Election and all that

The doctrine of election is rather hideous to those people who are not Christians. The idea that God would choose some and not others makes God some kind of homicidal maniac. Especially repulsive is the idea that God does not choose based on any criterion to be found in us, but that His election is based solely on God’s good pleasure.

But to the believer, the doctrine of election is full of comfort. If I am a chosen child of God (by His good pleasure, lest I have anything of which to boast), then God will not let me go. His grasp is perfect, and His timing is altogether lovely.

The doctrine of election is not a doctrine worthy of speculation. John Calvin himself called it a labyrinth: we should not go wandering around in it, lest we become lost! We cannot read anyone’s heart but our own. Therefore, the doctrine of election is not for the purpose of beating someone else over the head saying, “Ha! I’m elect and you’re not!” (sing-song type of voice).

Instead, the doctrine of election comes into its own when doubts assail the believer. Do we doubt God’s love for us? Do we doubt whether God will keep us or not? Then know that since God has chosen us from before the foundation of the world, then we will not lose God’s love.

The doctrine of election is by no means a prop for someone who desires to live however he wants. Election does not mean that God has saved us; therefore we can do anything we want. No, the Bible specifically states that we are elected unto good works. We were elected to salvation precisely so that we would live as children of God.

Some out there will say that if people are elect or not elect, then that will hamper evangelism. Nothing could be further from the truth. God does not merely elect people. He also ordains the means by which each person will come to faith. That means is us. Therefore, election requires evangelism, as R.B. Kuiper says in his book God-Centred Evangelism. Actually, the doctrine of election is quite freeing with regard to evangelism: if I know that God will bring into His fold His sheep which He has chosen, then all I have to do is present the Gospel clearly. I don’t have to argue people into the kingdom. I don’t need the anxious bench.

And here is an interesting fact: Calvinist churches have always sent more missionaries per capita than Arminian churches have. You wouldn’t think that possible if Calvinist churches believed that election hampers evangelism. But it is true.

Election also requires the opposite doctrine of reprobation. This is even more hideous to prideful mankind. However, we must be careful how we define reprobation. There is no such case as someone banging on the door of heaven, and God not letting them in. Let me repeat that: there is no such case as someone banging on the door of heaven, and God not letting them in. If anyone is banging on the door of heaven, screaming to be let in, it is because they are elect! The reprobate rather, are those whom God has passed by. Furthermore, the reprobate want nothing to do with God. God is by no means crossing their wills in passing them by. In other words, election and reprobation are not symmetrical. It is not the case that all of humanity stands poised between heaven and hell, and God splits some off into heaven, and the others He splits off into hell. No. Rather, all are already headed to hell. All already deserve hell. That is why it is a miracle that any get to heaven. We don’t deserve heaven. We deserve hell. If anyone objects to this line of reasoning, then it must be because they do not really believe in the sinfulness of mankind. Election, therefore, far from being evidence of God’s homicidal tendencies, is rather the greatest evidence of God’s mercy that there ever was.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Genesis 29:1-30
It is the dearest and most delightful wish of parents that their children will have children just like them, so that their children will experience just what it was like to raise them. If a parent has a rebellious child, then the parent hopes that the child will also have a rebellious child. This constitutes some kind of revenge, I think. Often it is true that what goes around comes around. That is what happens to Jacob. The Deceiver gets deceived. He gets what is coming to him.

Jacob has just left Bethel, where he met with God. That was the single most important event of Jacob’s life. There was nothing more earth-shattering for Jacob than meeting with God Himself. And to come out of it not only alive, but also blessed, is good reason for Jacob to pursue his journey with a lighter step. Literally, verse 1 says, “He picked up his feet,” a rather unusual expression that means that he continued or resumed his journey. But still, I think that his inward emotional state is also revealed for us here.

Look at how God’s Providence guides him on his journey to the very place he needs to be to meet his future wife. You can see Providence in how the timing of Jacobs meeting with Rachel went. You can see Providence in the fact that Jacob somehow managed to find just the right well that was near Laban’s house. God’s Providence was working in spite of the fact that Jacob did not pursue Rachel with anywhere near the faith that Abraham’s servant Eliezer displayed when acquiring Rebekah for Isaac. You will remember that Eliezer was careful to pray, and to find out about her character, and asked the Lord to guide him with certain direction. Jacob does none of that. Instead, he goes by Rachel’s good looks alone. He doesn’t find out about her character at all. Even after being at Laban’s house for a full month, he doesn’t really find out about her character. At least, if he does, it does not weigh nearly as much in his mind as her good looks does. This is evidence of lack of faith.

We should remember that when we are looking for a spouse, character is the most important thing about a future spouse. You do not want to marry someone who is good-looking, only to find out later that they have a bad character that makes it nearly impossible to live with that person. Good looks will always fade as a person gets old. But if you find someone with a good character, then you can live with that person the rest of your life. Young people, take note.

Jacob greets the shepherds quite diplomatically by calling them “brothers.” Jacob is the oldest person present, and so it was up to him to initiate conversation. Jacob tries to get some conversation going, but the shepherds only give him one-word answers, until they notice that Rachel is coming. Then Jacob insults the shepherds by telling them how to do their job, since he wants them to go away so that he can talk with Rachel alone This is in verse 7. But they won’t go away. They are lazy busybodies, and they want to see what will happen when Jacob meets Rachel. That is why they make this lame excuse that they can’t roll away the stone until all the flocks are gathered. Presumably this means that the stone is too big to lift from off the well. They need all the help they can get. Well, the only flock missing is Rachel’s. Do they need Rachel’s help to lift the stone? I think not. It is fairly obvious that they could have lifted the stone themselves if they had wanted to do so.

When Rachel comes, Jacob does a feat of rather remarkable strength. He lifts the stone by himself, and then waters all the sheep of Laban. Probably he wanted to impress the daughter of Laban with his physical prowess. It is a bit surprising, considering that Jacob loved to sit in tents. We would have thought that Jacob was a wimp. But that is not the case. He is a shepherd, and shepherds tend to be strong. They often have to carry sheep, as well as fend off predators. No, Jacob is no wimp.

Jacob tells Rachel who he is in relation to her. Rachel is astonished, just as Rebekah was astonished on a very similar occasion nearly a hundred years before. Laban thought very similar things as he did before. He saw dollar signs, just as he did before. This time, however, the newcomer is penniless and at the mercy of anyone willing to show him hospitality. Laban decides to take full advantage of it. We know this from the Hebrew of verse 14, where Laban grudgingly admits that Jacob is his own flesh and blood.

After Jacob has been in the household for a full month, Laban asks him a very shrewd question. By asking the question about wages, Laban puts Jacob in a subservient position, the position of a dependant. Probably Laban already knew what Jacob was thinking. He probably already knew that Jacob was thinking about Rachel. After all, a single man in possession of Isaac’s fortune (at least promised to him!) must be in want of a wife!

Jacob had been thinking about Rachel. Now, Rachel had a sister named Leah. It is unclear whether her eyes are weak or beautiful: the Hebrew is not clear. That is why you have a footnote in verse 17. It could be that the only things that were beautiful about Leah wer her eyes. Or it could be that Leah’s eyes lacked that brilliance that people from the Near East prize so highly. Either way, Rachel was a knockout compared to Leah. Jacob makes a very generous proposal here. Normally the bride price would have been equivalent to approximately 3 years of work. Jacob does not want to risk Laban refusing him. So he makes an offer he know Laban will not refuse. However, Laban is very tricky in his response. He does not specify which daughter will be given to Jacob. He merely says “her.” Most commentators recognize here that Laban is leaving himself a loophole. He wants Jacob to stay with him and work for him for many years.

So, when the seven years are up, Jacob asks for his wife. Now, Rachel is not technically married to him, but she is betrothed to him. Anyone who violated a betrothed woman was committing adultery, according to OT law. That is why Jacob can call her his wife. Maybe we should translate it “bride.” But the fact is that Jacob had to ask for her; Jacob has to initiate the marriage ceremony proceedings with Laban. Laban is rather reluctant. He doesn’t want to give up such a good worker. So he comes up with this hideous plan to deceive Jacob. He will dress up Leah in Rachel’s clothes, rather like Jacob dressing up in Esau’s clothes. Under cover of darkness, a veil, and probably Jacob’s drinking some alcohol, Laban deceives Jacob. Those three things must be in place if this charade is going to work: it is night-time; Leah is wearing a veil, and Jacob was drinking. When Jacob wakes up, he finds out that he has been had. In fact, the deception is almost identical to the deception he had pulled off on Isaac. Both involved the substitution of a sibling, wearing deceptive clothes, and drinking. Jacob was just as blind as his father had been. Certainly this is Jacob’s comeuppance. He got what was coming to him. It makes you wonder how Laban got Rachel to be quiet during this whole night: did he have her locked up, or what? And what about Leah? Obviously, she was a willing party to this deception. Maybe she was getting desperate, besides a bit jealous of her sister, which we know from subsequent history. Maybe she loved Jacob herself.

Nevertheless, Laban was certainly much to blame here. His pitiful excuse about the customs of the land are really irrelevant, since Laban should have told Jacob about such customs before this situation could ever have arisen. But Laban has played his cards just right. He knows that Jacob will not be satisfied without Rachel, and so he offers Rachel for another seven years of service. That’s a hard bargain, but Jacob must accept if he is to have his Rachel. Now, Jacob does not have to wait another seven years before he gets to marry Rachel. He marries Rachel right after the week of feasting for Leah is done. It is a testimony that Jacob has learned something, however, since Jacob does not take Rachel and flee, but stays another seven years to work off his debt for Rachel. I’m sure that the second set of seven years did not go by nearly as quickly as the first seven years.

However, Laban has it coming. As we will see, his daughters do not think very highly of him, and they conspire against Laban when Jacob decides that it is time to leave. Furthermore, Jacob will wind up owning most of the best of Laban’s flock. So the Lord makes it right eventually. He exercizes grace on Jacob in spite of Jacob’s faults, and they are many. We also see the Lord’s providence. From Leah comes the tribe of Judah, which tribe will eventually produce the Messiah, Jesus Christ. So God was working even in this terribly messy situation.

God has a habit of doing that, as a matter of fact. God works in very messy situations such that good comes out of it. The supreme example is Jesus Christ on the cross. The Jews wanted to kill the very person who had come to save them. Very messy. Sin and death are messy. And yet, God uses even sin and death to accomplish His purposes. In doing so, he turns sin and death upside down, so that what Satan was hoping they would accomplish does not in fact accomplish it. This is seen very clearly in C.S. Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, wherein the White Witch (a figure of Satan) thinks that she has won because she killed Aslan. What she does not know is that death would work backwards. It would be reversed through the death of Aslan.

What situations in your life are messy right now? Do they look as if no one and nothing can redeem it? That is the situation in which we all find ourselves. God can work through those situations to accomplish salvation. It brings honor and glory to God. Maybe you have been in a situation when you pursued a goal headlong, and then you were tricked out it at the end. Wait and see what God will do. We can’t see what God is doing. He works on such a vast scale that it is almost impossible to see what He is doing. It is like looking on the back of a handmade carpet. The design is almost impossible to make out from the back side. On occasion God will let us the front side. And even then, unless we step back and look at it, we still won’t see the whole picture. But we will eventually see it. We need to count on the fact that God is working on this carpet of our lives, and that it will be beautiful once God is finished on it. In some ways, it is a token of just how bad we are that it takes our entire lives before we are ready to have the carpet finished. But god is giving us grace day by day, thread by thread. Wait and see.