There are certain people of whom Scripture writes whose lives make us shake our heads in thinking that they could be children of God. I am sure Scripture does this to assure us that God is even able to save us in spite of our sins; but we must then also acknowledge that we are no better than these sinning saints of whom Scripture speaks. Jacob is one of them.
Jacob was not only a youth of weak faith, but he was also something of a sneak who used cunning tricks to gain his ends. He was not a man we would like very well. His brother, Esau, was just the opposite. He was a very manly person, healthy, strong, straight- forward and probably handsome. He loved the outdoors while his brother Jacob was a sort of boy who preferred to be by his mother in the kitchen rather than working or being outside to play or hunt. If we would meet the two boys, we would be attracted to Esau, but we would have difficulty liking Jacob. Isaac saw this and loved Esau above Jacob.
Yet God loved Jacob and hated Esau!
The list of Jacob’s sins is long. It began when Jacob bought the birthright from Esau for a bowl of lentil soup – as if the birthright, the blessing of God could be bought with a bowl of soup! He connived with his mother to lie to his father so that Isaac, who was blind, would think he was blessing Esau whom he wanted to bless, rather than Jacob, whom God had said should receive the birthright – as if God would bless Jacob when he obtained the blessing with a lie! He refused to marry Leah when she was a very spiritual and godly woman because he lusted after Rachel, who loved idols. He tried every way he knew how to get the majority of Uncle Laban’s flocks and herds. It was not a very good record for a child of God.
But through it all, Jacob’s motives were right and good. He wanted the birthright and would do anything to get it. Although at times he rightly wanted the birthright for its covenant blessing, he frequently seemed to want it for the wealth it would bring him and riches his soul coveted.
How like Jacob we can be! We claim to love the Lord and to seek his blessing in all our life when in fact we have our lives aimed in the direction of earthly possessions, and wealth means more to us than God and His church. We need a university degree, we think. And we need to graduate with honours. We need to have a high-paying job with power and high wages. We need a car and a nice home. We need vacations and trips abroad. We are willing to study overseas where there is no church in which to worship to gain our goals.
And yet, with priorities all wrong in our lives, we do want, sometimes desperately, God’s blessing.
Jacob did learn, but it took a long time. He learned at the brook Jabbok when he wrestled all night with the angel of the Lord and got nowhere. He did not know this, but God was showing him that this was the story of His life: wrestling with God. Finally, when all he could say was that all his efforts were in vain and only God could bless him (“I will not let you go until you bless me”) did he learn how futile his former life had been.
Jacob was an elect child of God; Esau was reprobate. God’s election and reprobation lie behind it all.
Election is God’s eternal plan to save from sin and death a certain and definite number of people who are redeemed in Christ’s blood and are destined to live in covenant fellowship with God eternally in the new heavens and the new earth.
Reprobation is that eternal and unchangeable determination of God to reveal His holiness and justice by punishing sinners eternally in hell.
This truth of election and reprobation, which almost no one wants in our day, is the central truth of Scripture. One is Reformed only if he believes this truth. It is shown to us to be the case with Jacob and Esau.
We are saved. Are we saved because we are better than others? Because God finds some good in us? Because we have earned our salvation? Never! We are saved because of God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation. This is the clear teaching of Scripture, of all the reformers, and of God’s people through two thousand years of church history.
Election means that God saved Jacob. God chastised Jacob when his sons did very wicked things and took Joseph away from him. But Jacob was not saved because of his good life; he was saved because God loved him in spite of all his sins.
And so, God loves us – from eternity and saves us from the moment we are conceived in the womb of our mother. He knew us eternally. He loved us and loves us not because of what we are and do, but only sovereignly.
We are not to try to save ourselves or persuade God that He ought to take us to heaven because we are so good. We are not saved because we are better people than the pagans around us. Election forces us to our knees and puts within our hearts a humble prayer of thanksgiving to God who has saved us by grace.
And election actually begins God’s work of salvation in our hearts so that we forsake our sins, flee to the cross of Christ and walk in holiness, and live in grateful obedience to God.
But because we are sinning saints (or, if you will, saintly sinners) we must daily run to the cross and seek both pardon for our sins and grace to live to God’s glory.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 40