In considering the idea of bargaining with God, we referred to a moment in Jacob’s life that can be read either as a condition of negotiation, or as a vow of faith. (Gen 28:20-22) Jacob was either at a point of grateful resolve where he was saying, in response to the vision (Gen 28:10-17), “If (since) God is going to do all of this for me then certainly I too will worship the God of my fathers.” Or, even though in awe (Gen 28:18-19), he was taking a more tentative, “wait and see” approach. Down through the years, readers of Scripture have tended to take one or the other of these two different approaches.
As we have seen, something similar can be done with Rebecca’s motives when she and Jacob took things into their own hands to impersonate Esau and deceive Isaac into unintentionally blessing Jacob (Gen 27:1-29) in order to fulfill God’s earlier prediction (Gen 25:21-23). Rebecca and Jacob are either acting in shrewd faith, or they are taking matters into their own hands with motives of self-reliance and actions of deceit that reflect the flesh rather than the spirit.
It is for this reason that some of us have commented, God only knows the heart of these people.
If Jacob was at a point of worshipful resolve (Gen 28:20-22), it would have been an appropriate response to the God who was revealing himself to him. If he was expressing a more tentative approach, then what we see is that, over time, God graciously showed Jacob how faithful he was being to his own word.
So then are there no other issues than to say that “God only knows” what is in his heart and ours?
Seems to me that one problem with trying to give people like Isaac, Rebecca, or Jacob, the benefit of the doubt is what the Bible reveals about human nature. If we are inclined to defend the heart of Jacob and his descendants (Israel), we might miss the point of what finally happens when Jesus shows up in a merciful search and rescue for those who are lost.
From the beginning, the God of the Bible is doing more than looking for good people to honor. He is patiently working with people like us to bring us to the place of seeing that, even though he reserves the right to accept or reject the challenge of our tentative terms of relationship, he’s leading us to something better. Ultimately he wants us to see that the real bargains of life are not those that we offer God, but those that he offers us when (because of all that he has already revealed to us about his heart and ours) he says, “Come to me— all you who are burdened and broken— and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)