If you’re like me, you are inclined to believe that God operates according to the same rules of justice and fairness that govern our modern Western society.  We assume that God rewards honesty and goodness, and that those who lie or deceive or manipulate others for self-gain will, in the end, get what’s coming to them.  Cheaters never prosper, we say.  Goodness always prevails.  These assumptions are so integral to our moral consciousness that, whenever they are inverted – that is, whenever the “bad guys” seem to be rewarded for their wrongdoing – it infuriates us.

To our surprise, the Bible tells a few stories in which such moral assumptions are inverted.  It tells of people who do terrible, immoral, unconscionable things, only to be rewarded in the end.  Jesus, for example, told of a grown son who broke his father’s heart, demanding that he be given his inheritance while his father was still alive (as if to say, “You’re dead to me”), only to squander every last penny of it in Las Vegas before finally crawling back on his knees, pleading for his father’s mercy, which was freely, unconditionally given.  Another story is told of Joseph who, after having been sold into slavery by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver, survived the ordeal and, years later, returned to those same brothers in order to save them from famine and certain death.

This week, we encounter another one of these astonishing stories in Genesis 25:19-34.  It’s the story of the day that Jacob pilfered the birthright of his brother Esau for what amounted to a can of Spaghetti O’s.  It’s impossible to read this story without feeling some sense of outrage over the seeming injustice that never gets resolved according to our expectations.  By all accounts Jacob is a scoundrel, a villain, and Esau is an innocent, though dim-witted, victim.  Jacob is the scheming bad guy; Esau is as gullible and unsuspecting as Forrest Gump.  Jacob walks away with his brother’s future.

If we can suspend our moral judgment, at least temporarily, perhaps the story can reveal to us even deeper truths than mere categories of right and wrong.  A few come immediately to mind: (1) in far more subtle ways than Jacob, we have all taken from another what is not rightfully ours; (2) in ways that are considered far less foolish than Esau, we have all sold a part of our souls to satisfy our appetite for that which we think we cannot live without; (3) whenever money or an inheritance is at stake, families are in greatest danger of being torn apart or irreparably damaged; and (4) the people we are inclined to hurt the most are the people who love and trust us the most.

Perhaps you can add a few observations of your own.  I encourage you to read the story carefully, and to ask yourself how, despite the apparent lack of justice, God’s purposes for his people might still be accomplished.