Whose Fight Is It?

In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups… (Genesis 32:7). 

Jacob’s brother Esau is approaching with 400 men! 

Esau is the man who sold his birthright to Jacob, and then had his father’s blessing swindled away from him by Jacob. And now he is rapidly approaching Jacob and his entourage. 

Jacob’s natural response is, well, natural: great fear and distress grip his heart (v. 7). In his agitated state of mind “he thought” of a strategy to try to appease his brother and save as many of his family members and possessions as he could. 

And then another strategy popped into Jacob’s agitated mind: Then he prayed (v. 9). He concocted his own plans first and then he prayed. Prayer should have been his first response, but at least he finally did get around to praying!

In his prayer, Jacob twice reminds God, “You said” (vv. 9, 12), and in-between those reminders he confesses to Him, “I am afraid” (v. 11). 

As he speaks to God, reminds God of His promises, and confesses his own heart-quaking, knee-knocking fear, God says:  [crickets chirping in the warm evening]. 

God is silent. 

So Jacob returns to his own strategizing—once again we read “for he thought” (v.20)—until he is utterly out of options. All he can do now is wrestle with God (vv. 22-30). All out of his own options, Jacob now tenaciously clings to God and will not let Him go! 

In the Hebrew language, the name Jacob means a man who struggles, thinks, and strategizes using his own abilities*. 

After finally submitting to God, Jacob’s name is changed to Israel**. Now Israel lets God do the strategizing and the fighting. Jacob tried to figure things out on his own; Israel lets God’s plan prevail. When Israel bought his first plot of ground after his name had been changed, he built an altar there and named it El Elohe Israel—The Almighty God is my God (33:20). 

Israel now says, “I’m done striving with men on my own. I’m done fighting people and trying to figure out how to make things happen for me. From now on I will only wrestle with God, and I’ll let Him fight the battles for me!” 

How often do I strategize on my own first, and only after I have run out of options do I run to God in prayer? This is a Jacob spirit in me! I don’t want to live this way. I want to be like Israel—clinging to God as my first and only Source of help. 

How about you?

* In the Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible, there is an interesting note on Jacob’s name. For instance, when Esau says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?” (Genesis 27:36), the FSB editors offer this commentary: “Esau uses the Hebrew word ‘aqab here, which is a wordplay on Jacob’s name in Hebrew, ya-aqov. … Esau suggests that Jacob’s name actually has to do with him being a person who supplants or cheats other people.” 

** Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel (Genesis 32:28). The FSB commentary points out, “Jacob’s name must be changed due to its association with his misdeeds. Here, the reasoning for the name Israel (yisra’el in Hebrew) is the verbal phrase ‘you have striven with (or struggled with) God.’ This suggests the name derives from the Hebrew verb sarah, meaning ‘to struggle,’ ‘to strive’ or ‘to fight.’ The name yisra’el itself could mean ‘God will struggle,’ ‘May God struggle’ or ‘God fights’….” 

What’s In A Name?

Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son… (Genesis 29:32). 

Jesus said that ALL the Scripture pointed to Him (John 5:39). That means even the various names of people in the Scripture give us some insight into the nature of Jesus. 

Consider Jacob and his sons, who become the fathers of the tribes of the nation of Israel. Jacob the deceiver is transformed into Israel the guileless, and the names of his sons point to what Jesus does to transform all of us into His righteous brothers and sisters. 

[Check out the links posted below to read all the Scripture references.]

Reuben—God sees my misery and sends His Son (Genesis 29:32; John 3:16). 

Simeon—God sent His Son when I was unlovable (Genesis 29:33; Romans 5:6-8). 

Levi—after I am saved from my sins, I am joined to God (Genesis 29:34; Ephesians 2:1-5).

Judah—my salvation brings praise to God (Genesis 29:35; John 15:8).

Dan—God has vindicated me in Jesus (Genesis 30:6; John 8:11).

Naphtali—Christ’s righteousness has given me victory over my struggles (Genesis 30:8; Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-56). 

Gad—God’s favor now advances toward me like an unstoppable troop (Genesis 30:11; Romans 8:31-39). 

Asher—I am now able to enjoy God’s happiness (Genesis 30:13; Matthew 25:21, 34). 

Issachar—God IS my reward (Genesis 30:18; Revelation 3:20-21).

Zebulun—my Husband (Jesus) honors me (Genesis 30:20; Ephesians 5:22-23; Hebrews 2:11).

Joseph—God has taken away my disgrace and added His blessing (Genesis 30:24; Romans 8:1, 32).

Manasseh—God has made me forget my past (Genesis 41:51; Psalm 103:12).

Ephraim—God has made me abundantly fruitful (Genesis 41:52; 1 Peter 2:9-10).

Benjamin—I am God’s son (Genesis 35:18; Ephesians 2:6)! 

God has done ALL this—and more!—through Jesus! 

When you read the Bible, don’t rush through it. Slow down. Meditate on it. Soak in it. And then see how the Holy Spirit will illuminate truth to you. 

[Please check out the Bible references I’ve listed above for yourself. All of the Genesis references are here, and all of the other references are here.]

All Of HIStory Is His Story

There were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned (Genesis 36:31). 

When Rebecca was pregnant with twins, they jostled each other in her womb. God said this was an indication of what was to come of the two nations that would arise from her sons. God also said that the older son would serve the younger son (25:23).

The nation of Edom was a fierce but unstable people. Just take a look at the succession of their kings to see the power struggles at every transition. But eventually, King Saul would war against Edom, and King David would subjugate them—making the prophecy true that the older son served the younger son.

What went into the fulfillment of this prophecy?

  • Esau (also known as Edom) short-sightedly sold his birthright
  • Jacob and Rebecca conspired to get Isaac to bless Jacob instead of Esau
  • Esau married Canaanite wives, which disappointed his parents and strained relations with them
  • God blessed both Esau and Jacob so that Esau had to move to the region that would eventually bear his name: Edom

Along the way, Esau had a son with his Canaanite wife named Eliphaz. Eliphaz had a child with a concubine named Timna—a son that grew into one of Israel’s most deadly foes: the Amalekites!

Yet all of this was foreseen by God and fulfilled His pre-ordained plan. Once again: All of History is His story. There is never any need for us to worry about turmoil—political or otherwise—because God is in sovereign control… always! 

(By the way, this is not an isolated incident. There are countless examples in the Bible of how God’s sovereign plan is fulfilled, despite man’s best efforts to derail it. Check out another example here.) 

Let It Go

Scholars are unsure of the date that Obadiah wrote his book. We know that it took place after invaders had caused problems in Judah and Edom responded in a way that angered God. Some scholars place this date after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 BC, and others think it’s more likely to have occurred during the reign of Jehoram around 840 BC. The bottom line is that the date doesn’t matter because the underlying feud which led to God’s pronouncement of judgment had been smoldering for hundreds and hundreds of years! 

The feud was between Jacob (the father of the nation of Israel) and his twin brother Esau (the father of the nation of Edom). Esau was born first and should have received his father Isaac’s blessing, but Jacob took the birthright that was supposed to belong to Esau. 

As you might imagine, “Esau seethed in anger against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him; he brooded, ‘The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:41). Jacob escaped Esau’s initial rage, but 400+ years later, when the Israelites left Egypt and were on their way to Canaan, the Edomites—trying to even the score—refused to let the Israelites pass through their territory. 

Now another few hundred years have passed and when Judah was invaded, the Edomites not only didn’t do anything to help their brothers, but they piled on with the invaders (vv. 10-14). Once again, their rage at the descendants of Jacob exploded!  

For this, God pronounced judgment on the nation of Edom through His prophet Obadiah. 

Edom’s downfall is very instructive because we are ALL liable to the same fate! 

  1. It starts with pride. Pride keeps us from forgiving our offenders because we think WE have to be the one to even the score. As C.S. Lewis noted, “Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
  1. It then becomes thoughts of plotting our revenge. Jesus warned us of the dire consequences for dwelling on these kinds of thoughts (Matthew 5:21-22). 
  1. It next morphs into cheering on those who attack our offenders.
  1. It eventually becomes our revenge in action, which then brings God’s judgment against us!

Always remember this: It is God’s place to judge, but our place is to forgive our enemies and “get revenge” by blessing them beyond what they deserve (Romans 12:17-21). 

You might say, “But what they did to me is absolutely inexcusable!” You are probably right, but you are not going to make anything right. Making things right—handing out appropriate justice—is God’s business. Again, C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

There are three important words to remember when someone has wronged you: LET IT GO!

Carrying a grudge against someone who has inexcusably wronged you is toxic to your life and doesn’t leave room for God’s justice. LET IT GO!

If you missed any messages in our series called Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can check them out here. 

Going Into The Heavy Presence Of God

“The King of glory” is a phrase that’s only used five times in the Bible, and all five times are packed into just four verses of Psalm 24. In this psalm, David lets us know who can enter into this awesome, heavy presence of the King of Glory. 

Why do I say “heavy”? The definition of the Hebrew word for glory always refers to a heaviness. There is something majestically, awesomely heavy about going before the All-Righteous, All-Powerful, All-Holy, All-Knowing, Absolutely Perfect God. Can any mere mortal enter into this presence? 

In an earlier psalm, David said, “For the Lord is righteous, He loves justice; the upright will see His face” (Psalm 11:7). But in this psalm, David asks, “Who can ascend Your holy hill? Who can come into Your presence?” (Psalm 24:3). 

He answers the question with these words: the upright, the one with clean hands and a pure heart (he expands this list even more in Psalm 15), then he calls on us to Selah—pause and weigh this as if on a scale. David is asking, “Do you really want to enter into the weighty presence of the King of Glory?” 

If you do, something needs to happen first. David calls his generation (and our generation) the generation of Jacob. You can read the story of Jacob’s life beginning in Genesis 27. Jacob was a pragmatic man. If he could get away with something, he did. He only looked out for his own interests. He deceived, he connived, he bribed, he calculated his odds—he did what he had to so that he could advance himself. He didn’t realize God’s weight. He saw God only through a scarcity-mindset that gave God limits. He thought there was only a limited supply, and if somebody else was getting a blessing, then that meant there was less for him to get.

Then Jacob encountered God and discovered that he couldn’t do a thing against this weighty King of Glory. When he finally submitted to God, his name was changed to Israel. Jacob—the self-sufficient man—would never be allowed to enter the doors into God’s heavy glory. But Israel—the submitted man—may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in His holy presence. Jacob means deceitful; Israel means the man without any deceit. 

For the rest of his life, Israel walked with a limp. It was a constant reminder that he simply wasn’t the man he was before he wrestled with God.

  • Jacob could only obtain what he could finagle; Israel is the recipient of all God’s blessings. 
  • Jacob could only keep his gains for this life; Israel got God’s blessings for eternity. 
  • Jacob might be vindicated by men; Israel is definitely and completely vindicated by God. 
  • Jacob couldn’t enter the presence of the King of Glory; Israel was welcomed as a prince into God’s presence.

Here’s the challenge I would give you… Use either Psalm 15 or Psalm 24:3-4 and let the Holy Spirit wrestle with you. Is there anything that’s holding you back from going through those doors into the weighty presence of the King of glory? If there is, confess it, repent from it, and even limp away from it (if you have to) so that you don’t miss out on God’s eternal blessings. 

Join me this coming Sunday as we continue our look at the Selahs in the Book of Psalms. 

New Name = New Nature

All throughout the Old Testament we find hints about Jesus. Then as the New Testament dawns, the brilliant light of Jesus makes sense of all the hints we had previously seen.

One of the way God hints at the arrival of Jesus and what He would do for mankind is found in the names of people. Hebrew names are interesting things. Sometimes they are quite literal. For instance…

    • A baby who was born at one of Israel’s lowest points was named Ichabod = God’s glory has departed.
    • A baby who was born with quite a lot of hair was named Esau = hairy baby.
    • Esau’s twin brother was hanging on to his heel when he was born, so they named him Jacob = the one who grabs the heel.

At other times God tells parents what to name their babies before they are born. These names tell a story in themselves of what is coming…

    • After a time of upheaval in Israel’s history, God directed the parents to give their son two names: Solomon (which means peace) and Jedidiah (which means beloved by God). This brought reassurance to the parents and to the country.
    • When God was about to bring a quick answer to a problem, He directed the parents to name their son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means God will bring the reward sooner than you think.

But what is most interesting to me is when God changes someone’s name to reflect the new nature in their life.

Abram’s name meant exalted father, but God changed his name to Abraham, which means father of a multitude. His wife’s birth name was Sarai (princess) and it was changed to Sarah (a noble woman).

In these name changes, two things happened (see Genesis 17:1-15):

  1. God put His own name into theirs. God’s name means I AM. We sometimes pronounce it Yahweh, but that is only a guess since the Jews wrote His name without the vowels. That means His name was the unpronounceable YHWH, sort of a breath-sound. So Abram became Abrahaaam and Sarah became Saraaaaah. 
  2. God took the burden off them and put it on Himself. It was no longer Abram’s responsibility to become an exalted father, or Sarai’s responsibility to make herself a princess. God said, “Only with Me in you can you become who I want you to be!”

As you follow Abraham and Sarah’s descendants, you will see time and time again God reminding people: You can’t do it on your own. You must have Me in you in order to live the life I have for you!

Hoshea was born as an Israelite slave in Egypt, yet his parents gave him this name that means deliverer. Before God could use Hoshea to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land, He first changed his name to Joshua, which means God is the ultimate deliverer.

Joshua in the BC Hebrew language is the same as Jesus in the AD Greek language.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of being able to fully deliver people not just from physical slavery, but from the eternal consequences of sin. Man cannot save himself, but Jesus Christ can.

That’s why when you surrender to Christ and allow Him to be your Lord and Master, He puts His name in you: CHRISTian! A new name, and a brand new nature because of what it means to have Christ in you.

Check out this video where I explain the cool story behind more name changes—

Our Portrait In Genesis (book review)

The Complete Works Of Oswald ChambersI love having Oswald Chambers walk alongside me as I study the Bible. He is like a wise, insightful friend pointing out, “Did you see that? Did you notice what God is doing here? What do you think that means for you?” In Our Portrait In Genesis, Chambers walks with us through the first book of the Bible.

Previously I reviewed Not Knowing Where by Oswald Chambers, which looks specifically at the life of Abraham in Genesis 12-25. In Our Portrait, Chambers turns his attention to the other notable people in Genesis.

As he looks at Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, Noah, and the other patriarchs, Chambers is constantly pointing out the lessons we can learn from their lives and apply to our lives. Because of his training in psychology, Chambers is so skilled at knowing what was going on in the minds of these biblical examples, and then helping us examine our own thinking along the same lines.

Our Portrait and Not Knowing Where are tremendously helpful commentaries to read as you work your way through the book of Genesis. As always, you can’t go wrong picking up an Oswald Chambers book!

Poetry Saturday—My Strength Is Gone

Charles WesleyMy strength is gone, my nature dies;
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand;
Faint to revive, and fall to rise:
I fall, and yet by faith I stand.
I stand, and will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy Nature know.
Lame as I am, I take the prey;
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove,
Thy Nature and Thy Name is love. — Charles Wesley, on what he conceived to be Jacob’s prayer as he wrestled with God (see Genesis 32:22-30)

10 Quotes From “The Furious Longing Of God”

Furious Longing Of GodI love the way Brennan Manning writes! It’s so gut-level real. His words both convict me and encourage me to go deeper into God’s love. You can read my full book review of The Furious Longing Of God by clicking here. Below are some of the quotes I especially appreciated.

“The God I’ve come to know by sheer grace, the Jesus I met in the grounds of my own self, has furiously loved me regardless of my state—grace or disgrace. And why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods—of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow of alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender.”

“The foundation of the furious longing of God is the Father who is the originating Lover, the Son who is the full self-expression of that Love, and the Spirit who is the original and inexhaustible activity of that Love, drawing the created universe into itself.”

“Pagan philosophers such as Aristotle arrived at the existence of God via human reason and referred to Him in vague, impersonal terms: the uncaused cause, the immovable mover. The prophets of Israel revealed the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a warmer, more compassionate manner. But only Jesus revealed to an astonished Jewish community that God is truly Father.” 

“The degree of Abba’s love for me is in direct proportion to His love for Jesus. For example, I can love the mailman with twenty percent and my best friend with ninety percent. But with God, there is no division, no more and no less. God loves me as much as He loves Jesus. Wow!”

“First, if we continue to picture God as a small-minded bookkeeper, a niggling customs officer rifling through our moral suitcase, as a policeman with a club who is going to bat us over the head every time we stumble and fall, or as a whimsical, capricious, and cantankerous thief who delights in raining on our parade and stealing our joy, we flatly deny what John writes in his first letter (4:16)—‘God is love.’ In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity. Secondly, if we continue to view ourselves as moral lepers and spiritual failures, if our lives are shadowed by low self-esteem, shame, remorse, unhealthy guilt, and self-hatred, we reject the teaching of Jesus and cling to our negative self-image.”

“Healing becomes the opportunity to pass off to another human being what I have received from the Lord Jesus; namely His unconditional acceptance of me as I am, not as I should be. He loves me whether in a state of grace or disgrace, whether I live up to the lofty expectations of His gospel or I don’t. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.”

“To affirm a person is to see the good in them that they cannot see in themselves and to repeat it in spite of appearances to the contrary.”

“Jesus said the world is going to recognize you as His by only one sign: the way you are with one another on the street every day. You are going to leave people feeling a little better or a little worse. You’re going to affirm them or deprive them, but there’ll be no neutral exchange.”

“The question is not can we heal? The question, the only question, is will we let the healing power of the risen Jesus flow through us to reach and touch others, so that they may dream and fight and bear and run where the brave dare not go?” 

“How is it then that we’ve come to imagine that Christianity consists primarily in what we do for God? How has this come to be the good news of Jesus? Is the kingdom that He proclaimed to be nothing more than a community of men and women who go to church on Sunday, take an annual spiritual retreat, read their Bibles every now and then, vigorously oppose abortion, don’t watch x-rated movies, never use vulgar language, smile a lot, hold doors open for people, root for the favorite team, and get along with everybody? Is that why Jesus went through the bleak and bloody horror of Calvary? Is that why He emerged in shattering glory from the tomb? Is that why He poured out His Holy Spirit on the church? To make nicer men and women with better morals? The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love.”

God Answers Prayer

God Answers Prayer“It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. … It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 8). This is what Joseph said to his brothers that beat him up, threw him in a pit, sold him to some slave traders, and then went back and told a big, fat lie to their father Jacob about Joseph being killed by a wild animal.

When the brothers threw Joseph in that pit and were bartering with the slave traders, the Bible says that Joseph pleaded for his life. I have a hunch that Joseph pleaded with God too. But God didn’t answer that prayer.

When Joseph was falsely accused of molesting an official’s wife and thrown into prison, Joseph probably prayed for God to get him out of prison now! But God didn’t answer that prayer. 

I’m sure Joseph’s father Jacob was praying that somehow Joseph would be returned to him. That maybe he wasn’t really dead after all. How long did Jacob pray that prayer? A year? Five years? Twenty years? But God didn’t answer that prayer.

When the devastating famine hit Canaan, I’ll bet Joseph’s brothers prayed that God would bless their crops and livestock and save them from the famine. But God didn’t answer that prayer. 

Aha!! But God DID answer all of those prayers. 

Not in the timing they wanted, but in His perfect timing “to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7).

Are you praying hard for something? How long have you been praying? Keep at it…

GOD ANSWERS PRAYER PERFECTLY!

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