Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Costly Choice

“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:21-23)

“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 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—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)

In this saga, Isaac was obviously in favor of Esau even though God already told Rebekah that Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected. Isaac chose to bless Esau when he told Esau to prepare tasty food before the blessing. According to the belief in the ancient time, the firstborn will receive the inheritance of the father, just like Isaac received Abraham’s estate. Isaac saw Esau as having the right to the inheritance. Favoritism plays trick in this matter. Isaac did not know that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob already (Genesis 25:29-34). Only after Isaac blessed Jacob, Esau revealed that Jacob took his birthright (Genesis 27:36). Had Isaac not favor Esau over Jacob, Isaac would have obeyed the Lord by blessing Jacob and spared both of them the grief that they had to endure later on. But Isaac made a costly choice by continuing to favor Esau, even though Esau himself did not value his birthright.

We don’t know what would happen if Jacob did not take Esau’s birthright and if Rebekah and Jacob did not conspire to deceive Isaac in order to steal the blessings from Esau. We know that Rebekah and Jacob should not have deceived Isaac for whatever reason. Rebekah did make a costly choice as well when she told Jacob to follow her plan. Esau made a costly choice as well when he sold his birthright over a bowl of stew. By following his mother’s plan, Jacob made a costly choice. Rebekah never saw Jacob anymore after he left for Laban’s house. Jacob never again saw his parents after he left and he was stuck with a disgraceful title “deceiver.” Esau, obviously, lost the blessing he was entitled to had he not sold his birthright. Isaac caused all the drama due to his stubbornness favoring Esau over Jacob.

Despite all the deceptions and pains caused, one thing in this story strikes me. Jacob was always in pursuit of Isaac’s blessing. The blessing that Isaac received from his father Abraham was the one that Jacob wanted. He might not know clearly what the blessing entails, but he knew that it was what he wanted. He knew that it’s bigger than wealth or health. I have no doubt that Rebekah told Jacob of God’s answer to Rebekah’s inquiry when she was pregnant with the twins, that the older will serve the younger. Such blessing from heaven was what Jacob after, and not some earthly riches. This blessing has something to do with God’s covenant and promise to Abraham and Isaac. So Jacob sought a way to gain the birthright, because he knew that only the firstborn would get the blessing. Jacob knew the value of the birthright, but “Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34).
When Jacob left for Paddan Aram following the advice of his mother to stay away from Esau, because Esau determined to kill Jacob, and the command of his father to marry only with people of his own kind, Jacob did not bring anything except the blessings of his father: “May God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendents the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham” (Genesis 28:3-4). The formula of “being fruitful and increase in numbers, fill the earth and take possession of the land” appears again in this blessing (cf. Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7; 17:6-8; 26:2-5, 24; Exodus 1:7). This shows that the original blessing and command of God given to mankind is to be continued in the line of Jacob. The blessing that Jacob was after was the very blessing that God intended for all people. So Jacob left without bringing any earthly wealth, he left with the heavenly blessing. Arriving in Laban’s house, Jacob had to work his way in order to live. On the other hand, Esau inherited all the wealth Abraham and Isaac had accumulated. This scenario was striking to me because our common paradigm sees blessings as always relate to material and earthly wealth. But Jacob did not chase such kind of blessing, but instead he was after something heavenly. He paid a huge price for it, but he chose the best part. In this case, Jacob followed God’s will that was revealed to Rebekah.

The second thing that strikes me is the fact that Jacob received the first blessing from Isaac by deception. Isaac asked Jacob: “Are you really my son Esau?” And Jacob answered: “I am” (Genesis 27:24). Isaac wanted to bless only Esau, but the blessing should have been given to Jacob. However, Jacob took the blessing by falsely testifying that he was Esau. So, in Isaac’s mind he was blessing Esau, but in reality he was blessing Jacob. In reality Jacob received the blessing, but he knew that Isaac was actually blessing Esau, not Jacob. There is confusion here, which needs to be fixed. The second blessing that Isaac gave to Jacob (Genesis 28:3-4) was given in full conscience of who received the blessing, which was Jacob not Esau. But the first blessing was still a mess and in need of repair. So when Jacob came back from Paddan Aram, God fixed it.

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with man and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.” (Genesis 32:24-29)

God reinstated Jacob. He asked his name and this time Jacob did not say “Esau,” he correctly answered that his name was Jacob. Then God changed his name to “Israel,” which means “he struggles with God.” Later on God confirmed the name Israel on Jacob: “After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel” (Genesis 35:9-10). The blessing was given to the right person with full consciousness. God fixed the confusion that happened when Isaac first blessed Jacob. God knew exactly that it was Jacob he blessed, not Esau. Jacob, with clear conscience, knew that he did not deceive anyone with a false name in order to get the blessing. He only needed to acknowledge who he was, Jacob. No more deception and no more stubborn favoritism. So God made it right.

This saga started with Rebekah being barren, and then Isaac prayed to God, then God gave them twins. God also made a costly choice. God chose Jacob over Esau, even before they could do anything, whether good or evil. So God’s election was not based on human merit, but on His freedom and sovereignty. All people have sinned, for through Adam all have sinned. God granted mercy to Jacob, but not Esau. God was preparing a remnant. A remnant of the Imago Dei. For through Jacob the true Image of God was born, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, God’s plan of salvation was fulfilled. His promise to Adam and Eve that the offspring of the woman will crush the head of the devil is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Now everyone who is in Jesus Christ will inherit the Kingdom of God. God’s costly choice sent his one and only Son to the world. The Son of God had to die on the cross. The Lamb of God was sent among wolves. But God’s costly choice is different than Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob’s. God’s choice is holy as it does not spring from sin. Even though God’s choice is costly, it is also worth it, for through the sacrifice of God’s Son, His elects are redeemed. As his redeemed people, we now may approach the holy throne of God. God dwells in us for eternity. Praise be to God forever and ever.

* The Business of Christian Education XXVI

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