Category Archives: Bible – OT – Genesis

Unfit converts

Graeme Goldsworthy points out how Jacob was an unnatural choice for God, not simply because he was the younger twin.

Jacob is not a good person at all — quite the opposite. His election is not grounded on his merits foreseen by God (compare Romans 9:10-13). But Jacob is converted by the grace of God and becomes the father of the covenant people. (p. 69)

It’s easy to overlook this aspect of the story. We can get all hung up about Esau’s non-election, and mistakenly get it into our heads that Jacob was a goody-two-shoes, so God could naturally choose him. If all we had to go on was Abel, we might come to that conclusion, though, of course, we don’t know how peasant or obnoxious he might have been.

It reminds me of a recent discussion about God’s fairness in not saving many, but only a few. Of course, it is hard to substantiate the numerical balance without access to all the figures for human population, past, present and future. It appears to be unbalanced in our day, at least from where I live. But, if we lived in some parts of Africa, Asia, or South America we might have a very different perception of the balance.

But, to pick up on the point Goldsworthy makes about Jacob’s fundamental badness. If we concentrate on Esau, or the non-elect in general, we miss the more amazing fact. Esau was no more a good person than Jacob. Both alike stood under God’s just condemnation. as every human being does. The amazing fact is that God should choose any, not that God should not choose all. Undue emphasis on the latter will lead to frustration, despair, even anger, all because of imbalance. Remembering the former must lead to humility, thankfulness and praise.

God never picks the fit to be converted, only the unfit. That is just as well, since we are all unfit converts. But like Jacob we may be changed, conformed into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).


Graeme Goldsworth, Gospel and Kingdom, (1981) in The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2000)

(spelling corrected 22 Feb)

A true love story

Reading Genesis 24 recently I was struck by the ending. Not the way Hollywood, or the BBC, would have portrayed it. We see Isaac take Rebekah, but not quite in the sense the movies use the phrase. This is quite a different taking. It’s the same taking, if not done in quite the same way today, as is done by every man and woman who desire marriage — “Do you take . . . to be your wife/husband?”

Isaac took Rebekah into the tent, but the camera stays outside. We do not need to enter the tent. Indeed, we ought not to enter the tent. What happens there is neither for us to share, or imagine. What is important is not the entering of the tent, or what happens there, but that Rebekah became his wife, and that Isaac loved her. Here is marriage as God intended, with all that those two phrases entail.

As divinely told, the story is as tender as when God introduced Adam to his wife. Yet, these are no Hollywood fantasies, endearingly romantic, but utterly unreal. The whole story is one of God’s careful and marvellous providence, not just the ending. How else could it end: “he loved her”? How could he not? Did we not love her the moment she stepped up to the well?

But more than that, we bowed our heads with Abraham’s servant and worshipped with him, did we not? For, as tender as the love Isaac had for Rebekah, more tender was the love that planned it all. That wise old servant saw it clearly when he said, “Blessed by the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.” (Gen. 24:27)

This is the whole point of the story, is it not? With what relish and excitement must he have related everything to Isaac on his return, before Isaac took Rebekah. How could this not have been the highlight of his story? And what a perfect beginning to their marriage, to see and to know the hand of God so clearly in all the detail.

And as perfect as the story we read is, much more perfect is the providential love God still has for his people. Ought we not to stand by the well ourselves from time to time, and bow our heads and worship that selfsame God. Edith McNeill put it well in her paraphrase of Lam. 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning, new every morning:
great is Your faithfulness, O Lord,
great is Your faithfulness.

Lots of lessons?

Although I’m supposed to be preparing something from Genesis 18 for our church preaching workshop tomorrow, I’ve been diverted by Lot as I’ve been reading through Genesis 12-23 to try and fit things into context. So here are a few thoughts, prompted by my reading and Kent Hughes.

Lot really is a righteous tragedy. He left the sophistication of city life in Ur with Uncle Abraham to be an alien and a pilgrim in a cultural backwater (at least, Canaan would have seemed that way to a sophisticated Mesopotamian. But he evidently hankered after the sophistication of city life, perhaps given a boost by his spell in Egypt when Uncle Abraham overshot the landing strip in Canaan.

Yet his choice of an urban paradise was strange, given the depravity and debauchery of Sodom. Ur had a high culture, though it was thoroughly idolatrous. Not only had it piped water, but a sophisticated law code. But Sodom was a place where dignity was cheap and respect for authority virtually non-existent. The law of Sodom was “anything goes”, and generally it did. 2 Peter 2:10 makes it clear that Sodom was not merely a place of debauchery, but also of anarchy.

Sadly, Lot ended his life a cave man, quite literally. And his tragic spell of utter depravity recounted in the final part of Genesis 19 would have shocked even his debauched erstwhile neighbours of Sodom.

But God’s verdict on Lot was that he was righteous (2 Peter 2:7). Was it that in order to prepare him for the Holy City God had to knock out of him completely and forever the desire for worldly city life? For preparation for eternal city life is not to be found in urban sophistication, but in sanctified camping. Such an attitude is not the exclusive isolation of shunning everything in the world, trying to live as if it doesn’t exist. What it means is sitting loose to worldly idolatrous culture — what Scripture calls separation.

The highlight of Abraham’s tent dwelling tour of Canaan was his communion with God, signified by his frequent altar building. Lot seemed to take more delight in Egypt and Sodom, until God’s discipline made him an unfit earthly citizen, so that he might be well fitted for heaven.

Lot can teach us this, among other things, that we need to take care of an unhealthy desire for urban sophistication, lest we, too, suffer similar painful discipline. Yes, Lot was saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15); in Lot’s case quite literally.

The principle of government

It struck me this morning as I read Genesis 1 that it bears witness clearly to the principle of government in God’s creation. In day 4 the two great lights are created specifically to govern day and night (the triple repetition of the word makes a clear emphasis). And in day 6, of course, human beings are given delegated authority from the Creator himself to subdue and rule over the various other animals (again with a triple repetition of the terms). There is perhaps a distinction in that the lights are somewhat passive in their government, while humanity has a much more active task, made all the more difficult by our current sinful condition that prevents us from carrying out the creation mandate as originally intended.

This same theme of government in the universe is also evident in the Book of Revelation, with its constant reference to God’s throne.

Though we humans often despise, or at least complain about, our earthly governments, it is noteworthy that the principle of government is built-in to our world. Government is not required by the Fall, but predates it, and is to be exercised “under authority”, as a delegated function. The failures and flaws of human governments are but a reflection of their failure to recognise that they exercise authority only under delegated orders. Genesis 1 gives us hope, and Revelation comfort, that God is still on the throne. Every time we see the sun and the moon we have a physical reminder that this is so.