Freedom and Destiny

Torah Portion: Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)
Gospel Reading: John 13:36-14:7; 21:15-19
Commentary by: Matthew Day 

When I realized that I was scheduled to write a Gospel commentary based on this Torah portion, the first passage that came to mind was Romans 9. It's the story of Jacob and Esau, after all--what better springboard for diving into a discussion about free will and predestination? But, that's not where I wanted to go. Men have been fighting that battle for hundreds of years. This is not the place for yet another stone in that fight.

There's another story in the Gospels that contains some parallels to that of Jacob and Esau, and that's the story of Peter and the rooster. Just like Esau, Peter was prophesied to fail. "Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times." Did you catch that? "Truly, truly--" this is not just some educated guess.

Peter proved Yeshua's words. That very night he denied the Messiah that he had walked with for years. He denied Him, not once, not twice, but three times. He committed the very sin of which Yeshua said, "He who denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in heaven" (Matt. 10:33). Every one of the Gospels records this act of treason. Before us we have the evidence to convict and condemn Peter. This is the weight of Yeshua's prophecy to Peter.

Had the story ended here, we might assume the outcome to be much like that of Judas. Destiny would have its way, justice would be fulfilled. But, that's not where the story ends. Just past what Brant Hansen calls the worst chapter break in the Bible, Yeshua continues without even a break in the quotes, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me." What? In a single breath, Yeshua prophecies Peter's treason and then comforts him with a promise: "I will come again. I will take you to myself."

This seems incongruent, but there's another piece we're still missing. That's found in John 21. Here, Peter makes another three statements about Yeshua, but this time they're not denial. This time he says, "Yes, Lord, I love you." Not once. Not twice. Three times. Just like the night of Yeshua's betrayal.

You see, destiny does not have the final word. Prophecy could not condemn Peter to hell. When Yeshua spoke the words, "Believe in me," He was not referring to the prediction He has just made concerning Peter's betrayal. He was referring to the redemptive power that could overcome all sin and death. The transformative power to overcome who we were constrained to be by our flesh. It does not matter whether we have free will or act according to predestination--the truth is that by the power of the Gospel we have freedom. By the work of the Son, we have been set free.

The story of Jacob and Esau doesn't stop here in this Torah portion either. After Jacob flees from the wrath of his brother and spends his youth slaving for Laban, he eventually comes back. On the road back home, Jacob meets his brother. The Scripture tells us that Esau kissed Jacob. You've probably heard the teaching about the dots over the Hebrew word for "kissed." The story goes that these jots indicate something is off here--i.e. the kiss is insincere. At least, that's the way most of us have probably heard it. But, there's another opinion. According to R' Shimon bar Yochai, what is expected is for the kiss to be insincere. This is Esau, after all. The normal fleshly thing to do is to hold a grudge. What's strange is that the kiss is sincere. What's unexpected is that redemption has the final word.