God Isn’t Fair–and that’s not fair

If you’re not familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau, you can listen here:

To recap:

Jacob has been fighting to be the first-born or at least receive the benefits of the first-born since he and his brother were in the womb.

Finding his brother in a weak moment, Jacob trades Esau a bowl of stew for Esau’s birthright.

Knowing that this not really kosher, Jacob and mom, Rebekah, concoct a fairly elaborate scheme that includes animal skins in order to trick Isaac into bestowing the blessing of the firstborn on him.

After Esau finds out, Jacob must flee

After crashing in the desert with a rock for a pillow,

God rewards Jacob for all of this with an amazing vision of heaven and promises Jacob that he will be the father of a great nation.

This story seems to contradict all the things God so often gets credit for.

God of family values?

Seem to be tossing those right out the window in this story

I mean, it looks like God is kind of rewarding deceit and trickery

And it doesn’t seem like God has any respect for law and family tradition

And that whole thing about wives being submissive that God supposedly champions?

Uh, Rebekah?

She goes against her husband AND her oldest son.

And what about respect for our elders?  Loving our mother and father?

Is it loving to take advantage of an ailing blind man and fool him with cheap parlor tricks?

What’s so great about Jacob, anyway?

Why does his deceit and trickery merit a dream with a ladder full of angels and a place as the patriarch of a great nation.

The God of Jacob confuses us.

Our God calls us to speak the truth and to stand up for justice.

Our God calls us to love one another and to care for our enemies.

Our God sent Jesus to challenge us to walk in his footsteps and to perform mighty deeds and wonders in his name.

And then God pulls this stunt with Jacob. That seems to suggest that dishonesty is okay if it gets you what you want.

This story of God perplexes us.

A God who rewards trickery instead of punishing it.

For when trick has succeeded and Jacob has to deal with the consequences of his actions,

When he has to flee his home to avoid being beaten to a pulp by his brother

And finds himself in the middle of the desert with nowhere to sleep but on the ground with a rock for a pillow

Does God say, “Ha! It’s your own fault. You made your non-existent bed, and now you have nowhere to lie but on the hard, cold ground!”

No. That’s not what happens at all.


God gives Jacob a glimpse of heaven!

God gives Jacob a vision of a ladder that leads from earth to heaven and back again.

Jacob sees angels going backwards and forwards, from heaven to earth,

delivering messages from God and bringing little bits of heaven to earth.

And if a ladder to heaven full of angels wasn’t enough

God promises Jacob that he will be the father of a great nation and that God will be right there by Jacob’s side wherever life may lead.

It doesn’t seem fair.

It doesn’t seem fair at all!

But that’s just it, isn’t it?

God. Isn’t. Fair.

God doesn’t play by our rules.

Our relationship with God is not like our relationship with others.

It isn’t transactional.

I do something good for you. You do something good for me.

I do something to hurt you. You do something to hurt me…or maybe just forget about me all together.

But God is not fair and God is not transactional in God’s relationship with us.

Our God is not a Karmic God

None of us get what we deserve

Instead we receive God’s grace.

It’s all about that grace.

The grace that can’t be earned.

This is a story about God’s grace and God’s promises

The God who creates

The God who provides

Is also the God who keeps God’s promises.

God had plans for the descendants of Abraham and the choices of neither Esau nor Jacob were going to derail those plans.

God’s love and grace falls on all people

Including (and possibly especially) on dysfunctional families

In that lies the hope for us all.

Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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