Torah Commentary | Genesis

Portion: Torah Portion No. 25
Torah: Genesis 27:1–29
Haftarah: Isaiah 46:3–11
Apostolic: Hebrews 11:17–22

Random Events or Divine Providence?

By Tim Hegg

Recently I read a notice in the paper that an airplane carrying mission­aries was mistaken for a drug plane and shot down by the Peruvian government near the city of Ichitos. The news piece caught my attention for a number of reasons. First, because one of my college roommates grew up in Ichitos, himself a missionary’s kid. Secondly, because the mission­aries were with a mission agency with which I was familiar. But thirdly, the incident tugged at my heart because Roni Bower and her six-month old daughter were killed in the crash, even though her husband and the pilot survived. I tried for a moment to imagine what the sorrow and grief must be for this father and husband as he tried to deal with the loss of his wife and daughter—and all as a terrible mistake by a foreign government and people to whom he had committed his life and energies. This kind of story causes us, once again, to ask the question: “Is God really in control?” “Does He order the events of our lives?” Or, is the course of this world, and our lives in it, simply the result of the collision of random events without meaning or purpose?

A similar question arises in our parashah today: How can God choose Jacob over Esau, when it is clear that Jacob has “won the day” through deceit and trickery—even lies! Why would this kind of person be chosen by God to receive Divine blessing and the position in history as one of the Fathers of the covenant—a covenant which would in time embrace all of mankind?

The Sages also struggled with this and thereby highlight for us a very important issue, namely, the manner of God’s election, both of in­di­viduals and of the nation of Israel. In the theology of the Sages, God’s choice is not really sovereign, at least not in the full extent of that word. Rather, His choice is weighted or “tilted” by the character of the one chosen. For some of the rabbis, it simply did not fit into the scheme of things to have either the nation of Israel, nor her progenitor, Jacob, chosen on the sole basis of God’s choice. For their way of thinking, there must have been something worthy in the nation, or in Jacob, which attracted God to choose them as the object of His blessing.

For example, in the rabbinic literature we read that when the Torah was given at Sinai, God sent the notice out in 70 languages, to indicate that He was offering it to each and every nation of the world. As the story goes, every nation declined to receive the Torah, considering it unworthy or of no value. Israel alone responded with “all that You have said, we will do.” Thus Israel became God’s chosen because she saw the value of Torah and received it (cf. b.Ta’anit 25a; b.Shabbat 88b; b.Sota 32a; Mid. Rab. Exodus 5.9).

In similar fashion, Rashi decides that Jacob, though shrewd, did not lie! He un­der­stands v. 19 this way: “I am (myself), Esau (is) your first born ….” Further, in v. 24, since the He­brew only has Jacob saying אֲנִי, “I am,” Rashi concludes Jacob never ac­tually said “I am Esau,” but only told the minimum in a shrewd way, thereby putting the fault upon Isaac for the mistaken identity!

Please understand: I hold Rashi in high regard as one of the great commentators and grammarians of his day. Surely his insights into the text are often profound and rewarding. But this time he is clearly grasping at straws! The text is replete with the obvious fact that Jacob lied, deceived, and manipulated his blind father into declaring a legal trans­action without the advantage of all the facts.

Now this is quite an indictment upon Jacob, the Father of the nation of Israel! The Torah specifically states: (Lev. 19:14) “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am Adonai.” The Sages make it clear that this text means much more than simply putting a physical stumbling block in the path of a blind person. They interpret it to mean that one is prohibited from leading a blind person astray in any manner which takes advantage of his weakness. In other words, if the Sages were to admit that Jacob lied and deceived his blind father, he is cast in a very negative light.

But why would Rashi and others attempt to hide the deceit of Jacob and find a way to shield him from such an indictment? The answer is simple: we all naturally want to believe that God has chosen us for His people because we are, in fact, worthy of His choosing. But what this story teaches us above all else is that God’s election is not based upon any righteousness in the person He chooses. Some have taught that since God knows all things in advance, He looked ahead and chose those who would be upright. Such a notion is entirely discounted by the life of Jacob. If anything, the fact that God chooses Jacob over Esau (cf. Mal. 1:2; Rom 9:6-18) shows that God chooses whom He will, not on the basis of a person’s self-righteousness, but purely on the basis of His own sovereign love.

Actually, if we stop to consider this whole issue a little closer, we come to the conclusion that the only way anyone could think that they had been chosen by God because they were better than other people is if they had not honestly understood the nature of sin. We tend to categorize sins in a hierarchy of values—sins which are more heinous and severe are more weighty than the “lighter, not-so-bad” sins. It is true, of course, that some sins carry a heavier penalty in the Torah than others, but when we consider sin against the backdrop of God’s utter holiness, we see clearly that sin, any sin, becomes an infinite spot against the stark whiteness of His glory. Therefore, to think that one sinner is better than another is to miss the fact that even the smallest amount of black turns a bucket of white paint gray, that is, no longer white. God will never, yes, could never allow His glory to be diminished by overlooking or receiving as acceptable even the “smallest” of sins.

So why does God choose Jacob? What are we supposed to learn from this? Paul found this whole scenario incredibly important in the theology he came to understand as he re-read the Tanach with new eyes after being confronted by the living Messiah on the road to Damascus. His “secure” position as one of the most zealous Jews of his time evaporated before the very One he intended to persecute. In the light of the Shekinah Who blinded Him, he saw himself for what he truly was, a sinner under the unbearable judgment of the Almighty. But what became evident to him in time was that Yeshua’s appearance to him on the road to Damascus was a sovereign act which he did not deserve—an act which drew him to the truth and brought him to genuine, saving faith. He came to realize that his physical lineage was of no eternal value apart from the gift of faith.

Jacob eventually learns the same thing when he wrestles with the Angel/Messenger of Adonai. Wounded in the very place which was symbolic of a man’s strength (the thigh), Jacob (deceiver) whose name is changed to Israel (Contend with God? Upright before God? Prince of God?) is found worshiping while leaning (either on his bed or staff) at the end of his life. The “supplanter” limped the rest of his life—in his weakness he found God to be his strength.

Thus, God chooses those He will draw near to Him, those He will bless, not on the basis of their goodness, but by His sovereign choice alone. As the Divine Potter, He has the right to do with His creation as He pleases, and to bless those He will bless. In fact, the amazing thing is that He chooses any at all, for none are worthy of His love and grace.

Such a truth, when fully received, works in us a deep humility. When we see ourselves as “Jacobs” and realize that in spite of our sin­fulness God has chosen us as members of His own family, we are left only to bow before Him in adoration and thanksgiving, giving Him all the praise and accepting none of the credit ourselves. All of the blessings we have come from His hand, and all of them are, in the final analysis, undeserved. Indeed, the reason we offer a berachah for every commandment we perform is to remind us that both the giving of the mitzvot, as well as the desire and strength we have to perform them, is another manifestation of God’s love.

Unfortunately, this sublime truth of God’s sovereign election has been misunderstood and misused. Some have considered the doctrine so con­trary to the need of mankind to be responsible to God, that they have pretended it does not exist in Scripture. Others have argued that if such a teaching is allowed to stand, it will offer a platform for people to “live like the devil” since one’s actions are not the basis for God’s blessing.

This was the very argument that Paul’s objectors brought when he taught them about God’s sovereign grace (Rom 5:19-6:2). When he said, “God forgives a person and brings him into close fellowship with Him only on the basis of His grace, and not on the basis of the person’s good deeds,” the people responded, “well, if we were to take your teaching to its logical end, then you would be saying to us that we can live however we want—doing good works or living in sin makes no difference!”

Actually, this kind of thinking is not uncommon in some circles today, where the popular perspective is “I’m not perfect, I’m just forgiven.” Of course, this is true of all of us, but the perspective is wrong. Our perspective ought to be “I want to be holy because I’ve been forgiven.” The idea that God’s grace stands separate from His requirements of holiness is not the teaching of the Scriptures either. In fact, God’s grace enables a person to grow in holiness, and this growth is one of the sure proofs that God has given His grace. For Paul, the infusion of faith into the heart of God’s chosen ones produces a love for Him and His Torah which inevitably shows itself in doing what He commands. His Torah (“instruction”) becomes our delight, and we find in His ways the joy of life itself.

All of this is, admittedly, full of mystery. How can we look at the events of life, some of which are full of grief and sorrow, and keep on believing that God is in control? How can we see incidents of anguish and still believe that God’s plan is being unfolded, that He is in control, and that all of these events, both those of great joy and deep sorrow, are ultimately for His glory and the means for the completion of His plan to conclude all things in Yeshua? We can maintain this only on the basis of faith, for we cannot find a rational explanation that satisfies. Faith lays hold of that which we cannot see with the eyes of human understanding. Faith admits that something is true because God has said it is, when all of our emotions and thoughts lead us to the contrary.

Our haftarah portion (Isaiah 46:3-11) gives us the answer:

Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.

This is a statement of God’s commitment to His chosen ones, those who have relationship with Him through the covenant. But it can only be received by faith, for the promise is for the future and one which, therefore, can be seen only by eyes of faith. Do you see the argument of the Almighty here? He was the one who carried us from the very time of our birth, from the womb. He sustained us when we could never have sustained ourselves. And He promises to be with us even to old age, when, once again, we may not be able to care for ourselves. He has promised to carry us, to bear us, to deliver us. That is His promise—we must trust Him to keep it.

Somehow, Isaac understood this whole scenario, for even when it was plain to him that he had blessed Jacob rather than Esau, he did not withdraw his blessing, but allowed it to remain, apparently, because he had been given spiritual insight that this was what God intended. He trusted God for the outcome of what looked like a mistake, but clearly was not. Thus, our Apostolic section simply states: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.” May our faith be strengthened to trust in God’s all encompassing care, recognizing that our lives are in His hands, and that His promised blessing will ultimately result in granting Yeshua’s request:

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:24)



In the beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8


In the beginning God…
Acceptable Worship
List of Generations

Tim Hegg

President / Instructor

Tim graduated from Cedarville University in 1973 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Bible, with a minor in Philosophy. He entered Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma, WA) in 1973, completing his M.Div. (summa cum laude) in 1976. He completed his Th.M. (summa cum laude) in 1978, also from NWBS. His Master’s Thesis was titled: “The Abrahamic Covenant and the Covenant of Grant in the Ancient Near East”. Tim taught Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Exegesis for three years as an adjunct faculty member at Corban University School of Ministry when the school was located in Tacoma. Corban University School of Ministry is now in Salem, OR. Tim is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature, and has contributed papers at the annual meetings of both societies. Since 1990, Tim has served as one of the Overseers at Beit Hallel in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife, Paulette, have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.