The life of Jacob is one of many stories in the Old testament which shows God being more interested in forming the character of His elect than handing out a series of blessings and punishments. To fully understand Gods grace to Jacob, one would need to observe how God deals with him over the course of his life: any one chapter of the story would be insufficient.
Jacob was called and chosen by God before his birth. God planned to reveal Himself to Jacob in a way Esau, by all accounts, wouldn’t be privileged to experience. Why Jacob? Certainly not because he comes out of the womb with superior moral fibre compared to his brother: Esau is violent and impulsive; Jacob is clever and deceitful; both are flawed and sinful.
The actualization of Jacob’s election over his brother is at best a morally ambiguous tale; at worst, a reproach on God’s character. The blessing of Isaac is obtained by deceit and God honours it regardless. Genesis records no statement condemning Jacob and Rebecca’s scheming. God actually uses Jacob’s sin to bring about the status prophesied during Rebecca’s pregnancy. This goes against much of our theology of morality. Could it be that God is actually okay with our sin so long as we use it to bring about His will?
What if we look at this as one story in the larger narrative of Jacob’s life. In the next chapter, Jacob meets God. If any insight can be gained by Jacob’s reaction, I would guess this was Jacobs first encounter with the God of Abraham and Isaac. Or maybe it wasn’t the first, but it was certainly a turning point for the young deceiver. He expresses dependence on God and builds an altar of worship.
This brings to light two perspectives on blessing-gate. First, it becomes evident that God was working in Jacob’s life, even through his sin, before he came to worship God. Instead of a reproach on God’s character, it becomes a witness to God’s sovereignty. C.S Lewis speaks of two ways in which we serve God’s purposes, in which “the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool.” (1). Nothing is outside of the realm of His providence. Even before we voluntarily submitted to His Lordship, He skilfully worked the fruits of our rebellious free will in alignment with His glorious plan.
A second thing that comes to light is that after Jacob comes to know and worship God, God still allows him to bear the consequences of his past sin for a time. He is still exiled from his family and in fear of his brother. Even more, there’s an interesting exchange between Jacob and Laban when the two men meet.
“As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and bought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.”
Not sure what Jacob told Laban, but it made Laban identify with him. Laban then proceeds to cheat Jacob into seven extra years of labour for the woman he loves. Would Laban have conned his nephew if he had seen him as an honest victim? It’s difficult to say. Yet, it’s very clear that God doesn’t spare him from being duped.
God was working in Jacob’s life even before Jacob knew Him and He allows Jacob to feel the consequence of his actions even after Jacob begins to walk with Him. Why?
Because it was good for Jacob.
Because He loved Jacob
Jacob prospers in the house of Laban and grows fruitful. Twenty years later, he leaves with two wives (not really a good thing from what I hear), 11 children, and a wealth of property. More than that, however, he leaves a changed man. He remains clever, yet maintains integrity in his contract with Laban. On the road, he wrestles with God, receives a new name, and the promise of his forefathers is given to him. Jacob’s story is full of mistakes, bad parenting and unfortunate circumstances, yet honesty and walking with God mark his life through the end of Genesis.
The biblical narrative would have been much neater is God had simply punished Jacob gaining a blessing through deceit: if God had cancelled the blessing or at least made him re-earn it in a more honest manner. What we see instead, is God remaining faithful to his promise and taking Jacob through a sanctification process, even giving him a new name. He does this because of love.
I often wonder why God often seems to let my mistakes go, even when it takes me a while to repent. I’m so aware of some of the areas in which I fall short of His standard. I occasionally question why He wants to use me in some of the roles He’s placed me in. I can think of friends who would have a much better time in Uganda and probably be more effective in connecting with the culture. Why me? Why here?
I think He chose me because He loves me. I think He’s working, even through my sin and weakness to make me a more worthy object of His love.
His pace is often slow. Only after twenty years did Jacob shed his old name. God’s track record of success is pretty good though. He chooses, He calls, He molds and refines His elect. All we ever do is respond, imperfectly but inevitably. His love is that powerful.
(1) C.S Lewis, The Problem of Pain p. 73