We human beings don’t like grace very much. We like to see wrongdoing punished and good works rewarded—so long as we don’t reflect on our own actions very much. When we do, of course, we’re all about grace, grace, grace! The response of approximately 246 million zoological and parenting experts who have weighed in this week on the event at the Cincinnati Zoo is a case in point: We are not, in general, a gracious people.
All of which makes God’s response to Jacob in Genesis 28:10-22 all the more startling, as John Goldingay’s commentary makes clear. (Please note, Goldingay’s refers to angels as God’s “aides.”)
What God does in Jacob’s dream is open his eyes to something that is happening all the time; the scene parallels one where Elisha prays for his servant to be able to see the supernatural forces that protect them when they are in danger (2 Kings 6). It is continually the case that God is involved in the world and sending aides on missions. You cannot see them, but they are at work. Jacob has every reason to be apprehensive about his situation. He has lied to his father, taken God’s name in vain, cheated his father, made Esau want to kill him, and had to set out on his way out of the promised land. God steps in to give him reassurance that all this does not mean God’s purpose will be frustrated. God’s aides are still at work not because Jacob deserves to have God active in his life but because God will not be put off from acting just by Rebekah and Jacob’s stupidity. Not only does God enable him to see the aides who are continually active in God’s work in the world, but God personally shows up in the dream, without electrocuting Jacob, to give him a special message of encouragement.[†]
To Goldingay’s list of charges against Jacob, I would add that even after being given this gracious word from the Lord, Jacob’s “conversion” remains far from complete. God gives Jacob some unconditional promises; Jacob responds with conditions: “If you do this, I’ll do that.”
“That Jacob!” we say. “Why is he such a sinner? Why is he such a screw-up? Why isn’t he more faithful?”
Faithful. You know… Like we’re faithful.
† John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Part Two (Louisville: WJK, 2010), 87.