Rev. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” That we read in Romans 9:16in connection with the truth presented in the preceding verses.
In this New Testament chapter the awesome truth presented in the Old Testament, and in regard to the love of God “which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” is held before us. Here by the apostle Paul. He presents the truth which we considered last time in this department of the Day of Shadows. Paul presents the truth in Christ, and emphatically declares that he does not lie. What is more, he expresses the heaviness of his heart because of what happened to some who were called Israelites, who were such in the physical sense but not in the spiritual sense.
He refers to the fact that although Esau was in the physical sense a descendant of Isaac, and therefore an Israelite as a descendant of Abraham, not he, Esau, but his brother Jacob is, according to election, Prince of God, as implied in the name Israel. Indeed there are many striking things presented to us in the day of shadows.
Although the almighty God chose Jacob, his father Isaac chose Esau, because he was the firstborn of these twins. We do here have a reflection of what was revealed, namely, that the very first child born to mankind, namely, Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, is not presented as an elect child of God. But his brother Abel revealed himself very plainly, by his proper sacrifice, to be the one God chose and caused to be born as His covenant child.
What is striking in the account is the reaction of Isaac to the manifestation that Jacob should receive the covenant blessing. Isaac – and he had reason for doing so, since Esau was the firstborn of those twins – intended to pronounce the covenant blessing upon Esau, and not on Jacob. His wife, Rebekah, according to Genesis 25:28 loved Jacob, while Isaac loved Esau. This may also be the case because of their physical appearance. Esau appeared to be a physically strong man, and a vigorous son. He was a cunning hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents (Gen. 25:27). This, but also the fact that he, Esau, was the firstborn son of the two twins, explains why Isaac intended to pronounce on him the covenant blessing.
However, the striking thing revealed to us in Genesis, but also in Romans 9, is that Isaac did bow before God’s will and decree. He, not only as presented in Genesis 27:37-40, but also in Genesis 28:1-4, bowed before Gods will, and in no way and to no degree tried to bring any part of that covenant blessing upon Esau, when God revealed to him that Jacob had been blessed, and that there was nothing of a covenant blessing left for Esau. And Isaac, agreeing with his wife Rebekah, blessed Jacob and charged him not “to take a wife of the daughters of Canaan,” but to go to Padan-Aram to get a wife from his mother’s relatives. This Isaac did because his wife, Rebekah, advised him to have Jacob get a wife that believed in God. In Genesis 28:8 we read that Esau, knowing that it did not please his father for him to get a Canaanitish wife, who would definitely be an unbeliever, went to the house of Ishmael to get his wife. For Ishmael was a son of Abraham through Hagar.
So Jacob left his father and mother and twin brother and went to where his mother had been born. He, Isaac, told Jacob to go and get a believing wife. But, first of all, behind this mission was his mother’s fear that Esau would kill Jacob. For she had been told that Esau planned to slay Jacob as soon as his father died (Gen. 27:42-45). She told Jacob what Esau intended to do, and that when the fury of his brother passed away she would “send and fetch” Jacob from thence.
Surely we have here a fulfillment of that Mother Promise in Genesis 3:15. Here was enmity between Jacob, the seed of the woman, and Esau, the seed of the serpent. And the seed of the serpent openly and boldly revealed his enmity and intention to crush the heel of the seed of the woman. What is more, this intention of Esau reveals what lies ahead for us. What in the Old Testament, namely in Genesis 3:15, is called the seed of the serpent, and is here manifested in Esau, can correctly be called the antichristian forces, which will try to wipe off the face of this earth all those who are the spiritual seed of Jacob, and are beautifully called Christians, as we read in Acts 11:26.
Esau hated Jacob and intended to kill him, so that he would get the inheritance and possessions of his father. He did not kill Jacob; but he intended to do so in order to get worldly possessions, not God’s blessing. That reveals what lies ahead for the seed of the woman, Gods elect people. What lies ahead Isaac declared to Jacob when he, at Rebekah’s advice, said to him, “God Almighty bless thee . . . and give thee the blessings of Abraham” (Gen. 29:3, 4).
It is true that Esau, because he got so wealthy, and his flesh was pleased with and delighted in the things of this world, did not try to kill Jacob. For God keeps His covenant promises to His church, and will save every one of His elect from physical death until he has been born again, until the body of Christ is perfect, and until His church has all its members in their places in that body of Christ which He eternally designed.
Jacob goes as commanded by his father to get a wife out of the church and not out, of the world. It was a painful trip and required a slow walk where he had never been before. He would be leaving the promised land, and leaving behind all the earthly material that was promised him by his father. This pictured the truth that all of God’s people will, when Christ returns, receive a glorious, wonderful life in a creation of which this present world is only a picture, and which is a means of serving the church to receive what God has promised in a sweet communion with Him.
What an awesome thing, then, when Jacob was all alone and was leaving the promised land. He left his father and mother behind. He had to flee from his twin brother. And he was, by his mother’s efforts, going for a wife – not because he was eagerly looking for a marriage, but to be where his uncle, aunt, and cousins dwelt, and because his father told him not to take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
We may believe that Jacob went with faith in God. He made a vow that, if God would help him on the way, and give him bread to eat and raiment to wear, so that he could return unto his father in peace, the Lord would be his God. This was after the dream which God gave him. And we must indeed see God’s almighty power and infinite wisdom, in order to have confidence and hope.
Our salvation is not given us because we wanted it. Take hold of the comforting truth of Scripture that we want salvation because God has already begun it in us. Our salvation is a gift, but not a gift we deserve because we asked for it and “accepted an invitation to receive it.” Every bit of our salvation, including the desire for it, is a gift of God’s mercy. And mercy is compassion and pity. It implies not only that one suffers, but also that all men deserve torment and everlasting punishment and have no right to receive one blessing.
We have that truth so clearly manifest in Jacob’s life. And in the Old Testament times there is presented to us time and again some who are sinners but who do have God’s mercy bestowed upon them. Mercy is an aspect of love. As David wrote in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” And Jacob, who lied to his father and deceived him, claiming to be Esau, deserved to be cast into hell at once! He did not deserve the birthright blessing which would be a shadow of what Christ has earned for us. Jacob’s sin before his father was as serious as Adam and Eve’s, when they ate a piece of forbidden fruit. It was rebelling against God, and it revealed that Satan got the whole human race to go against God, dying spiritually and coming into this life spiritually dead!
We have here in Jacob a shadow of what is everywhere in the world today, namely, that God saves sinners in His mercy, not because they deserve or to any degree desire to have it until God has already begun it in them by a spiritual rebirth. Jacob did not earn and deserve the birthright blessing any more than Esau, from whom it was completely kept. This incident in the life of Jacob reveals Gods grace, which causes Him to deal with some sinners in His mercy. We all deserve God’s curse upon us; but He is eternally pleased to bring upon some of us His mercy.
Our God revealed that in the day that Adam and Eve fell into spiritual death. He told Satan that He would put enmity in some people’s hearts against him, that is, Satan. He was not going to sell it to them. Dead people cannot buy a thing. He was not going to offer it to spiritually dead people. He will put it in those whom He eternally chose to be His people. He will have mercy – not offer it and wait to see whether we want it. Dead people want nothing! Read again that verse wherewith this article begins. God said that it is not of him that willeth, but of God that showeth mercy (Rom. 9:16).
Therefore we must teach and maintain in humble thankfulness, “O God, how good Thou art to all the pure of heart, though life seems vain; burdened with anxious care, I groped in dark despair, till in Thy house of prayer, all was made plain” (Psalter # 204, based on Psalm 73). We must not, cannot, and cannot truthfully teach that we get the blessings of salvation because of what we did, because we fulfilled a condition which God presents to us. In His grace God gives us the right to blessings, by giving us Christ and all that ye earned for us.
Jacob did not deserve covenant blessings any more than Esau did. Surely his work of deceit and lying called for the opposite of a blessing. But he got it in God’s grace, and through it received works of God’s mercy. We do not even deserve to have the gospel preached to us. But our God shows us here, in this day of shadows, His mercy and grace as a work of His love and kindness. What Paul wrote in Romans 9:13 is so very, very true. God said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” And, if you please, according to verse 11, “the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” And then comes that awesome truth that God hated Esau and loved Jacob before they were born, not after the way they lived.
Let that beautiful versification of Psalm 139 once again be what your heart says:
All that I am I owe to Thee,
Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.