Jacob have I loved, and Esau...

I would so rather work with the texts that follow this week's ... and they aren't next week's texts, so I get to lean into them just a little.

Jacob is afraid. It would seem that Esau, his brother, is in quite good company -- a company of 400 men. Esau, out in the world, without his birthright, has not done badly for himself. One might say, even, that God has not done badly by Esau, for all that we are tempted to remember the words spoken through the prophet Malachi: "I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau." For Esau, too, is blessed, and has married the daughters of his uncle Ishmael, a man who is likewise blessed by God. Esau's children are the reconciliation of two brothers, the sons of Abraham. And Esau, just like his father-in-law, receives good from God for all he has lost to his brother. And so Jacob will find, waiting for him, the goodness of God -- seen in the generous face of his brother, who has every earthly right to hate him, and no earthly reason to. But Jacob doesn't know this. And so he is afraid. He is afraid that his brother is coming to get him.

You see, God has also provided quite well for Jacob. But reading the story up to this point, we're tempted to say that Jacob has done quite well for himself, mostly at the expense of Laban. A contest of schemes and strategies. But the contest between these men and their households is also a contest between Jacob's God and his ancestral gods. (And obviously, someone hasn't read Malachi -- the takeaway here seems to be "I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Laban.") Jacob, the master strategist, knows how very insecure his world is. He took all that he has from one man; another man could take it all from him, even his life. That man, his brother, has a right by birth to stand exactly where Jacob stands. "There but for the grace of God..."

But it is precisely the grace of God that is at work here! And so, after sending away everything of value in his life, Jacob wrestles with his demons -- and he wrestles also with God. And besides a limp which will stay with him for the rest of his life, what he receives is something no man can take from him: a name and a blessing and an inheritance from God. A clean title: Israel. A future: a people to bear this title after him. A people to whom, as Paul says, "belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of Torah, the worship, and the promises; whose are the patriarchs, and from whom, in human terms, comes the Messiah" -- in order that God who is over all may be blessed eternally. Because these things did not come to Jacob through his striving and scheming, but as a blessing and the pure grace of God. The blessings of this grand history do not yet exist for Jacob, though we know them. But by the end of our scripture this morning, he has received them in promise, and he trusts in the God who will do all of this -- though he still fears his brother and what may come in the morning.

"Jacob have I loved, and Esau; Isaac, and also Ishmael." There is only one Israel, but all the world belongs to God, and the Lord of creation tends it and cares for it. And Paul will go on to cite Malachi, and show that Ishmael and Esau were excluded from the promise, that God chose Isaac's trunk of the family tree, and then Jacob's -- but that this same God fully intends to graft into that tree every shoot that has been sundered from it, by gift of pure grace in Jesus Christ. Because this is what this God does: God is a God of reconciliation, a God who redeems and conserves, and wastes nothing he has made. The part is chosen and sanctified for the sake of the whole, that all the world may return to God.

Because, you see, it's not about what you have done. Not the good you have done, but also not the bad. The grace of God and the love of God come to you. It's not about what you've achieved, or how you got it -- or what you don't have, and can't possibly buy. The grace of God and the love of God come to you. It's not about who loves you, or who you love, and it's not about who hates you, or who you hate. The grace of God and the love of God are for each and every one of you. Life gets ugly. And you do what you do to survive, and sometimes even thrive in the situations in which you find yourself. And you may have good relationships with your family, and the people around you -- or you may not, just as often. But the blessings of God are at work in each and every one of you, redeemed and adopted children of the same heavenly Father, in all your doubts and fears and insecurities. God has given us a name, in Jesus Christ. A clean title. We are people who bear that title, who have been called and freed in his name. We were not born to this blessing, but as we receive the grace of God, broken and shed for us, it begins to shine in our faces as we go forth into the world. Just as God showed love for Isaac and also Ishmael, for Esau and also Jacob, God shows his love for you. God holds you up and helps you stand. It is a promise that can never be taken from you. On that, you can rely.



  1. I am a seminarian in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and I greatly appreciated your comments!

    Brach Jennings
    Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary
    Berkeley, CA

  2. Thanks, Brach! Blessings on your time at PLTS.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts