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Crooked Pencils

So read Genesis 29 and 30 sometime. It’s the description of Jacob’s marriage(s) and children. The impression you’ll get at the end is that it’s a pretty messy affair. To start out with, Jacob was in love with Rachel and wanted to marry her. The language the Bible uses is even romantic about it — the seven years he served for her hand “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” But his hard work didn’t lead to just Rachel — he also ended up with three other women and two households full of children.

(FYI: In Jewish wedding ceremonies even today, the groom personally veils the bride before the ceremony to make sure he’s marrying the right woman. You can guess why the practice started.)

In those two chapters you’ll read about deception, envy, a childbearing competition (including proxy mothers), jealousy, and even using fruit to bargain for time alone with a husband. Sinclair Ferguson says the whole story is similar to a soap opera, right down to “the mandrake affair.” (Look it up.)

You look at it all and at the rest of Jacob’s life (he was quite the scoundrel for a long time — you could argue that he got what was coming to him) and you wonder how and why God could use horribly sinful people like that for his purposes. Jacob was the father of a nation — his sons (and grandsons) became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. Theirs isn’t the kind of family history you’d expect from such a “noble” lineage.

But here’s the thing: as Iain Duguid says, “God delights in writing straight with a crooked pencil.” He uses the twistedness of man to bring about his own purposes. The creation of a nation wasn’t the primary result of this mess — it’s what the nation led to. One of Jacob’s sons was Judah, from whose line came King David and eventually, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Think about that — God brought glory out of madness. He brought beauty from ugliness. He brought eternity from moments best forgotten. You wouldn’t look at this life story and think, “Wow, what a great prelude to the Gospel. This is exactly the kind of heritage Christ deserved.”

But you know what? It’s a perfect introduction to the Gospel. It shows exactly why we need salvation. This story is the sort of thing that happens when we’re left to ourselves. We create a mess that even our best efforts can’t fix.

But despite our sinfulness — we’re all crooked pencils — God uses our failings for his glory. He turns fatally flawed men like Jacob and like us into monuments to his grace. That’s the message of the Gospel — God’s grace is great enough to cover our sin, to work in spite of our failings, to lead us to heaven despite our best efforts towards hell. Duguid calls it “relentless grace” and that’s just what it is. God’s grace was profound in Jacob’s life; it’s profound in our lives.

If you’re not an Old Testament fan, become one. You’ll see the Gospel everywhere. To read about Jacob’s life far better than I can put it, buy Duguid’s book Living in the Grip of Relentless Grace: The Gospel in the Lives of Isaac and Jacob here or here. If listening is more your thing, download Sinclair Ferguson’s series on Jacob here (9.2.07 to 11.25.07). He’s a master at bringing the Gospel out of the life of the “Chief of Twisters.”

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