I have loved you, said the LORD. Yet you say, Wherein have you loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? said the LORD…
From the fate of the hunter Esau, we learn the peril of life's low ideals; the power of life's crucial moments; the continuity of life's irrevocable retributions; the anguish of life's fruitless tears. The fortunes of Jacob are indeed too eventful, his character too complex, to allow any attempt at exhaustive analysis. But we may learn something which will aid us in our daily difficult endeavour to choose the good and not the evil, and to give our hearts and lives to God.
1. "I loved Jacob, and hated Esau." Does not our first instinct almost rebel against this appeal? Do we not incline to prefer the elder, for all his frank earthliness, to the younger, with his mean servilities and subterranean shifts? Yet there the sentence stands; and all Scripture, and the long centuries of human history, set the seal of confirmation to the sacred verdict. The Aryan has prevailed in war and civilisation, but in all other things the Semite conquered his conqueror. More than any other nation, the Hebrew realised the intense grandeur and infinite supremacy of the moral law, and saw that the greatest and most awful aim for human life is not culture, but conduct. Let us see why Jacob, who seems to concentrate all the worst faults which we associate with the lowest type of Jewish character, is yet preferred to his more gallant and manly brother.
2. Let me reject at once two solutions of it. Some would settle it on the broad grounds of predestinated election and arbitrary decree, and would confuse our understanding with reasonings high of freedom and foreknowledge, will and fate. Others think it sufficient to silence us with the triumphant assertion, that we are but clay in the hands of the potter, that God may treat us as He wills. Others, again, argue that we must not judge Jacob's sins as though they were sinful, because Scripture records them without distinct condemnation, and because he may have been acting under Divine directions. I do not only reject all such solutions, I declare the first to be blasphemous, and the second deplorable. God is no arbitrary tyrant, but a merciful, loving, righteous Father. And the moral law, in its inviolable majesty, infinitely transcends the wretched "idols of the theatre" which men have called theories of inspiration. If God chose Jacob, it was because the true nature of Jacob was intrinsically worthy of that choice.
3. According to the Hebrew idiom, the strong antithesis of the text connotes less than it asserts, being but a more intense way of saying that, in comparison with his brother, Esau neither deserved nor received the approval of God. A second abatement — though not removal — of the difficulty lies in the fact that Jacob seems worse to us because his faults were essentially those of an Oriental, and are therefore peculiarly offensive to the heart of a true Englishman. And long may falseness and meanness be utterly abhorrent to our Northern character! But our special national scorn of Jacob's deceitfulness does not make it one whit more contemptible than Esau's animalism.
4. Herein lies the first great moral of these two lives. That which is holy is not to be cast to the dogs. Esau lost the blessing because he reeked not of it. Jacob gained it, because his whole soul yearned for its loftiest hopes. Men, on the whole, do win what they will: they do achieve that at which they resolutely aim. This is perfectly true in worldly things. But there is one ambition which is worth the absorbing devotion of a human being. It is the ambition of holiness, the treasure of eternity, the object of seeing the face of God.
5. What a difference is made by different ideals. Each of these twin-brothers lost and gained much more beside their immediate wish. Esau the rough becomes by scornful memorial Edom the red; Jacob the supplanter becomes Israel the prince with God.
6. Another lesson is, that however lofty be our aims, we must not, in order to hasten them, deflect, were it but one hair's breadth, from the path of perfect rectitude. Jacob inherited the blessing because his faith yearned for its spiritual promises; but because he compassed its immediate achievement by a crime, therefore, with the blessing there fell on him a retribution so heavy, so unremitted, as made his look back over life a bitter pain.
7. In spite of all which stained his life, Jacob was still a patriarch and a saint. You must not judge of him as a whole by the instances, so faithfully recorded, of his guilty plottings. In two main respects Jacob was certainly greater, better, and worthier than Esau. The sins of Esau's life were, so to speak, the very narrative; the sins of Jacob's life were but the episode of his career.
8. There is this further difference. There is not the faintest sign that Esau ever repented of his sin. But in Jacob's life there was many a moment when he would have forfeited the very blessing to purchase back the innocence by which it had been gained. Learn lastly, that the continuity of godliness is the choicest gift of all, and innocence is better than repentance. And we see in the case of Esau's red pottage and ravenous hour, that one failure under sudden temptation may be alike the ruin and epitome of a man's career, because the impulse of the hour is nothing less than the momentum of the life.
Parallel VersesKJV: I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob,