceit, and to the laws and customs applying despite their lack of justice, he submits to their decrees.
Now, quite apart from any expectation of grace or provision from God, Jacob and Laban conspire against each other for livestock (Gen 30:25-43). After 20 years of being roped in by his own slavery to what are obviously ridiculous decrees and agreements because of his own bad conscience from his history, he finally conspires to leave Laban to go back to Canaan. On the way, we encounter a very telling story (Gen 32:22-32). Jacob does not remember the one-way promise, he is bound and determined to grapple with fate. When God comes, he must wrestle, and even when He is ready to leave, Jacob will not rest, but persists to wrestle. He must work, and this work of wrestling with God disables him, but does not negate the one-way promise made 20 years before.
Now we see the root shame which Jacob fears, and which has governed him, finally come to confront him. How he fears the wrath of Esau his brother! (Gen 32:1-21) When the confrontation finally comes to the place which Jacob fears, it turns out to be nothing! In the end, all of Jacob’s conniving came to be powerless, but unexpected forgiveness towards him reigned anyway.
How often do we persist in interpreting the events in our lives by our sordid history instead of the gracious one-way promise of God? How often do we let needless ideas and pronouncements enslave us instead of believing the promise which God truly holds over us? Yet, despite all of this, God’s one-way promise remains true for us whether we remember it or live in light of it or not. Yet, how many needless entanglements and worthless vows enslave us for years while we might rest in the simplicity of believing and trusting God’s promise towards us?
Let us determine to pay much closer attention to the word which we have heard (Hebrews 2:1) and live in the light of God’s kindness and promise and grace, and refuse every entangling vow that is offered us. God will attend to our needs, and will overcome our faults to bring His promise to fruition in the end.