Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. Genesis 28:10
Peter M. Prange
When St. Paul penned Philippians, he was languishing in prison. Life had not been easy for this witness of Christ Jesus, and it wouldn’t get easier. But that didn’t come as a surprise to him. The Lord Jesus had promised as much, even before Paul became an apostle. The Lord even said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16).
Paul was living in exile, and he knew it. Through his suffering he had come to appreciate that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). But until the day of Jesus’ glorious coming, he would be living away from his heavenly home.
Experiencing suffering in this world
The Old Testament believer Jacob had a similar experience. He was the one who received the birthright, not Esau, his brother. Jacob was the one through whom the Savior of the world would be born. He was the one whom God chose for this blessing, even before he and Esau were born (Genesis 25:23). Yet it was Jacob, not Esau, who was driven away from his homeland to live in exile. He received the divine promises, only to be sent out into the wilderness.
Near the end of his life, Martin Luther remarked on Jacob’s plight. “God seems to be a liar, because he promises in a kindly manner and puts forth good words but gives things that are evil. He gives Jacob a blessing and, on the other hand, allows it to be taken away. On the contrary, Esau, who has been cursed, remains in the house with his children, his wives, and his whole relationship, and governs everything just as previously he was head of the household and a priest of the church. Jacob goes into exile and abandons his blessing” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 5, p. 202).
Luther discovered in Holy Scripture that what was true for Jacob is true for God’s people in general. “This is the constant course of the church at all times, namely, that promises are made and that then those who believe the promises are treated in such a way that they are compelled to wait for things that are invisible, to believe what they do not see, and to hope for what does not appear” (LW, Vol. 5, p. 202).
Using trials to exercise our faith
But why? Why does God deal with his dear people this way? Why does he allow his people to endure such pain, such persecution, such pushback from an evil world? Why doesn’t he turn the tables and send the unbelievers into exile and allow his children to live in peace in this world?
Why? Because Jesus wants us to trust him. He knows how faith works and how faith is worked. Faith needs to be exercised just like our bodies, and it is exercised through resistance, through trial. Luther explained that “faith is not a laughable, cold quality that snores and is idle in the heart. No, it is agitated and harassed by horrible trials concerning the nothingness and the vanity of the divine promises. . . . [So often in this world] I see nothing of what he promises. Indeed, I feel the opposite in my flesh” (LW, Vol. 5, p. 205).
But that’s exactly when faith in God’s promises kicks in! That’s when faith is exercised. Jesus pushes the seed of his gospel deep into our hearts through the crosses we carry. The heavier the cross, the more we treasure his promises
Like Jacob, we are living in exile. Thank God for it.
Contributing editor Peter Prange is pastor at Bethany, Kenosha, Wisconsin.
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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018
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