|Posted by John Suttles on December 25, 2014 at 6:40 PM|
When young and filled with determined zeal to live for God, I prayed for strength. But I was so much like young Jacob who had pillowed his head upon the stones at Luz only to awaken to the magnificent glories of angels ascending and descending upon that heavenly ladder. Adorning the apex stood the LORD Himself. The words He spoke to Jacob from that lofty prominence were the words of covenant promise He had spoken first to Abraham and then to Isaac.
In Jacob’s awestruck wonder, he had recognized that God was in that place. He had recognized that he stood at the very gate of heaven; he understood that this was the place to be henceforth sanctified as the “House of God.” No doubt, he had heard the words spoken in his ears—that repetition of the sacred covenant of God with his fathers. But Jacob had not the ears to hear that God had amended His promise to Jacob. “I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest,” the LORD vowed to Jacob, “and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land…”
Jacob was leaving the land of promise. Did he not know that Abram had once left the land of promise; and although God had protected him and provided him with earthly wealth, Abram had returned with Hagar? Isaac, his own father, had ventured forth on that same journey, but had been turned back by the providential oversight of God. Now Jacob had taken his own staff to go forth out of the land of promise—not into the land as Abram before him. But Jacob had just deceived his father—of course, for all the right reasons known only to him and Rebekah.
Now Jacob was afraid. By his own deceitfulness and cold-hearted avaritia (covetousness), he had gained both the blessing and the birthright. He really was a good boy, or so they had said. He never caroused about through the cities of their pagan neighbors. He hadn’t even thought about bringing home pagan wives. But working there close by his parents and managing his affairs with discretion, Jacob had kept the besetting sin of his heart hidden from view. His plotting and planning had granted him his prize—but not the possession of it. For now he was on his way out of the Promised Land; and in his excited haste, he had failed to hear the words of the LORD: “…in all the places whither thou goest.”
Jacob’s experience there was, no doubt, valid, and his recognition of the visitation of the LORD was certain. Renaming Luz to Beth-el was a fruit of his obeisance that would be passed to his progeny in their own sojourn with the LORD of Abraham’s covenant. But his prayer revealed the lingering and overriding attitude of his heart. “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
Had not the LORD already vowed the same promises to Jacob that He had vowed to his fathers? Of course, His protection was involved, as well as the whole land and all that was in it. Add to that promise, the promise of blessing for Jacob’s children through generations and even the promise of the very Savior Himself to come through Jacob’s lineage. But Jacob was leaving. “If God will keep me in this way…” Jacob spoke to the third-person God, presenting the hypothetical proposition that if Elohim would protect Jacob in his own endeavors, then surely Jacob would render due worship and even a tithe of all he had—when, that is, he returned in peace to his father’s house. Jacob had recognized Elohim, the Supreme God.
But the LORD had named Himself to Jacob as the LORD God of his fathers. He appended His very own exclusive name to Himself. “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father…” Jacob had respected Him as the Supreme God of all possibilities of gods, but he had failed to understand the specificity of the name of this covenantal God. He is Jehovah—the Eternal, Self-existent, Yahweh. Now how paltry does Jacob’s response seem? If this God would keep him; if this God would give him food and clothing; if this God would give him what he wanted; if this God would bring him back in peace; if this God would appease Esau’s wrath, then this Jehovah would be his Supreme God. This was Jacob’s prayer for strength.
So off went Jacob, as oft I have gone, invoking God for strength to accomplish his own endeavor. Twenty long years of rude awakenings, heartaches, and cruel inhospitality pass for Jacob as he sojourned in Uncle Laban’s house, while his own inheritance back home was tended by others. At long last, God required Jacob’s return. It was time for Jacob to pay his vow. “I am the God of Beth-el…where thou vowedst a vow unto Me…” This time God speaks as God Almighty—the name Abram had heard so long before: “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”
This would be a tall order for Jacob the Supplanter to walk in righteousness before the Almighty God. This is the Jacob who had swindled and been swindled. But time has a way of changing the heart’s desires, and grief makes a twist that evokes a different language from that once implacable heart. So there on the borders of Esau’s lands, Jacob’s overwhelming fear and distress welled up once more, but this time he was not leaving—he was coming home. This time it was Jacob who called out first. “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and unto thy kindred…” Now Jacob remembered the Supreme God of his fathers and the Eternal Jehovah who had spoken to him so long ago. He remembered the instructions of this Almighty God with clarity. He had been spared by the merciful provisions of Jehovah Elohim.
Truly what mercy it had been, for Jacob had left the land of promise and gone to Uncle Laban’s. Perhaps Jacob could now understand why his grandfather had said, with a warning, that his son Isaac should never be taken to that land. Abraham had come out; Isaac had remained out; and now, Jacob was coming out. No wonder his prayer was of a completely different hue. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant…” His fear of Esau still resided in his bosom; but even as it loomed large before him, he remembered the promises of Jehovah not only for himself, but now for his children: “And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea…”
Oh, what insight grief affords us! Oh, what heavenly language grief can speak! “Deliver me, I pray,” Jacob truthfully prayed, “from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him…” Jacob prayed for strength. But Jacob’s restoration robes of covenant exaltation could not cover the halting gait that would now mark his manhood. Certainly Jacob was learning the language of prayer, for his wrestling with the man was with prevailing strength. “I will not let thee go,” Jacob had answered him, “except thou bless me.” Was Jacob proving to this man Jacob’s own worthiness to receive matching strength—just enough more added that would be needed to overcome Esau. Or was Jacob wrestling with the adrenalin of desperation—a strength welling up from unknown depths that must be supernaturally replenished for very survival?
Surely we must grant the worthiness of Jacob’s petition; and if so, we will see how a faithful God grants a glorious answer. Jacob prayed for strength to overcome his adversary; but the man asked Jacob’s name. No—such a name as Jacob will no longer do for such a penitent man. His name must reveal his God and his heart. His name would now be Israel—the prince who has power with God; the prince who has power with men; the prince who has prevailed! But as the light rose upon the new day, and Jacob passed over the brook, he halted. Had he even realized that the man had touched the hollow of his thigh? But Jacob had prayed for strength. Every warrior must have the strength of his right arm and of his thigh!
Perhaps we were not happy with Jacob’s response to the LORD so many years before at Beth-el. But what can we think about such a response to Jacob’s legitimate appeal upon his return? Had not Jacob grown weary of the wiles of Uncle Laban’s land where men measure strength and might by accumulation and numbers? Yet, this time we do not read of Jacob’s response fashioned as a business deal. He had left his home as Jacob, the deceiving son, with a staff he had not needed in his self-sufficiency. He was returning as Israel, the prince of Elohim, to assume his birthright, but halting on a staff he now required. He left with eager anticipation of the gains he might acquire at Uncle Laban’s; he returned home with the overwhelming and all-sufficient joy: “I have seen Elohim face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Yes, I prayed for strength; and now I, too, halt. But I have learned that “my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The clarity and preciseness of my hearing has much improved, and those things which drew the gaze of my eyes have lost their luster. I have learned the terms of obedience and the reason for Abraham’s instruction: “Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.” I rest in the confidence that the strength of Jehovah is sufficient for me. And I acquiesce with Paul: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Jacob crossed the brook homeward bound—no longer the deceiver, but rather the prince of God. He crossed the brook, however, with lingering trophies from Uncle Laban’s that he would find in days ahead that he must lay down. He would feel the withered sinew of his thigh for the remainder of his days and remember that he had wrestled with such a man. But as his hand moved down the length of that shrunken thigh and reached out for the staff that now must be his companion, Israel would remember that he had been given strength to prevail. He had seen God face to face.
I prayed for strength and learned to walk with God.
Dr. Teresa Suttles