Today’s readings are from Genesis 32, Mark 3, Esther 8 and Romans 3.
Wrestling with God. Many of wrestled with God. Not necessarily in a physical way like Jacob did, but emotionally and volitionally. Jacob had been wrestling since before he was born (Genesis 25:26; Hosea 12:3-4).
Sometimes we just do not want to surrender to God. We want our own way.
Jacob was a man who had largely taken care of himself–usually through cunning and manipulation. But God was still dealing with Jacob.
Jacob responds to an angelic visitation (vv. 1-2) and begins preparations to meet Esau. Suffice it to say, Jacob was not looking forward to seeing Esau again. Their last interaction had Esau wanting to kill Jacob.
So Jacob, again living as a practical atheist, takes care of the situation the best he knew how–by dividing into separate caravans with gifts for Esau, hoping to soften him up. Jacob did this because he was afraid (v. 7), in fact “greatly afraid and distressed.” This, despite the fact that God had promised to protect him when he left (Genesis 28:13-15). Had Jacob forgotten these promises: was he living like a practical atheist?
When you don’t believe in God, that He loves you and is in control of all things, then you are all alone in this unfriendly world and it is all up to you. No wonder there is so much fear and anxiety in the world today! But Christians can live like atheists, forgetting that God loves us and is in control and promises to work “all things together for our good.”
But Jacob did pray. He does repeat back to God His promises. He asked for deliverance (32:9-12). And then he proceeded on with his plan (32:13-21). Jacob was willing to surrender gifts, but not himself.
Spurgeon comments on v. 12
“But you said, ‘I will surely do you good…'”
What force is in that plea! He was holding God to His word—”You said.”
The attribute of God’s faithfulness is a splendid horn of the altar to lay hold upon; but the promise, which contains the attribute and something more, is mightier still—”You said, I will surely do you good.” Would He say it and then not do it?
If you have a divine promise, you need not plead it with an “if”; you may urge it with certainty. The Lord meant to fulfill the promise or He would not have given it. God does not give His words merely to keep us quiet and to keep us hopeful for a while with the intention of putting us off in the end; but when He speaks, it is because He means to do as He has said.
Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, April 18
So Jacob sends all his possessions across the river Jabbok and God starts a fight.
This is likely the valley that Abraham had come through, from east to west, entering the promised land in Genesis 12.
24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
It is God who wrestled with Jacob. God is always the initiator in our liberation. And before he blessed Jacob, he touched Jacob’s thigh. God has to break a person before that person will surrender. The Christian community really ought to talk more about surrender than about consecration, because human beings resist God to the end and then must ask him to break the resistance and take control of their lives and hearts. God broke Jacob so he had a crippled leg, and then God came and began to bless him.
I never knew a person who was filled with the Holy Ghost who did not have some brokenness in him. We want to stand straight and be self-contained and poised, but God cannot use us or bless us when we are in that position. He wants to break us so that instead of our own power, we have the Holy Spirit’s power. Are you willing to be broken for him? This is the toughest of all battles, but it determines whether we will be free or in bondage.
We need to have our own Peniel where we meet Jesus face-to-face. We must see ourselves for what we truly are. We must cry out to God for heart cleansing, and we must let him come and fill us with His Spirit. We must allow him to break us so he can make us into prevailers, conquerors, and overcomers.
Dennis F. Kinlaw, The Day with the Master
Lord, I cannot let Thee go,
Till a blessing Thou bestow:
Do not turn away Thy face,
Mine’s an urgent, pressing case.
Dost Thou ask me who I am?
Ah! my Lord, Thou know’st my name;
Yet the question gives a plea
To support my suit with Thee.
Thou didst once a wretch behold,
In rebellion blindly bold,
Scorn Thy grace, Thy power defy:
That poor rebel, Lord, was I.
Once a sinner, near despair,
Sought Thy mercy seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free:
Lord, that mercy came to me.
Many days have passed since then,
Many changes I have seen;
Yet have been upheld till now;
Who could hold me up but Thou?
Thou hast helped in every need;
This emboldens me to plead:
After so much mercy past,
Canst Thou let me sink at last?
No, I must maintain my hold;
’Tis Thy goodness makes me bold;
I can no denial take,
When I plead for Jesus’ sake.
And another quote, this time from Jonathan Edwards:
“It is very apparent from the Word of God that he is wont often to try the faith and patience of his people, when they are crying to him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought for a season; and not only so, but at first to cause an increase of dark appearances. And yet he without fail at last succeeds those who continue instant in prayer with all perseverance and ‘will not let him go except he blesses’ (Genesis32:26).”
In other words:
An obvious pattern in the Bible is that God tests the faith and stamina of his people as they cry out in prayer for some significant mercy. He tests them by withholding the mercy they are asking for. Not only that, but first he makes things worse, sending them discouraging setbacks. But count on it – he will eventually prosper those who push through in urgent prayer without quitting and will not take no for an answer.
Jonathan Edwards, “A Call to United Extraordinary Prayer,” in Works (Edinburgh, 1979), II:312.
One of the ways we receive greater blessing is to press for it, not to be content with where we are. Even after Jacob was injured, he would not let go of God.
You can only win with God by surrendering and letting Him win over you. We win by surrendering.
After this wrestling match with God, Jacob walked straighter in his life with the limp, than he had before without it.
In Mark 3 Jesus first heals a man with a withered hand, on the Sabbath, which according to the religious leaders, was work, therefore verboten (forbidden). He was saddened by their hard hearts (v. 5) and they began to plot to kill him (v. 6). How quickly people’s opinions change, how fickle we are. One moment for, another against.
So Jesus got away, but crowds followed. Again, for the moment, he was the darling of the crowds. He healed the sick and cast out demons. Later, he went up on a mountain to pray. I believe that was Mt. Arbel, there near Capernaum.
Here is the easternmost bluff of Mount Arbel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Many believe Matthew’s tax table was at that crook in the road to the left of Mount Arbel.
Photo by Willis Britt
There, according to Luke 6:12 Jesus spent all night praying before naming the apostles. In Mark 3:13 where he calls his disciples up to the mountain is more likely the place where Jesus preached the “Sermon on the Mount,” pictured below (bottom left).
The photo is from loveisrael.com
Verse 13 says he “called those whom he desired,” but we know that He had prayed about this issue all night long (Luke 6:12), so He was also choosing those whom the Father had chosen.
The crowds kept pressing in on Jesus (v. 20) so that he couldn’t eat. His family thought he was out of his mind (v. 21) and the scribes claimed he was “possessed by Beelzebul” (v. 22). All in all, not a very good day. I would have fallen apart, probably gone into hiding never to come out again.
But, He dealt with the scribes (vv. 23-30), then His family, saying that His real family was those who “do the will of God” (v. 34).
Even though Haman was now dead, the Jews were not yet safe. This section of the text records what Esther and Mordecai did to ensure the preservation of the Jews who then lived throughout the vast Persian Empire. The death of Haman is not the major climax of the book.
Esther and Mordecai are rewarded (8:1-2) and Esther makes request to the king that they be allowed to defend themselves (since the law of the Medes and Persians was inviolable and could not be changed).
The first decree, to destroy the Jews, had gone out on April 17, 474 B.C. (3:12). Ahasuerus published this second one, allowing the Jews to defend themselves, on June 25, 474 B.C. Thus, the Jews had over eight months to prepare for the day their enemies might attack them, which was March 7, 473 B.C.
Evidently, Mordecai read the second decree at a public meeting in Susa. Contrast the Jews’ reaction here with their response to the first decree (3:15). God had blown away the dark cloud that had hung over their heads. And the Jews celebrated (8:15-17).
While God’s work in the book of Esther is always behind the scenes, it comes through loud and clear.
In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan. Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise.
B. B. Warfield
Romans 3 culminates Paul’s “bad news” that we are all under sin. The Gentiles were condemned by creation (1:18-32), the moralist by the law, written in stone and in the heart (2:1-16). Now Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The Jews had wonderful advantages over all the nations, but had squandered them (3:1-8). There was no excuse. David Guzik says about the rationalization in verse 5:
Paul was familiar with the line of thinking that says, “God is in control of everything. Even my evil will ultimately demonstrate His righteousness. Therefore God is unjust if He inflicts His wrath on me, because I’m just a pawn in His hand.”
In theory, the most dramatic example of someone who might ask this question is Judas. Can you hear Judas make his case? “Lord, I know that I betrayed Jesus, but You used it for good. In fact, if I hadn’t done what I did, Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the cross at all. What I did even fulfilled the Scriptures. How can You judge me at all?” The answer to Judas might go like this: “Yes, God used your wickedness but it was still your wickedness. There was no good or pure motive in your heart at all. I t is no credit to you that God brought good out of your evil. You stand guilty before God.”
Paul then launches into the apex of his argument that all are sinners in 3:9-18, quoting passages from the Old Testament. Warren Wiersbe calls this passage “An X-ray study of the lost sinner, from head to foot.” The law, far from justifying us, points out our sinfulness in bold relief (v. 20).
J.B. Phillip’s paraphrase of this phrase: It is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.
But, there is a way to be righteous. Righteousness is a free gift offered by God to those who trust in Jesus. I love these verses…
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
God’s justice was maintained in that sin was punished, but He could now justify us because Christ had been “put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (v. 25). Those who believe, God can justly justify. But only those who believe.
This excludes boasting (vv. 27-28) and upholds the law (vv. 29-31).