With spring hopefully coming around the corner, you can usually expect to hear more and more about the local high school’s senior prom. Unfortunately, you may also begin to hear of some of those girls being sorely disappointed by the dress they had ordered. It is not all that uncommon for someone to find what they think is a beautiful dress online for a great deal, and decide to order it. Kind of like this one here (show first picture). But, what ends up coming is nothing like picture but turns out more like this (show second picture).
Life unfortunately can be filled with these kinds of disappointments. Some of them are simply frustrating like getting a terrible prom dress, but others of them leave you almost hopeless. For us as believers, God seems to be the worst culprit of this of all. So, as we look at the person of Jacob today, we have to ask, “How can God be so cruel to his own?”
If there were anyone whom it would seem God would take special care of in this world, you would assume God would do so for those in the line of the Savior. God’s number one priority in the Old Testament was making sure that the Savior of the world was to come. And because of various difficulties and dangers, it would have been very easy for this never to take place. So, again, you would assume that God would go above and beyond even what he typically does for his people to keep that line in particular safe.
Looking at Jacob, who was part of this line, you may expect that God would’ve had maybe even more reason to do this for him, though. For one, Jacob was someone God had been planning on for some time. When his mother was pregnant, she began to notice something strange about her pregnancy and asked God about it. He let her know that within her womb were found two nations, and that the older son would end up serving the younger. From before Jacob was even born, God had set him apart as special.
Not only that, but God let Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, know that this trouble she noticed, the two boys jostling within her womb, was an indication of further trouble to come. These two boys who would establish nations of their own, would eventually be separated from one another. As you look at the history of them, with Jacob and Esau, you can see what God exactly meant by that.
From early on, it was obvious that these two boys had their differences. Esau was a hunter, and thus a man after his own father’s heart. Jacob was a homebody, and got along better with his mother. The problem here was that it was the father, Isaac, and not the mother who would pass down the birthright and blessing of being within the Savior’s line. From the get-go, things did not look good for Jacob.
Then, when Jacob and his mother realized the desperate nature of what was happening, they took the matter into their own hands. Since Isaac was old and could no longer see, Jacob was able to deceive him, pretending to be Esau so that he would receive the blessing of being in the line. Although Isaac had his suspicions about the situation, he ended up blessing Jacob anyways, still thinking he was Esau. Obviously, this did nothing to help settle the differences between the two brothers.
Finally, shortly before our lesson takes place, Isaac was about to die. Esau was obviously distraught, as any son would be. But, his grief turned to anger, and he sought to comfort himself in this trying time by the thought of murdering his brother Jacob. When Jacob learned about this, he said goodbye to both his father and mother, and set off to the distant homeland of his mother, 500 miles to the north.
As one of the articles in the Forward in Christ indicates, Luther had to look at this account and think: “God must be a liar.” I mean, what other conclusion could you come to? God is cruel to those who are his own. For one, you have Esau. A man who obviously did not follow the ways God had set forth. And yet, he is able to retain all his familiar comforts. He was not the one who had to leave. No, he got to remain with his wives and with his father and mother, to see them off in death. Esau was the one who got to carry on as if nothing happened, even probably receiving all the inheritance of his father as if he had received the blessing and not Jacob.
Compare that then to Jacob, the one God had set apart for himself. The land which Jacob had been promised? He had to flee from it. The nation? Jacob wasn’t even married. He had no son. And the Savior? Again, it’s pretty hard to have a line come from you when God hasn’t even blessed you with children. What was the point? Why even have the blessing? It didn’t seem to be doing him any good. In fact, it appeared that God was kind to those who turned on him, but to those who loved him, God gave only hardships and troubles.
Jacob isn’t the only one to whom God has done this, though. You are in the same boat. God has promised you so many blessings. He tells us that those who obey their father and mother will see a long life, yet how many believers have died at a young age? He promises you: never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. Well, God, you can talk all you want, but unless you start acting on that, your words are empty. Can we actually be the ones at fault for doubting him when it is God who never seems to follow through? When it is God who expects us to hope in the invisible, trust in that which has not been realized, and wait when so many signs seem to point to the contrary?
Yes, you are to blame. Me too. Because, thankfully, God is not at fault. We may wonder how God be so cruel, but yet, as we look at what he does for Jacob here, we see that we need to ask, “How can God be so kind?” He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
With both Jacob and ourselves, God has given us so much, even if it isn’t always the most visible. Yet, what does Jacob do? He fails to trust his Lord, takes matters into his own hands, deceives his father, hurts his brother, and treated the blessing of being in the Savior’s line as a trivial deal. And top of that, God knew what he would do eventually too. How he would take not one wife, but four. How he would play favorites and create chaos within his own family. And how he was not a spiritual leader for them either, as is evidenced by one of his wives’ idols. Are we any different? God has seen how you are just as guilty as Jacob too.
Yet, what do we see God doing? Not coming to us in a fiery rage, but instead in mercy. He comes to Jacob and reaffirms all of the promises he had made to his father and grandfather, and assures him that he is still very much a part of his plan. He promises that although it looked like none of these promises would ever come true for him, that he as God would be the one to see them through, thus giving him a complete assurance of their working out.
Again, we are not much different than Jacob. After we have come face to face with the evil nature of sin, as God allowed to happen to Jacob in his exile, God comes to us in mercy as well. As we are down on our knees, feeling the heavy burden of our guilt, the Father comes to down us in his Word, and it’s as if he says, “Look to my Son. Look at what he has done for you. The guilt of your sin is no more.”
The Lord is not cruel to those who are his own. But instead, as we see here, the Lord is kind to us. How, can we trust, though, when it seems as if God isn’t helping? A quote from Luther helps us out here. Luther surmises that if God did not cause us trouble, we would not be able to love him wholeheartedly. Because if God gave us all he promises immediately, we would so immerse ourselves in those blessings that we would forget about God. By granting us troubles and sufferings, we learn not to live by bread alone but by the Word. And so, in these difficulties we learn to grow in faith, hope, and the expectation of God. God’s Word, his promises, are enough to sustain you and strengthen you on this earthly journey.
So much is disappointing in this life, whether it be prom dresses or other big events. But, even though it may seem God would fall into such a category too, he does not. God is neither disappointing or cruel to his people. Instead, he is kind beyond measure. Amen.