In the garden of Eden, sight and vision were prominent themes in the story of the Fall of Man. God saw that all He had created was good, and He gave Adam and Eve vision as well.
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:7-9) (Emphasis added)
The serpent convinced Eve that her vision was limited and that could be corrected by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet after they ate, God slowly disappeared from their sight. Eye-opening could be orchestrated by the serpent, by Eve, or by God. God opened Hagar’s eyes to see a well in the desert, and Elisha’s servant’s eyes so he could see that the army of the Lord was there to fight for them.
The central question concerning sight arises from the statements made by Jesus in this passage:
“For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)
What was God’s original intention regarding what we should and should not see?
The story of Jacob reveals another aspect of sight and blindness. It had been God’s original intention that Isaac’s estate (“the birthright” or “the blessing”) go to Jacob, not to Esau. However,…
… when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, … he called his older son Esau and said to him, … “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.” So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.
Then he came to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.” Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said,
“See, the smell of my sonIs like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed;Now may God give you of the dew of heaven,And of the fatness of the earth,And an abundance of grain and new wine;May peoples serve you,And nations bow down to you;Be master of your brothers,And may your mother’s sons bow down to you.Cursed be those who curse you,And blessed be those who bless you.”
Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. Then he also made savory food, and brought it to his father; and he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.
Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,
“Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling,And away from the dew of heaven from above.“By your sword you shall live,And your brother you shall serve;But it shall come about when you become restless,That you will break his yoke from your neck.”
So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Now when the words of her elder son Esau were reported to Rebekah, she sent and called her younger son Jacob, and said to him, “Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”
Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Genesis 27)
Jacob goes to live with his uncle Laban and works for him for seven years in return for the promise of Laban’s daughter Rachel in marriage. When the seven years were up:
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.” Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?”
So the deception has come full circle. Jacob the deceiver has now been deceived by his uncle Laban. But as things unfold, the second aspect of blindness is highlighted. That is, that in darkness, even good working eyes just cannot see. A husband who does not see his bride (who would have worn a veil at the wedding) until the morning after a dark wedding night may have good eyes yet still be deceived in the absence of light. Jacob’s vision was obscured by darkness. Making decisions in darkness does not seem, however, to negate them. Leah became Jacob’s wife by virtue of the consummation of the marriage. Jason had another encounter in darkness, a wrestling match with God Himself. He was by now wealthy and determined to reconcile with his brother Esau. He sent lavish gifts to Esau and sent his family on ahead of him, in a very cowardly way. It was then, at his low point in life, that he wrestled with God.
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip. (Genesis 32:24-32)
He wrestled in darkness, but at the breaking of the dawn his vision returned, and he saw that he had been wrestling with God, not a man as he had thought in the darkness. He continued to wrestle to make sure that his decisions and actions were sound.
Finally, as an old man delivering the blessing to his grandson, Jacob (re-named Israel by God during the wresting match) had this exchange with his son Joseph:
When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” So he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.” Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground. Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them close to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn. (Genesis 48:8-14)
There is a paradox here. Israel at first cannot see, then he can. Jesus said that he came into this world so that the blind might see, and the sighted might become blind. What does the story of Jacob/Israel tell us about vision, insight, and blindness?
Donald: What is the importance of knowing all? It eliminates the need for faith. Eve’s unknowing is what led her to to eat the fruit. Sight is the predominant of the five senses.
David: So Original Sin started with a desire to know everything. I can’t see any relationship between the vision of Jacob and the vision of Adam and Eve. The latter seems to me more significant. Adam and Eve’s vision was limited only in discernment. They could see good and evil but they could not tell one from the other. So Eve could not differentiate between God and the serpent. Her sin was disobedience, not desiring knowledge. The implications of a world filled with both good and evil, as was evidently the case in the garden and is clearly the case on earth (as Eve’s descendant, I know this), but with stewards unable to tell the difference, are mind-boggling, it seems to me.
Jay: The key is the statement of Jesus that he came into this world so that the blind might see, and the sighted might become blind. He did not come into the world so that everybody would be sighted, or that everybody would be blind. There was a balance of some sort. Perhaps there are things we need to see, and things we need to be blind to. Or perhaps there is a happy medium between sight and blindness. Jacob’s story suggests that God uses blindness to achieve a divine purpose—such as getting a birthright to His nominee, making Jacob wealthy, being able to reveal Himself to an hitherto blind Jacob, and so on. Humanity defaults to thinking “Blind is bad; sight is good” but that default seems to be challenged in these passages, pretty directly by Jesus. Ignorance is bliss in the sense of lacking a complete understanding.
David: At the Judgment, both the evil goats on the left and the saintly sheep on the right were ignorant. Neither side saw what what God saw. They did not see what they had done to deserve perdition/salvation respectively. They were either equally innocent of possessing knowledge of what was good and what was bad, or equally guilty of thinking they knew and acting accordingly. Or both. If God wants us to be blind to differentiation between good and evil, as He does according to the story of Adam and Eve, then both the sheep and the goats were innocent. But if the goats really could see the evil of their ways and Jesus came to make them blind to it, what would that achieve? Would it lead them to visit the sick in any way other than randomly? And if Jesus blinded the eyes of sheep who knew they should visit the sick, what would that achieve? It is highly contradictory in logic.
Donald: If I wanted deeper insight into God’s will I would turn to an expert in theology—to a pastor. If insight into God’s will is the best thing in the world (as it surely would be) why don’t we all aspire to becoming expert theologians? Ignorance is bliss? We should be as little children? Is sight, knowledge, or the understanding of ideas what we are after?
Michael: It seems unlikely that people who think they know God would be poor in spirit, so the kingdom of God promised to the poor in spirit (the first Beatitude) is not for them.
Jay: The logical contradiction between sighting the blinding and blinding the sighted applies if the objects of blindness and sight are the same. But it would not apply to a blindness that related to certain things and sight related to certain other—different—things. If we believe we can discern good and evil as God discerns them, we need to be more blind. But if we are blind to the needs of our neighbor then we need to have our eyes opened. The ministry of Jesus focused on telling us that judgment is not ours and never was, and that we don’t see the reality of the kingdom of heaven as being where people go to the back of the line, give the shirt off their back, turn the other cheek, and so on.
Don: Jesus was adamant that the Pharisees, who were most responsible for leading the people, were blind in both respects, and would end up leading people off a cliff.
Jay: What the Pharisees saw as sight was what Jesus saw as blindness. They thought they knew God but could not.
Don: Jacob’s story points to two sorts of blindness: One is intrinsic, as if it were a physical blindness; the other is sort-of psychological, as though we were wearing dark eye shades and refused to take them off.
Jay: Humans have an intrinsic, built-in, created blindness to the complete understanding of God. God wants us to accept that blindness, to understand that though we are in darkness we can and will be found, that an external power is necessary for our survival. A physically blind human who thought he could see perfectly would not survive very long. Spiritually, we are inherently blind. Believing that we are not can only lead to a bad ending.
David: Perhaps at the judgment, the goats were blind to grace but saw the law clearly; while the sheep could see grace but were blind to the law. The Pharisees were clearly goats. But again, the contradiction comes when you shut the eyes of the sheep to grace, as logically Jesus is calling for.
Donald: Spiritual arrogance is a form of blindness. The poor in spirit have none of that.
Chris: Isaac was both physically blind to his surroundings and spiritually blind to the deceptions practiced upon him. What was he blind to? And what are we being called to be blind to? This is the key.
Don: We will examine this question further. There is much relevant Scripture, including a story of a donkey that can see what a man cannot see.