He Has Been Chosen!

I had a great conversation recently with someone about God’s choices, as what we hear/read in Romans 9. 11 – 13. There, in discussing the birth of Jacob and Esau to Rebekah, Paul writes:

Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.’

As we learn, Jacob is born, and he is an ambitious fellow who has no problem being conniving and short-sighted, among other things. The question is, would you want him as a brother? A son in law? A son? A husband? A friend? He steals his older brother’s birthright and for this, Esau is exiled by Isaac.

As we addressed in one of the earlier essays, “It’s Good to See You, Bro,” Jacob is of course petrified to learn (as he is finally granted release by Laban to go home) that his older brother Esau is literally over the hills coming straight at him with an army of four hundred plus men. To repeat, Jacob was the reason for why Esau was exiled from his father’s house and became a wanderer, having to fend for himself. But, as we see, God was good to him and to Jacob — well, Jacob struggled his whole life.

So, what benefit did having been chosen bring Jacob? Is chosen-ness a de-facto benefit in Scripture?

Looking at the Bible, it looks more the case that the authors of the Bible are taking a very real human fascination with chosen-ness, which exists in every culture and tribal society — and dynamiting it from within. It’s another construct humans create — in politics, religion, sports (e.g. MVP), you name it.

But behind this outside is an inside that tells a different story. Being chosen is not a priori a safety net, but more the case that God may very well make of you an example.

So in Romans 9, Paul is not really talking about Jacob being preferred over Esau. And he is not creating a “Scriptural approach to election and chosen-ness.” All he is doing is highlighting that, whether or not Israel (another chosen group) followed the Law is irrelevant, because God can even use human failures for His purposes.

It’s Good to See You, Bro

Suppose you have an older brother. It is just the two of you and your parents. Your brother, as the oldest, is granted certain privileges by society, which you resent, considering you and he are twins and it was just chance that he was born first.

Opportunity presents itself, and you have a once in a lifetime chance to harm your brother. The attention and privileges you crave can now be yours — in abundance! So you frame your brother and eventually have him exiled from the home. He is now homeless, without family, left to fend for himself in this cruel world.

But because you are a schemer, life catches up with you as God has His ways. Your life hasn’t gone as you had hoped; you get stuck in your father in law’s home as, essentially, an indentured servant, with two wives, and broken dreams. You do not have what you planned schemed for, but at least you reach the point when you are free to go home. On the way back you have time to sort things out. As you leave to go back to your ancestral home, with your wives and servants, you hear something — your learn that your brother is over the hills, coming straight at you with an army of over four hundred men!

What would be going through your mind at this point?

This is, of course, an outline of what happened to Jacob, who, jealous of his older brother Esau, connived to have him banished, only to meet him along the way with his army.

People reading the Bible do so going in thinking that Jacob is a hero. After all, he is a patriarch, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and sort of the two half tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh). Because of our study notes version of the Bible, this is what we get. If he’s a hero, then he’s always in the right, correct?

But there are no heroes in the Bible.

These blinders cause us to miss the actual message, because when Esau sees Jacob again, he (Esau) is overwhelmed with emotion, kisses his brother, and offers to walk with him back home (Genesis 33. 1-17)!

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept (Genesis 33.4).

Sadly, still not trusting, Jacob declines the offer of protection and goes his own way.

This story is about many things. It is about forgiveness; it is about compassion; it is about honor; it is about sharing the Earth.

But is is also so very importantly about not fearing the other. That other may surprise you at the end of the day, mostly because it just might be they who end up doing the will of God, and not you!

Whose Story Is It?

One of the recurring themes of the Scriptures is a tension between what is called the will of man and the will of God. The former is also called the will according to the flesh.

There are many examples of what this entails in the Bible, from the Garden narrative to the decision of Sarah for Abraham to father a child through Hagar. God promises Abraham, who has no heir, that he will be the father of many nations, so Sarah (who is advanced in age) concocts a plan to make him a father on her own terms. She encourages Abraham to father a child through her slave girl Hagar, and in this way, the human being would move God’s plan along (Genesis 16). A child named Ishmael is born.

But God fulfills His promise to Abraham according to His plan. Sarah gives birth to a boy named Isaac. He is a miracle child. The sad state of affairs is that out of jealousy Sarah later has Hagar and her (and Abraham’s biological) son Ishmael exiled, enacting horrible abuse towards other human beings who were actually part of the same household. While not the child of promise, Ishmael is still part of Abraham’s household. Now, he becomes homeless.

The will of man in Scripture is not just a case of willful disobedience; it is more along the lines of “I know better, so we’ll do it this way.” Or, “I know better than God,” “Here, Lord, let me help.”

We see these examples in the larger narrative of Scripture (e.g., Israel ends up in Egypt for over four hundred years because of Jacob’s willfulness), but this tension between God’s will and the human will in the Bible stories also happens directly between the text and us.

An example of this is Luke 1 and what happens to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist.

In the narrative, Zachariah encounters the angel Gabriel as he, Zachariah, is serving in the Temple. He is told by Gabriel that Elizabeth, who is Zachariah’s wife, will conceive and give birth to a son named John, and that this child will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v. 17).

However, because Zachariah doubted the angel’s words, Gabriel makes him mute until the time the child is to be born (v. 20). Considering Elizabeth’s age, the birth of John is a miracle.

It is here where questions should arise. After all, why mute Zachariah when a miracle has happened? If it were up to us, would we not have announced this miracle for everyone to know?

We would have had the story go differently. If it were up to us. If it were up to us, Gabriel would have told Zachariah to announce the miracle, so people could believe. If it were up to us, sure, we would say, Zachariah might have made a mistake in not believing the angel, but he should have been given a pass. If it were up to us.

But it’s not our story. So it is not up to us.

One of the hardest aspects of reading or hearing the Scriptures is that we say, “well, I would have done it differently.” Or, we contort the actual story to fit a prearranged box of truths we have set up to read the Bible, kind of like having Bible Cliff Notes*. Because we are not reading it with an open mind, we miss the tension in the stories.

*These are books that summarize the major points or plot sequences, themes, and character traits found in a work of literature. If you buy and read the Cliff Notes, you can, in theory, write a serious sounding paper or test answer — without ever having read Steinbeck or struggled with The Grapes of Wrath. But the Cliff Notes miss the emotive aspect of a story.

In the same way, to the question as to why Gabriel muted Zachariah, it is because, for Luke, this is the will of God. It is His story, and this is how He chooses to tell it. Not everything that is of God needs to be publicized.

Instead of just a retelling of the birth of the Baptist, this event now becomes an opportunity for us to reflect on how our efforts as humans may not always advance the Kingdom.