This blog entry is about twice the usual length (as is the title). And since it’s very meaningful to me, I hope A Mending Feast readers will read it when they can give it meaningful time.
In a time of prayer at the beginning of the year I felt that 2013 would be a time of seeking for me. And so it has proven thus far. As I mentioned last time, I spent some weeks fasting recently. It came about when I asked some friends to join me in fasting and prayer for a day or two. It was an encouraging time. Then a few days later one of the friends mentioned to me that he had it on his heart to enter into a longer fast. He felt it was an “invitation from the Lord,” and invited me to join him and his wife. I was on. We patterned it after Daniel’s fast—eating no “pleasant food,” eating very simply, and just enough to maintain strength.
I am not trying to draw attention to what we did, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way. But this is a difficult and very critical hour, and I want to encourage us all to be seeking God earnestly. We need Him so desperately, yet we get busy with our earthly lives, and somehow He ends up on the back burner. That’s a mistake always; in this hour it’s a great mistake.
Personally I have lost my appetite for the earthly life. We’re only mortal once, and to waste this brief moment of life on ourselves is the greatest of all loss. Jesus told His disciples many times that those who seek to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for His sake will find them. It’s His invitation to us to walk in the way of the cross with Him—this way of death that He made the way of Life. In my case I don’t know that I have too many grains of sand left in my hourglass, and it’s not very appealing to me to just idle away my precious days enjoying this earthly life and watching the grains of sand run out. I don’t want to waste my life! I am determined to spend my mortal life (the only one I get) on Jesus. So I will continue to take up my cross and follow along with Jesus. He promises me that this is the Way that leads to God. And I want God! And need Him desperately—not just for myself but for others. So my face is set. I am not turning back. I am not giving up.
And during my fast I received a clear confirmation from the Lord that He Himself is saying this very thing to me: that yes, these are difficult days, very difficult. You’re in the midst of troubles… with more and greater on the way. Yet at times it seems like your God has hidden Himself, or is very far away. But don’t give up. Don’t give up.
Here’s how it came to me. I found myself dwelling on the story of Jacob. Jacob, our Bible tells us, was after something even in the womb of his mother. She (Rebecca) would find herself holding her belly alarmed at what was going on—all that kicking and punching. She sought God about it and received a prophetic word (Gen. 25.22). She was about to give birth to twins, and the children were struggling with one another, wrestling in the womb. Seems like they were positioning themselves. Who would be the first out, and get the birthright, the blessing, the inheritance, the double portion? Then when her time came and the firstborn was on his way out, the second son grabbed the firstborn by the heel as if to say, maybe you got out first but this is not over yet. And so this is how he got his name—Jacob—“one who takes by the heel,” that is, “supplanter, conniver.”
Jacob didn’t make it out first, but what he did at birth was prophetic of his whole life. As a young man he schemed to get the birthright from Esau, who, faint with hunger, sold it to him for a bowl of bean stew. Then later when it was time for Isaac to pass on the blessing of the firstborn, Jacob schemed again (with his mother’s help) and deceived his father outright, and obtained the blessing reserved for Esau the firstborn. Esau swore vengeance for this; he would get even someday; he would kill Jacob. So Jacob leaves the land of his fathers for Padan-aram, where later on we find him wrestling continually with Laban, his conniving, deceiving father-in-law. And after toiling many years for a wife and ending up with two wives (actually four) he is on his way back to Canaan the land of his fathers with his family and his flocks and possessions when he hears that his brother Esau is on his way to meet him, and 400 men with him.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed… (Gen. 32.7).
And he prays for God’s deliverance.
Oh, God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac… I am not worthy of the least of Thy mercies, and of all the truth (or, faithfulness) which Thou hast shewed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him…
Notice that Jacob prays desperately for God’s deliverance, and at the same time comes up with an elaborate scheme to deliver himself from the wrath of his brother Esau. He sends droves of sheep and cattle on before him as a present for Esau. Last of all he sends his family over the brook Jabbok, a tributary of the Jordan.
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day (Gen. 32.24).
It doesn’t surprise us, does it, to find Jacob wrestling again. But this time it was not just the day that broke. By the time this wrestling match was over, by the time the sun arose, Jacob himself was a broken man. He had wrestled with his brother in the womb. All his life he had wrestled with men and circumstances. And now he is wrestling with… he is not sure who he is wrestling with.
And this One says to him, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.”
But Jacob kept saying to Him, “I will not let thee go except Thou bless me.” My, how tenacious this man is. He simply will not give up.
And when the Angel of the Lord saw that He wasn’t getting anywhere with this man, that He prevailed not against him, He touched Jacob in the hollow of his thigh and crippled him. That would put him down on the mat for the count, right?
But no, it was Jacob who won the match! We are told it was Jacob who prevailed, who won (Gen. 32.28). How did he win the match? By being crippled, by being smitten in the place of his greatest strength, by being overcome by God. He asked him, “What is thy name?” Jacob responded—and light dawned—“Jacob.” Ah, my name is Jacob—supplanter, wrestler, conniver, striver! All my life I’ve been striving, conniving…
But God responded, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
God gave this man a new name. In the Bible, the name always signifies the nature, the character of a person, his prophetic destiny. And so Jacob was as it were a new man now, a new creation. Now he in turn asks a question. “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” But He answers, “Wherefore dost thou ask after My name?” In other words, I think, Jacob, you know that now.
And He blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of that place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
But from that day on this man limped. He couldn’t even worship without leaning on his staff (Heb. 11.21).
Now… I said all that to say this. I was finding my time of fasting very difficult. I don’t know that I’ve had a more difficult time—not the fasting itself so much as, oh, it was so hard to get through to God in prayer. And you start to get thoughts like… maybe I just don’t have what it takes. Maybe I should just call it quits. But as I dwelt on Jacob’s experiences, I went to a passage in Hosea I’ve never really understood. I thought I’d just read it over anyway. Suddenly it came clear to me. Hosea says this:
The LORD hath a controversy with Judah, and will punish (that is, visit) Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will He recompense him.
Hosea is talking here of the divided kingdom of Judah and Israel, both of which had gone into great apostasy at the time. And he warns them that God will deal with them according to their ways. But suddenly right in the middle of this frightening pronouncement Hosea sets forth a great hope for these wayward disobedient people. How does he do it? He reminds them of their father Jacob.
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength (or, in his manhood) he had power with (or, strove with) God:
Yea, he had power over (or, contended with) the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him: he found Him in Bethel, and there He spake with us;
Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is His memorial (Hos. 12.2-5).
Suddenly I realized that Hosea, while making no excuse for Jacob’s conniving ways… he is speaking very positively about this man. There is something about this man, this supplanter, this striver, this wrestler, that God greatly loves. For this is a man who sought God tenaciously, continually. From the very womb he wanted God… and just would not give up. Oh how that blesses the heart of God to see someone like that! He loved Jacob!
But now in the next verse Hosea comes to his punch line:
Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.
And–this is what I said at the start–I heard Him speaking to me! Wait on thy God continually! Don’t quit! Don’t give up!
Do we not hear him speaking to us, fellow Christian? “There He spake with us.” God, in the story of Jacob, is speaking to us, to you, to me. And is saying… “Don’t give up!” It’s a word we deeply need to hear in this hour when, just as in Hosea’s day and the people of God back then, the same thing applies to “the church,” the people of God in this day. We are in a state of frightening apostasy, and God is surely going to visit us for our ways. It’s a grievous time, and many are wondering if there is any hope. God says yes, there is hope! God says, turn thou to thy God! There is hope! Is there someone in your life who needs mercy? A situation that calls for judgment (for justice)? Keep mercy and judgment! (Remembering that he shall have judgment without mercy who has shown no mercy, and that mercy rejoiceth over judgment, James 2.13.) And seek Me, God urges, wait on Me continually the way your father Jacob did. Don’t quit on Me! Don’t give up! You will not be disappointed! You will be rewarded! And so wait on Me expectantly! Remember My Name—that I am the LORD of hosts, the LORD of all the resources and hosts of Heaven; I lack nothing you need in any situation you face, regardless of how dark or difficult the day!
It’s a word of tremendous encouragement for this our day. It may be a day of great apostasy and great distress, and at times it’s hard to lay hold of God. But God will hear the cry of those who turn to Him and wait on Him. Continually. He will not disappoint them.
…But now my own punch line—and this is the thing that broke me up when I realized the longing in my own heart. Jacob had cried out, “I will not let You go unless you bless me!” Was he thinking in terms of the prayers he desperately wanted answered? No doubt he was, he was in great distress and desperately needed answer to prayer. But was there Something Else in that cry, something that he longed for all through the years of his toil and troubles and that now welled up in him and would not be turned away? “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me,” he cried, the tears streaming down his cheeks. And yes, at long last, God answered this Jacob He loved so much. And he ended up with far more than answered prayer, wonderful as that is. Jacob ended up with… God Himself.
That’s the Blessing he received at Peniel. God Himself.
And so with us, beloved. Does it seem God is delaying answering your prayers, and mine? Oh how I anguish at times over unanswered prayer. But God is going to answer our prayers, beloved. Your prayers. My prayers. But when He does… we are going to end up with not just answered prayer. We are going to end up with… God. As you and I continue our asking, our seeking, our knocking, our wrestling, our striving… as we persevere and don’t give up, we are going to end up with… God Himself.
I realize we have Him now. But so did Jacob before Peniel. God had promised him way back at Bethel that He would not leave him till He had done what He had spoken to him of (Gen. 28.15). But somehow all through the years there was still Something missing, and it was not till Peniel that he found that Something. At Peniel he met this God who had been with him all through the years face to face. And as he passed over Peniel the sun rose upon him. It was a new day for this new man. And he walked into it halting (limping) on this thigh. He walked differently now.
I think we scarcely comprehend what this means to any great extent yet. But we are going to discover what it means in our own Peniel, and as a result of the wrestling and crippling of the cross we too are going to walk differently… are going to walk with God Himself in a Pathway more wondrous and beautiful than anything we could ever dream or imagine.
More next time.