Monday, November 1, 2010

THE LIFE OF JACOB #3 : Wrestling with God

TEXT :  Genesis   32 : 22- 32
TITLE :    Wrestling with God
DATE PREACHED :  24 /10/2010

Last  time we covered  the first 21 verses  of chapter  32 .  We saw  that:
(i)      Jacob ,  after he has served his uncle  Laban  for 20 years in self imposed exile (motivated by fear for his brother , Esau)  is now  on his way back  to the  land that God had  promised him and his descendants on oath .
(ii)   Just as the angels  ministered to him as he left ( Gen 28:10-22) , they  meet  him as he prepares to come back .
(iii)  On the human front ,  we have seen  that Jacob wavers between faith and fear  as he prepares to meet with Esau .

The circumstances  of  the story of Jacob  are largely dictated by  two factors :
(i)               The election of God . God  had chosen  Jacob  to be  the  chosen line for his people Israel , out of which , eventually the Messiah – Jesus would come .
(ii)               The  sinfulness of Jacob – particularly in the deception  of  Esau .  His sinful deviousness  is the reason why he spends  20 years  in a land  of no promise and under  the yoke of  his uncle Laban who is more than a match for him when it  comes to being deceitful .

Man may be seemingly capable  of  undoing  God’s work in  the world ,and sometimes  it seems  that the evil schemes of men may  come close  to undoing the work of God .  The supreme  illustration  of this  is   Satan and his demonic and human agents  who  thought that they had Jesus killed on the cross. For all intents and purposes Jesus was dead . But  they forgot the power of God that  raises the dead!  [1]   They come close but they  never succeed.

We see then that even though  God allows  human sinfulness to take its course and its toll , it cannot  ultimately undo the plan and purpose of God.
We must always  remember  that God is sovereign  and  not man.  God’s will be done – not man’s.

Jacob is  now on his way back  to where God wants him to be. We have seen that  in that process  he wavers  between fear and faith .  More work lies  to be done in Jacob . Jacob needs  to be  conquered .

How God conquers  Jacob

The story begins with the crossing of  the  river  Jabbok  (which means “wrestler“ in Hebrew : Lenski :p 874) . At a ford  (a shallow crossing) he sends  everyone ahead , “and Jacob was left alone…” .
This proved to be a VERY significant  time in Jacob’s life , for it is here that we are told  that a man  wrestled with  him until the breaking of the day . This is all  very  symbolic . Jacob  wrestles (Hebr.    ‘abhaq’)  at the river Jabbok  (the “wrestling river”). The outstanding feature of this encounter  is that he was  left alone  None of his companions were with him  on this occasion. There are times  when we must  face  ourselves  and our God alone . There are  times when  nobody can be with us  , because God has  work to  complete  in us!   He is committed to  complete the good work that  He has begun in us (Phil  1:6) .Before  Jacob  could enter  the land , he needed to be  thoroughly humbled and made  more useful for God’s purposes . Jacob needed to be alone. For 20 years  , having escaped the clutches of his brother Esau  he was in a sense able to suppress  the thoughts  of   his  sinful past.  

Many Christian people  can  relate to this .  Perhaps  you have run away from a situation , and you  find yourself not at peace with God , your fellowman or your self.  You had said to yourself :  “ if only I  can escape  from this or that situation  or  this  place  of oppression  (town/city/country)   I can start again elsewhere.“  By escaping from  such a situation   we think that we may forget  our unfortunate situation or our broken relationships   , and  we think that by running away we have  escaped the situation.   
For a while we may succeed.
Then suddenly, something unexpected happens . The memory is  stirred , our  sin is resurrected  , and our sin  stares us in the face once more . 
Douglas Mc Millan   helpfully reminds us  that  there is only  one place  from which sin cannot be resurrected , and that is the grave to which  the Saviour took it  , when he paid  its price upon the cross.”[2]  

We have  to learn this lesson well : sin that is not dealt with “in Christ”  is never buried. It remains  there below the surface in a place called the conscience . King Herod, had John the Baptist killed , and  was never able  to forget that he had that righteous man executed . His conscience troubled him . At one time he even thought that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected ! (Matt 14:2)
Have your  sins  and your guilt  been buried with  Christ? The gospel  says  that  when God forgives our sins in Christ then He forgets them (Hebr.  8:12)

Here on the border of the land to which Jacob was returning, his memory and his conscience were awakened, “…and Jacob was left alone.”   He was between God and his undealt  sinful past .  It is a very  hard thing  to face  loneliness . I don’t know whether you have  been there.  I know I have. There is a sense of isolation  which  comes into your life  when   you struggle between the rule of God  and your own human  will . I believe that this is the place where Jacob had now  found himself. He was somewhere between God’s will and his own will, and by  divine providence  he now had  no  friend  to help him   or to counsel  him.  God needed to break   his will.

Isn’t it  significant that some of  the most profound experiences in life are  times when we are all alone ?  We are alone in birth ; we are alone  in death ; we are  alone in all the great  crisis experiences of our life.  Remember too that you must one day  stand  alone before the great judgement seat of Christ, where according to Romans 14:12 , “ each of us  will give an account of ourselves to God” !
When your sins catch up with you , you can feel very alone  . You may even have this  sense of loneliness  here today   as you sit in this congregation.  You know that you have to  face reality.  You must  face the  sin  of the past , and  at this point no one  will understand what you are going through.The place of wrestling (the river Jabbok)  is a lonely place  for Jacob.  No one   knows  this -  except God !
Thank God !   He is there. We are not alone  after all.    Let the wrestling begin!

Wrestling with God :
As we consider  the wrestling  we must consider the fact  that  for the Christian man / woman  this too is part of God’s  grace in our lives.  Our  lonely experiences  in the dark night of the soul  are not destitute of God’s grace  .
Once again , I am indebted to Douglas Mc Millan  for this insight . He speaks about the ‘ isolation  of grace’ .  What does  that  mean? 
It means that in the dark of the night, in  the loneliness  of your soul God is there . He is actually the  cause  of that isolation. He has brought you to that place  because  He has to wrestle with you.  He cannot leave you as you are.  He is the God that loves you. He is the God that will sanctify you through and through  ( 1 Thess 5:23). He   disciplines those whom he loves  ( Hebr 12:6) .  Therefore He will bring  you  to the place where He can have your undivided attention! 
In a sense this  isolating grace had been operative in Jacob  in a mighty , sovereign , divine way even before birth. (Rom. 9:18) .  Like  Jeremiah (Jer 1:5)  and Paul  (Gal 1:15)  , and like every true believer   (Eph 1:4) Jacob was set apart from birth for God’s purposes.  He was isolated by God’s grace  for God’s purposes .

And so,  on this night  Jacob had found himself alone at the river Jabbok - and yet  he was not alone . He was alone with the  God who had isolated  him  for a purpose. This is  how the Scripture puts it in  Gen 32:24 : ….” And  Jacob was  left alone.  And a man wrestled  with him until the breaking  of the day .”

From Hosea  12:4  we know that the man here  was not just any man , but the angel of the Lord. Hosea  uses this incident  of Jacob’s life    to describe  contemporary Israel’s  deceitfulness  against God. There we read:
The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God   at Bethel, and there God spoke with us…”
We know that the wrestling  with the angel was in the form of prayer: “… he wept and  sought his favour…
Please  do not come to the conclusion  that  this was a wrestling match in which  the outcome  was 50/50 , and where  poor God  was at times close to loosing the  wrestling match .
No! This is figurative language , and this is what happened :
The angel of the LORD  came to  Jacob. He dominates the scene; he dictates the pace; he directs this encounter   until the breaking of  day . Understand what is happening here! Jacob’s stubborn  persistence needed to be broken , and God allowed him to wrestle himself to the point of  exhaustion .
Horses , I understand need to be worked with to the point of exhaustion – and when they are broken in , they become useful for service.
Isn’t that true  for us Christians as well ?  Is not   a part of the  problem of the lukewarmness of the church  just this  - that we have dwelt too long in the country of  Laban . We have many possessions , we have families , but our hearts  are not at home .  We need to be broken in !  Our lives are not lived in conformity to God’s Word and will .  We live as if we had no king over us  (Judges 17:6;21:25)
May God  bring us in these days to  the wrestling river  and break our  sinful , obstinate  stubbornness! The health of His church  and our future in Christ depend on this .  Thank God that he is committed to changing us!

Next time I would like  to  consider the touch of God   which  broke   Jacob and at the same  time healed him .

[1]  See also  Rev 11: 1-13 , the  story of the two witnesses
[2]  J.Douglas  McMillan : Wrestling with God , p.51

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