At Christmas, many presents are unwrapped and on occasion (frequently?) the revelation of what is inside is met with disappointment. The gift did not meet expectations.
Life seems to work that way for some people, too. The unfolding of days and the accumulation of years yields a product that is less than what was desired and envisioned in youth. Expectations are unmet. Hopes are unfulfilled. And sorrow becomes the consequence. We are less than happy with what we receive from the circumstances of life.
Jacob is a good biblical illustration of that very reality. Life seemed so very unfair. Sure, he received the birthright and blessing from his brother, but he had to flee for his life to keep it. Then he found the woman of his dreams, worked seven years for the right to marry her, and received her “weak-eyed” (read, “ugly duckling”) sister instead! Then he had to work another seven years for the woman he really wanted. And his father-in-law repeatedly attempted to deceive him and cheat him of his wages. And his favored wife had trouble bearing children. And there was conflict in the home (2 wives + 2 concubines = household discord!). And then his favored son was apparently killed. And then there was a famine — the family was sure to starve to death. And then there was the blessing of food in Egypt, except his sons told the ruler there about the other favored son (Benjamin) still at home and the ruler then demanded that son come to Egypt on the next trip. Jacob was sure and certain that his other favored son would also be taken from him (nothing is said about Jacob’s response to the news that Simeon was imprisoned in Egypt — we can only surmise that he didn’t mind, as long as the favored Benjamin remained alive). It was all so unfair! And he wasn’t afraid to tell the sons that it was unfair:
“Why did you treat me so badly by telling the man whether you still had another brother?” (Gen. 43:6)
That’s an amazing response, isn’t it? Why did you treat me so badly? The boys speaking the truth was treating Jacob badly? Did they really intend harm to Jacob when they spoke to the Egyptian ruler (not knowing he was actually Joseph)? Were his circumstances really so bad? Was he not conjecturing about their motives which he could not know, and was he not speculating about the future which he could not know, and was he not displaying massive mistrust in God who had promised to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant through him? Were the circumstances of his life really so bad? Had he really been defrauded and cheated of God and His blessing? Or was he wallowing in self-pity, pride, and depression? And was not his complaint more against the Lord who ordered the circumstances than the sons who participated in the circumstances?
David provides a fitting contrast to Jacob. If he wanted to get into a pity contest with Jacob, he could have held his own. He could have construed his thinking about his circumstances in such a way that he too could have perceived that he had been treated badly. Instead, as David evaluated the circumstances of his life, this is how he reflected on them and God who ordered them:
The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.
David looked at life and saw that his inheritance was not his kingdom, his sons, his nation, his wives, or his lineage. His inheritance was God. And because he had God, no matter what else he had or didn’t have, he could say that what he had was good. The lines that defined the boundaries of his inheritance were pleasant. What he received was good and beautiful, because what he received was the Lord.
To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the man who has everything, but does not have God, has nothing, while the man who has nothing, but has God, has everything. Because David had the Lord, he was happy and satisfied.
What about you and me? Are we happy with what we have received? Do we complain at the perception of inequity, like Jacob? Or do we rest in delight with the reception of grace — the provision of God’s favor and blessing and fellowship which we have received undeservedly?
Here is the point: the believer, while perhaps not receiving all his earthly desires, can always be happy and satisfied, because of all that God has provided in Christ:
They have a foundation of unspeakable comfort and joy, because of their riches. They have true and infinite riches. They are the possessors and heirs of something real and substantial, and that is worthy to be called by the name of riches. The things they possess are excellent, more precious than gold and than rubies; all the desirable things of this world cannot equal them, and they have enough of it. The riches that they have given them of God are inexhaustible. It is sufficient for them; there is no end of it. They have a fountain of infinite good for their comfort, and contentment, and joy; for God has given himself to them to be their portion, and he is a God of infinite glory. There is glory in him to engage their contemplation forever and ever, without ever being satiated. And he is also an infinite fountain of love; for God is love, yea, an ocean of love without shore or bottom! The glorious Son of God is theirs; that lovely one, who was from all eternity God’s delight, rejoicing always before him. All his beauty is their portion, and his dying love is theirs, his very heart is theirs, and his glory and happiness in heaven are theirs, so far as their capacity will allow them to partake of it; for he has promised it to them, and has taken possession of it in their name. [Jonathan Edwards, “The Portion Of The Righteous.”]