The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Blessed Is Everyone Who Fears the LORD | Psalm 128

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
            you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!  

Psalm 128

 

As we continue our journey through the Songs of Ascents, we now arrive at the conclusion of the center “trilogy” within the collection. Although these Pilgrim Songs largely meditate upon the pilgrimage of life, these psalms explore how everyday life is a part of that journey.

YOU SHALL BE BLESSED

The predominate theme of Psalm 128 is the promise of being blessed. The word itself occurs four times within these six verses, and the verses that do not contain it (verses 3 and 6) describe the condition of being blessed. It would seem, therefore, most fitting for us to begin by defining what it means to be blessed.

Defining Blessedness

It’s not hard to find people who are blessed. The secular world is obsessed with blessedness, as evidenced by the popularity of #blessed. Within these circumstances, the word takes on malleable connotation that seems to indicate an overall feeling of happiness. Date night with my spouse: #blessed. Kid pooped in the toilet: #blessed. One cookie with two fortunes: #blessed. The Bible can even seem to support this impression. The NASB, KJV, NKJV, CSB, and RSV all translate blessed in verse 2 as happy. But is the feeling of happiness what the Bible means by being blessed?

Happiness is certainly a crucial element of being blessed, yet blessedness is not identical to happiness. I can be quite glad that the latest Marvel movie is finally on Netflix, but that doesn’t mean that I am blessed in the biblical sense of the word. Instead, the Bible’s concept of being blessed is a joyful gladness that stems from experiencing God’s favor. We are blessed because God looks upon us with grace and kindness. He freely establishes us as His people, becoming our God. The God who made heaven and earth unites Himself to us, intending to promote our welfare. What can be more blessed than that?

Verses 2-3 and 6 provide practical implications of this, which form a natural continuity with Psalm 127. You will enjoy the benefits of your work. Your wife will flourish like a vine that bears a lot of grapes, and you will have many children sitting around your table.

These blessings certainly fit with the overall picture in the rest of the Old Testament as well. When God made a covenant with Abraham, He promised to bless him. An integral piece of that blessing was the birth of Abraham’s son, Isaac (not to mention his descendants who would number like the stars in the sky). Even though he lived a nomadic life, the peoples near Abraham viewed his material wealth as sign that he was blessed by God.

Furthermore, when God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, He spells out the blessings for keeping the covenant and the curses for disobedience in Deuteronomy 28. In verse 11, God promises: “And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.” Sounds familiar, right? God promises fruit of the ground and livestock (work) and of the womb (children) as their blessings.

Jesus’ disciples also presumed that material prosperity signaled the LORD’s favor. In Mark 10, Jesus encountered a rich, young man who was seeking eternal life. After Jesus lists out some of the ten commandments, the young ruler claims to have obeyed them all. Jesus then tells him to give away all his possessions to the poor and follow Him, but the young man cannot. He walks away in sorrow, and Jesus comments to His disciples how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. They respond with a telling question: “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26). They assumed that the rich had more favor with God, making salvation easier for them. Jesus declares wealth to be an obstacle in the path to eternal life, which was obviously a startling concept.

Does the Old Testament in general and this psalm in particular disagree with Jesus? Should we again to prosperity as the barometer for measuring our position with God? In a word, no (to both questions). If you look within the account of Abraham, we find that God blesses Abraham, so that Abraham’s lineage would become a blessing to the entire world. In Deuteronomy 28:10, God speaks these words: “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.” Their physical blessings were a sign to the rest of the nations that their God was the one true God. Their prosperity was a witness of God’s glory to the world, God’s light shining in the darkness.

The LORD has by no means deviated from this principle under the New Covenant, but its appearance does shift. When Jesus entered humanity as the God-man to solve the problem of sin with His life, death, and resurrection, He brought to us blessedness in its purest form. He delivered to us the supreme blessing of peace with God, of our adoption by God. He paid once for all the debt of our sins and signed over the account of His righteous into our name. We are made co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We have “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Indeed, we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

Yet this superior blessing comes with a caveat:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17)

Our blessedness in Christ requires our willingness to suffer with Christ. Don’t miss the importance of that particular wording. To say that we must suffer for Christ is not inaccurate, yet here Paul states that our suffering must be with Christ. He suffered for us; now we must suffer with Him. Soon, though, we will be glorified with Him, but even now, we are blessed when we suffer with Christ. Jesus said so Himself (Matthew 5:10-12).

Throughout history, Christians have known and displayed this truth. They have displayed to the world a vast blessedness that cannot be contained in this life, a blessedness of which the world is not worthy. Tertullian affirms this with his beloved declaration to the Romans:

The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death, as Cicero in the Tusculans, as Seneca in his Chances, as Diogenes, Pyrrhus, Callinicus; and yet their words do not find so many disciples as Christians do, teachers not by words, but by their deeds. That very obstinacy you rail against is the preceptress. For who that contemplates it, is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? Who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? And when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fullness of God’s grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood?

I recently came across this quotation: “no assessment of the early days and subsequent success of Christianity can ignore the fact that in their own ways the rise and persistence of both Judaism and Islam are equally remarkable and equally ‘miraculous’” (Introducing Jesus, loc. 553). First, as Christians, we certainly assert the statements validity with Judaism, to which we are necessarily attached. But Islam did not experience an equally remarkable and miraculous growth. Muhammed preached peace until he was able to assemble an army. Islam spread by force of the sword; Christianity conquered even when killed by the sword. Tertullian’s assessment still stands today. The blood of Christian martyrs is seed because it displays to the world our blessed hope. As they rejoice in a hope beyond this world, their faith becomes visible evidence of that eternal life.

None of this, however, is to discount how the LORD may still use physical blessings to give evidence of His love. We simply no longer stake of primary hope in them. In Christ, we can still be blessed, even if the fruit of our labor is taken from us. In Christ, we can still be blessed, even when barrenness strikes our family. The physical blessings of this psalm are shadows of Christ’s reality, and our blessedness in Jesus is meant to serve as a beacon of hope for those walking toward the gate of destruction.

Fear the LORD

If now we have a better conception of blessedness, how it achieved? The psalmist declares that those who fear the LORD are blessed. How then does the fear of God relate to our blessedness in Christ? If God has adopted us as His children in Christ, is there no longer any need to fear Him?

The fatherhood of God and fear of God do not stand in opposition to one another. If anything, our adoption in Christ gives greater clarity to how we are called to fear Him. In a healthy relationship, a child ought to have a healthy fear of his or her father because the father is always prepared to use corrective discipline. The child fears the father’s rod of correction. Yet (once again in a healthy relationship), the father also leaves the child without any doubt of his love toward them. Indeed, fatherly love must include discipline. If I do not correct my toddler’s tantrums now, they will lead to greater “tantrums” in the future that will be destructive to herself and those around her. If I do not force her to sleep in some kind of schedule, she quickly becomes fatigued, which thrusts chaos upon herself and those around her. Both are acts of discipline. She is rarely pleased with either. Announcing bed time can even cause her to run from me. But I discipline her for her own good.

The fatherhood of God is so much better than my own. He is perfectly right in all His ways, and His discipline is never too hard or soft. Even still, we are right to fear His hand. We are right to fear His correction, even though in Christ we need not question His love. If we do not know this fear of God, we do not know God at all. To use the psalm’s language, we are not blessed. C. S. Lewis’s poignant observation still rings true:

We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction. (Problem of Pain, 31-32)

God is both love and to be feared. Any theology that cannot cling to both realities is false. True blessedness comes from knowing that God is God, fearing Him, and being loved by Him. Such an understanding can only lead us, then, to walk in His ways. A failure to obey God proves that we do not love nor fear Him. Such a claim isn’t legalism. After all, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). A stubborn refusal to walk in God’s ways and obey His commands is evidence of failing to love Christ. It is also a rejection of blessedness. Our refusal to fear and obey God separates us from Himself, the Source of all blessings. We choose, like Satan in Paradise Lost, to attempt reigning in hell rather than serving in heaven. Trying to be gods, we flee from the only God. To sin, therefore, is to forsake blessedness.

Is that how you view your sin? Do you see it as luring you away from God’s presence and the blessings therein?

Or perhaps even more basic: is your concept of blessedness fundamentally connected to God, or do you look for other streams of blessings?

THE LORD BLESS YOU FROM ZION

Verses 5-6 add another crucial detail to our understanding of blessedness: community is an essential aspect of God’s blessing. Verse 5 both prays that our blessing would come from Zion and that we would be so blessed as to see the thriving of Jerusalem all our days. As we have noted previously, Jerusalem and Zion are often symbolic for the gathered people of God for worship, and the Bible assumes that those who fear God will long to worship with God’s people.

Interestingly, the prayer for the LORD to bless from Zion, therefore, indicates Zion as an instrument for God’s blessings. And why would God’s gathered people not be a channel for receiving the blessedness of the LORD?

Is that how you view church? Do you eagerly anticipate gathering with other brothers and sisters in Christ, believing that the LORD’s blessing will be found there? It is tragic how gathering together on Sunday is increasingly viewed as a chore rather than a blessing, as a work instead of a grace. The author of Hebrews, after all, teaches that our gathering for worship should be a time of encouraging “one another to love and good works” (10:24), which is another way of saying to walk in the LORD’s ways. We bless one another by encouraging each other to continue walking in God’s blessedness. If we neglect to meet together, we essentially forsake the LORD’s blessing from Zion, while also denying how God might have used us as instrument of His blessing to others. As the body of Christ, we are meant to build one another up in the LORD. We are members of one another. We are Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place. Therefore, the prosperity and blessedness of Jerusalem is our prosperity and blessedness. The peace of Israel is our peace. The maturity of the church is our maturity.

Returning a final time to Jeremiah 29, God commanded the captives to seek the welfare (which in Hebrew is a variant of the word for peace) of their new city, Babylon, and through that action they would find their own welfare. Since we’ve discussed that Babylon is often used to represent the unbelieving world, our welfare is secured as we seek the welfare, the peace, of the world around us. According to Merriam-Webster, a blessing can be defined “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” We are blessed whenever we seek to bless those around us.

Yet Psalm 128 is longing for the blessing of Jerusalem, not Babylon. How then do these ideas connect? The greatest peace, the greatest welfare, the greatest blessing that could come upon those who do not follow Christ would be for them to start following Christ. Even as we live in Babylon, we are still exiled citizens of Jerusalem, and we long to take citizens of Babylon with us as we return. Our blessedness must a sign and beacon, a testament to the goodness of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, Jesus told His disciples how the world come to recognize this in them: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). A love for God’s people reveals our love for God Himself. As we experience the blessings of this holy community together, we fervently invite those around us to pull up a seat at the family meal and join us.

This isn’t, of course, to say that a church should be primarily inward focused. We must be outward focused, seeking to care for the orphans, widows, and other vulnerable members. Yet we can never forget that our love for one another that provide solid ground for our missions and evangelism.

Have you experienced the blessedness of Christ? If not, come to Him today.

More specifically, have you experienced the blessedness of Christ’s people? Poor, sinful, and broken as we are, the church is Christ’s body and His bride.

May we long to see the prosperity of Jerusalem, to see the flourishing of God’s kingdom as it advances.

May we see our children’s children, the generational fruit of our discipleship as we obey the Great Commission.

May peace, welfare, and blessedness be upon God’s people.

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Wrestling with God

What Jacob Taught Me

About a month ago, I finished preaching through the third of four planned sermon series through the book of Genesis. The series covered Genesis 25-36, which is primarily the life of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Last summer, as I finished preaching through Abraham’s life, I wrote a post about what Abraham’s life taught me. I planned to do the same sort of the post with Jacob, but four weeks passed by without writing even a word of it.

Before I explain why I was so sluggish to write this post, allow me to first explain why I wanted to write it in the first place. Whenever we read about the lives of people in the Bible, we must understand that their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, triumphs and sins, are all written down for our benefit. Their lives have been recorded as examples for us: either what to do or not to do. For instance, Paul calls Abraham the man of faith for good reason. The faith he placed in God throughout his life is astounding! Abraham’s faith is worthy of our imitation. We should strive to be like him.

And the same point can be made for David’s love of God. Or Moses’ obedience. The lives of former saints are recorded as both encouragements and warnings.

For me, Jacob’s life blends the encouragement and warning so much that it’s scary.

You see, I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write about what Jacob’s life taught me because in many ways, Jacob connected to me more deeply than Abraham did. And I think it’s because Abraham was such an example of faith. I certainly know that Abraham sinned. He was willing to sell his wife away to save his owe skin twice, and he committed adultery with his wife’s servant (even though it was his wife’s idea). But even with these sins of Abraham on display, he still feels larger-than-life. He feels like a superhero when it comes to following God. I simply don’t know if I could ever pass a test like Abraham’s having to sacrifice his own son.

In a lot of ways, Abraham’s life seems to point toward Christ’s absolute perfection more than it resembles my life.

But Jacob wasn’t like his grandfather.

Jacob’s life was essentially one massive struggle against sin and against God. Jacob was a coward and a deceiver by nature. Especially for the first few chapters of his life, it seems that Jacob lets himself be pushed around by everyone. His mom coerces him into deceiving his father. His father-in-law tricks him into marrying the sister of the woman he actually loved. His two wives toss him back and forth while they fight about who is loved most and who has more children. Often it feels like life simply happens around Jacob, like he’s a pawn in his own story.

Of course, when Jacob does take action, it’s rarely godly. Jacob’s cowardliness constantly shows as he tends to flee from conflict, instead of facing it directly. Jacob’s fear was merely the symptom of his little faith. He repeatedly took matters into his own hands rather than trusting God.

Unfortunately, this is the aspect of Jacob’s character that I relate to most. Like Jacob, I tend to be cowardly instead of bold. I’m often full of fear instead of faith. I consider too much what others might think of me instead of being concerned with doing the will of the Father.

I’m not Abraham.

I’m Jacob.

I’m not a man of faith.

I’m a man of struggle, wrestling against both God and sin.

By providence, I think that’s why God chose Jacob. I mean, even though Abraham was awesome, God named the nation of Israel after Jacob, not Abraham. And I think it’s because Israel was more like Jacob than the man of faith. The people of Israel continuously wrestled against God, following the pattern of Jacob.

But the great lesson of Jacob’s life, of Israel’s history, and of us today is that God is faithful even when we aren’t. God’s biggest grace to Jacob was not giving up on him. In many ways, God beat Jacob into maturity through struggle after struggle. But those struggles were grace.

It’s interesting that the brief descriptions we have of Esau (Jacob’s brother) seem to be the exact opposite of Jacob. Esau appeared to have great wealth (much greater, it seems, than Jacob), and there is no account of any great struggle in his long, prosperous life. Chapter 36, instead, simply lists the great men that came from Esau’s lineage.

Esau seemed to have it all.

Given the choice between Esau and Jacob, most people would rather be Esau. We’d rather have the easy life of prosperity. After all, material blessings are a sign of God’s favor, right?

Through the prophet Malachi, God declared His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau. God’s relentless pursuit of Jacob was Jacob’s greatest blessing. Esau’s prosperity and ease, which led to self-reliance and self-sufficiency, were God’s curse upon him.

It’s a difficult truth, but it’s also full of hope. Jacob was a deeply flawed and sinful man of God, but he was still just that: a man of God. Jacob grew to follow God only because God never stopped wrestling him into maturity.

Like I said, I’m Jacob, not Abraham.

I’m often a man of struggle, not faith.

Thankfully, a wrestling match is often God’s means of grace.

Wrestling with God

Jacob & Esau | Genesis 25

Week 1 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi. (Genesis 25:11)

And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. (Genesis 25:21)

And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23)

OPENING THOUGHT

Much has transpired in Genesis thus far. The opening chapters describe God’s creation of everything good and humanity’s fall into sin. God struck mankind’s sinful pride twice: first with a global flood that killed all but eight people, and second by confusing their languages, causing them to scatter across the earth and form different nations. In chapter 12, the story narrowed down to one man, Abraham. God called him and his barren wife to settle in foreign land, where God would make his descendants into a great nation. Twenty-five years later, God gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. The epitome of Abraham’s faithful life is seen when God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham is willing to slay his own son because he trusted the LORD’s word.

We now move into the third major section of Genesis. Abraham, the man of faith, dies, leaving behind Isaac to carry on the covenantal blessing that God made with his father. Yet the narrative will devote little time to Isaac, focusing instead upon his son, Jacob, who bears little resemblance to the great faith of his grandfather. The Bible is careful to paint the sins of Abraham for us to see, but the great displays of his faith make him feel larger than life. Jacob does not have this problem. His life is marked by the struggle to survive and thrive, yet beneath everything, Jacob is fearful, often running from his problems. Nowhere does Jacob show himself worthy of God’s favor, but God still readily gives it to him.

In this text, we read the beginning of God’s plan for Jacob. Before Jacob is born, God chooses him to usurp his older brother, Esau, as the inheritor of God’s covenantal blessing from his father, Isaac. The chapter ends with Jacob’s first step in securing the inheritance of the firstborn, which Jacob does through less than ideal means. Indeed, if there is any account in the Old Testament that displays the reality of unmerited grace, it is the story of Jacob. Yet as we will come to learn, we tend to be far more like Jacob than Abraham.

Read verses 1-18 and discuss the following.

  1. Death came even for the great man of faith, Abraham, yet even still he displayed a faith beyond his life by securing Isaac’s place as his inheritor. In what ways have you invested (or we might say discipled) the next generation to continue your ministry? Or how have you been discipled by previous generations to continue a ministry?

Read verses 19-28 and discuss the following.

  1. Isaac and Rebekah found themselves barren for twenty years, similar to Abraham and Sarah, and after they prayed, God granted them children. How does this show the necessity and importance of prayer? What can we say about God’s “delays” in answering prayer?
  2. Before Jacob and Esau were born, God chose Jacob to become greater than his older brother. Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:10-13 both declare that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before either were born. How does this display God’s sovereign election?

Read verses 29-34 and discuss the following.

  1. Jacob was only able to con Esau out of his birthright because Esau had a low view of spiritual blessings, causing him to view soup as greater in value because it was physically there. In what ways do you act similarly, placing physical trivialities over spiritual riches?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Consider Abraham’s faithfulness to prepare Isaac for continuing God’s work. Likewise, plan out ways that you can disciple others into doing ministries that you do, or search for ministries where you can be discipled to continue the work.
  • Pray. Look toward the example of Isaac and Rebekah, who likely prayed twenty years for Jacob and Esau. Remain steadfast in prayer, knowing that God works according to His plan and is faithful in time.
COPYRIGHT© B.C. NEWTON 2016
Wrestling with God

Introduction to Genesis 25-36

Genesis is the book of beginnings.

The first eleven chapters reveal how the world and humanity began and fell into sin, and chapters twelve through twenty-four displayed how God began to enact His plan of global redemption through the family of one man, Abraham. God pulled Abraham from his family, took him to a foreign land, and promised to bless him and all the nations of the earth through him. We know from God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 that a Serpent-Crusher was coming into the world to restore the pre-sin blessings of Eden. Thus, God promised Abraham that the Serpent-Crusher would come through him, as the seed that would bless all the families of the earth. Humanity’s redeemer would be from Abraham’s family.

This promise seems fitting when we consider Abraham’s life. Of course, he committed his fair share of sin (i.e. selling away his wife to save his own skin… twice…), but in general, Abraham appeared to be the model of a godly life, especially in regards to faith. God asked Abraham to do some truly incredible things, yet Abraham did them without hesitation. Abraham was the epitome of how to trust God, earning him the title, the man of faith (Gal. 3:9).

From Abraham to Jacob

The same cannot be said of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Being the second born to his twin brother, Esau, Jacob was not entitled to the blessings of the firstborn, but that did not stop him from claiming them. In an act of blatant deception (encouraged by his mother), Jacob pretended to be Esau before his blind father, Isaac, in order to steal Esau’s blessing. Of course, this was after Jacob had already talked Esau into trading away his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Then, after fleeing from his brother, Jacob marries two sisters and takes their two maidservants as his concubines. This leads to a massive amount of family drama of which Abraham’s Hagar fiasco was but a taste. And Jacob brings it upon himself by blatantly favoring Rachel above his other wife, Leah.

If Abraham’s life was dotted with lapses into sin, Jacob’s life is littered with foolish behavior and deceitful intent. In fact, it would not be without merit to liken Jacob to a gunslinging outlaw in Westerns. In Western films, the gunslinger trope is typically a semi-nomadic outlaw with a questionable moral code of his one, fighting for his own survival. Jacob certainly fits that description. Throughout these chapters, he struggles to get ahead then runs for his life from those whom he angered. In fact, the Western similarity only significantly falls apart when considering that Jacob had none of the courage of a typical gunslinger; instead, Jacob was marked by fearfulness, insecurity, and anxiety. His life is one great struggle that he continuously attempted to run from.

Indeed, in light of these things, Jacob seems to the opposite of his grandfather. Where Abraham boldly trusted God, Jacob feared at every turn. This can be seen throughout the story when God is always referred to as the God of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 28:13, God speaks to Jacob saying, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” Jacob later repeats this language in 31:42 to Laban, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.” Likewise in 32:9, Jacob prays to God saying, “O God of my father Abraham and the God of my father Isaac…” Through most of the story, Jacob tentatively serves God as the God of Abraham and Isaac.

Wrestling with God 

Everything changed in Genesis 32:22-32.

There Jacob found himself preparing to face Esau for the first time since he ran away. His uncle, Laban, was still behind him in a less than agreeable mood. So he was pressed between two enemies, and in an attempt to calm Esau, Jacob had sent presents for his brother and all his servants and family ahead of himself. So it was nighttime. Jacob would meet Esau in the morning, and he was all alone.

Suddenly a mysterious man appears and begins wrestling with Jacob. The two men struggle throughout the night, until the man demands Jacob to let him go. Jacob responds by demanding a blessing first. The man agrees, but not without dislocating Jacob’s hip first, giving Jacob a permanent limp for the rest of his life. Jacob soon concluded that this man was more than he seemed saying, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (32:30).”

Jacob wrestled with God, and God spared him.

God renamed Jacob as Israel, and in the next chapter, we see Jacob erect an altar called El-Elohe-Israel, which means God, the God of Israel. Jacob now claimed God as his God, not merely the God of his father and grandfather. God became personal to Jacob. And though Jacob appeared victorious in his wrestling match with God, his permanent limp would forever ensure that he could not continue his modus operandi of fleeing from danger. Jacob was now physically forced to trust in God. The very best of Jacob’s tenacity was displayed in his struggle with God, only to realize that he was completely weak and defenseless before him.

The story of Jacob is one of pride, fear, and the fight to survive. Most societies equate pride in one’s own achievements and survival of the fittest with the best of humanity; however, Jacob’s story strips away the vainglory of these notions, revealing the underlying fear beneath. Like Jacob, our lives are one massive struggle for blessing and survival, and we pride ourselves in capturing them through sheer determination. However, true blessing can only be found in surrendering to God. Jacob’s life became full only after God physically wounded him, so too God will often destroy our pride that we might find our comfort and rest in Him.

Copyright© B.C. Newton 2016

A Blessing for All the Earth | Day 4

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Though sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God did not forsake humanity; in fact, He promised that the offspring of woman would come as the savior. This was good news spoken into a dark moment, a thread of light upon the horizon.

As the generations came and went, God did not forget His promise.

God called out to a man named Abram (later to be called Abraham) and made three main promises to him. God promised to give him a son (because his wife was barren), to make a mighty nation from the offspring, and to give his descendants the land of Canaan. Though Abraham was incredibly old, God blessed him with a child, an offspring through whom God would establish His promise.

But there is a great depth to God’s promise. God declares that all the families (or nations) of the earth will be blessed through Abraham.

How is this possible?

Paul tells us explicitly that Jesus is the prophesied offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). Followers of Jesus are certainly blessed (Eph. 1:3), and we are told that they will be found among every nation (Rev. 7:9).

Thus, Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s promise, and the coming of Jesus is the blessing of every nation on earth.


As the offspring of Abraham, we must remember that Jesus is the great blessing that repairs the curse of sin among every nation and people group. Pray specifically today for the expansion of the gospel into the all the nations of the earth.


 

The Man of Faith

Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24)

Abraham Study Guide (Week 15)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my masters kinsmen. (Genesis 24:26-27)

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9)

OPENING THOUGHT

Abraham’s life was full of difficulty and blessing. Repeatedly, God placed him in situations where Abraham was able to exercise his faith in God. Though he also failed by sinning numerous times, the patriarch ultimately was willing to trust and obey God, no matter how difficult God’s command might be. Truly Paul is correct in calling Abraham the man of faith.

We now come the closing chapter of Abraham’s story arc within Genesis. We have already seen that Abraham passed his largest test of faith by being willing to sacrifice Isaac, which was the climax of Abraham’s life. Last week marked how Abraham was now faithfully approaching the end of his life by making sure that a piece of Canaan was secured as a sign of how God would bless his descendants. This chapter continues that idea of Abraham passing his blessings and promises from God down to his son Isaac, and this time, Abraham does so through finding Isaac a wife.

Given that this is the longest chapter of Genesis and that it is full of repetition, we can be tempted to skim over these verses; however, it is important to note that this chapter is full of significance. One of the primary promises that God gave Abraham was regarding Abraham’s multitude of descendants. Obviously, that promise could not be fulfilled through Isaac if he did not have a wife with whom to have a child. Thus, by sending his servant to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham is again faithfully establishing the means for God’s promises to continue after his own death.

Read verses 1-9 and discuss the following.

  • Within these verses, we read of Abraham’s desire to find a wife for Isaac, as well as his insistence that Isaac remain living in the land of Canaan. How do both of these actions display Abraham’s faith in God and His promises?

Read verses 10-27 and discuss the following.

  • Abraham’s servant creates a plan for finding Isaac’s wife. He does this by looking for a woman that was freely willing to water his master’s ten camels. Since camels can easily drink up to 20 gallons of water at a time, this would have been a significant task. What does this tell us about how the servant was looking for Isaac’s wife-to-be? What characteristics was he looking for?
  • The servant responds to Rebekah’s willingness to water the camels by publicly worshiping God, giving thanks for His steadfast love and faithfulness. Why is it important that the Old Testament reveals that God shows steadfast love to His people?

Read verses 28-60 and discuss the following. 

  • Through these verses, Abraham’s servant recounts to Rebekah’s family how God guided him to Rebekah as a wife for Isaac. What are some of the ways (through action or speech) that display the servant’s faith in God and his duty to Abraham?

Read verses 61-67 and discuss the following. 

  • Upon meeting Rebekah, Isaac takes her into Sarah’s tent. This symbolically shows that Isaac and Rebekah are now the bearers of God’s blessings and promises that He gave to Abraham and Sarah. Furthermore, it states that Isaac loved Rebekah. How is this both similar and different from our current ideas of love and marriage?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider the servant’s model of worshipful and faithful service and whether you live similarly.
  • Notice Isaac’s intentional loving of Rebekah (a woman that he has just met). Do you love with similar intentionality? Particularly in terms of romantic love, are you dependent upon feeling in love or are you determined to love? Resolve how you might better and more purposefully love others.

4 Things Abraham Taught Me

This week, we will finish our almost four month long study of the life of Abraham in Genesis. Before completely jumping into the next sermon series, I thought it might be beneficial for me to reflect upon some lessons that the LORD taught me through studying Abraham’s life.

1. Abraham’s physical life represents our spiritual life.

Stepping out on a limb, I assume that God will not call most of us to journey off toward an unknown destination. I also doubt that many of us will find ourselves leading men into a war between nine kings in order to rescue our kin. The chances, as well, are rather slim that God will ever cause any of us to give birth at age 90 or 100. Further, God is not likely to demand that we plunge a knife into our child to display obedience.

But God led Abraham through each one.

Most of our lives will simply not be the dramatic epic that Abraham’s life was. We will probably live quiet, unassuming lives, while faithfully doing the work of the gospel in the field that God has placed us. On paper, it seems that we are far from being like Abraham, the great man of faith.

While this thought appears to be well grounded, it undermines the entire premise of following Christ. Though Abraham physically left behind his family and security to follow the LORD, every follower of Christ is called to do the same. Jesus tells His disciples that “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”[1] The call to follow Christ upon a believer is a call to kill within us any selfish ambition. It is a call to follow Jesus, wherever He may lead, at whatever cost.

And though God may not demand that we physically sacrifice things that we might treasure above Him, we are certainly commanded to do so spiritually. Internally, we are constantly at war with our heart’s inclination toward idolatry, fighting to keep every good gift of God from becoming our god.

Abraham’s journey is indeed the physical embodiment of each believer’s spiritual journey.

2. Following God is far from easy.

Following Jesus is full of rest and comfort. Jesus promised His followers, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[2] There is great truth to be found in those words. Jesus gives us true rest from trying to earn God’s favor and love.

The life of Abraham also teaches us, however, that following God is not easy. The patriarch’s life was full of trials and challenges. In addition to following blindly in the direction that God told him to walk, Abraham also waited patiently for 25 years to receive the son that God promised to him. Abraham watched as Sarah and himself become much too old to have children, but he still had faith that God would do as He said. Not to mention that when he finally received his son, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him as an offering to the LORD. Abraham faced great difficulties throughout his life of following the LORD.

And so it will be with us.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”[3]

“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”[4]

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”[5]

The verdict is clear: life following Christ is not a life of ease. Yet we must also note the great blessing and favor that God showed to Abraham (a blessing that was not merely financial). God was faithfully with Abraham through every single trial that the man of faith faced. We too hold onto that promise in life.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”[6]

3. Faith without works is dead.

Abraham has two great titles given to him by New Testament writers: the man of faith[7] and a friend of God.[8] Both of these titles seem rather fitting given the experiences that Abraham encountered. Thus, as the Bible’s example of the epitome of a faithful follower of the LORD, what comes into our minds when considering Abraham’s faith? Obviously, we think of Abraham’s blind walk of faith, his patient 25-year wait for Isaac, or his willingness to sacrifice his son. In short, we think of Abraham’s actions, his works.

It is no accident that James uses Abraham as an example to support his claim that faith without works is dead. At first, we might think that James 2:24 stands in direct contradiction of Ephesians 2:8-9. However, we know that they cannot be contradictory because Paul uses Abraham as an example of salvation by faith alone in Romans 4:1-12. Abraham exemplifies what both Paul and James argue, and James’ statement is particularly potent.

The essence of the statement that faith without works is dead is that faith will reveal itself through works. Though our works (that is, all of our good deeds) do not save us, we cannot truly have faith in God without showing that faith via works. Abraham proved to be a man of faith because of his obedience. By his willingness to trust God fully, even if it meant sacrificing Isaac, Abraham revealed the great faith that he had in God. Thus, Abraham is one of the Bible’s greatest examples of the relationship between faith and works.

4. God is always faithful.

I believe that this is the greatest lesson to be learned from studying Abraham’s life. Clearly, we have seen how Abraham displayed great faith in God through his willingness to obey God’s commands, no matter how difficult. For all of Abraham’s victories and successes, his life was not without failures either.

Consider Abraham’s sins.

Within the same chapter that Abraham shows great faith by following God without being told a destination, Abraham fled to Egypt to escape a famine. While in Egypt, Abraham made Sarah claim to be his sister, so that Pharaoh would not kill him in order to take Sarah as his wife. Out of fear for his own skin, Abraham was willing to sell his wife into the hands of another man. Obviously, this is quite frowned upon.

In chapter 16, we find that Sarah becomes impatient with the LORD’s promise to give her and Abraham a son. She, therefore, suggests that Abraham sleep with her servant, Hagar, so that Sarah can have a child through her servant. This went about as well as one might expect. Sarah immediately became jealous of Hagar, and she expressed that jealously by abusing her servant. Abraham is notably quiet throughout this event, passively leading his entire household into sin.

Then in chapter 20, we read of Abraham’s encounter with Abimelech. Since Abimelech was a king, Abraham feared the same as he did with Pharaoh: that Abimelech would kill Abraham in order to take Sarah as his wife. Thus, Abraham proceeded to repeat his sin from back in Egypt.

Though he was the man of faith, Abraham was far from perfect. He was a flawed and sinful man. In fact, if God did not first come to Abraham in chapter 12, Abraham would have likely continued to follow after the gods of his family.[9] Whatever faith Abraham displayed is by far eclipsed by God’s faithfulness toward Abraham, which is good news because if God is not faithful, then placing our faith in Him does us no good. Fortunately, God was faithful to Abraham, through obedience and through sin. We can, likewise, have confidence that the God of Abraham will also be faithful to us.

[1] Matthew 10:37

[2] Matthew 11:28-30

[3] Philippians 1:29

[4] Mark 13:13

[5] 1 Peter 4:12-13

[6] John 16:33

[7] Galatians 3:9

[8] James 2:23

[9] Joshua 24:2-3