God Has Been With You

1 “Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord told me. And for many days we traveled around Mount Seir. Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them with money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink. For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”’ So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber.

“And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ 10 (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. 12 The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.) 13 ‘Now rise up and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. 14 And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished.” – Deuteronomy 2:1-15 ESV

Moses continues his recounting of the Israelites’ history, in an effort to remind his audience of all that had happened over the last four decades and prior to their arrival at the border of the land of promise.

Moses seems to have at least two objectives in giving this impromptu history lesson. First, he wants to remind his audience of what happens when God’s people prove unfaithful and disobedient. There will be consequences. More than 40 years had passed and the nation of Israel was just now preparing to cross over into the land that God had promised to Abraham. But the delay was Israel’s fault, not God’s. They had been to this very same spot before, but had refused to take God at His word and trust that He would give them victory over their enemies. So, He had sentenced them to 40-years confinement in the wilderness. But, in a sense, it was a life sentence, because that entire generation died in the wilderness, having been forbidden from every stepping foot in the land of promise. And Moses is out to ensure that the offspring of those unfaithful rebels do not repeat the same mistake

But there is a second point that Moses is trying to make and it is of even greater importance. He wants this new generation of Israelites to recognize and appreciate the faithfulness of God. In spite of all that the nation had done to offend God by refusing to trust and obey Him, He was still going through with His promise to give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance. Here they were, 40 years later, and poised to enter the very same land their fathers and mothers had turned their backs on. And it was all because their God was faithful.

So, as Moses tells the story of Israel’s long and somewhat meteoric relationship with God, he comes to another chapter in which God’s faithfulness can be seen. But this time, it is a bit less obvious. In these verses, Moses describes Israel’s journey around Mount Seir and into the regions of Edom and Moab. To us, those two names mean nothing, but to an Israelite, they would have carried a special significance. Edom was the land given by God to Esau, the older brother of Jacob. And Moab was the land occupied by the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.

The book of Genesis records the story of Jacob and Esau, the two twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. While the two boys were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had decreed that Jacob, who would exit the womb after his brother, was to receive the blessing of the firstborn. God, according to His sovereign will and in keeping with His divine plan for mankind, made the decision to choose Jacob over Esau. It made no sense from a human perspective and seemed to go against all accepted protocols concerning the firstborn and the inheritance. But God, who is just and right in all He does, had a good reason for His actions. And the prophet Malachi puts God’s decision in very black and white terms. Addressing the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, God said:

“This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.” – Malachi 1:2-3 NLT

The apostle Paul picks up this story in his letter to the Romans and expands on its significance.

For God had promised, “I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses,

“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” – Romans 9:9-15 NLT

Neither Malachi or Paul are insisting that God literally hated Esau. The point is that, in comparison to His treatment of Jacob and his descendants, God’s actions toward Esau appear hostile. He had chosen to bless one and not the other. And yet, God still gave Esau and his descendants land. And God would not allow the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, to have any of the land He had given to Esau.

“You will pass through the country belonging to your relatives the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. The Edomites will feel threatened, so be careful. Do not bother them, for I have given them all the hill country around Mount Seir as their property, and I will not give you even one square foot of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 NLT

God was faithful to Esau and his descendants. He had given them land and had obviously blessed them with food and water, because the people of Israel were able to buy provisions from the Edomites. It’s interesting to note that, all these generations later, God was sovereignly using the descendants of Esau to meet the needs of the descendants of Jacob. God had strategically placed the Edomites right where they were so that they could play a role in helping the Israelites reach the inheritance God had promised them.

Moses goes on to record that the Israelites left Edom and headed for the land of Moab. Once again, God warned the Israelites, “Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land” (Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT).

Here we have yet another example of God’s faithfulness and, to understand it, we have to turn back to the book of Genesis. Lot was the nephew of Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation. Lot had accompanied Abraham from Ur and had settled in the land of Canaan. In fact, at one point Abraham had allowed Lot to take his pick of all the land and the book of Genesis records:

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. – Genesis 13:11-12 NLT

Lot picked “the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar” and we’re told that “The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10 NLT). 

But Lot didn’t stay in the fertile plains for long. He ended up settling in the city of Sodom, a place of great wickedness. And when God eventually decided to destroy Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah, He allowed Lot to escape with his two daughters. And after their narrow escape, Lot and his daughters settled in a cave. But fearing that their family line was doomed to die out, Lot’s two daughters, who must have been heavily influenced by their time in Sodom, came up with a plan to get their father drunk and have sex with him, so they could prolong their clan. And the book of Genesis records the outcome of their immoral decision.

When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. – Genesis 19:37-38 NLT

Now, here were the descendants of Abraham, the uncle of Lot, getting ready to pass through the land occupied by the descendants of Lot. And Moses makes a point to stress that this portion of the land had been occupied by “A race of giants called the Emites.” And Moses goes out his way to stress that these people were “as strong and numerous and tall as the Anakites, another race of giants” (Deuteronomy 2:10 NLT).

Don’t miss the significance of what Moses is saying. Back in chapter one, he pointed out that the first time the Israelites reached the edge of the land of Canaan, they had refused to enter because they said, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV).  God had used the Edomites to rid Anakites from the land east of Canaan, but the Israelites had failed to believe that God could do the same thing for them. In a sense, Moses is pointing out that God had faithfully used the descendants of Esau to help prepare the way for the descendants of Jacob.

This whole portion of Moses’ story is meant to stress the faithfulness of God. Everything that had happened in Israel’s long history had been the work of God – all the way back to the days of Abraham and Lot and Jacob and Esau. God had been sovereignly orchestrating every single incident in order to set up this moment in time. And Moses wanted the next generation to recognize that God was with them and had been with them all along. He was and is faithful.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

 

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Nowhere to Run or Hide.

11 The oracle concerning Dumah.

One is calling to me from Seir,
    “Watchman, what time of the night?
    Watchman, what time of the night?”
12 The watchman says:
“Morning comes, and also the night.
    If you will inquire, inquire;
    come back again.”

13 The oracle concerning Arabia.

In the thickets in Arabia you will lodge,
    O caravans of Dedanites.
14 To the thirsty bring water;
    meet the fugitive with bread,
    O inhabitants of the land of Tema.
15 For they have fled from the swords,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow,
    and from the press of battle.

16 For thus the Lord said to me, “Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. 17 And the remainder of the archers of the mighty men of the sons of Kedar will be few, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.”  – Isaiah 21:11-17 ESV

Isaiah-21This oracle concerns a region the text refers to as Dumah. In Hebrew, that word means “silence” and is most likely a reference to the land of Edom, which is called Seir in the very same verse. The use of the word, Dumah, is appropriate because this oracle is short on information. Unlike the previous oracles, this one is lacking in details and, therefore, silent as to the exact fate of the Edomites. We know that Seir is a reference to the Edomites because it was located in the region that God gave to Esau.

I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess.” – Joshua 24:4 ESV

The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Their land was located to the south of Judah, on the northern border of what is now Saudi Arabia. While the Edomites were close relatives to the Israelites, the two nations had a contentious relationship. When the Israelites were journeying from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they asked permission to pass through the land of Edom but were turned down.

Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. – Numbers 20:17-21 ESV

During the reign of King David, the Edomites became subjects of Israel, with Israelite garrisons stationed within their land. But after Solomon’s death and the split of the kingdom, the Edomites revolted. They had been a constant source of irritation to the Israelites over the years, and yet God had told Israel, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV).

The oracle indicates someone from Dumah (Edom) asking the watchman on the wall, “How much longer until morning? When will the night be over?” (Isaiah 21:11 NLT). The image is that of a land filled with darkness. It indicates a time of distress and the people of Edom want to know when the dawn will break and the light will shine again. The answer the watchman gives them is somewhat cryptic. “Morning is coming, but night will soon return” (Isaiah 21:12 NLT). There would be relief, but it would only be for a momentary respite. 

The information provided by the watchman was incomplete and unsatisfactory. But he invited the inquirer to come back at a future date and ask again. Perhaps he would be able to shed more light at that time.

When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was pregnant with twins, God had told her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

To a certain degree, Esau and his descendants never stopped trying to regain what he believed to be was his rightful place as the firstborn. He had sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup and had always felt like he had been tricked into doing so by his brother. The animosity between these two nations never really faded. And it is interesting to note that, during the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews was a man named Herod the Great, who just happened to be an Edomite. He is the one who, upon hearing that Jesus had been born and was the legal heir to David’s throne, ordered the slaughter of all the male babies under two-years-old in Bethlehem, in an attempt to eliminate any threat to his reign.

The prophet, Ezekiel, would later provide a word from God outlining an account of Edom’s future fate.

“As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you; you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 35:15 ESV

As with the other nations mentioned in this series of oracles, Edom is exposed as a poor choice for an ally. God continues to let Judah know that there is no one they can rely on, except Him. While the Edomites were descendants of Isaac and, therefore, Abraham, they were not a reliable source of help in time of need. They were going to have their own problems.

Which brings God to the next nation on His divine list: Arabia. This region was south of Edom and comprised what is now Saudi Arabia. But, in spite of their geographic location, they would not be spared from the coming Assyrian invasion. The oracle describes them as fleeing from the swords and bows of the enemy, and seeking refuge in the thickets. Other Arabian tribes are encouraged to come to their aid with bread and water. But God predicts that, within a year, they will fall.

“Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. – Isaiah 21:16 ESV

And their demise will be His doing. The Assyrians will simply be puppets in His hands, performing His divine bidding.

The people of Judah could seek aid from Arabia or attempt to find refuge there as refugees. But God was letting them know that this would be an unwise and non-beneficial decision. When the judgment of God came, there would be no place to run or hide. There would be no nation strong enough to stay the hand of God. There would be no ally powerful enough to thwart the will of God. So, the best decision the people of Judah could make was to repent and to return to God, begging His forgiveness and appealing to His grace and mercy, “for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken” (Isaiah 21:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The End of the Edomites.

 

Concerning Edom.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:

“Is wisdom no more in Teman?
    Has counsel perished from the prudent?
    Has their wisdom vanished?
Flee, turn back, dwell in the depths,
    O inhabitants of Dedan!
For I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him,
    the time when I punish him.
If grape gatherers came to you,
    would they not leave gleanings?
If thieves came by night,
    would they not destroy only enough for themselves?
But I have stripped Esau bare;
    I have uncovered his hiding places,
    and he is not able to conceal himself.
His children are destroyed, and his brothers,
    and his neighbors; and he is no more.
Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive;
    and let your widows trust in me.”

For thus says the Lord: “If those who did not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, will you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, but you must drink. For I have sworn by myself, declares the Lord, that Bozrah shall become a horror, a taunt, a waste, and a curse, and all her cities shall be perpetual wastes.” Jeremiah 49:7-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to the Edomites, descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, and the son of Isaac. Just before the boys were to be born, God spoke to Rebekah and told her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

The two babies, we are told in Genesis, “struggled together within her” and when they were born, Esau came out first, but Jacob was clutching his brother’s heal. This was a premonition of what the relationship between these two boys would be like. The story goes on to describe Jacob’s eventual deception of his brother, in order to get him to give up his birthright. Then Rebekah and Jacob concocted a plan to deceive Isaac into giving to Jacob the blessing reserved for the firstborn. While their plan worked, it resulted in Jacob having to go into exile to escape the wrath of Esau. While the brothers eventually mended their personal grudge, the descendants of Esau would prove to be a constant source of trouble for the people of Israel. In fact, when they eventually made it back to Canaan after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt, they were not given a warm welcome by the Edomites.

Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. – Numbers 20:14-21 ESV

In the prophesies of Obadiah, we are given further insights into the reasons for God’s coming judgment on the Edomites.

“You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.” – Obadiah 1:3 NLT

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.” – Obadiah 1:10-11 NLT

The Edomites were prideful and arrogant, convinced that they were invincible in their mountain fortress. But there would be no place they could hide from the wrath of God. They had made the mistake of turning against the people of God, their very own relatives. When Israel had been attacked, they looked the other way, refusing to come to their aid. And God was going to repay them for their cold-hearted abandonment of Israel. His destruction would be complete. Nothing and no one would be spared. While grape gatherers might leave some gleanings in the field for the poor, God would leave nothing behind for the survivors in Edom. While a thief might be willing to leave a few things untouched, God was going to completely wipe Edom out. There would be nothing left when the judgment of God was complete.

“But I will strip bare the land of Edom,
    and there will be no place left to hide.
Its children, its brothers, and its neighbors
    will all be destroyed,
    and Edom itself will be no more.” – Jeremiah 49:10 NLT

But in the midst of all the devastation, notice the words of the Lord:

“But I will protect the orphans who remain among you.
    Your widows, too, can depend on me for help.” – Jeremiah 49:11 NLT

Even in His wrath, God will show mercy on the helpless, those who have no advocate and who are seen as outcasts within the community. God assures the widows and orphans that they will have Him as their protector and provider. Even in the midst of all the devastation, they will somehow be preserved by the merciful hand of God.

These pronouncements of doom are difficult for us to read and even harder for us to comprehend. They seem to paint God in a very negative light, portraying Him as a hateful, vengeful deity who uses His omnipotence to wreak havoc on mankind. We view His judgments from our limited human perspective and deem them as little more than the actions of some kind of divine playground bully. But there are things we cannot see. There are behind-the-scenes plots to which we are oblivious. And there is a plan that God has devised from before the foundation of the world that He is implementing and of which we are not privy. And while we might find it easy to question God’s motives or wonder about His methodologies, we must always remember that He is God and we are not. His ways are not our ways. His judgments are always right and good. His actions in regards to mankind are always righteous and beyond reproach. And as difficult as it may be for us to comprehend His ways, we have no right to question His integrity or doubt His goodness.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

“Listen to me, you who have understanding. Everyone knows that God doesn’t sin! The Almighty can do no wrong.” – Job 34:10 NLT

One of the problems we face as human beings is our inability to see past the here-and-now. We are not omniscient. We lack the ability to see into the future and view how everything will turn out. So, we are left to deal with what we can see. But looks can always be deceiving. What may appear as unjust and unfair may actually be the righteous and fully just actions of God. We simply can’t see the ultimate outcome. But it always pays to give God the benefit of the doubt. It is wise to trust that He knows best and that His ways are perfect. In time, we will see the method behind His seeming madness. We will one day have the ability to look back and see how the gracious, merciful and loving hand of God was working all things together for our good and His glory.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not This Way!

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.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said,

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
    the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
    and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
    and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying,

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”

Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.” – Genesis 48:8-22 ESV

God’s ways are not our ways. He does not operate according to and is not restricted by our human notions of fair play, social etiquette, customs or traditions. God does not have to do things the way we think they should be done. He is not afraid to offend our sense of decorum or proper procedures. His will is greater than our wishes. His divine plan is far more important than our need for maintaining the status quo.

Jacob had just told Joseph that he was going to adopt his two sons and make them his heirs. “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are” (Genesis 48:5 ESV). So when Joseph brought his two sons to their grandfather to receive their official adoption and blessing, he had certain expectations about how things were going to go down. The placement of the two boys on the knees of Jacob was part of the Ancient Near Eastern adoption ceremony. Joseph was transferring his two sons to the care of Jacob and officially making them his father’s heirs. Then things got interesting and a bit off-script for Joseph. When he brought his two sons to stand before Jacob to receive their blessings, he had them positioned so that Jacob’s right hand would be on Manasseh, the first-born, and his left hand on Ephraim, the second-born. But when Jacob reached out his hands, he crossed his arms and placed his right hand on the head of Ephraim and his left hand on the head of Manasseh. Joseph was appalled. This was not according to protocol. It was not how things were supposed to happen. Jacob had screwed up. And Joseph was not happy.

When Joseph saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him. So he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” – Genesis 48:17-18 NLT

Joseph most likely blamed his father’s gaff on old age and diminished eyesight. Verse ten tells us that Jacob’s eyes were “dim with age.” So Joseph attempted to switch his father’s hand and correct what was an obvious oversight. But Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a nation and he too will become great. In spite of this, his younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). Jacob’s crossed hands had not been the result of poor eyesight or age-induced dementia. It had been the will of God. This was yet another example of God choosing the younger over the elder.

Abraham had two sons. His firstborn was Ishmael, born to him by his wife’s handmaiden. But when Abraham asked God to fulfill His promise through Ishmael, God said:

“No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” – Genesis 17:19-21 NLT

When Isaac’s wife, Rachel, was pregnant with twin sons, God told her:

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23 NLT

Esau, the eldest of the two, would serve Jacob, the younger.Even in Jacob’s own family, he had elevated Joseph ahead of all his brothers, showing him special favor. It was this favoritism that ended up causing Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery. Then Jacob simply replaced Joseph with Benjamin, the son born to him in his old age.

God doesn’t explain Himself. He doesn’t provide us with an explanation of His actions. While cultural protocol called for the blessing to fall on the firstborn, God was choosing to do things differently. He had a different agenda and was using out-of-the-ordinary means to accomplish His divine will. God would have us remember: “

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

Look, God is greater than we can understand. – Job 36:26 NLT

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

The ways of God may be incomprehensible at times, but they are always reliable. His methodology may leave us perplexed, but never disappointed. He may appear to be suffering from poor eyesight or early onset dementia, but in time, we will discover that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. His hands were crossed for a reason. His blessing only appeared to be off target. God knows what He is doing – all the time and in every circumstance.

We may not understand God’s ways right now, but we will in time. We may not appreciate His methods for the moment, but He will be proven right and righteous. Our sense of fair play may get offended, but He will be proven just and good. Saying, “Not this way!” to God is not only presumptuous, it’s dangerous.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

May we learn to say as Jesus did, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV).

Return To God.

Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

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—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV

Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.

Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV

It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.

When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.

By Faith, Not By Sight.

By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21 ESV

Jacob, the son of Isaac, had lived a full and far-from-boring life. He and his mother had conspired to deceive Isaac in order to receive the blessing reserved for the first-born son. Even though he and his brother, Esau, were twins, Jacob had been born second, coming out of his mother’s womb hanging on to his brother’s heel. Which is how he got his name, Ya`aqob, which meant, “he takes by the heel or he cheats.” Jacob would live up to his name, living a life in self-imposed exile after having cheated his brother out of his blessing. Upon leaving, Isaac reiterated his blessing to Jacob, saying, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4 ESV). Even while traveling to the land of Haran where his uncle Laban lived, Jacob had a dream and received a vision and a word from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV

God reaffirmed the blessing Jacob had received from Isaac. In spite of the deceit and trickery Jacob and Rebehak utilized to get the blessing, God clearly affirmed it. It had been His plan all along, as He had told Rebekah before the boys were even born. “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). So Jacob would spend years living his life in exile, living in a foreign land far away from his father and mother. Yet in time, Jacob decided to return home. During his time in Haran, he had deceived and been deceived. He had married multiple wives, who had born him children. He had grown rich and prosperous. But he was ready to go home and face the anger of his brother Esau. On his way, he had a divine encounter with God. He actually wrestled with God, demanding that He bless him. And God did, saying, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Jacob had spent his entire life wrestling with God, trying to do things his way. And when God said that he had prevailed, he wasn’t saying that Jacob had bested Him, He was simply saying that Jacob had managed to survive. The Hebrew word is yakol and it means “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach.” Jacob had endured his exile. He had survived his own life of deceit. He was going to gain all that God had promised. And he was going to learn that it was all God’s doing, not his own. Jacob would make it safely back to the land of Canaan, receive a surprisingly warm welcome from his brother, Esau, and have yet another visit from God.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:9-12 ESV

Jacob would father twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son and his favoritism would eventually cause his other sons to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph would end up in Egypt where, through an amazing chain of God-ordained events, he would become the second most powerful ruler in the land. In the meantime, Jacob and his remaining sons would find themselves dealing with a terrible famine in the land of Canaan, which would eventually force them to seek out aid in the land of Egypt. This would lead to a surprising reunion with Joseph, who would end up not only forgiving his brothers, but providing them with protection and land. “Thus Israel [Jacob] settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years” (Genesis 47:27-28 ESV). When the time came for Jacob to die, he asked Joseph to bring in his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh so that he might bless them. In an interesting turn of events, Joseph presented his two sons to Jacob in order for him to bless them. He held Manasseh, the eldest, in his left hand, so that Jacob could easily bless him with his right hand. He held Ephraim in his right hand, so that he would receive the blessing of the second-born from Jacob’s left hand. The Scriptures tell us “Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth” (Genesis 48:12 ESV). With his head bowed, he did not see his father, Jacob, switch his hands and place his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two. The passage makes it clear that Jacob’s eyesight was dim from old age and he could not see. With his hands switched, Jacob pronounced his blessing:

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:15-16 ESV

When Joseph saw what had been done, he tried to get his father to correct his apparent mistake. But Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 ESV). You might think that Jacob, because of his poor eyesight, inadvertently and mistakenly gave the blessing of the first-born to the wrong son. But the mention of Jacob’s poor eyesight is there to indicate that he was having to trust God for what he was doing. He had received a divine directive from God to give Ephraim the blessing reserved for the firstborn. It was God’s will and what Jacob did, he did by faith. He had to trust God with the outcome. He did not fully understand it or know how it would all turn out, but he knew that God was in control. He didn’t need strong eyesight, he simply needed strong faith. Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, never returning to the land of Canaan, but he trusted that God would bring his people back to the land and fulfill His promise to make them prosperous and to bless them. Jacob blessed his two grandsons, “bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21 ESV). His hope was in God. His assurance was in the promises of God. He had a strong conviction that God knew what He was doing and he willingly obeyed God’s wishes. Jacob might not have always lived his life by faith, but he ended it that way – trusting God for the fate of his family and the future fulfillment of His promises.

God Prevailed.

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. – Hebrews 11:20 ESV

Isaac, the son of Abraham, would live a long life and father two twin sons, Jacob and Esau. He would also inherit the same promise from God given to his father, Abraham.

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed – Genesis 26:3-4 ESV

When Isaac realized that his days on earth were coming to a close, he determined to bless his sons, beginning with Esau, the first-born of the two.

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” – Genesis 27:1-4 ESV

Of course, little did Isaac know that his wife, Rebekah, had overheard his instructions to Esau. She immediately conspired with Jacob, her favorite of the two sons, to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the first-born son. In her defense, Rebekah thought she was doing the right thing. Like her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebekah was barren and unable to have children. But God came to her and promised to give her twin boys. He told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). She believed that the blessing of Isaac was the key to God’s promise being fulfilled, so she concocted a plan to make sure Jacob received the blessing of the first-born. And Jacob went along with it because, technically, the birthright was his. Esau had unwisely and impulsively sold it to him for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Driven by his hunger, Esau had flippantly forfeited his right to the blessing

So when Rebekah approached Jacob with her plan, he was reluctant, but eventually complicit in carrying it out. And their deception worked. Unknowingly, Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob that had been intended for Esau.

“May God give you of the dew of heaven
    and of the fatness of the earth
    and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” – Genesis 27:28-29 ESV

But what is interesting about this story is what the author of Hebrews says about Isaac. He writes, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” But wait a minute! He was deceived. He did not knowingly bless Jacob. He did so because he was tricked. How is that an example of faith? Well, first of all, we have to realize that the blessing he gave, fully believing he was giving it to Esau, was an example of faith. It was based on things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen. He was having to trust God to bring it all about. But even when Isaac realized what had happened and that he had been deceived by his wife, though angry, he remained faithful. “Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed’” (Genesis 27:33 ESV). Isaac had faith that God would fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham and had passed on to him – in spite of Rebekah’s deception. Things had not turned out quite like he had planned, but he was willing to trust God with the future outcome. Even to the point of blessing Jacob a second time before he moved to Paran in order to escape the wrath of this disgruntled brother.

“God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” – Genesis 28:3-4 ESV

Notice what Isaac did. He went back to the promise of God. In spite of all that had happened, he kept his focus on what God had said. He did not know the full ramifications of all that had transpired. He didn’t even like it. But he was willing to trust God with it. He had no idea what was going to happen in the years ahead. He was blind to all that God was going to do with and to Jacob. But he believed that God had meant it when He had said, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

And years later, when Jacob had returned from his self-imposed exile and his father Isaac was near death, God visited him.

And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

It is interesting to note that God changed Jacob’s name. In Hebrew, his name meant “he takes by the heel or he cheats.” This was a result of what happened at the time of Jacob and Esau’s births. Esau came out first, but the text tells us, “Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (Genesis 25:26 ESV). But God would change Jacob’s name. And the name change, while subtle in Hebrew, Ya`aqob to Yisra’el, was incredibly significant. Israel means, “ God prevails.” In spite of all the trickery, deceit, human flaws, misplaced blessings, and convoluted circumstances surrounding Jacob’s life, God was in charge. His will was being done. His promise was being fulfilled. And it was in this fact that Isaac had placed his hope and conviction. He had faith that God would do what He said He would do. So by faith he invoked future blessings on his two sons, trusting God to do what only He could do.

Faith Alone.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”  And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:6-13 ESV

Yes, God did choose Abraham and through him created the nation of Israel. They were God’s chosen people. And as Paul has said, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4 ESV). God even ordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born an Israelite. And yet, earlier in his letter, Paul wrote, “For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people” (Romans 2:28-29 NLT). So what is Paul saying? Better yet, what is God doing? Have His promises to Israel failed? Was all that He promised to Abraham a lie?

The point Paul seems to be making has to do with the sovereign grace of God. For the Jews, they believed they had a right relationship with God simply because they were descendants of Abraham. Their faith was in their heritage and their unique place as God’s chosen people. But Paul makes it clear that simply claiming Abraham as your father is not enough. To prove his point, Paul reminds his Jewish audience that Abraham had a number of sons, and yet only one of them, Isaac, was chosen as the line through which the promise of God would flow. Also, Isaac had two sons, but only Jacob was chosen as the conduit for God’s promise. And Paul points out that this sovereign decision by God had nothing to do with the behavior or merits of the two sons  –“though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad.” So what does all this mean? Paul tells us when he writes, “This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children” (Romans 9:8 NLT).

Many of the Jews living in Rome, who had not yet placed their faith in Christ, were under the delusion that their Hebrew heritage was their guarantee of a right relationship with God. But Paul wants them to understand that having the blood of Abraham coursing through your veins was no replacement for the blood of Christ covering your sins. Faith in Christ trumped anything and everything, including a pure bloodline. God’s promise was based on faith. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted” (Hebrews 11:17-18 NLT). It was his faith in the promise of God that set Abraham apart. And it was that faith that was counted to him as righteousness. And it is our faith in the promise of salvation through His Son that makes us right with God.

Ultimately, salvation is based on faith, not works. It is based on trust in God, not a false hope in heritage or religious upbringing. Being born into the right family or worshiping in a particular faith system has no bearing and carries no weight with God. Paul has already made his main point regarding the gospel – the good news regarding Jesus Christ. “It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Romans 1:16-17 NLT). God chose Abraham. He chose Isaac. He chose Jacob. He made a conscious and sovereign decision to bring about salvation through the nation of Israel, but our hope is in the promised One. No one deserves salvation based on their background or their behavior. It is faith alone in Christ alone that brings about salvation and restores man’s relationship with God.

Genesis 31-32, Matthew 16

Wrestling With God.

Genesis 31-32, Matthew 16

So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel,saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  – Genesis 32:30 ESV

This is such a fascinating story, filled with equal parts of faith and faithlessness. Throughout the events that occur, we see the faithful hand of God working behind the scenes, orchestrating the path of Jacob, and fulfilling His promises to Abraham. We also see Jacob struggle with taking God at His Word and attempting to take matters into his own hands – just in case God doesn’t come through. Jacob acknowledges God’s sovereign control over his life, having prospered and protected him all during his time in Paddan-Aram, but he also fears for his life, anticipating a less-than-cheery welcome from his brother Esau. We see the continuing conflict between Jacob and Laban, his uncle. But the real conflict of Jacob’s life had always been between he and God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The obvious lesson is regarding His sovereignty. God is always in control – in all situations – regardless of how they might appear to us at the time. While Jacob’s flight to Paddan-Aram was his mother’s idea, and one she had to come up with to protect Jacob from the revenge of Esau, God would use this “detour” to accomplish his will for Jacob’s life. Even Jacob recognized the hand of God on his life during his time with Laban. He told his wives, “You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me” (Genesis 31:6-7 ESV). God miraculously prospered Jacob, in spite of Laban’s ongoing attempts to cheat him out of what was rightfully his. Upon receiving news that his brother Esau was on his way with 400 armed men, Jacob prayed , “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children” (Genesis 32:10-11 ESV). Jacob feared. He lacked faith. And yet, His God had been proved Himself faithful every step of the way. Jacob was having to learn that Laban was not his problem. He was going to have to understand that Esau was not the one he needed to be worrying about. It was God. His real issue was with God, not man. He was going to learn that, while he could trick and deceive men, God was another matter. And while he could strive and work for the things of this world, what he really needed was the blessing of God. And it’s interesting to note that as Jacob lined up all his possessions and prepared to hand them over to his brother as a peace offering, the one thing he demanded from the angel with whom he wrestled was a blessing. “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Genesis 32:26 ESV). And Jacob received his blessing because he “prevailed.” This does not mean he beat God. It means that he wrestled with God until he received that for which he was striving. So God told him, ““Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). His new name was a combination of the Hebrew words for “wrestle” and “God.” Jacob had clung to God, demanding He fulfill His covenant promise to him. He knew that his future was in danger without God’s help. And God would prove Himself faithful yet again, delivering Jacob from his brother Esau and providing him a place back in the land of promise.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Jacob’s entire life had been a wrestling match with God. At every phase of his life, Jacob had been given full notice that the covenant promises of God would be his. At Jacob’s birth, God had confirmed to Rebekah that, while Esau was technically the first-born son and heir to the inheritance, “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). Jacob had cheated his brother out of his birthright. He had tricked his father into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. And yet, he still doubted that God was going to bless him. He lived in fear of Esau’s eventual retaliation. He had to constantly battle his own uncle just to make a living. He had watched his two wives bicker and fight, even bartering over their rights to have sexual relations with him. His life was a complicated mess filled with constant conflicts. And yet his real problem was with God. He was delaying the inevitable. At some point he was going to have to go to the mat with God and have it out over whether or not he was going to trust Him. And that is exactly what happened. That fateful night in the land of Seir, after having sent all that he owned and loved ahead of him, the Scriptures tell us, “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24 ESV). All he held dear, his wives, children, and all his worldly possessions had been sent ahead as payment to his brother Esau. He was faced with the possible loss of everything, including his life – all that he had worked so hard for all those years. And he was left alone – with God. And they did battle. And Jacob, weary and worn out from the exertion of it all, clinged for dear life, demanding that “the man” bless him. Everything else was meaningless and worthless, but the blessing of God was essential. This would be a turning point in Jacob’s life, resulting in a name change, but also a significant change in outlook. Jacob had been a man of the flesh, prone to do things his own way. Israel would become a man of faith, a spiritual man who was learning to trust in and lean on His God for everything.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the gospel of Matthew, we have that powerful rebuke that Jesus gives Peter. Jesus has just told the disciples that He is going to have to go to Jerusalem and “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21 ESV). Peter responds quickly and adamantly, telling Jesus that this is NOT going to happen. In essence, Peter is telling the Son of God that the will of God is wrong. And Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23 ESV). Oh, how easy it is to become a hindrance to God. That does not mean we can keep God from doing what He intends to do, but we can place ourselves in opposition to His divine will. That is not a place we want to be. That was not the place Jacob needed to be. He was going to have to learn to trust God and take Him at His word. He was going to have to learn to see God’s hand at work in his life and trust that what He had done in the past could also be done in the future. That night in his wrestling match with God, Jacob had learned the truth of Jesus’ statement found in Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Jacob had become wealthy. He had been blessed materially. But all of that meant little or nothing without the blessing of God in his life. What set Jacob apart was not his net worth or personal portfolio, but his relationship with God Almighty. His uniqueness was based solely on God’s divine determination to fulfill His covenant promises to him and through him. And the same is true for me today.

Father, I can see Your hands all over and around my life. I can look back and see Your activity all around me. But then I can look ahead and worry and fret over what I am going to do about future events or circumstances. I try to take matters into my own hands. I scheme and plan. I worry and stress out over what is going to happen. But what I really need to do is wrestle with You. I need to do business with You and strive with You to the point that I walk away wounded, but confident that You will do what You promise to do. You are faithful. I have nothing to fear. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Genesis 27-28, Matthew 14

The Flesh Versus the Spirit.

Genesis 27, Matthew 14

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.  – Genesis 28:15 ESV

The entire Bible is a picture of God working in the midst of and, in most cases, in spite of man. So far we have seen even those who had been chosen by God and given the promises of God, acting as sometimes unwilling and unhelpful participants in God’s plan. That pattern continues in chapters 27 and 28 as we read about Jacob’s deception of his father in order to receive a blessing from him. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, plays a major role in Jacob’s decision, encouraging him to deceive his father in order to cheat his brother out of his blessing. We see in this story a cast of characters controlled by their senses. The physical and sensual play a major role in all that happens. Isaac is physically old and suffering from the effects of his dying body. Yet he is driven by a desire for food and sends out his son, Esau, to kill some game and prepare him his favorite stew. Rebekah, driven by a desire to see her favorite son, Jacob, receive the blessing, allows her sin nature to control her decision making. She concocts a plan to involve Jacob in an elaborate ruse, designed to deceive her own husband and cheat her own son, Esau. Her sinful passions, while probably well-intentioned, are vividly on display in this story. Jacob, a willing pawn in his mother’s hands, allows his lust for more – a blessing AND the birthright – to drive his actions. Esau, once he discovered what had been done to him, is driven by revenge and an unbearable desire to be blessed by his father. His disappointment will drive him to seek the death of his own twin brother.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Yet, in spite of all the sinful passions the permeate these two chapters, God is in control. His will is being done – in spite of the motley cast of characters that make up this story. God does not condone Rebekah’s scheming and Jacob’s willful deceitfulness. But He uses their sinful actions to accomplish His divine will. What they meant for evil, God will use for good.

And yet, there is both pain and punishment involved in the actions of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau. Jacob, while blessed, will have to run for his life. His actions drive a wedge between he and his brother. He is forced to leave home and take up residence with his uncle. As a result, his self-imposed exile will ensure that he never sees his mother and father again. He will live in fear of his brother, Esau, for years. Rebekah will live out the rest of her life knowing her favorite son had received the blessing, but never getting to hold him in her arms again. There are always consequences to our sins, but God is always accomplishing His will in spite of them. He did not abandon His promise because of Jacob’s actions. He remained faithful to His word, regardless of the unfaithfulness and unrighteousness of those through whom He was going to fulfill his word.  Even after all Jacob had done, God reaffirmed His covenant promise to him. “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 ESV). Regardless of Jacob’s actions, God was promising to remain with him and to someday restore him to the land. You see this pattern all throughout the lives of the people of Israel. One day they would find themselves living in exile in Egypt, and God would faithfully restore them to the land. Generations later, they would find themselves living in exile in Babylon and, once again, God would faithfully restore them to the land. Years later, the people would find themselves living in spiritual exile in the land, and God would send His Son in an effort to restore them to a right relationship with Him. God has been and always will be faithful to His word. He is the covenant-keeping God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

At heart, we are all schemers and deceivers. We are driven by our senses and controlled by our passions. The physical world is the greatest barrier to our spiritual development. Our lust for more of what this world has to offer make it difficult for us to enjoy all the spiritual blessings God has promised. You see in the story of Jacob, the ease at which our passions for the physical can easily overshadow our faith in the promises of God. The enemy is always at work behind the scenes tempting us to doubt God and trust in that which we can see, hold, feel, touch, and taste. And yet, the majority of the blessings of God are spiritual in nature. They are eternal, not temporal. If you think about the gifts of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – they are all spiritual in nature. And yet, they have physical implications. They show up in the physical world, but are made possible only by the Spirit of God. Any attempt to manufacture them in the flesh always fails. No one can make themselves more patient. You can fake love, but you can’t make the real thing. The physical and spiritual are always at odds in our lives. That why Paul wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I have to constantly remind myself that God’s divine plan for mankind is far greater and more important than my self-centered plans for myself. He is going to accomplish what He has promised to Abraham. He will fulfill His promises to Isaac and Jacob. He will follow through on all His commitments to the people of Israel. He will come through on all He has promised for the body of Christ. And He will complete what He has begun in my life. My petty passions and selfish desires for the physical things of this earth do not thwart God or harm His plan, but they do make my life more difficult. I can choose to do it His way or my way, but irregardless, God will always have His way. Jacob made his life far more difficult than it had to be. His life would not be an easy one. But God would still accomplish His will through him – in most cases, in spite of him. It would be far more pleasant to live in obedience to God and enjoy His blessings, than to resist Him or attempt to somehow “help” Him and have to suffer the consequences of my sin.

I can’t help but think about Peter in the story found in Matthew 14. He and the rest of the disciples of Jesus are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night, experiencing strong waves and winds. They see Jesus walking on the water toward them in the midst of the storm and Peter begs Jesus to command that he be able to walk on the water too. Jesus simply said, “Come!” And Peter did. But then he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to focus on the wind and the waves. He became overwhelmed with the physical and lost sight of the spiritual. His ability to walk on water was a miracle. It was supernatural and impossible, but Peter became obsessed once again with the natural, and he sank like a rock. But Jesus was there. He rescued Peter, lifting him out of the water and placing him back in the boat. But Jesus’ words still ring true today.  “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28 ESV). The life of the believer is to be one of faith. It is to be lived by faith, not sight. It is to be based on the spiritual, not the physical. With God, nothing is impossible. But it is so easy to let the physical realm rob us of the spiritual reality of the promises and power of God in our lives.

Father, I want to trust You more and lean less and less on the things of this world. I want to be spiritually-motivated, not earthly-minded. I want to trust You more and the things of this earth less. I want to develop an internal, rather than a temporal, perspective. Forgive me for my doubt. Help my unbelief. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org