Genesis 27:36-37 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”
For those of us who believe in the absolute sovereignty of God – and it is hard to imagine how God could be God if he wasn’t absolutely sovereign in all the affairs of his world – there are many acts of his providence that we see around us all the time that we find very hard to reconcile with what he reveals in his Word about his character of love, mercy and justice. The way he deals with the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau is one such example.
It was by deceitful manipulation and trickery that Jacob stole both the birthright and the paternal blessing from his slightly older brother. And God not only condoned this, he even ordained it! A millennium and a half later he would say through his prophet: “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, …” (Malachi 1:2b-3a), and another 500 years after that, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul would comment: “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – [Rebekah] was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Romans 9:11-13).
Hard as all this is for us to process from our limited perspective, it is part of God’s inspired propositional revelation, and while we might struggle with its implications, we have no right to try and explain away its clear meaning. Paul helps us to come to grips with the essential lesson to be learned from God’s dealing with Jacob and Esau: ‘that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls’. We are saved, rescued from the consequences of our sinful, Jacob-like nature, not by any performed, perceived or even potential good in us, but by God’s mercy and grace alone.
Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what we do deserve. Jacob was certainly the recipient of grace and mercy, and it is the same for every one of us. A woman once said to Charles Spurgeon, “I cannot understand why God should say that he hated Esau.”, to which the preacher replied, “That is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob.”
And I must ask, “How could God love me?”
– Bruce Christian