Signpost for Sunday 13 July 2014, 5th Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In our Old Testament reading we have one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, probably known to all of us from childhood. And yet it is not at all a story suitable for children. Once more (following Abraham’s wife Sarah) we have a barren wife (it seems the woman took the blame). The husband (Isaac) prays to God – that brief statement in verse 21 no doubt covers twenty years of earnest prayer (Isaac was 40 when he married and 60 when the children were born) – and God’s purpose is fulfilled in Rebekah’s pregnancy. And a difficult pregnancy at that, to the point where Rebekah thinks of giving up the struggle and enquires of God what it’s all about. It is then that God reveals that she is carrying twins, one is to be stronger than the other and the elder is to serve the younger. Twin boys are born, the elder, Esau, growing up to be outdoorsy and the favourite of their father; the younger Jacob, being a quieter, stay-at-home type, and the favourite of their mother.
What a schemer that Jacob fellow was! He took advantage of his brother’s temporary weakness in order to deprive him of his birthright – and even worse, later on, conniving with their mother, he cheated, lied and blasphemed to cement that birthright by obtaining their father’s blessing: all this despite the fact that it was quite unnecessary – Jacob’s pre-eminence over Esau was God’s purpose, from before their birth.
So, if you don’t mind my including chapter 27, and you can hardly have one story without the other, we have Jacob, in addition to his more obvious sins, and unlike grandfather Abraham, not having faith in God’s promise. We have Esau despising his birthright, a sin I find difficult to translate into modern culture, but Edward VIII comes to mind. We have Isaac’s senility and the huge emotion between him and Esau when they realise they have been tricked. We have Rebekah taking favouritism to extremes, though she does (to me) redeem herself slightly by her terror in 27:45, “Why should I lose both of you in one day?” The saga would make a wonderful mini-series – perhaps it already has.
So runs a very old, somewhat irreverent verse. Be that as it may, it is not easy to understand why God should choose such an unsatisfactory person as Jacob to be the father of the nation. But it is not for us to understand why. God’s promises do not depend on human righteousness. Fortunately.
My reflections inevitably led me into Predestination – that scary and incomprehensible doctrine which I am happy not to think about too often, taking my authority for this cowardice from John Calvin himself:
“First then, let them (i.e. those who discuss the subject) remember that when they enquire into predestination they penetrate the inmost recesses of divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart.”