I have loved you, said the LORD. Yet you say, Wherein have you loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? said the LORD…
Why should God say, Jacob I loved, Esau I hated? Why should He choose one nation of the earth to favour beyond all others? Is not that an arbitrary and unfair exercise of His will? Now, no doubt that is the case if we only put on election the interpretation common among the later Jews, and the one most familiar to ourselves. We need to correct it by the larger ideas which St. Paul suggests to us, and which are, at least, latent in the Old Testament. For one thing, let us remember that God's purposes are wider than anything we can conceive of, and that we have to make allowances for that, whenever we seek to understand or criticise His providential dealings. As St. Paul tried to teach the Christians in Rome, God chose Israel not for the sake of Israel alone, but for the sake of the world. To him this explains at once the apparent arbitrariness of the choice, and the narrowness of the groove within which Israel had moved. God elected and trained the people for a certain special end. It was not that by nature they were specially fitted for that end, but rather that they were made to fit it by His grace. Here is one Semitic people out of many showing a peculiar temperament and genius for religion, and subjected to influences all of which tended to emphasise its peculiarities and fit it for its destiny among mankind. And its history can only be read aright in the light of some larger and even world-wide scheme, which it was being prepared to fulfil. But, of course, it is not only in Israel, or, indeed, in any of the nations of the world, that this apparent arbitrariness of Providence is to be seen. It runs through human life. Take the story of Jacob and Esau, as only referring to the men themselves, and we find that it is one that is constantly repeated in our experience. The inequality of human destinies is one of the stock themes of the pessimist; one man is chosen and another rejected, and it is certainly not of works but of Him that calleth. One of the most disconcerting things in all our experience is the apparent failure of goodness to secure its reward. Sometimes it is the most unworthy who is selected for the crown, while the saint is passed by or made to stoop under the cross. Then men enter for the race of life strangely and even unfairly handicapped. One man inherits a physique and a nervous system which means a happy temperament and unusual strength of character; another is the victim of congenital weakness, which dooms him to much misery and possibly to sin. One man is elected to conditions altogether favourable to the development of his higher self, while another's circumstances tend constantly to drag him down. We have all experienced at times the baffling and tragic sense of wrong to which such thoughts as these give rise. But do we remember that most of our perplexity is due to the fact that we confine our views to the earthly and material side of life? We have to take much else into account before we can hope to face the prospect which God's providence presents with anything like equanimity. His purposes are surely not confined in their scope either to the lives of individuals or to this world in which we now live in the flesh. Nor is the supreme object of His dealing with us the happiness of many or of most. If we are to trust all the indications of natural and revealed religion, God's purpose is supremely ethical In His eyes goodness is as far above happiness as heaven is above the earth; and that even happiness should be sacrificed that high moral ends may be secured is something which should cause us no concern. Then, again, if we have read our Bibles to any purpose, or even studied intelligently the average experiences of men, we shall know that no view of life which leaves out of account its spiritual aspect can be either just or sane. We cannot, gaze as we will, see the end from the beginning. Events that seem most contrary and cruel in our experience have in them a soul of goodness for those that have eyes to see. The wicked may flourish like a green bay-tree, but he perishes like the green hay-tree too when his time comes; and the righteous may obtain no reward but that of a good conscience, yet in the end he is received into everlasting habitations. There is more being done all round us to redress the balance than we have any conception of, hut it is not until we come to look at life from a higher standpoint than that of mere earthly interests that we can see it. The work of Providence in a man's life is not finished when the man himself has passed away; sometimes it is only just begun. But we need to bear in mind that God's election of a man or of a race is not always, as we think, an election to favour or privilege alone. Under Providence special privilege means special responsibilities, and election is election to service. Men and nations alike are instruments in God's hands, and He makes them serve His ends. Where there is a special endowment or fitness, there is a special function to be fulfilled, and this function is one in which many have an interest outside the individual. We must learn to judge therefore in the light, not only of the special endowment given, but of the special ends to be served by it. The history of Israel, for example, were almost inexplicable apart from its results on the religion of mankind. The key to it is to be found not in Moses or the prophets or the rabbis, but in Christ. The people had been fitted for a particular work, and it was their fitness which constituted their election. This helps to explain the strange one-sidedness there is in national life. It is a question of selection as well as election, the power or faculty most regularly employed growing at the expense of the rest. And to the religious mind each nation alike is an instrument of Providence, and in them all is to be seen something of the grand purpose of God working itself out slowly but surely, through difficulty and apparent defeat, towards that best which is yet to be. But we need to come a little closer to the subject yet. All that has been said may be quite true, but it does not dispose of the difficulty in our text. There may be a great deal to be said for the doctrine of election in the abstract; but when it is couched ill such language as this, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated," it is difficult to avoid a sense of undue favouritism, and the thought that God is, after all, a respecter of persons, in the sense of having personal preferences. And yet we have only to look behind the words to see that the conclusion is unwarranted. As it is, we see behind the words a law or principle which we must not ignore. If we may argue from human analogies, it is but natural and just to say that God loves those who love Him. One of the things we learn most surely flora Bible history is that God does not look for moral perfection in those to whom He grants His favours, and whom He chooses to do His work. Jacob was far from being a perfect character; but with all his faults he had the supreme virtue of religion, he had learned to take God into account in his actions, and to work and think with reference to His will. Esau, on the other hand, is the type of those who are without God in the world — profane persons, who are blind to their highest interests, and live wilfully on the lower side of life. What wonder that from such God's face should be turned away! God loves those who love Him, and the shadow cast by His love is His hatred of all that would lead men away from Him and keep them in the dark of selfishness and sin. As has been said already, we have to reckon with man's will as well as God's. He compels no man to be either righteous or sinful, and the fact that we are free adds a brighter halo to our goodness, and deepens immeasurably the stain of our guilt. We are always working either with God or against Him, and this fact, while it adds a new hope and assurance to our efforts after righteousness, makes the evil that is in us point only to despair. Judged by the only standards we can use, we have to lay the blame on man and not on God for whatever is dark and terrible in the words, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." A subject like this brings vividly home to us the supreme needs of the religious man — faith in God and co-operation with Him. It is often cruelly enough revealed to us that in this life — in spite of the light of reason — we are as those that grope in the dark. After all, the world is only in the making as yet, and we have to learn to judge not by the intricate mass of scaffolding, rubbish heaps, and half-built walls that we see, but by the Architect's plans. In spite of all the perplexities and inconsistencies which puzzle us here, we have to learn to look at the design which runs through them all, and the purpose which by them is being slowly evolved. Sometimes all we can do is to trust and wait, to be sure that there is a secret to this mystery and a solution to that riddle, but that we have not yet eyes to see them; and we must remember, too, that faith will never sit with folded hands doing nothing, but that true faith always works. The greater the trouble and the difficulty the more need there is for work, and the effort to do God's will as far as it is known is the only means by which that will can be more clearly understood.
(W. B. Selbie, M. A.)
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,