Isaac Blesses Jacob
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a man of smooth skin. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse on myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my word, and go, get them for me.” So he went and got them and brought them to his mother; and his mother prepared savory food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.
The Law and Sin
What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. >
The Inner Conflict
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Paul’s conclusion to Roman’s chapter 7 is one of those passages that can haunt us as we struggle to live good and faithful lives today. Church and political leaders struggle under the pressure of being watched by others for strength, support, and hope for good and decency in the world. Addicts struggle with the way it speaks to their expectation that their sin will indeed lead to their own death – through illness or as a more direct consequence of their actions. Those who suffer from other mental and emotional illnesses often see this pointing to a true hopelessness of their situation. Others, who have committed a horrible deed hear this as fuel to their guilt, shame, and irredeemability.
We use this passage as an excuse for sin. Our own sin. The sin of others. We point to it with the attitude that speaks without words saying, “If someone as great as Paul could not escape his own demons, then there is no hope for me.” Those who struggle to accept Christ at all may find a potential conflict between this passage and something like Matthew 5:48, where Jesus commands us to “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” While there is no direct conflict of teaching there, it makes one wonder how Jesus could command His followers to do something that Paul admits he cannot seem to do himself.
There is a tension here. Imagine what our world would be like without this passage from Paul. How many generations would believe that Christianity and perfectionism were one and the same, pushing themselves beyond their breaking point? How many would secretly harbor doubts that Paul (or any of the disciples) were as good as they claimed to be, perhaps believing that the entire gospel is a hoax? Or, on the other hand, what if there was no expectation of living rightly? What if Paul’s words here in Romans 7 had the last word? Where then would the broken, oppressed, addicted, and otherwise sin-bent find hope or relief?
Yet God in His wisdom has given us both the revelation of the darkness within us and the call into the light. We stand in the tension of both, unable to move on our own. You see, denying the call to living a holy life is not a humble way of painting ourselves darker so God can shine brighter. It is actually a denial of God’s love and power in our lives. Martin Luther, who could have written Paul’s words himself, struggled mightily with sinful human nature, claiming it an impossibility to achieve – yet still worth striving after. So we stay parked in the tension, trying to be all that we cannot be.
Luther compared humanity to the prophet Jonah, a disobedient prophet in the Old Testament, but here is where we find the beginning of grace working in the midst of our mess. Jonah’s disobedience was redeemed, not by his own actions, but by God’s. His act of running away showed a ship full of pagans the power of God over the storms and seas. He led one of the greatest revivals in a foreign nation and enemy of Israel, not out of his skill, but out of his weakness. Jonah’s story was summed up in Paul’s own words “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.”
For the best response to finding grace in this tension, simply continue on to Paul’s own conclusions in Romans chapter 8.
Where do you feel the tension today?