I started with Malachi, a bad choice, as it turned out, because the book begins by rehashing a story from Genesis I have always found particularly difficult: God openly proclaiming, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:3 TNIV).
Kris shared my discomfort at the breakfast table, calling the account of God’s love in light of Jacob’s smarmy deceitfulness a “burr under his saddle” ever since he first started reading the Bible as a little kid.
Jacob’s creepiness has never bothered me much—privy as I am to my own deceits and smarminess—but what I can’t get is God’s utter rejection of the other brother. I mean, Esau admittedly made an ill-advised choice in the matter of the lentil soup, but he was the victim of way worse meannesses from Jacob later on—such as Jacob’s pretending to be Esau so as to steal their father’s blessing. It doesn’t get much crasser than that. Years afterwards, though, when Jacob is terrified of meeting back up with his brother, Esau turns out to be uncommonly kind and forgiving.
I mean, I get God's loving the sinner Jacob; what I can’t get is God’s hating the niceguy Esau—along with, presumably, other nonbelieving niceguys I have known in my life.
So we talked about that, Kris and I. Did God’s love really, truly, come down to faith alone—which Esau evidently didn’t have, however brotherly and forgiving he seemed, but which Jacob had in abundance?
We tried to get at what it was that God may have liked about Jacob. We considered the wrestling story and that Jacob chose wives from his people, whereas Esau married Canaanites.
For me, though, it comes down to that story of when Jacob goes to sleep on a stone pillow and wakes up from a dream thinking, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it . . . How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17).
That’s what it is that makes Jacob lovable to God, I think: his ability to keep on expecting God—even in discomfort, even in despair, even in sleep!—just as a baby never stops expecting its parents to come running in from the other room.
So, by contrast, Esau must have just given up on God. He let his hunger supplant his longing, his desire for peace and contentment supplant acknowledgement of the source of these earthly pleasures.
So that’s where I am on the longing scale so far, as Advent approaches. Longing to expect God like that.