A new biography
Grace is rescue for the undeserving and NEVER reward for the deserving. This truth takes us to the very heart of who God is, and yet it is something we so easily struggle with. There always remains a pagan instinct that makes us want to deserve God’s love. Yet the Bible not only tells us otherwise, but reinforces the truth by illustrating grace in the lives of many individuals.
The story of the patriarch Jacob takes up more space than any other such story in the Bible. He is an immense figure in Old Testament history, and yet he was not someone you would carelessly invite home to meet your mother! He was a rascal, a cheat, a disappointment and, among much else, a man who repeatedly resisted God and rebelled against God’s purposes.
There was something deeply twisted about Jacob. He was the one who deceived his own father into giving him the blessing that ought to have gone to his twin brother Esau. His dishonesty and deception led to division in the family and a lasting estrangement. For all that, Jacob had profound experiences of God who gave him visions, and there was even an episode in which Jacob wrestled with an angel of God, all the while demanding that god bless him. Yet for all that profound spiritual experience he was a spiritual rebel who repeatedly resisted God’s purposes thus hurting himself and wounding others. Brief spiritual experiences without a lasting life-transformation are tragically wasted.
As a father, he selected a favourite son in Joseph, lavishing an expensive coat of many colours on him. Not only did this do little good for Joseph, reinforcing his youthful self-centredness, but, unsurprisingly, it fuelled jealousy and hatred in Jacob’s other sons. The foolishness of Jacob created a deeply dysfunctional family; the other brothers plotted together and sold Joseph as a slave, then deceived their father (spot the irony) into believing him to have been mauled to death by a wild animal.
You get the picture. Jacob was difficult and headstrong. He refused to build on his spiritual experiences of God and so squandered them in a life of selfishness. Even after he thought Joseph was dead, he refused the comfort God was offering him through his family (Genesis 37:35). Most of us yearn for comfort when life goes wrong, but Jacob proudly and angrily snubbed such comfort. When God wanted to accompany him in the midst of his sorrow, binding his wounds and offering healing for his sore heart, Jacob rebuffed what was lovingly offered. He clung tenaciously and perversely to his sorrow.
In many ways, when Jacob finally entered Egypt to be reunited with Joseph, he had become a sad old man. After a quarter of a century of thinking him dead, he finds Joseph not only alive but in fact the genius who masterminded the physical salvation of the ancient near amidst the desperate privations of famine. Yet Jacob has become emotionally stunted, unable to find tears when he meets his beloved son. That is what he made himself.
When Pharaoh asks Jacob his age, the patriarch’s response is to depict his life as being no more than days of bitter sorrow and painful hurt, overlooking the abundant goodness of God in his life:
The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” (Genesis 47:9)
However, and it is glorious that there is a ‘however’, in the next chapter, some 17 years later, we read of how grace has worked a miracle in this sad, broken, emotionally stunted, old man. We find him wishing to pronounce blessing on his grandsons, the sons of Joseph, before he dies. This is what he says as he reflects on his life, and it is a very different perspective from the one he gave Pharaoh all those years earlier:
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” Genesis 48:15-16
God has been his shepherd! Gone is the self-preoccupied moan about his years being marked by endless sorrow, and now he sees that even in the midst of the tears, God has been his loving shepherd. Incidentally, we tend to think that it was David who taught us in Psalm 23 to see God as a shepherd. In fact David got the image from twisted old Jacob!
The story of Jacob is a biography of failure and selfishness and resistance of God. However, God in his grace can break even those self-locking chains. Wonderfully for us, we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ, whose biography is one of living the perfect life that we ought to have lived; of dying a death on the cross that we might be forgiven, of rising in power that we might know that God the Father has accepted His sacrifice in our place and who comes to us in the power of His Holy Spirit to transform our lives no less radically than Jacob’s. His biography brings rescue to ours.
Grace is rescue for the undeserving and NEVER reward for the deserving.