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.

Hold it There

In one of the “let’s get out of here” events of the Bible, Jacob finds a means and time to escape from his father in law Laban, who, being unimpressed with the ambitious Jacob made him work for over twenty years for the privilege of being with his daughters Leah and Rachel.

In Genesis 31. 19 – 55 we have this escape, along with Laban catching up to Jacob and his (i.e., Laban’s) daughters, and the covenant that is made between father in law and son in law. A peace treaty is made, where Laban will not hold Jacob accountable for the past, and Jacob promises to not return to Laban’s lands. The forefather also promises to take care of Laban’s daughters and their children.

As we explained in the previous post, Arc of the Covenant, Jesus just does not exist “out there” in a world of ideas. Jesus was, is now, and will always be, according to the Scriptures. What this means is that Jesus could only be presented to us by the evangelists according to the language and words found in the Old Testament, or more accurately, the Law, the prophets, and the wisdom writings (including so called apocryphal included like Sirach, et al).

But if this is the case, then the parables of Jesus are not simply pulled from thin air. Jesus retells the Scriptures, or more correctly, “interprets” them to explain how the stewards had misunderstood them.

In Luke 15, we have a kind of similar event, told as a parable. I can imagine someone listening to the Prodigal Son and perhaps, just maybe, thinking — “Wait, I’ve heard before a speech like the one the older brother gives. Similar to it. Sounds a lot like the speech Jacob made to his father in law Laban in Genesis 31. 36 – 42.”

In both Genesis 31 and Luke 15, we have speeches where a son (or son in law) makes the case, to put it bluntly, “I’ve worked my life off for you, and you don’t appreciate it at all!” In Genesis, it is Jacob; in Luke, it is the older bother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. “Listen!” says the older sibling to his father, “for all these years I have been working like a slave for you.”

Was not Jesus alluding to Jacob, and his retort to Laban? Is not the older brother’s speech similar to that of Jacob’s?

The interesting aspect of all this is that Laban is indeed, a very difficult man. He is relentless in his oversight of Jacob, and perhaps as people we, too, may feel sympathy with Jacob (though we recognize him as a schemer).

If Luke 15 hearkens back to Genesis 31, then we can safely assume that the father in the prodigal son was also a very difficult man with expectations. Which, of course, would make his running to the younger son all the more dramatic. His compassion is unanticipated (much like Laban’s offer to make a covenant), as well as his response to the older brother. We do not expect this from him. Not disputing anything the older brother says, the father simply responds that a celebration is warranted, because the older brother’s younger brother “was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (15. 32).

In the covenant between Laban and Jacob, the promise was sealed with food. We are told they ate together, that bread was broken, and that they danced all night (v. 54). In Luke 15, there is also a meal and dancing.

Jesus takes a well-known story from Genesis and makes of everyone listening to it a Jacob. If Jacob, the forefather Israel, could make peace and eat to celebrate the covenant, then what is your excuse?

Not only Jesus, but also the parables, are according to the Scriptures.

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!