Better By Far

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
    whoever guards his way preserves his life.
18 Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
    than to divide the spoil with the proud.
20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
    and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
21 The wise of heart is called discerning,
    and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
22 Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
    but the instruction of fools is folly.
23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
    and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
25 There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.
26 A worker’s appetite works for him;
    his mouth urges him on.
27 A worthless man plots evil,
    and his speech[d] is like a scorching fire.
28 A dishonest man spreads strife,
    and a whisperer separates close friends.
29 A man of violence entices his neighbor
    and leads him in a way that is not good.
30 Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
    he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.
32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
33 The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord..
– Proverbs 16:16-33 ESV

According to Solomon, the way of wisdom is simply better. While it can’t offer the guarantee of a trouble-free life, it can provide a far better outcome than the alternative. Just consider how many times Solomon pronounces the life of godliness as better than any other available option.

Better to have little, with godliness,
    than to be rich and dishonest.
Proverbs 16:8 NLT

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
    and good judgment than silver! – Proverbs 16:16 NLT

Better to live humbly with the poor
    than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:19 NLT

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 19:32 NLT

There are simply some things that are better than others. But who gets to choose? According to Solomon, God determines the value of one thing over another. He establishes the relative worth of one action as opposed to another. As is so often the case in the book of Proverbs, in this chapter, Solomon uses comparison to get his point across.

He contrasts poverty with wealth and deems it better to have little than much. But he inserts a qualifier because, by themselves, these two conditions are amoral. They are neither wrong nor right, just or unjust. The qualifier has to do with the spiritual condition of the individual in each case. It is better to have little AND be godly than to be rich AND dishonest. The presence of godliness in the life of the impoverished person automatically improves the condition of his life. Logic would suggest that an abundance of wealth can help to improve life, but Solomon states that wealth gained by dishonest means adds little to the life of its possessor. It brings no satisfaction. It can assuage the appetite, but not the soul.

Solomon goes on to say that it is actually better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver (Proverbs 16:16). As has been made perfectly clear throughout the book of Proverbs, wisdom and good judgment are only available from God and require determination and dedication to acquire. We must search for them like we would hidden treasure. They must be a priority and a passion in our lives. Their value is far beyond that of riches of any kind. To put it simply: They’re just better.

And as if to further drive home his original point, Solomon tells us it is “better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19 NLT). Now while the qualifier is less clear, his comparison of these two types of lifestyles goes beyond mere poverty and wealth. It has much more to do with the condition of the heart. One is humble while the other is proud. Our friendships should be based more on the condition of the heart than the quality of our lifestyle.  We should be more concerned about the spiritual state of the ones with whom we associate than their financial health.

Far too often, the prominent and financially well-off have earned their wealth through less-than-righteous means. They may have taken advantage of the less fortunate to line their own pockets. They could have cut corners or broken laws to obtain their ill-gotten gains. Solomon even describes their wealth as plunder, as if has been stolen. And he describes their attitude about it all as prideful and arrogant. Somehow, they have conned the system and improved their financial position at the expense of others, and they’re proud of their accomplishments. And Solomon suggests that a life of destitution lived among the righteous poor would be far better in the end.

Solomon provides two final comparisons wrapped up in one verse.

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 16:32 NLT

Once again, the emphasis is on character, specifically patience and self-control. While God is not mentioned in these verses, it is clearly He who establishes the basis of these comparative clauses. God values patience over power, and self-control over what appears to be success.

Man tends to judge by externals, while God looks at the heart. He examines the motives. We see that clearly in verse 2:

People may be pure in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their motives.

God values godliness, justice, wisdom, good judgment, humility, patience, and self-control because each of these things is given by Him. They are not man-made or self-manufactured. They are evidence of a life lived in dependence upon God. And therefore, they are better. The world puts little to no value on any of them. Instead, the world determines the value of anything based solely on results. It bases value on externals and determines worth based on effectiveness. But God judges by different criteria and, at the end of the day, He alone determines which is better and best.

Those who choose to leave God out of their lives will only supplant Him with a god or gods of their own choosing. If they refuse to worship and fear Him, they will only end up bowing down to something or someone else. In many cases, they become prideful, thinking of themselves as the masters of their own fate and the captains of their own souls. But Solomon provides a sobering warning to these self-adulating, narcissistic fools:

Pride goes before destruction,
    and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

The godless are really just God-less. They lack a healthy reverence for God Almighty and so they end up replacing Him with gods of their own making. In their pride and arrogance, they have chosen to pursue a path that leads away from God and far from the wisdom only He can provide. And while that path may lead to wealth, popularity, and power, it ultimately ends in death.

There is a path before each person that seems right,
    but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

And as they make their way, they leave a wake of destruction in their path.

Scoundrels create trouble;
    their words are a destructive blaze.

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
    gossip separates the best of friends.

Violent people mislead their companions,
    leading them down a harmful path.

With narrowed eyes, people plot evil;
   with a smirk, they plan their mischief. – Proverbs 16:30 NLT

They have determined to take their own path and to live their lives according to their own terms. Having left God out of the picture, they end up taking the credit for their own success. But little do they know that their fate is far from self-determined. Their autonomy is a sham. Their aspirations for self-rule and sovereignty are a pipe dream. Because, at the end of the day, it is still God who determines their fate.

The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

Life is not about chance. Our future is not based on fate, karma, or some form of kismet. Human beings tend to think that life is a game of chance where we roll the dice and take whatever comes our way. Some of us are fortunate enough to roll a lucky seven while others end up with snake eyes or craps. But Solomon reminds us, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33 NLT).

The wise recognize the hand of God in all of life. They understand that He alone is sovereign. They know that He determines the affairs of men and He dictates the rules by which we conduct our lives on this planet. And Solomon points out that those who seek to live according to God’s terms will be blessed.

Those who listen to instruction will prosper;
    those who trust the Lord will be joyful. – Proverbs 16:22 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Wisdom: The Can’t-Miss Investment Strategy

24 The crown of the wise is their wealth,
    but the folly of fools brings folly.
25 A truthful witness saves lives,
    but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.
26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
    and his children will have a refuge.
27 The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
    that one may turn away from the snares of death.
28 In a multitude of people is the glory of a king,
    but without people a prince is ruined.
29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
    but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
30 A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
    but envy makes the bones rot.
31 Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
    but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
32 The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing,
    but the righteous finds refuge in his death.
33 Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding,
    but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.
34 Righteousness exalts a nation,
    but sin is a reproach to any people.
35 A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor,
    but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.
– Proverbs 14:24-35 ESV

Solomon strongly suggests that there is tangible fruit that accompanies the life of wisdom. But it isn’t necessarily what we would expect. While he states that “The crown of the wise is their wealth” (verse 24), the context would suggest that he is talking about something other than monetary or material abundance. Godly wisdom is not a guarantee of financial success. No, Solomon is once again juxtaposing the way of the wise with the way of the fool. The crown of the wise is their wisdom. It represents their greatest asset and their most significant achievement in life. But for the fool, folly is their crowning achievement. An abundance of godly wisdom is of more value than silver and gold. Solomon has already made this point perfectly clear.

Tune your ears to wisdom,
    and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight,
    and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
    seek them like hidden treasures. – Proverbs 2:2-4 NLT

Joyful is the person who finds wisdom,
    the one who gains understanding.
For wisdom is more profitable than silver,
    and her wages are better than gold.
Wisdom is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her. – Proverbs 3:13-15 NLT

Those who seek wisdom discover something of far greater value than precious metals or rare jewels. A personal treasury filled with godly wisdom is more profitable than a portfolio filled with high-yield stocks or a savings account filled with money.

And one of the things that makes wisdom so valuable is its ability to have a positive impact on others. Unlike material possessions and monetary treasures, wisdom is almost impossible to hoard. A wise person can’t help but have a beneficial influence on the lives of others. They speak the truth and save lives (verse 25). They exude confidence in God that provides a sense of security to others (verse 26). They show concern for the poor (verse 31) and display an understanding heart (verse 33). And a nation that is blessed with the presence of godly people will stand a far higher chance of achieving greatness (verse 34).

With this last proverbial statement, Solomon provides a timeless truth that applies in every generation and across all cultural bounds. It isn’t a particular candidate, party, or platform that makes a nation great; it is godliness. Politics is never a reliable savior. There is no candidate who will ever be able to make a nation great because he or she lacks the ability to change the human heart. They can set agendas, enact policies, and attempt to direct a nation on to a particular path, but without a change of heart, their efforts will prove futile in the end. It is godliness that will make a nation great. A powerful military and a thriving economy are no match for a nation that destroys itself from within because of moral decay and uncontrolled unrighteousness. And the proof can be seen all throughout history. Rome was great but fell. Its mighty army and vast empire were insufficient to deal with its own moral inadequacies. Nazi Germany was powerful but ultimately collapsed under the staggering weight of its own decadence and godlessness. Nation after nation has experienced an ignominious end due to their rejection of God and a growing love affair with sin.

There is no doubt that a godly leader would be the better choice for a nation, but without a godly people to lead, his efforts would prove futile in the end. The people of Israel provide ample proof of this truth. No, what any nation needs s godly people who desire the will of God more than they do the temptations of sin. They turn to God for salvation and security rather than to the government, the economy, or the military. Their hope and trust are in God. They view sin as something to be avoided, not applauded and entertained by. They practice personal and corporate confession, calling on God to forgive their sins and cleanse their unrighteousness.

The godly are not religious people, they are God-dependent people. He is their ultimate authority and determiner of all things. The presence of the godly in a nation can have a tremendous impact. They can act as a preserving agent. Even in small numbers, they can have a positive and listing influence. A relatively small remnant can make a big difference in the direction of a nation. God sees them and preserves them. God has spared nations due to the presence of a handful of the faithful and godly. But those few must recognize that the hope of their nation lies in the hands of God, not men. They must call out to and depend upon God for renewal and revival, not a party or a particular candidate. They must understand that God is their hope, help, and ultimate healer. He alone can save a nation from destruction. He alone can bring about individual and corporate restoration.

Godliness is simply a recognition of these facts. It is a life lived in complete dependence upon and trust in God. That is what will make any nation great. While a nation that rebels against God will soon end in disgrace.

The way of the wise has far-reaching benefits that can extend to a family, a community, and even a nation. It is a fountain of life (verse 27). It brings peace to the heart and health to the body (verse 30). It honors God (verse 31). It exalts a nation (verse 34). And it incurs the favor of the powerful (verse 34).

The pursuit of wisdom is far from a personal and purely selfish endeavor. It is God-focused and other-oriented. Those who desire and passionately pursue the wisdom of God will find their heart’s treasury overflowing with an abundance of gifts with which to bless others. They will become a conduit of God’s mercy, grace, and love; leaving a lasting impact on all those around them, for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Trifecta of Blessing

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV

After a brief salutation, Paul begins his letter with a virtual flood of carefully crafted words designed to express his deep admiration and appreciation for the saving work of God the Father as expressed through the sacrificial life of the Son and empowered through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Greek, these 12 verses form one long but eloquently worded run-on sentence. It’s as if Paul were speaking the words, and in his excitement, the thoughts in his mind literally explode from his lips without leaving him time to catch his breath.

He is a man possessed by and obsessed with the incredible nature of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Unable to contain his enthusiasm for all that God has done, Paul explodes in a flood of praise and worship for each member of the Godhead, outlining the vital role that each played. This punctuation-free praise song to the Trinity is designed to instill in the Ephesian believers a deep and abiding awareness of the divine nature of their salvation. They had been chosen, predestined, and adopted by God the Father. They had been redeemed out of slavery to sin by the precious and priceless blood of Jesus Christ. And they had received the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God as a sign of their new identity as God’s children and as a proof of the promises to come.

For Paul, it all begins with God the Father, who made the determination to send His Son as the solution to mankind’s sin problem. And, according to Paul, God came up with that plan “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, long before God made the universe or fashioned Adam out of the dust of the ground, He had come up with the plan to send His Son as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of a not-yet-existent humanity.

God had not been caught off guard by Adam and Eve’s rebellion. He had actually made provision for their fall and had a predetermined plan already in place long before they made the fateful determination to disobey His command. And Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that they had been blessed by God in Christ. Jesus was the sole means by which God had chosen to redeem fallen mankind. Together, the Father and His Son made possible the reconciliation of a guilty and justly condemned humanity – and that included the believers in Ephesus. They had been blessed by God in or through Christ “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV).

Paul emphasizes spiritual blessings in order to accentuate the eternal nature of the gift the Ephesians had received. God had not sent His son to die so that men and women might have their best life now. The sacrificial death of Jesus was not meant to pave the way to an earthly life marked by health, wealth, and prosperity. His precious blood was spilled so that a spiritual transformation might take place, turning former sinners into sons and daughters of God, holy and blameless in His sight. All “according to the purpose of his will” and “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6 ESV). This radical transformation of sinners into saints had been God’s idea and had only been possible as a result of His grace or unmerited favor. No one deserved to be saved. No one had earned the right to be redeemed.

Paul stresses that God “lavished” His grace on mankind. The Greek word, perisseuō, conveys the idea of a superabundance of grace. God poured out His grace in such a way that it overflowed and exceeded all expectations and requirements. It was, as Jesus told Paul, an all-sufficient grace.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Paul knew that the Ephesian believers were grateful for the forgiveness of sins that came with their faith in Christ, but he wanted them to understand that was just the tip of the iceberg. Paul doesn’t underestimate the value of forgiveness but stresses that God was “so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins” (Ephesians 1:7 NLT). But God’s grace didn’t stop there. He also showered His children with “wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8 NLT), so that they might know “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9 ESV). And by disclosing this previously undisclosed mystery, God revealed His “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10 ESV).

In other words, God’s plan of salvation includes far more than forgiveness of sins. As great as that may be, it pales in comparison to the future God has in store for His children. Forgiveness of sins does not eradicate the presence of sin in the life of a believer. Life on this earth will always be marred by the persistent presence of sin. Believers are no longer slaves to sin but they are not free from its influence. Paul described his own experience with sin in his letter to the Romans.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 7:18-20 NLT

And that’s why Paul places so much emphasis on the inheritance that awaits the believer.

…because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. – Ephesians 1:11 NLT

It is the promise of this future inheritance that should motivate the believer in this life. It is the assurance of coming glorification that should encourage a life of faithfulness as we wait for God to fulfill the final phase of His grand redemptive plan. That is why Paul reminded the believers in Corinth to focus their attention on the hope to come.

We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:2-5 NLT

In his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul reiterates the role of the Holy Spirit as the downpayment or guarantee of their future glorification.

The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. – Ephesians 1:14 NLT

And the gift of the Spirit had been poured out on Jews and Gentiles alike. The body of Christ was made up of people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. It was just as Paul had told the Christians living in Galatia.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:26-29 NLT

While God had set apart the Jews as His chosen people and had ordained that His Son be born of the seed of Abraham, He had always planned for His gracious gift of redemption to be for all mankind. The Jews were a means to an end. They had been blessed by God so that they might be a blessing to the world. And God had accomplished that blessing through the gift of His Son and guaranteed the eternal nature of its consequences through the gift of His Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Refusal to Trust God

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:6-12 ESV

The very fact that a remnant of the nation of Israel was still living in the land of Canaan was a sign of God’s covenantal commitment. He remained faithful to keep all the promises He had made to the descendants of Abraham. Despite their centuries-long abuse of His grace and constant refusal to keep their commitments to keep His law, God had not completely wiped them off the face of the earth. He had punished them by sending the Babylonians to conquer and capture them, but He had not abandoned them. In fact, He had been the one to make their unlikely return to the land of Judah a reality. Yet here He was again, having to call His rebellion people to repent and return to Him. God desired to bless them, but could not do so as long as they remained unfaithful and unwilling to confess their sins and repent.

Their stubbornness and self-righteousness are evidenced by the question they posed to God.

“How shall we return?” – Malachi 3:7 ESV

In a sense, they were declaring their innocence. How could they return when they had never really abandoned God? When King Cyrus of Persia had decreed that the Israelites could return to the land of Judah, they had been part of the remnant that had agreed to do so. They had been part of the brave few who had made the difficult journey home and spent years rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. It had been their hard work that had caused the temple to rise from the rubble, and it was their sacrifices and offerings that had helped to reinstitute the sacrificial system. So, how could God demand that they return? What more could they do?

But God knew they were simply going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful, showering their affections on the false gods of the neighboring nations. They had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with non-Israelites, in direct violation of a divine prohibition. And these unholy unions had caused the people of Israel to embrace the gods of the Canaanites. The result was syncretism, a toxic blend of religious beliefs that resulted in a watered-down and ineffective spiritual experience. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, treating Yahweh as one more lover among many. And, to make matters worse, God accused them of theft.

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. – Malachi 3:8 ESV

They boldly denied the accusation by questioning the accuracy of God’s statement. In their minds, they had done nothing to offend God. They had continued to offer the mandatory sacrifices and bring the appropriate offerings as the law required. But God disagreed. When presenting their mandatory tithes and offerings, they had regularly short-changed God by offering far less than He had required. This all goes back to the commands God had given the people of Israel long before they had settled in the land of Canaan. Just prior to their crossing of the Jordan River, Moses had delivered to the people God’s laws concerning the offerings of firstfruits and tithes.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. – Deuteronomy 26:1-2 ESV

God had assured them that Canaan was fruitful and abundant, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they were not to put their trust in the land or its productivity. They were to trust in the God who had fed them with quail and manna all during the years they had wandered in the wilderness. He would be their source of provision. By offering Him the first of their harvest, they would be displaying their complete dependence upon Him. And God would use these resources to provide for those in need among them.

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. – Deuteronomy 26:12-13 ESV

Every third year, they were to dedicate the first of all their produce to God. And they were to do it as a form of worship, expressing gratitude for all that God had done for them. As they placed their gifts before the altar, they were to declare the undeniable reality of God’s faithful.

“‘…he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:9-10 ESV

And yet, God states that the people of Israel had been robbing Him of their tithes and offerings. They had been keeping back what was rightfully His. And as a result, “the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” were having to do without. God’s ordained system of social welfare had been disrupted by their disobedience and greed. Had they obeyed God’s commands, they would have been a model community that displayed mutual love and care. There was to be no needy or neglected in Israel. Since God was their ultimate provider, no one would do without. And God calls them to put Him to the test and see if His promises will not prove true.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10 ESV

All they had to do was obey. If they would simply keep the Lord’s command and do as they were told, they would experience the unprecedented and unparalleled blessings of God.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:11 ESV

The land was fruitful because God made it so. The soil was perfect for raising crops because God had deemed it so. But He could also bring drought, famine, and pestilence upon the land. God could bring enemies against Israel who would their farms and plunder their flocks and herds and empty their grain stores. But God preferred to bless them, and He would as long as they faithfully kept their covenant commitments.

And God reminded the people that their faithfulness would have far-reaching implications. Not only would the needy among them be properly cared for, but the nations would look on in amazement as they witnessed the supernatural blessings that Israel enjoyed.

“Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:12 ESV

Obedience was intended to result in divine blessing, which was to serve as a witness to the nations. God wanted to abundantly prosper His people so that the greatness of His name might be proclaimed throughout the world. As His chosen people, they had been set apart so that they might display His glory. As they faithfully followed His will and lived according to His exacting standards, they would be blessed by God and give indisputable evidence that He was the one and only God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Learning to Recognize God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” – Malachi 1:2-5 ESV

Whether we can accurately determine Malachi’s identity or not is irrelevant. What is important is that the author more than lives up to his God-given title of “my messenger.” Every word he has recorded is a message from Yahweh to His covenant people, the nation of Israel. For generations, these descendants of Abraham had enjoyed a unique, one-of-a-kind relationship with God that had made them the beneficiaries of His love and blessings. God had set them apart and declared them to be His prized possession, among all the nations of the earth. When He had successfully freed them from their 400-year captivity in Egypt, God had led them to Mount Sinai, where He spoke to Moses and delivered give the following message:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

And the people had eagerly responded, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8 ESV). Even before God had communicated the terms of the covenant, they had agreed to keep it. They liked the idea of being God’s treasured possession, so they wholeheartedly declared their intentions to keep whatever conditions He set forth. But it was three days later that God called Moses up to the top of Mount Sinai and delivered the content of the covenant agreement to which they had already pledged their allegiance.

When Moses returned from the mountaintop, he shared with the people all that God had told him.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” – Exodus 24:3-8 ESV

Moses revealed to the nation of Israel the Ten Commandments and all the associated laws that were intended to regulate their behavior as God’s chosen people. This God-ordained code of conduct was a non-negotiable regulatory document that would distinguish the nation of Israel from all the other nations of the earth. As long as they remained obedient to the covenant, they would be blessed. But should they choose to disobey, they would find themselves suffering severe and inescapable consequences.

But the history of the people of Israel reveals their epic failure at keeping their word. Once God had successfully planted them in Canaan, the land He had promised as their inheritance, they began to reveal their propensity for disobedience and unfaithfulness. They repeatedly violated the terms of the covenant and, despite constant warnings from God, they refused to repent and return to Him. Generation after generation carried on a dangerous love affair with the world and its many false gods, choosing the snub their noses in the face of the one true God. And eventually, God was forced to fulfill His warnings of retribution and destruction. That is why they had spent 70 years living as captives in the land of Babylon. God had warned them time and time again that He would remove them from the land of promise if they continued to violate His covenant and, in 587 B.C., the Babylonians had overrun the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and taken thousands of its citizens back to Babylon as slaves.

At the time Malachi wrote his message from God, a remnant of the exiles had been living back in Judah for years. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, the temple had been restored, and the sacrificial system had been renewed, but the people remained just as rebellious and disobedient as ever. So, through His “messenger,” God delivered a powerful reminder of His unrequited love and patience with his stubborn people.

Through Malachi, God declared the reality of His steadfast, unwavering love. Despite all they had suffered over the last 70 years, He had never fallen out of love with them. “I have always loved you,” He reminded them. And even their time in exile had been an expression of His affection because “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV).

But the people had a difficult time viewing the destruction of their city and their seven-decade-long internment in Babylon as evidence of God’s love, so they asked, “Really? How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2 NLT). From their perspective, it appeared as if God was angry with them and, even now, they suffered constant threats from their enemies and lived in a city that was little more than a shadow of its former glory. They had no king, no standing army, and little hope of ever seeing their fate reversed. As a result, they were distrustful of God, questioning His goodness and doubting His word concerning their wellbeing.

So, God reminded them of how they came to be His chosen people in the first place. He took them back to the births of Esau and Jacob, the twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. Malachi’s audience knew the story well. Before the boys were born, God had told Rebekah that the infants inside her womb represented two separate nations.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God informed Rebekah that the younger of the two boys would become the greater nation. According to tradition, the elder son should have been the recipient of the father’s inheritance and the one to bear the blessing of the firstborn. But, through a series of somewhat underhanded, but clearly God-ordained events, Jacob, the younger of the two siblings, would become the next in line to receive the inheritance that had been passed down through Abraham to Isaac. Jacob had been “loved” by God.

“When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cf. Psalm 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born…” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God had chosen to break precedence and set apart Jacob rather than Esau, and it had nothing to do with either boy’s value or worthiness. In fact, the apostle Paul points out the undeserving nature of either child and explains the sovereign nature of God’s will concerning His decision.

…before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:11-13 NLT

From a human perspective, it appears as if God showed greater favor to one son while disfavoring the other. But God did not completely abandon Esau. He simply chose to make His covenant commitment to the descendants of Jacob. God eventually gave Esau the land of the hill country, located around Moun Seir in Edom. In a sense, God blessed Esau by providing him with land as an inheritance, but Esau would prove to be unfaithful and idolatrous. His descendants, the Edomites, would be a constant thorn in the side of the Israelites. And when the Babylonians invaded the region, the Edomite cities and towns were also destroyed.

And when the Edomites declared their intent to reclaim and rebuild their devastated homeland, God warned them that he would prevent them from doing so.

“They may try to rebuild, but I will demolish them again. Their country will be known as ‘The Land of Wickedness,’ and their people will be called ‘The People with Whom the Lord Is Forever Angry.’ – Malachi 1:4 NLT

The Edomites would become an illustration of the futility and hopelessness that faces all those who are not in a covenant relationship with God. The only reason the Israelites had been able to return to the land and rebuild their former capital was that God had ordained it. The decree set forth by King Cyrus of Persia that had allowed a remnant to return to Jerusalem had been God’s doing. He had orchestrated it all. And, in doing so, He had proved His love for His chosen people yet again.

As the Israelites looked around them, they would soon realize that none of the neighboring nations that had fallen to the Babylonians would experience the same degree of revitalization as they had. Not even the Edomites, the descendants of Isaac, would ever rebuild their cities or reestablish their hold on the land. And this should have caused the Israelites to declare, “Truly, the Lord’s greatness reaches far beyond Israel’s borders!” (Malachi 1:5 NLT).

Both the Israelites and the Edomites were descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and both had suffered the judgment of God, having been destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century. Yet only Israel had enjoyed restoration after judgment. Despite what appeared to be their less-than-ideal circumstances, the Israelites were experiencing the love of God in the form of His covenant commitment. He had restored them just as He said He would do and He was not yet done blessing them. But, as the following verses will reveal, God did expect to see significant changes among His people.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Count Your Blessings

13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
    he shall become a haven for ships,
    and his border shall be at Sidon.

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
    crouching between the sheepfolds.
15 He saw that a resting place was good,
    and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
    and became a servant at forced labor.

16 “Dan shall judge his people
    as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

19 “Raiders shall raid Gad,
    but he shall raid at their heels.

20 “Asher’s food shall be rich,
    and he shall yield royal delicacies.

21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose
    that bears beautiful fawns.

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
23 The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
24 yet his bow remained unmoved;
    his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
    blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
    are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
    up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
    and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    in the morning devouring the prey
    and at evening dividing the spoil.”

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. 29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people. – Genesis 49:13-33 ESV

Having blessed Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Jacob now turned his attention to his remaining eight sons. He continued to work his way through the list moving from oldest to youngest, and providing each son with a specific and personalized blessing. When compared with the blessing Jacob spoke over Judah, these pronouncements appear not only much shorter in length but less impressive in terms of significance. It is not until Jacob reaches his two last sons, Joseph and Benjamin, that his blessings become, once again, lengthier and richer in detail.

It is interesting to note that Zebulun is told that his people will be associated with the sea. Yet, the region they eventually inherited in Canaan would leave them land-locked and far from either the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee. But the location of this land put them in touch with Phoenician traders and prove to be a lucrative trade route from the coast to the interior of the country. There is some speculation that Jacob’s prophecy extends all the way to the Millennial Kingdom, when Zebulun’s borders will extend all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The descendants of Issachar would inherit a rich and fertile land just below the Sea of Galilee, leading them to become farmers and sheepherders. An agrarian lifestyle would supplant any aspirations to play a political role in the future of the people of Israel. It seems that the Issacharites would even become willing to enslave themselves to the Canaanites in order to enjoy material prosperity and peace.

The Danites would prove to be a tribe of mighty warriors but they would fail to remove the Canaanites from the land given to them by God as an inheritance.

As for the tribe of Dan, the Amorites forced them back into the hill country and would not let them come down into the plains. – Judges 1:34 NLT

Like a deadly viper, the Danites would bring disaster upon the people of Israel, leading them into idolatry (Judges 18). But from this tribe would come Samson, one of the most renowned and controversial judges in all of Israel.

Next comes Gad. His name in Hebrew means “good fortune,” but it sounds similar to the Hebrew word gûḏ, which means “overcome.” From their location on the eastern borders of Israel, the Gadites would experience constant attacks from their enemies, but they would prove to be fierce raiders who successfully stood their ground.

The descendants of Asher would inherit some of the most fertile land in all of Canaan, located along the Mediterranean coast. From this location they would produce food fit for a king’s table.

It is difficult to understand the exact meaning of Jacob’s prophecy concerning Naphtali. The language of this verse is complicated and its interpretation remains illusive. Scholars have long debated the meaning of this passage and there remains no consensus as to what Jacob was trying to convey. But history reveals that within the land awarded to the tribe of Naphtali, King Jeroboam would eventually set up a golden idol in the city of Dan (1 Kings 12:29-30).

The lengthiest blessing in this section is reserved for Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob who had once been considered dead but was found to be alive and well in Egypt. Jacob had already adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, and the descendants of these two boys would inherit a large section of land in the very heart of Canaan.

Jacob referred to Joseph as “him who was set apart from his brothers” (Genesis 49:26 ESV), a phrase that seems to carry a double meaning. Joseph had been literally “set apart” by his brothers when they sold him into slavery. But God had set him apart by preordaining his role as the savior of his people. While Joseph had been “bitterly attacked” and severely harassed, God had blessed him greatly. And Jacob prayed that God would continue to bless his favored son.

“…may the Almighty bless you
with the blessings of the heavens above,
    and blessings of the watery depths below,
    and blessings of the breasts and womb.” – Genesis 49:25 NLT

Jacob was fully aware that God’s hand had been on his son, Joseph. Had not Joseph been sold into slavery, he would never have become the second-highest-ranking ruler in all the land of Egypt. And had that not happened, Jacob’s family would have died out in Canaan, the victims of the devastating famine that God had brought upon the land. It was because of Joseph that the promises of God concerning Israel would be fulfilled and Jacob was eternally grateful.

Finally, from the tribe of Benjamin would come a host of mighty warriors. This smallest of all the tribes would have a lasting impact on the safety and security of the entire nation of Israel. Yet, the book of Judges reveal that this fierce tribe would fail to follow the command of God by eliminating the Canaanites from their allotted land.

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 ESV

Jacob left no son out. He knew that each of them would have a vital role to play in the future well-being of his descendants. Some would prove more important and vital to the cause than others. But for the promise of God to be fulfilled, each of Jacob’s 12 sons would have to work together to ensure the legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As the patriarch of the family, Jacob knew that God was not yet done. The Almighty had much more in store for Jacob’s descendants and it would take place in the land of Canaan, in keeping with His promises. That is why Jacob closed out his blessings to his sons by reiterating his wish to have his body taken back to Canaan for burial. While he would never live to see the promised land again, he was convinced that his people would one day return and he was determined to have his bones interred alongside his wife, Rachel.

Even when facing the prospect of death, Jacob was hopeful and faithful. He was fully convinced that God would accomplish all that He had promised and that the legacy of Abraham would be kept alive through his sons and grandsons. Egypt had been a detour and not a final destination. The people of Israel would one day return to the land of Israel because God was not yet done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Blessed But Not Chosen

1 These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). Esau took his wives from the Canaanites: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite, and Basemath, Ishmael’s daughter, the sister of Nebaioth. And Adah bore to Esau, Eliphaz; Basemath bore Reuel; and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. These are the sons of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan.

Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together. The land of their sojournings could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir. (Esau is Edom.)

These are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir. 10 These are the names of Esau’s sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau. 11 The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. 12 (Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife. 13 These are the sons of Reuel: Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife. 14 These are the sons of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon, Esau’s wife: she bore to Esau Jeush, Jalam, and Korah.

15 These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau. The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau: the chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, 16 Korah, Gatam, and Amalek; these are the chiefs of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah. 17 These are the sons of Reuel, Esau’s son: the chiefs Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah; these are the chiefs of Reuel in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Basemath, Esau’s wife. 18 These are the sons of Oholibamah, Esau’s wife: the chiefs Jeush, Jalam, and Korah; these are the chiefs born of Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, Esau’s wife. 19 These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these are their chiefs. Genesis 36:1-19 ESV

Isaac has died, leaving his son, Jacob (Israel) as the heir of his estate and the recipient of God’s covenant promises and all the blessings it entails. And as Moses prepares to record Israel’s history as the newly designated leader of the covenant community, he provides a brief recap of Esau’s life and lineage. As the firstborn son of Isaac, Esau had been the rightful heir to the birthright and the blessing, but Jacob had managed to manipulate and deceive his brother so that he took possession of both. While time had healed the rift between these two brothers, they would find themselves going their separate ways. This chapter provides insight into Esau’s fate and a brief description of his family tree.

These first 19 verses seem painfully redundant because they repeat the names of Esau’s wives and sons three separate times. The first five verses list the three wives of Esau and the five sons they bore to him. Then, in verses 6-8, Moses list the wives and sons again, but adds the names of the ten grandsons born to Esau.

It’s important to note that Esau was a son of Isaac and, therefore, still a legitimate conduit through whom God would fulfill His promise to Isaac of many offspring.

“I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” – Genesis 26:4 ESV

The different between Esau’s descendants and those of his brother was that his sons and grandsons would not be considered part of the chosen nation. When Jacob had managed to deceive Isaac and steal his brother’s blessing, it had left Esau with nothing. When he begged Isaac to provide him with a blessing of his own, all he got was a rather weak consolation prize.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

Not exactly the winning number to the lottery. But God would still bless Esau by providing him with five sons and 10 grandsons and, as the text makes clear, most of these men would grow up to be “the chiefs of the sons of Esau” (Genesis 36:15 ESV). They would become powerful leaders in their own right and from them would come many nations, including the Kenizzites, Edomites, and Amalekites.

While Jacob and Esau had mended their relationship, their descendants would never see eye to eye. In fact, a growing hostility would develop between the two groups, as they eventually found themselves fighting over the land of Canaan. It didn’t help that the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, became pagans, worshiping the false gods of the other nations inhabiting the land of promise. Eventually, the prophets Jeremiah and Obadiah issued prophetic pronouncements that warned of God’s judgment against them.

This message was given concerning Edom. This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:

“Is there no wisdom in Teman?
    Is no one left to give wise counsel?
Turn and flee!
    Hide in deep caves, you people of Dedan!
For when I bring disaster on Edom,
    I will punish you, too!
Those who harvest grapes
    always leave a few for the poor.
If thieves came at night,
    they would not take everything.
But I will strip bare the land of Edom,
    and there will be no place left to hide.
Its children, its brothers, and its neighbors
    will all be destroyed,
    and Edom itself will be no more. – Jeremiah 49:7-10 NLT

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Obadiah 1:2-4 NLT

God would bless Esau, resulting in the formation of a variety of nations and people groups. But they would fail to honor God and worship Him alone. Instead, they would seek and serve the false gods of Canaan, resulting in the pouring out of God’s divine wrath.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Improbable But Providential Will of God

31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing. 

1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Genesis 29:31-30:2 ESV

Verses 31 flatly states that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. Having allowed Laban to trick him into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Jacob found himself struggling to display any signs of affection for his unexpected and unwanted wife. In the same way that his mother had shown favoritism for him over his brother, Esau, Jacob poured out all his attention and affection on Rachel. She was the only one he had ever wanted. Leah was nothing more than a burden and a constant reminder of Laban’s treachery. Her very presence must have rubbed Jacob the wrong way. But while Leah was avoided like the plague by her new husband, God chose to see her affliction and show her affection.

the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. – Genesis 29:31 ESV

Once again, we see the sovereign God of the universe inserting Himself into human affairs and orchestrating the fulfillment of His divine will. None of this is a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. He had not been caught off guard or surprised by the actions of Laban. When Jacob had woken up the morning after his wedding night and found himself lying next to Leah, he had been shocked. But not God.

Laban must have been proud over how he had pulled a fast one on the unsuspecting Jacob. He had tricked the younger man into marrying his older and less-attractive daughter. And having successfully secured her future, Laban had been more than willing to let Jacob have Rachel as well. After all, his little trick had netted him 14 years of free labor from the gullible and easily manipulated Jacob.

It seems clear from the context, that Jacob intended to raise a family through Rachel. But there was a problem. She was barren. Like her mother-in-law, Rebekah, and her grandmother-in-law, Sarah, Rachel was unable to bear children. Jacob was operating under the impression that Rachel was to be the vehicle through which all the promises concerning offspring would come. Jacob remembered the words of his father, Isaac, spoken as he was preparing to go in search of a wife.

“God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.” – Genesis 28:3 ESV

He also recalled the vision he had in Bethel and the words that God had spoken to him.

“The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

But despite all the promises, Jacob was facing a bleak future because he had a barren wife. How were any of these promises to come true if Rachel couldn’t bear children? Yet, what Jacob failed to realize was that he had two wives for a very good reason. It had been the will of God. And while Jacob despised Leah, God had great plans for her.

Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” – Genesis 29:32 ESV

The woman whom Jacob never wanted was the one to give Jacob that which he most desired: A son. And she was far from done. In seemingly rapid succession, Leah produced four sons for Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. And the fact that she kept getting pregnant would clearly suggest that Jacob had changed his attitude toward her. All during this time, Rachel remained incapable of bearing Jacob any children, so he turned his attention to the more obviously fruitful older sister. With each new pregnancy and birth, Leah revealed her great desire that Jacob would truly love her.

At the birth of Reuben, she stated, “The Lord has noticed my misery, and now my husband will love me” (Genesis 29:32 NLT). But despite providing Jacob with a son, she still felt rejected by him, because at the birth of Simeon she declared, “The Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me another son” (Genesis 29:33 NLT). Yet, even with the birth of Levi, Leah was still waiting for some sign that Jacob loved her.

“Surely this time my husband will feel affection for me, since I have given him three sons!” – Genesis 29:34 NLT

It seems that Jacob’s interest in Leah was purely utilitarian in nature. She was effective in producing sons and heirs, but this apparently failed to elicit any signs of affection from Jacob. He gladly welcomed each new son into the world, but still treated Leah as a second-class citizen.

But something happened with the birth of her fourth son. When Judah came into the world, she declared, “Now I will praise the Lord!” (Genesis 29:35 NLT). Judah’s name means “praised,” and reflects Leah’s gratitude to God for His gracious provision of four healthy sons. She recognized that each of her pregnancies had been the handiwork of God and an expression of His love for her. While Jacob remained aloof and reticent to display love and affection for her, Leah knew that her fruitfulness had been a gracious gift from God. And, as the text makes clear, with Judah’s birth, Leah “ceased bearing” (Genesis 29:35 ESV).

Leah wasn’t done having children, but there is a pronounced and obvious break between the delivery of Judah and that of her next son. If you take the time to study the family tree of Jesus found in the opening chapter of the book of Matthew, you will find the name of Judah.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

Judah is the only one of the 12 sons of Jacob to be mentioned in the genealogy because it was through his line that Jesus came. This fourth son of Jacob, born to the unwanted older daughter of Laban, would be the conduit through whom the promised Messiah would come into the world. It was not through Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob. In fact, while Leah had been busy bearing sons for Jacob, Rachel had remained completely incapable of even conceiving an heir for her husband. And this situation left her angry and resentful of her older sister.

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” – Genesis 30:1 ESV

This response reveals a great deal about Rachel. She comes across as a petulant and spoiled woman who was used to getting her way. And the ludicrous demand she makes of Jacob further reflects her naturally controlling nature. She didn’t like her circumstances and she was expecting Jacob to do something about it. She even seems to be threatening to kill herself if she doesn’t get her way. But Jacob is angered by the unjustified blame she has heaped on him. It wasn’t his fault she could not bear children. In his mind, it was the hand of God. And yet, what is noticeably missing in all of this is any sign that either Jacob or Rachel took this matter to the Lord. There are no prayers lifted up. No cries for assistance are uttered. Neither Jacob nor his wife bothers to take the situation to the throne of God. He seems content to rely upon the child-bearing capabilities of Leah. And Rachel seems resigned to passing blame and demanding her way. And as the story unfolds, Rachel will take a page out of Sarah’s playbook and come up with a solution to her own problem. Rather than call on God, she will choose to play god and right what she believes to be an injustice.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

It Never Pays to Bargain With God

Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” Genesis 28:6-22 ESV

After Jacob had left to seek a wife from among his mother’s family in Mesopotamia, his brother Esau decided to try and win back his parent’s favor by marrying a woman from among his own clan. Esau already had two Hittite wives, but he knew that these marriages had been a huge disappointment to his mother and father. So, when he had heard Isaac warn Jacob not to take a wife from among the Canaanites, Esau determined to make amends with his parents by marrying one of his cousins. Her name was Mahalath and she was the daughter of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham. While Esau had been angered by his parent’s complicity in Jacob’s stealing of his blessing, he also desired their favor. Having lost his birthright and his blessing, he was desperate to win them over. But he failed to consider the fact that God had divinely ordained the separation of Ishmael’s clan from that of Isaac’s. The Ishmaelites were not destined to share in the covenant promise made to Abraham. So, Esau’s marriage to Mahalath would do little to improve his relationship with his parents or to enhance his future prospects. Yet, during his brother’s 20-year absence, Esau would build a life for himself in Canaan, raising a family and attempting to maintain a civil relationship with his mother and father.

Meanwhile, Jacob continued his long and arduous journey to Haran. But some 58 miles into his trip, he was forced to stop for the night, and it would prove to be anything but a restful evening. As he drifted off to sleep, he had a vivid and somewhat disturbing dream. He envisioned a giant flight of steps reaching from heaven to earth, and on that massive stairway, there was a host of angels ascending and descending. But Jacob’s eye was drawn to the top of the stairway, where he caught a glimpse of Yahweh, the Lord. And, considering all that Jacob had just done to deceive his father and defraud his brother, this vision of the Almighty must have struck fear into his heart. Was God going to repay him for having stolen his brother’s blessing? Was this going to be some kind of well-deserved payback for his treachery and deceit? But before Jacob could formulate any words to speak to God, he was presented with an unexpected announcement.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. – Genesis 28:13-14 NLT

The symbolism contained in this dream is powerful and significant. As Jacob lay in the darkness, separated from his family and facing an uncertain future, a host of angelic beings were moving back and forth between heaven and earth. These messengers of God represent His divine oversight and influence over all that happens on earth. Their movement between the two realms was meant to symbolize His sovereign control over the affairs of this world. They were His celestial agents, carrying out His wishes and accomplishing His divine will among men.

While Jacob and his mother had been busily conspiring to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau, God’s will had been carried out. There was a constant movement taking place between heaven and earth, as God’s messengers carried out His orders and implemented His sovereign plans among men. But Jacob and Rebekah had been oblivious to this invisible activity taking place in the unseen realms. They had mistakenly thought that they were in control of their futures and fate. But now, Jacob was receiving a divine wake-up call, informing him that all his trickery and deceit had been unnecessary. There had been no need for Jacob to barter for the birthright or to steal the blessing of the firstborn. God had always intended for the covenant promise to be his. It had not been his cleverly conceived plan to fool Isaac that had earned him the right to his father’s inheritance. It had been the sovereign will of God.

From among all the men who lived on the earth, God had chosen Abraham. And He had given this undeserving Chaldean a promise to bless him beyond his wildest dream.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

And then, God had chosen Abraham’s son, Isaac, to be the conduit through whom this blessing would flow. God had sovereignly passed by Ishmael, the firstborn. And now, God was announcing that it had always been His plan to choose Jacob over Esau. The covenant promise would flow to him and through him. God was going to use this flawed vessel as the conduit through which He would accomplish His redemptive plan for mankind. And, not only that, God informed Jacob that he would enjoy divine protection all during his extended journey.

“What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

What Jacob didn’t know was that his trip was going to take much longer than he anticipated. Two decades would pass before he was able to return to Beersheba and, during that time, Jacob would experience both the blessings and the discipline of God. He would eventually find the wife for which he was searching. But, more importantly, he would discover the power and sovereignty of God. The next 20 years of his life would be filled with joy and sorrow, success and failure, hope and heartache. But his roller-coaster existence would also be marked by the constant assurance that God was with him, operating behind the scenes and orchestrating every aspect of his life. God had promised Jacob that he would remain with him to the end.

The impact this dream had on Jacob can be seen in his response when he awoke.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” – Genesis 28:16 NLT

Jacob could have spoken those words back in Beersheba as well because God had always been with him. He just hadn’t realized it. This divine encounter left Jacob shaken and sobered.

“What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” – Genesis 28:17 NLT

Out of reverence for God, Jacob took the stone upon which his head had rested while he dreamed and he turned it into a sacred pillar. He named the place Bethel which means “house of God.” What’s fascinating is that this is the very same spot where, years earlier, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had erected an altar to God.

Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord. – Genesis 12:8 NLT

Like his grandfather before him, Jacob worshiped Yahweh. But, in keeping with his bargaining nature, Jacob attempted to strike a deal with God.

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” – Genesis 28:20-22 NLT

Rather than rejoice in the fact that God had just promised to bless and not punish him, Jacob arrogantly attempted to bargain with the Almighty. He placed conditions on his continued worship of God. Despite the fact that God had promised to fulfill every aspect of the promise He had made, Jacob wanted guarantees. This undeserving grandson of Abraham tried to arm wrestle Yahweh by threatening to hold his worship if his conditions were not met. Suffice it to say, Jacob had a lot to learn about God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Marvelous and Mysterious Ways of God

26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,

“See, the smell of my son
    is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!
28 May God give you of the dew of heaven
    and of the fatness of the earth
    and plenty of grain and wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:

“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
    and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40 By your sword you shall live,
    and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
    you shall break his yoke from your neck.” Genesis 27:26-40 ESV

Rebekah’s clandestine plan had worked to perfection. Her elderly and half-blind husband had been so thoroughly fooled by Jacob’s slipshod disguise that he truly thought he was about to bestow a blessing on his eldest son, Esau.

Having satiated his appetite with the food that Jacob had prepared, the old man called his son to his side and kissed him. And because Jacob had followed his mother’s advice and was wearing Esau’s clothes, Isaac’s dulled senses were fooled yet again. Esau was an outdoorsman and a hunter, so his clothing carried a unique scent. Isaac described it as “the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed” (Genesis 27:27 ESV). Along with an affectionate fatherly kiss, Isaac bestowed a blessing upon his son. But little did he realize that his blessing was being stolen right from under his clouded eyes.

But completely oblivious to the fraudulent nature of the moment, Isaac placed his hands on his son and passed on the blessing of the firstborn.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

This blessing would have been of great value to Isaac because it had been passed down to him by his own father. There had been a time in Isaac’s life when Abraham had declared these very same words to him, and now he was passing them on to his eldest son – or so he thought.

The words contained in the blessing are a reiteration of the promise that God had made to Abraham. In fact, on the day that Abraham obeyed the word of the Lord and prepared to offer up the life of Isaac as an offering, God had intervened and repeated His covenant promise.

“Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:16-18 NLT

That is the core message behind Isaac’s blessing of Esau. It contains the promises of land, fruitfulness, and power. Isaac is declaring his belief that, even after his own death, God will continue to fulfill every aspect of His covenant promise. But while Isaac’s heart was in the right place, his hands were on the wrong son. He was inadvertently bestowing the blessing on Jacob instead of Esau. But despite Isaac’s confusion, God’s will was actually being fulfilled. This convoluted mess was turning out just as God had planned.

God had declared his intentions regarding these two brothers long before they were born. While Rebekah was still carrying them in her womb, He had revealed their preordained destinies.

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

God had already predetermined that Jacob would be the greater of the two. And while Esau had been the first to exit the birth canal providing him with a legal claim to the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God had other plans.

This passage provides a powerful reminder that God’s ways are beyond our limited capacity to understand. He declares of Himself, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” and then He adds, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV). God is not required to explain Himself. And Moses provides no explanation for God’s actions in this story. We are not told why God allowed Rebekah to do what she did. There is no rationale given for why God permitted the deceptive and manipulative Jacob to steal his brother’s blessing. 

Each of the characters in the story comes off as fatally flawed and seemingly out of step with the will of God. And yet, God’s will was being done in spite of them but, more importantly, through them. Each of them had been driven by their own selfish agenda, but their wills were completely subject to the sovereign will of God.

Isaac’s misplaced blessing would prove to have long-term implications, but the outcome would be in keeping with God’s predetermined plan. Jacob, the younger, would be blessed so that he might be a blessing. He would inherit the right to rule over his brothers. And his descendants would enjoy the divine protection of God Almighty. Those who cursed them would be cursed. Those who blessed them would be blessed.

It’s difficult to reconcile this news when one considers the ungodly actions of Rebekah and Jacob. They employed deceit, manipulation, and fraud to accomplish their objective. But God was working behind the scenes to ensure their less-than-righteous actions produced good rather than evil. It is the same message that will be conveyed later on in the story of Genesis, when Joseph, a son of Jacob, confronts his own brothers who, out of jealousy and spite, had sold him into slavery. Through the sovereign will of God, Joseph ended up in Egypt and rose from slavery to the second-highest position in the land. And when his brothers came seeking food because of a severe famine in Canaan, Joseph confronted them about their ill-treatment of him.

“But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” – Genesis 45:5-8 NLT

Joseph could see the hand of God in all that had happened in his life. His brothers had been guilty of selling him into slavery, but Joseph recognized that it had all been a part of God’s sovereign plan. And it is important to remember that Joseph was a son of Jacob, the man who stole the blessing from his own brother. And, even at the end of his life, Joseph was able to reiterate to his brothers his belief in God’s sovereign plan.

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

But the story of Jacob and Esau is still difficult to read and even more difficult to justify. It all seems so unfair and indefensible, especially when Moses relates the impact it had on the unsuspecting and seemingly innocent Esau. He ultimately comes home to find that his blessing has been stolen and he is beside himself with frustration and anger. This is the second time his brother has taken advantage of him and he declares his well-justified resentment at this most recent injustice.

“…he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” – Genesis 27:36 ESV

Esau demands to receive a blessing, but Isaac sadly informs him that Jacob has received it all.

“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” – Genesis 27:37 NLT

There is nothing left to give. Esau’s brother now owns his birthright and his blessing. And when Isaac hears Esau’s anguished pleas to be blessed, all he can do is restate the negative impact that the blessing of Jacob will have on Esau’s life. It is less a blessing than it is a curse.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

While this story is intended to leave the reader with a sense of dissonance, it should also remind them of the unfathomable nature of God’s ways. There are things going on behind the scenes that we cannot see or comprehend. The dysfunctionality of this family is appalling, but even their worse actions are no match for God’s best-laid plans. The fulfillment of His will is not dependent upon their faithfulness. Jacob did not deserve the blessing, yet it was his. Rebekah’s unrighteous behavior is in no way justified by the outcome it seems to have produced. And she will live to regret the division her behavior has created within her own household. Her sins will have consequences. And, as the story unfolds, it will become painfully clear that Jacob’s sins will have serious consequences as well.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.