a) a special love for some revealed in His covenant,
b) toward sinners or lawless people chosen in His sovereignty,
c) by grace alone, without His chosen ones meriting anything, then…
why couldn’t these chosen ones live however they like, with no restrictions, sinning however they’d like, because they are accepted already by a God who is always prepared to receive a sacrifice as a substitute for their lives?
In other words, what stops the members of the covenant from acting however they’d like? What guarantee is there that they will respect God’s righteousness?
The Bible gives several answers to this concern, one of which stands out in today’s reading. Remember that yesterday we read in Genesis 27 about Rebekah and Jacob’s deceit to ensure the latter’s receipt of the blessings of the covenant. Remember, too, that we saw in Genesis 25:22-23 and Romans 9:11-12 that the blessings of the covenant did not belong to Isaac to give to anyone; Yahweh already had revealed who was going to receive it. The deceit in Genesis 27 was completely unnecessary. The blessing given by Isaac could change nothing; it could only confirm what Yahweh already had decided. The fact that it occurred through deception tells us more about the sinful intentions of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob than it does about Yahweh’s righteousness and His just administration of the covenant.
If we understand this, it is legitimate to ask: what will happen to Jacob the Deceiver? Won’t he continue to think that deceit is a legitimate way to get ahead? What is there to stop him from thinking that he can get anything he wants, even the blessings of God, by deceit?
An answer from the covenant and grace to these questions can be summed up in Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:19: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
By grace, Yahweh is going to reprove and discipline Jacob. By grace, He is going to pressure him until he repents. By the great love that He has for this chosen sinner, He is going to use the tests and failures in his relationships with others, suffering, humiliation and other encounters that through the whole course of his life will mold his soul until it reflects something of Yahweh’s righteousness.
And this process of reproof and discipline begins immediately after his deceit toward his father. Instead of being a reason for celebration for the whole community, the transfer of the blessing to another generation in Genesis 27 has become a motive for separation, hiding and a death threat between brothers. Rebekah looks for a way to protect her son and under pretense sends him far away… when she says goodbye to her son, it is the last time she will see him. Jacob looks for a wife but without the blessing his father had when Abraham’s wealth-laden camels marched toward Haran. Even though he is a child of the promise, Jacob is exiled from the land of the promise and shows up in Haran to look for a wife with nothing to offer except the strength of his hands. By Yahweh’s grace he finds her. But seven years later, when the morning after his wedding he finds out that he has been deceived, a lesson in righteousness sounds in the voice of Laban: “It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn” (Genesis 29:26). Maybe they do that in Canaan where you’re from, Jacob, but around here we don’t allow any transgressions of the firstborn’s rights.
But there is much more here than a lesson about the rights of the firstborn; first and foremost it is a lesson about character and about God: Yahweh’s righteousness does not leave room for deceit. Through Laban, someone even more deceptive than Rebekah or Jacob, Yahweh gives Jacob a long, hard lesson on Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”
But by grace, Yahweh doesn’t abandon Jacob in exile and shame. Even though he must serve another seven years for Rachel, then suffer more servitude, deceit and humiliation, Yahweh protects His chosen one, prospers him and directs him once more to the Promised Land. And we will see the same dynamic at work in the lives of Jacob’s descendants later in the Bible: they will be exiled to the north and northeast to be disciplined… and after their oppressors are judged, they will return to the land of the covenant, humbled and more dependent on Yahweh.
That also gives us an answer to the question that began our meditation on the reading today: what prevents someone chosen by grace from living however sinfully he pleases? That same grace that chose him also disciplines and molds him to reflect Yahweh’s righteousness.