Friend of Sinners

Torah Reading: Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)
Gospel Reading: Romans 5:6-11
Commentary by: Matthew Day

Jacob and Esau — It’s a classic story that has been preached on so many times, I have to wonder what I can really add to the conversation. You have the familiar theme of the stronger serving the weaker which plays into Yeshua’s upside down kingdom. You also have the importance of valuing the birthright because what gain is there in selling your soul for the world?

You kinda gotta feel sorry for Esau. I mean, what kind of brother demands your inheritance for a bowl of soup? Imagine one of your children made such a deal with their older sibling. Would you honor it? Today I believe we call that extortion. And then there’s the whole ordeal with the blessing. No amount of Scriptural gymnastics can get you out of the fact that Jacob basically stole the blessing from his older brother. In fact, if you follow the story into the following portions, you see Jacob ends up reaping what he sowed (Laban turns out to be quite a trickster as well).

It’s not hard to see why Esau was angry. It’s harder to see how God could be okay with all this, especially starting His chosen nation this way. How do we justify this? Perhaps we don’t. We like to hold up Bible characters as these amazing examples of virtue and character, but the truth is they were broken. Abraham doubted. Jacob deceived. Moses let his pride get the better of him. David let his heart wander. When Jesus enters this unfolding story, He enters a story that is truly and fully human.

Paul tells us in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We just saw this play out with Jacob. Before he was even born, God chose Him. Through his life, he made mistakes. He sinned, obtaining the birthright and the blessing through deception and trickery. Yet, God still chose Him to be the father of Israel.

God did not leave him there, however. Look back at the list of Bible characters above. Abraham, the father of faith, doubted. Moses, the most humble man on earth, let his pride get to him. David, the man after God’s own heart, let his heart wander. Solomon, wisest man on the planet, did something pretty stupid. In each case, we see God working through their flaws. God’s strength shows through our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Jacob wrestled with his brother, wrestled with Laban, and finally wrestled with God. His struggle wasn’t always done right, but God took something good out of it, namely Jacob’s determination and relentless pursuit of what he valued most, and transformed it for His glory. Jacob becomes Israel — he who struggled with man and God, and prevailed.

That is the work God is doing in each of us. We are sinners. We are broken and weak. Even so, God pours out His love over us. He chooses us to be a part of His plan. He enters our story and suffers for our sake. So that we might be transformed, molded into the image of our Creator and Redeemer. This is good news, indeed.