Mystical Mitigation?

In a sermon on Romans 9:9-13, a brother in Christ says:

“So now I ask again: Why do you think God did this? Why do you think God turned things upside-down and made the second-born first and the first-born second? And now, why do you think God blessed the devious Jacob instead of the hard-working Esau? Before I get to the answer, I want to say how amazed I was when I looked at commentaries on these passages. I was amazed at how good they made Jacob look. Jacob was a conniver and a manipulator and a deceiver. He stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. He got what he wanted through his wicked scheming and deception. There’s no prettying this up or glossing it over. It’s like the commentators were trying to make it so Jacob somehow deserved the birthright and the blessing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Jacob’s wickedness serves to ACCENTUATE what God is getting across here.”

In this post I would like to use as a springboard what the author said about certain commentators that sought to mitigate or extenuate Jacob’s wickedness.  The Puritan heretic, Thomas Adams writes the following in his Plain-Dealing; or, A Precedent of Honesty. His text is Genesis 25:27:

“There have been undertakers of Jacob’s justification, or at least excusation, in this fact. Let us hear what they say:

(1) Gregory thus excuseth it: that Jacob did not steal the blessing by fraud, but sibi debitam accepit, took it as a due to himself, in respect that the primogeniture was formerly devolved to him. The truth is, he that owned the birthright might justly challenge the blessing. But this doth not wholly excuse the fact.

(2) Chrysostom thus mitigates it: that non studio nocendi contexit fraudem — he did not deceive with a mind to hurt, but only in respect of the promise of God. But this not sufficient; for there was an intention of hurt, both to Isaac in deceiving him, and to Esau in depriving him of the blessing. But whatsoever may be pleaded for the defence of Jacob’s dissimulation in outward gesture, there is no apology for the words of his tongue…To help forward this deceit, three lies are tumbled out, one in the neck of another:

(1) ‘I am Esau thy firstborn;’ (2) ‘I have done as thou badest me’; (3) ‘Eat of my venison.’ To clear him of this sin of lying hath been more peremptorily undertaken than soundly performed.

1. Chrysostom, with divers others, think that though he did lie, he did not sin, because he did it by the revelation and counsel of God. So that God, willing to have the prediction fulfilled, dispensing and disposing all things, is brought in as the preordainer of Jacob’s lie, that I say not the patron. But not without derogation to his divine justice. For, (1) it appeareth not that this was the counsel of God, but only Rebekah’s device: Ver. 8, ‘Hear my voice, my son, in that which I command thee.’ ‘My voice,’ not God’s; ‘what I command,’ not what God approves. …

2. Some have confessed it a lie, but a guiltless lie, by reason of a necessity imagined in this exigent; as if God could not have wrought Isaac’s heart to bless Jacob in this short interim, whiles Esau was gone a-hunting for venison. Origen says, that necessity may urge a man to use a lie as sauce to his meat; another, as physicians use hellebore. But that which is simply evil can by no apology be made good. …

3. Some take from it all imputation of a lie, and directly justify it. Augustine thinks Jacob spoke mystically, and that it is to be referred to Jacob’s body, not to Jacob’s person; to the Christian church, that should take away the birthright from the elder. But we may better receive that Jacob fell into an infirmity than the colour of an allegory. Neither doth the success justify the means, as some philosophers have delivered, that prosperum scelus vocatur virtus — lucky wickedness merits the name of goodness. But Jacob’s one act of falsehood shall not disparage wholly that simplicity the Scripture gives him; he was ‘a plain man.'” (Thomas Adams).