Sermon September 30, 2006 : Jacob the hustler

Posted in Sermons
  • Presenter: Gregory Bishop
  • Date: September 30, 2006
  • Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA

I ask you to turn with me to the Book of Genesis, chapter 25. Genesis 25 and just a quick question, anyone remember who we talked about last week? Anyone who remembers, I just want to see, does anyone remember we talked about somebody last week? I’ll give you a hand: it was a female, last week. What? We…. Rachel and who?, and Lea. Ok, we talked about the sisters thing. I talked now about a dysfunctional family, we talked about how Lea had the privilege of being snuck into a wedding bed by her dad, when Jacob thought he was marrying Rachel. It was a mess and we talked last week of how God reached out to her in the way that she needed to be reached out to, ok?

Can you remember who we talked about the week before that? Anyone remember? Now we’re going way back, two weeks ago. I know, some of us were doing much more important things than being here. Those of you who were here or who remember last week: Gideon. All right, all right. I like the voice from above. All right. We talked about Gideon, we talked about how God found him hiding in a little cave, threshing wheat which you’re not supposed to do in a cave. And how he was afraid of his enemies and God said, you are not a scared man, you are a mighty warrior and I have a purpose for you. And God raised up Gideon and used him to do some of the most amazing victories in the whole history of Israel.

We studied two lives, two little subplots. You know how in movies sometimes there’s the big story and there’s small stories in the big story. These are little biographies that God sows into his word, and they’re little stories of how God reaches out to different people in just the way they need to be reached out to.

I thank God, we talked about this phrase that keeps coming up: that it’s not about you, it’s all about God. It’s about God who knows you and he knows what you need. And I thank God that it doesn’t depend on me. I don’t know about you, but if it were to depend on me, as a Christian, I think we’re all in big, big trouble. I thank God that the author and perfector of my faith is not me but it’s God. He’s the author and the finisher of my faith. He’s the one who chose you, he’s the one who called you, he’s the one who saved you and he’s the one who’s making you into the man or woman that he wants you to be.

And there’s a verse that says, ‘he who began the good work is faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.’ Thank God it doesn’t depend on you, and it doesn’t depend on me, it depends on a God who is infinitely wise and infinitely loving and knows how to get us from point a to point b. And God will get you where you need to be because he has a purpose for you. He’s called you and he wants to transform you and mold you into a glowing, shining example of his grace and mercy.

And guess what? He is perfectly able and willing to work with your messes and your problems and your defects. They don’t scare him, they don’t surprise and they do not intimidate him. God is an expert in taking broken people and putting them back together again and making them into the people that he wants them to be. He did it for Lea, he did it for Gideon as we talked about, and he did it for someone else that I want to talk about tonight; and he’s a guy that I kind of gave a hard rap to last week.

I don’t know if anyone remembers, I said some nasty things about one guy in one of the stories. Does anyone remember who that guy is that I gave him a tough rap last week? I called him all kinds of nasty names and I also said he loved God but I, you know, he really got a tough time. Anyone remember who that was? Jacob.

See, there are some people like Gideon, who they need God to come alongside them and give them a pat on the back and say, it’s ok, I’m with you, I’m going to take care of it and you can do it, and he’s like ‘really, I’m not sure that I can do it’. ‘No, no, really, I’m with you. You can do it’, and he takes them, step by step, he gives them a pat on the back.

Then, there’s people like Lea who feel rejected. Remember the Spanish word we used: menospreciada. She felt like a loser, she felt like chopped liver, and God says, ‘No, you’re not that. You are la niña de mi ojo, you’re the apple of my eye. I love you’. God knew that Lea needed just a big hug, you know, and he gave that to her.

And then there are people like Jacob. Some people need a pat on the back, some people just need a hug. And then, some people need to be smacked up tight on the head a few times. And that’s Jacob. And there’s a little bit of Gideon in all of us, there’s a little bit of Lea in all of us and there’s a lot of Jacob in some of us, and I would say in all of us. Ok, we have some volunteers? I hear an amen. There’re some Jacobs in that…. Some of us need to be whacked for God to do something in us.

But I tell you, God loves Jacob. In fact there is a verse where God says ‘I love Jacob’. Just that, He said it, New Testament. I mean, there’s a verse that said it, it goes out of his way to say it. God loves the Jacobs of the world and he is not intimidated and he’s not freaked out. He says, ‘oh, I can’t wait to deal with this one. He’s going to give me a headache, but I’m going to deal with him, because I’ve got a purpose for him’.

And sometimes it’s the Jacobs who do the big things in God’s kingdom, once God gets through with them and even when God is in the process of getting through with them.

So, we’re going to look at Jacob’s story tonight and the different parts of it and we’re going to start in Genesis 25, and we’re going to start with his birth, talking a lot about births and stuff like that and before I read you, but I’ll just tell that story of it.

His mother, Rebecca was pregnant, and she had twins. She’s getting near that date and we’re not just talking about…. Apparently some mothers can feel a kick in there, well apparently is wasn’t just a kick, it was a kick and a punch, and a wrestle and a scratch, because her two boys were just going at it like cats and dogs inside the womb. They were fighting in there, and she said ‘what’s happening to me?’ and God said ‘Rebecca, you have no idea the mess that you have gotten into, but it’s a glorious one that fits into my purposes. You’ve got twins inside you and they represent two nations who are going to be in conflict with one another and the younger is going to serve, is going to be blessed and the older one will serve the youngest. So, there was a destiny for these kids even from the womb. But the wrestling even in the womb, bizarre story.

And then, comes time for the delivery. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about deliveries lately. The first baby comes out, his name was Esau, in Spanish Esaú. He comes out and Jacob, the twin brother, is behind him, the Bible says, ‘grabbing at his heel’. The image is of one twin, basically saying ‘ah, ah, you’re not getting out before me.’ He’s grabbed his foot like almost he had to pull to get him back here, get back here. The head out, no, it’s coming back in, it’s going out, it’s coming in… now, why? What’s going on? There’s someone behind him just yanking at his foot. He doesn’t want to lose the race to be born.

Ok. So, we’ve got two brother. You know, you’ve heard of sibling rivalries, oh my gosh, this is a nasty one, from the womb. Ok, so they gave the second born the name Jacob. Now, the name Jacob means ‘supplanter’. Now, I kind of have to use a dictionary to figure out: supplanter, that means somebody who tries to take the place of somebody else. You know, you get up from your seat in the movie theatre.

You know, this is a good Boston illustration: you are about to pull into a certain parking spot and somebody backs in ahead of you. They’re trying to take your spot. ‘hey, that’s my spot.’ There’s a Jacob there who’s trying to take my spot. It’s not a positive word, ok. It means somebody who’s always trying to weasel his way in to take someone else’s place. I mean, for giving him that name, Jacob. Sounds beautiful, I love it, it’s a great name, you know. But anyway, so that’s what he was, trying to take the place of his brother.

Now, let’s see how that plays out when these boys grow up a little bit. We talked about Jacob last week. We’re going to start in verse 27, we talked about him as a hustler, someone who maybe would have enjoyed spending time in Vegas but we’ll get to that later. Ok?

So, it says, “….the boys grew up, verse 27, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, with a taste for wild game loves Esau, but Rebecca loved Jacob. Now, once when Jacob was….”

How about that for an image there? see, you’ve got the dumb jock, daddy likes him, and then you’ve got the quiet guy who stays home, you’ve heard the name mama’s boy. Well, I guess that’s what it says, it says Rebecca loved…. So, he stays home, ok? So, he’s there. Now, look at what happens.

“…Once Jacob was cooking some stew, and Esau came in from the open country famished, and he said to Jacob, ‘quick, let me have some of that red stew. I’m famished’, that is why he was also called Edom by the way he liked red stew I guess. And Jacob replied, ‘first sell me your birth right.’

Now, ‘look I’m about to die’, Esau said, ‘what good is the birth right to me?’ But Jacob said, ‘swear to me first’, so he swore an oath to him selling his birth right to Jacob. And then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentils’ stew. He ate and drank and he got up and left, and so Esau, despised his birth right.

So, it’s probably the easiest hustle Jacob had in all his life. It’s like, ‘my dumb jock brother, this is going to be an easy…’. You know, if you offer a kid, ok, kid, you can have spiritual blessing for tens of thousands of years, or you can have this candy bar right in front of you, the kid’s going to pick the candy bar every time, every time. Spiritual blessing, what do I care about spiritual blessing? Give me the candy bar.

That was Esau’s mentality. Jacob as sneaky and deceptive as he was, knew enough to value the birth right blessing. The birth right blessing meant that the first born child would receive a special blessing in the family that would go on from generation to generation. It was a very intangible thing, but a very real thing. It was intangible and Esau who liked to hunt and stuff like that, had trouble thinking in abstract terms apparently, and also didn’t value the things of God. Jacob as we’re going to see, for all his defects and all his problems and all his character issues, we talked about baggage. Jacob’s got a little baggage. For all of that, he valued the things of God.

Now, how is it possible for a person to value the things of God and still sometimes live so inconsistently with what…. he believes in values, how can the two go together? The two aren’t supposed to go together. God wants us to have integrity which even the word integer implies a unity between what we believe and what we do. That’s God’s goal. But how many of know that often our own lives and our attitudes betray all kinds of inconsistencies with what we believe.

What we’re going to see throughout this story, and we’re just going to buzz through it, just kind of give an overview of this, is that at one level this story is a soap opera. Remember how we talked about the Spanish word telenovela? You know, novelas, you know, we say people shouldn’t watch them because they’re really bad, las novellas. Well, Jacob’s life is a novela on one level, filled with human garbage, with sin, with lying, with conflicts, with messiness.

But we’re going to see that there’s a whole another level to Jacob’s life, a subtext. See, that’s the text, the novela, the soap opera; but there’s a subtext, underneath it all somehow God is at work. There’s a spiritual component to his life working even in spite of, and even through his very broken humanity, to bring about his purposes. How can it be? It’s an incredible mystery that God can work in spite of and even through our failings and our weaknesses, but he can do it. He puts he eye on someone and says, ‘I will get this person to where they need to be, and I’m willing even to use human frailty to get there.’

So, let’s look at what happens then. You can sort of skip ahead to Genesis 27. We’re just going to do some scenes from the movie pretty much. We have Esau who grows up a little older, now Isaac is now older and he’s very elderly, he can barely see. He’s bed ridden and he says to his son Esau:

“…Esau, my day is getting near, I want to give you my blessing before I die”. So, please go out hunting, kill me some of that good juicy steak of whatever kind of animal I like and prepare for me that way I like, and then come in and I will bless you before I die”. Ok, so Esau gets his bow and arrow, goes outside, goes hunting.

Now, the mother here, Rebecca, we’re going to see where Jacob gets his sneakiness, because Rebecca sees what’s going on and she’s like ‘now, it’s our chance. Now’s our chance. Ok, this is what you’re going to do.’ She’s sneakier than Jacob. She is a sneaky, tramposa, that’s the Spanish word, tramposa. So, she’s ‘ok, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to go in there, you’re going to pretend to be Esau and you’re going to trick your father into blessing you.’ ‘But, how can I do that? Esau’s all hairy and I’m all smooth.’ That’s ok, we’re going to put some goat skin on you, we’re going to, I don’t know, rub some dirt on you, make you smell like your brother. Apparently his brother hygiene wasn’t at the top of his things to do, ok? So, we’re going to make you smell like your brother. We’re going to make you feel like your brother, cook the stew. Go in there and here’s the interaction that happens:

Verse 18. “…. He went in to his father, Jacob did, 27:18, says ‘my father’, ‘Yes, my son’, he answered, ‘who is it?’, and Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau, your first born and I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing’, and Isaac asked his son ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’

This is a bizarre story, how did you find it so quickly, my son? It says, “….’the Lord, your God, gave me success’.

I just want to notice right there. Jacob believes in God and he refers to God as your God, still we’re going to come back to that.

“….The Lord, your God, gave me success’, he replied. Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not’. And Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said ‘the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’

He did not recognize him for his hands were hairy like those of his brother, Esau. So he blessed him. ‘Are you really my son Esau?’, he asked. ‘I am’, then he said, ‘My son bring me some of your game to eat so that I may give you my blessing.’ Jacob brought it to him. He ate, he had some wine. He drank and his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come near my son and kiss me’. So he went to him and kissed him and when Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said ‘ah, the smell of my son is the smell of a field the Lord has blessed’.”

And so basically Isaac was tricked. He really believed he was Esau and he blessed him. Jacob received the blessing and then we have Esau coming and I’ll just tell the story from here.

Esau comes in, right after this, and he says ‘hey, dad, I prepared the meal, now I’m ready for the blessing.’ Isaac said, ‘wait a minute, I thought you were just here’, ‘No, no, no I’ve just got here’. And then his dad says, ‘but that how can that be? Your brother came in, he lied, he pretended to be you and I blessed him rather and you and he will be blessed.’ And Esau cries out, ‘father, isn’t there another blessing for me? Do you just have one blessing?’, and Isaac said ‘yeah, I just have one blessing to give and Jacob got it’.

It’s a bizarre story. It’s a story about someone stealing the blessing of God? What’s up with that. But anyway, we’ve got Jacob lying and cheating his way into the Kingdom of God. That doesn’t seem to make sense to me, I don’t know about you. It doesn’t seem to make sense. But that’s what he’s trying to do. Ok?

So, then as most hustlers have to do sooner or later, Jacob has to run away. I don’t know if you’ve ever had…. If you tell enough lies and make enough enemies, eventually you’ve got to go and usually it’s not on good terms. Ok? So Jacob has to run away because his mother says, ‘you know, your brother is consoling himself with the thought of killing you and ripping your hairs off your head, and ripping your toe nails off and that makes him feel better at night when he’s upset, so you need to get out of here and fast.’

So, she says, ‘go to my brother’s’. So Rebecca sends him to her brother Laban, uncle Laban. Now, as Jacob’s going, it’s been messy until now, it’s been a soap opera. It’s been… how can this be God? We’ve got lying, we’ve got cheating, we have all kinds of… talk about dysfunctional family. You know, this seems like a mess. How can this be God?

Jacob is now running away and he lays down in a place at that time called Lose, later called Bethel. He lays down, the Bible says, he used a rock as a pillow. Now, I’m sure they didn’t mean it as this joke, but I mean, for us it’s like that rock was harder than his head. His head was harder than the rock he was lying on. And we were talking about Jacob sleeping on a rock, in the middle of the desert, running away for dear life and he has a dream.

Now, we’re going to look at this dream and what God does is he peels away the screen and he shows Jacob the spiritual reality going on behind the messiness of his life. God shows him, you’re not tricking your way into anything. You think you are, but really I’m the one calling the shots here. You think you’re manipulating, maneuvering but you don’t realize that I’m in charge. And he pulls the screen back and he shows him the spiritual reality.

And we’re going to look at chapter 28, in verse 10. It says, “…. Jacob left Beersheba and he set out for Haran, when he reaches a certain place he stopped for the night, the sun has set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it and there above it stood the Lord and he said ‘I am Lord, the God of your father Abraham, the God of Isaac and I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.’

And he goes on to talk about this incredible promise. And I want you to look at what he says just a little further down, verse 14, ‘your descendants will be like the dust of the earth and you will spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, to the south, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.’

And God says, Jacob, you think you’re running away from dear life, you think that you’re a mess, but guess what? I have a purpose for you. I have a purpose for your life. I have a promise that you have inherited from your father and your grandfather and I will see to it that it comes to pass.

Now, I think about that. We live in what we can see and feel and touch. And it’s an amazing thought to me that when we’re going through our lives, there’s another whole reality, there’s a parallel, call it sort of a parallel reality. Sort of like, I mean, those of you who are in the science fiction, you know, you think about that kind of thing. And in that world, that invincible world that I can’t see, there are angels moving around, doing things; there are demons moving around. There are battles going on all around me. God is manifesting around me. There is a spiritual dimension the same way the air we’re in now, and I’ve talked about this before, it’s filled with radio waves and wireless connections if you’re in a hot spot for computers, and it’s real and it’s powerful and it makes things happen but you can’t see it and you can’t feel it. It’s like that in the spirit. As we go through our life, we are constantly moving through a spiritual universe, like fish move through water. And we’re unaware of it.

Now, Jacob was completely unaware, well he wasn’t completely unaware, he believed in God but he didn’t realize that he was surrounded by angels, that he was…. There was a stairway to heaven right where he was sleeping. God was there saying ‘my eyes are on you. I’m watching you. You don’t know it, you’re not aware of it but I’m watching you and I have purpose for your life.’ The parallel reality and God let Jacob see a little bit of it in this dream.

But I want you to look at this. God makes Jacob all these big promises. I’m going to bless you. You’re going to have descendants that are like the sand on the seashore, all the nations in the world will be blessed through you. God is making promises of cosmic proportions. I’m going to save the world through you. I’m going to touch millions and millions of people you’ve never even met, I’m going to bless them through you. And look at what Jacob is thinking, we’re going to skip down to verse 20:

“….When he woke up Jacob made a bow, saying ‘if God will be with me, will watch over me on this journey I’m taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely, verse 21, to my father’s house. Then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillow will be God’s house and all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

God is talking about saving the world, he’s talking about a big, huge purpose. What’s Jacob thinking about? Jacob is thinking about just surviving through tomorrow, he’s thinking about his next meal. He’s thinking about just getting home alive. And God is saying, no, I’m going to bless all the nations on earth through you. Basically God was referring to us, thousands, a millennia later, thousands of years later. And it’s like that with us, God has a purpose for you. He wants to accomplish all kinds of things and we’re just thinking about surviving. We’re just thinking about one day, one day at a time and believe me, one day at a time is a good way to live sometimes, but we have a very small perspective and we don’t see that we’re players in a much bigger story, a much bigger drama. And God is at work even though we don’t see it, even though we don’t realize it, God is at work.

So, God in his sovereignty brings Jacob safely to the house of uncle Laban. He gets to uncle Laban’s house and Laban says this great thing. When Jacob finally comes in the house, sits down to a meal, he says to him, ‘we are flesh and blood’, and it’s like, I can just imagine Jacob as Laban embraces him, sort of thinking, why am I not entirely comfortable? We’re of the same flesh and blood, you mean to tell me we’re cut from the same cloth. I got a bad feeling about uncle Laban. Something is going to happen, you know, because if he’s anything like Jacob and we see that Jacob, Laban, Rebecca when we talk of family they’ve got some sort of gene that has sneakiness written on it, because they all have it.

Now, I won’t go over the whole thing again, but last week we talked about the story where Laban had Jacob working for him and he says, ok, what do I need to do to pay you? And Jacob says ‘well, to pay me, you know, you can give me your younger daughter, Rachel’, and Laban’s like ‘ok’. So, Jacob works for 7 years and when the 7 years are up, he goes to marry Rachel and then, what does uncle Laban do on the wedding night? Remember? He sneaks in Lea, right. He sneaks in Lea, puts her in there, it’s dark. And when he wakes up in the morning there’s Lea, the whole story, we talked about it last week.

And so he did the switcheroo thing, but we’re talking with people, with his daughters. And so Jacob wakes up, freaks out and he says, ‘well, you can work for me for another 7 years and I’ll give you Rachel’. Ok, so he does that as if they’re talking a very messy, messy beginning for a marriage. And you’re going to see that there are some reasons why polygamy became outlawed. Polygamy did not make for a happy home. Ok? You know, what happens here? Remember what we talked about last week?

So, what happens between Lea and her sister Rachel married to Jacob? They start getting into this baby-having competition. Well, if I have babies, he’s going to love me more than you. Oh, I’m going to have another baby, oh, I’m going to have another…. Then they stop having babies, and what do they do? They give him their servants to have babies and so, then the servants of each of them get into this baby-having competition. Oh, I had one, you didn’t …. It’s a mess, guys. There was one scene where the older son comes in with mandrakes from the field, one of Lea’s sons and Rachel asked for the mandrakes. He says, ‘I’ll give you the mandrakes if you let me be with Jacob….’ It’s a mess. It’s a telenovela, guys. It’s a soap opera and it’s one of the ones we would tell you not to watch. Ok? It’s a bad one.

So that’s what we see. That’s the text but there’s a subtext, underneath all of this God is building a family. Twelve sons are born out of this mess and you know who they end up becoming? They end up becoming the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. God through this messy, messy situation builds a family through which he will build a nation. But God how can you use my messes? I’m such a mess, I don’t feel like I’m…. And God says, ‘that’s ok. I’m going to use. I’m going to take your mess and I’m going to do something amazing through it and I’m going to touch the world through it. God builds a nation through it.

And the mess continues. There’s conflict between uncle Laban and Jacob about his wages. Jacob even tries to do the sneaky thing, get a look to this. They promise that Jacob would get all the sheep I guess, that had streaks on them, right? So, Jacob who must have been a genetic engineer, decides, well, if I set up a stick and peel the bark off so that it makes a white stripe on anything it touches, and if I have the nice healthy sheep, mate right there, rub up against the stick, then maybe their offspring will be born with stripes. Now, I don’t know, we have some you know, genetic biologist, who are curing things, does that work? I don’t know, is that, does that have scientific…. I don’t think that works, folks, ok. But Jacob had his plan, and guess what? It worked. Every time he would do this, healthy striped sheep would be born and he would get them.

So, then Laban would say ‘no, no, no, we’re going to change the wages. You’re going to get all the speckled ones. So, Jacob thinking, he’s so smart, takes the stick away. Right? And then what happens? When he thinks that they would have speckled babies now. And they do. Jacob had this cockamamie scheme to try to sneak, to steal from his uncle and it was a ridiculous scheme. And guess what? God blessed him, in spite of it.

Now, this is just going to take your theology just throw it out the door, because we think, if I’m good God will bless me. Ok? And God wants you to be good, don’t get me wrong. Please be good. please don’t be bad, please don’t go and lie, and steal, and all these things, but…… because you’ll see why, Jacob gets into all kinds of messes. But, God blesses you because he has a purpose for your life and he works it out for you. Now, he does deal with your sin and we’re going to see that.

But God shows Jacob in a dream one day, that the sheep were mating and in the dream and God says, ‘I am the one who has made you rich’. And Jacob starts realizing something. He starts realizing, maybe I don’t have to trick my way into God’s blessing. Maybe God just wants to bless me in spite of myself. I don’t know how many people have felt that. You felt that God has blessed you in spite of yourself. Well, he wants you to know he’s with you and it doesn’t depend on you, it’s because he’s chosen you, he loves you. But, he’s going to smack you upside the head if you don’t change.

Ok, let’s keep going. So, he runs away. Again, he has to run away. Again, Jacob has to run away from home because uncle Laban, the conflict gets to be too much. Jacob takes his wives, and his concubines, the servants, he runs away. There’s another whole story that goes along with that, but we won’t get into it. They’re running away and he wants to go back home, but before he can get back home, he realizes, ‘wait a minute, Esau lives back home.’ Now, how do you think Esau felt about Jacob after all these years. Esau is the one, remember he stole the blessing, he stole the birth right. And Jacob is going home, and he’s thinking ‘oh, oh, I’m running away from uncle Laban who hates my guts, and I’m running home to my brother Esau who hates my guts even more, and that will happen.

Shakespeare had a saying ‘oh, what a tangled web we weave when at first we seek to deceive’ or something like that. I’m sure I didn’t get that right. But basically it says, when we try to lie, when we try to deceive we weave a tangled web and we get stuck in our own tricks and lies, and we end up getting stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Now what does the hustler usually do when suddenly none of his tricks are going to work for him? Then, what do they start doing usually? What do we start doing when suddenly we realize I don’t know how I’m going to trick my way out of this one. What do we usually do? That’s when we start praying for real. Ok. We’re going to look at that, chapter 32, Genesis 32, verse 9.

“And Jacob prayed, oh God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, oh, Lord who said to me, go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper. I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown to your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him.”

Jacob finally realizes, he begins to realize, I’m not worthy of all this. God please save me. And then, and the story closes with this image in the next scene.

Jacob takes his possessions and everything and he breaks them up into groups, because he hears that Esau is coming after him with 400 armed men. Now, doomsday, his time is up. So, he sends ahead parties of people to meet Esau and the soldiers and they all come with gifts for Esau, saying ‘these are from your servant, Jacob’; basically hoping he can appease his angry brother. So, he sends these groups. Then night time comes, he sends his wives across the river and Jacob is left alone with God, is left alone with his thoughts, with his fears. He’s left alone with all his garbage from the past and I want you to look at what happens that night.

It says that Jacob, we’re going to start in verse 24, Genesis 32:24. It says “… Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till day break. And when the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. The man said, ‘let me go for it’s daybreak’. But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’, and the man asked him, ‘what is your name?’ ‘Jacob’, he answered. And the man said, ‘your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’ And Jacob said, ‘please tell me your name’ –why does he want to know his name? If you know someone’s name you can kind of control him- now, ‘Please tell me your name’, but he replied, ‘why do you ask my name?’, and then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel saying it is because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared and the sun –isn’t this a beautiful scene? I want you to get this scene in your head- the sun rose above him as he passed the Peniel and he was limping because of his hip”.

And so, that’s the image that we’re left with, of a man who, I think, used to walk a certain way, who was now limping, as the sun sets over him. In order for God to use you, God has to break you. In order for God to fulfill his purpose he will take your rebellion, your pride, our arrogance, and he will break us before he can use us.

A horse, I don’t know if we have any horse people. I don’t know, as I said, I grew up in the suburbs, I live in Boston, I see horses from far away as I drive along streets in Vermont on vacation, that’s it. I don’t how to get on a horse. But I hear that a horse, like a stallion, that is wild is dangerous, it will trample you to death if you’re not careful. In order for you to be able to ride that horse, that horse must be broken, must be broken, tiene que ser domado, en español. A horse that is wild and bucking is absolutely useless to the rider. It must be broken, but if you break that horse, if you can train that horse so that it will obey you and follow you, then those are the stallions that ends up being the most powerful, blessed, useful horses that are known.

God is like that with us. Some of his best servants, and I would say, all of his servants, need to be broken before they can be used in his purpose. Like a soldier, what kind of soldier is independent and headstrong, and says, ‘well, I’m going to think about it, aquí mando yo, yo tengo los pantalones, no me va decir, yo hago lo que a mi me de la gana. I do what I want to do, nobody bosses me around. What kind of soldier is that? A soldier that is useful is one who has learned to obey the orders of his or her captain. And that’s the way God is with us. He wants to use us but before he can use, he has to break you and train you and take that will.

It’s like that with all the great servants of God throughout the Bible. You look at Moses. The Bible says, Moses was the most meek and humble man on the face of the earth in his generation. But he didn’t start that way. Moses started as a cocky young man who came and said, first he kills an Egyptian who was abusing an Israelite, he had grown up in Pharaoh’s household. Moses thought he deserved to be in charge. And then, what happened? Moses had to go and live in the desert for 40 years, he had to become a nobody. He had to be humbled and to have his pride broken. And then when God comes to him after 40 years in the burning bush and calls him, what does Moses say? He doesn’t say, ‘yes, I deserve to be called’. He says, ‘but who am I, who am I?’ and he takes off his shoes and he was the most humble, docile man in the presence of God. Being docile before the Lord is being strong in the world, because if I obey God then I can stand up to anything that the world will throw me. But if I am rebellious against the Lord then I’m useless, I do more damage than good. It’s like a cannon that is not tied down. There’s a saying for that in English, ‘a loose cannon’. That saying means, if you have a cannon on a boat and it’s not tied down and it explodes, it bucks around, it could kill somebody. A cannon, a powerful cannon must be tied down and that’s the way it is with us and it was like that through history.

Look at Peter. You know, the Apostle Peter with Jesus. Jesus says ‘you’re all going to deny me. You’re all going to run away.’ What does Peter say? Anyone remember? Not me, I’m ready to go with you to death, even if everyone betrays you, I never will betray you’. And Jesus looks at him and says, ‘tonight, before the rooster crows, you’re going to do it three time’. Peter was broken by his own failures. He needed to realize that he was not all he thought he was.

The Apostle Paul, before he was Paul. How did the Apostle Paul become a Christian? Anyone remember the story? What happens? What happens to make the Apostle? He saw, he’s going to kill Christians, he’s riding on a horse and what happens? Pang, he smacked off the horse and he’s left on the ground blinded and God says, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’, he says ‘who are you, Lord?’ in order for Saul to be made Paul, he had to be knocked off his horse.

But you know, it’s not about being sinful necessarily. You know, sometimes it’s in our sin, our rebellion, but all of us, even in your best times, we need to learn what it means to submit before the Lord. Discipline is not the same as punishment. That’s important to know. A soldier is disciplined, in order to learn to obey. It doesn’t mean he’s bad, it just means he need to learn how to submit.

Jesus himself, in the garden of Getsemani. Anyone remembers the story? He’s about to go to the cross and he’s in there praying, and the Bible says he was sweating drops of blood and he was in agony in the garden, and he says, ‘Lord, if it’s possible for this cup to pass from me, let it be’. But then he said, ‘but not my will, but your will be done.’ Jesus himself gives the example of learning how to submit to the will of God.

For Jacob it meant wrestling with God all night, struggling with God. When his name was changed, it was changed to the name Israel, which means the one who struggles with God. And that’s what Israel means. It means the one who wrestles with the Lord.

And how about you? Are you in any situations perhaps, right now, where you’re wrestling with the Lord, where he is taking you and he’s fighting, he loves you, but he’s fighting with you. He loves you too much not to fight with you. He loves you too much to leave as headstrong and as proud and as rebellious as you are. He insists on breaking your self strong will. There’s a saying in Spanish that I learned a while ago, but someone used it today, cabeza dura, caradura. I don’t know. Hard head, hard face, hard everything from the neck up. You don’t move easy, you’re thick, thick headed and God says, ‘I insist on wrestling with you and he pops you in the hip so that you’re limping. All great men and women of God are limping before the Lord.

The Apostle Paul says ‘I boast in my weaknesses because when I am weak, then I am strong’. God got him by giving him a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble. The greatest men and women of God, the Moseses of the earth, the Pauls, the Peters are people who have been profoundly broken by the Lord. The people who refuse to let God beat them in a wrestling match are the one who never go anywhere.

We need to be willing to be defeated by the Lord, we need to be willing to have that invisible world meet the visible and let God’s angels appear to us and wrestle with us until we finally say, uncle. Have you ever seen that you’re wrestling your little brother, says ‘say uncle, say uncle, give up’, and you say, ‘finally not my will, but yours be done’.

I just want to ask you where are you at? What are you living right now? Perhaps God has already wrestled you to the ground, he’s broken the hip and maybe now he’s working on an arm, I don’t know. But, it’s a constant process.

But I think there’s some of us who are in the thick of the fight right now. And the enemy is not Satan, the enemy is not even yourself. The opponent in the fight is the one who loves you more than anyone else in this universe. He loves you too much to leave you to your own way. He loves you too much to let you go. He wants you to be a stallion that he can ride to glory. But that means breaking you and training you so that we learn to be docile before him.

Jacob became Israel and I want to close with this verse. Verse 33.20 All through the story, and if you still have your Bible open, look at it. All through the story Jacob had been referring to the God of my grandfather Abraham, the God of my father Isaac, he’d been referring to the God of my fathers, your God. Well, after all was said and done he built an altar the same way Gideon built an altar and he put a name there. He built an altar, verse 20, he set up an altar and he called it El Elohe Israel, which means God, the mighty God of Israel. Because God, his name was name Israel. He said, he’s not my grandfather’s God any more, he’s not my father’s God, he’s my God, and he’s not just any God, he’s a mighty God, he’s mightier than I am. He’s defeated me and I’ve been broken before him. And that’s where there is blessed. We’re used, we’re blessed, we’re happy when we are submitted before him.

Have you ever fought against the Lord? Have you ever wrestled with him? Have you ever said, God I don’t want it the way you want it; I want it the way I want it. And God says, I have something else in mind because I love and I want to use you and your life to be blessed. But it can only be when you’re submitted to me.

Now, I would rather he’d not have to wrestle me to the ground and smack me around, I would rather just submit and say, God, here I am. And so, there comes a time when we need to say, God I accept you.

So, I am going to invite us to stand up and we’re going to close this time affirming before the Lord that we are willing to be defeated and conquered by him.

Let’s pray. Father, in Jesus’ name we come before you. And God I thank you that you are patient with the Jacobs of the world. I thank you God that you love Jacob in spite of all his stuff, you had a purpose for his life and you were able to fulfill it. And you were willing to come down and to wrestle with him in order to make him into the man that you wanted him to be.

Father, many of us here are going through different types of breaking experiences. It may be a hope or a dream that just isn’t coming through the way we want it to be. It may be a sin or a failing, a weakness in our life that is showing us just how fragile we really are, there’s all different kinds of ways. It may just be a struggle we’re having, it may be a desert we’re going through, a need of some sort, whatever it is. Father, we come before you and we submit to you and we say ‘God, we want you to be our God. We want to limp before you so that we can stand before the enemies of this world. We want to say like Jesus said, ‘not my will be done but yours so Lord’.

And father, I pray in Jesus’ name that you would raise up some Moseses, and some Pauls, and some Peters and some Deborahs in this place. Men and women, Lord God, who have been broken by you, who have learned to submit to you, have learned to not do their will but do your will and that you would use them.

I pray you raise up some meek people who can roar like a lion because they submit to the living God. Let it be, Lord God. Let it be Lord God. Let it be in my life, let if be in our life. We thank you because we know that you are with us. In Jesus’ name.


Sermon delivered by Gregory Bishop taped September 30, 2006 at Congregation Lion of Judah Listen | View (100K) | View (400K)

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