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Q. Don’t You Think You Are Overly Harsh In Your Description Of Jacob As A Rascal? After All, God Greatly Blessed Him, And Made Him The Father Of The Nation Israel.

Answer

Dear Friend,

You are absolutely right to conclude that I am critical regarding Jacob’s spiritual life, for almost all of his life. Virtually everything he does seems to be done out of self-interest. And when he seeks to gain, it is at the expense of others. By the way, the account of Jacob’s birth (Genesis 25:19-26) foreshadows what his life will be like. If you look at other lessons I have done in Genesis you will find more indications of his lack of spiritual vitality. For example, take note of my words regarding “Jacob’s Seven Laws of Leadership” as contained in this article:

https://bible.org/seriespage/8-joseph-genesis-371-5026

While few have objected to my assessment of Jacob’s lack of spirituality, I have received a considerable amount of push-back regarding my appraisal of both Jonah, and of Esther.[1] But the simple fact is that whether we are reading in the Old Testament or the New, all men are sinners, unworthy of the grace which God bestows on them. It is not man’s goodness, but God’s sovereign grace which prompts His salvation and blessing of men and women. How else could a New Testament apostle call Lot “righteous Lot” (2 Peter 2:7-8)?

The Bible is absolutely consistent in its declaration that men, all mankind, is desperately sinful, and worthy only of divine judgment:

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” 13 “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,” “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; 14 “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”; 15 “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN.” 18 “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:9-18, NAU).

The greatness of God’s mercy and grace is evident by the fact that He chooses some of the worst, most unworthy, most unlikely people to become His children. In this way men can only boast in God, and not in themselves:

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

Just look at some of those who (to our surprise) are included in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews:

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. 32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight (Hebrews 11:30-34).

Old Testament saints were not all that “saintly” when you look carefully at their lives. And even after they were called by God, their “sanctification” process in life was ongoing, and never complete, as Jacob himself confessed:

7 Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?” 9 So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from his presence (Genesis 47:7-10).

Both Abraham (Genesis 12:10-13; 20:1-18) and Isaac (Genesis 26:6-11) lied about their wives, claiming they were their sisters, putting their wives at risk in order to protect themselves. Isaac sought to give his blessing to Esau, rather than to Jacob (Genesis 27). Jacob employed all kinds of clever schemes in order to take advantage of Laban (see Genesis 30:31-43). David took a man’s life, and his wife (2 Samuel 11). He also foolishly numbered Israel (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21). Solomon, in his last days, married many foreign wives (1 Kings 11). Elijah tried to resign his position (1 Kings 19). Great leaders of Israel, like Eli, Samuel, David, and Solomon, did not do well as parents.

I think we can agree with James that the Old Testament saints were very much like us. Elijah, for example, was described by James as “a man of like passions” (James 5:17). And this should actually give us hope:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

How do we gain hope through perseverance and encouragement from the Old Testament Scriptures? Through the realization that God did not necessarily pick “the winners,” but men and women like us, who were flawed and prone to failure. The end result is that God gets the glory, and we gain hope by realizing that God chooses to save and to use “losers” like us.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED.” 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires (Romans 9:6-18).

In His choice of disciples (who would become apostles) the men Jesus chose were not those who were deemed “most likely to succeed.” Praise God He manifests His grace and power by using flawed people like the saints of old, and like us.


[1] I must admit that as time has passed my indictment of Esther has softened, and my indictment of Mordecai has intensified.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Grace, Old Testament

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