Once in a while God does something that makes little to no sense to me. Like the time he made the sun stand up for a couple days back in the Old Testament, or the fact that Alaska has twenty-one days straight of sun every year. Or how about the time when God made an axe-head float so that Elisha could save some time looking in a creek for a large metallic object. Or what about the fact that he causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust? Come to think of it, there really is not much that God does that makes sense to me.
Probably the most strange thing to me in all the bible is the fact that he chose Jacob over Esau. Here is a bizarre choice that not a single one of us would find ourselves making. Jacob is the poster child for what my pastor/mentor/friend Tal says, God did not save you because he has good taste.
Now, as a twin myself, I find it worth pointing out that most people view brothers who are born at the same time as one person. My dad had a friend who for years had assumed his son was named “JayandCasey”, which I admit, is a bit unusual, but I think you get my point.
The real problem with the fact that God chose Jacob and not Esau lies in the fact that Jacob really was a jerk. Consider all the awful things Jacob, the younger twin, perpetrated on his big brother (and, yes, for you non-twins out there, it does make a difference who was born first, as strange as that may seem).
- Jacob made his brother sell him his birthright for a bowl of soup (I can’t believe my bible has the title “Esau sells his birthright” for this story- it should read: Jacob holds his brother’s inheritance hostage for a #$@% bowl of soup)
- Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance and blessing (No, this is not the same story, he stole his brother’s inheritance two times!!!)
- Jacob bribed his brother with his own family (Ok, so Jacob had run for his life after stealing Esau’s blessing and settled down with a family of his own. When their paths finally cross, Jacob is not man enough to go out and face him. He sends his wives and twelve children ahead of him- please, oh please don’t kill me- here, kill my children, we’ll be even then!!!
- Oh yeah, and this one was after God himself had met with, and personally wrestled Jacob all night.
Seriously, have you ever seen such a weasel? Jacob’s name actually means “liar” but that seems like the understatement of the century. He lied to his brother, his father-in-law, and his father. Later on in the story, in an un-Esau-related moment, Jacob’s embarrassing favoritism of his second-youngest son, Joseph, led directly to four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. “Jacob the Liar”. That’s like “Michael Jordan the Basketball Player”, “Tiger Woods the Golfer”, “Bill Gates the Wealthy Man”.
On the flip-side, what did Esau do? He had it in his power the whole time to wipe Jacob off the face of the earth. Jacob was a momma’s boy and Esau was a country-boy that would put Hank Williams Jr. to shame. Jacob’s mom favored him because he could cook up a mean lintel soup; Esau’s dad favored him because he was a real man.
And how did Esau respond to Jacob’s lifetime of manipulation, corrosion, and lies? He ran to his brother, embraced him, and kissed him at seeing him once again. You can almost see Esau as the real forerunner to the Father of the Prodigal Son. Almost.
You see, his actions were consistently flawless. He does all the things a forgiving man is supposed to do over and over again. He does all the things a good, upright, honest God-fearing man should do and yet he is passed over by God.
Let us up the ante to where the Apostle Paul did so long ago, God hated Esau.
As many times as I have read about Jacob and Esau, I still cannot believe that this is the conclusion to the matter. It almost seems as if God himself would be moved to respect and appreciation for a man who does all the right things. And once again God makes little to no sense to us.
God has long been in the business of loving the unlovable and passing over the good, decent, and acceptable. He was in no way surprised that Jacob would be a jerk and Esau would be a good fella. He chose Jacob and loved him before he made the world and started spinning it on its axis. Likewise, he decided he would pass over Esau, leaving him to his respectable and good-natured self.
At the end of the day, Esau never really believed he needed God. His own goodness is what kept him from calling upon the Lord, and stuck in a cycle of self-congratulation, Esau ended up in isolation and separation from God. Far from being on his side, God was against Esau
And you know what else? He is against Esau and his descendents still. What could James, the brother of Jesus, mean when he said God opposes the proud? God does not want us to be respectable. He wants us to be humble.
In the end, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The change that came over Jacob was that God he had contended with God and God had won. The one who struggled with God, who lied to everybody, who was so flawed in every single way, had been won over by God.
And the Lord is still in this business, of loving the unlovable. He wants the real, great, and desperate sinners. Jesus himself is the one who took on the sins, the shortcomings, the rebellions, and the overall misery of his people. Martin Luther wrote:
The righteousness of Christ becomes his who believes on him; and the sin of him who believes on him because that of Christ.
This is why Jesus is not ashamed to call all us Jacobs his own brother. He loves the most flawed. He loves the ones who have made a habit of deceit. He loves addicts. If you are very, very flawed, you are very, very loved.
Consider Karl Barth’s words when you are afraid that God will cast you off because of your disobedience:
In Jesus Christ as the origin and the end of all his ways God confronts man with nothing but his goodness.
That is goodness for you. If you can be as bad as Jacob.