DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Famous Bad People: Aaron

It hit me as I prepared this message that it's kind of funny talking about some of these Famous Bad People of the Bible, because one day I'm going to meet some of them. It's going to be kind of weird meeting them, and them saying, "Oh, you were a preacher. Did you ever preach on me?" What am I going to say in reply? "Yeah, you were part of a series on bad people in the Bible." Despite that problem that I will face one day, it's refreshing to look at people in the Bible and to know that it isn't because of their character that God chose to use them, but it was because of his own character that God can use any of us - that God can use somebody even like me.

Today we're going to look at Aaron. Aaron's one of those people that we tend to overlook, because he has a supporting role in the Bible. He's not the main figure in his stories. He's usually with Moses, his brother. Despite his supporting role, he's a pretty significant figure: he served as the first high priest in Israel. He was articulate and played a major role in the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. I'm always surprised when I read Aaron's life how much he failed. Most of the characters we're going to look at in this series had one trait that affected their entire lives, or else one or two really bad slips, but Aaron seems to have had three unrelated incidents in which he really didn't do too well.

Let's look at these three episodes to see if there is any underlying cause for his failures, and then we'll see if there's anything that we can apply to our lives.

The Golden Calf - Exodus 32

This first story falls under the "What were you thinking?" category. If you've ever read through the Bible, you're reading through Exodus about God giving instructions to Moses about his laws and the Tabernacle, and all of a sudden, without any warning, you come to chapter 32 (page 100) and read:

When Moses failed to come back down the mountain right away, the people went to Aaron. "Look," they said, "make us some gods who can lead us. This man Moses, who brought us here from Egypt, has disappeared. We don't know what has happened to him." (Exodus 32:1)

In Aaron's defense, this doesn't look like a friendly group that's coming. The people gathered against Aaron. You get the impression, reading between the lines, that it was almost like a mob scene. There's going to be a lot of reading in between the lines, because we just don't know what was going through Aaron's mind at this point. If I were Aaron, I might have been thinking, "Wait a minute. I'm not the leader here. I'm just the spokesperson. I didn't sign up for this."

Here's what Aaron decided to do. "So Aaron said, 'Tell your wives and sons and daughters to take off their gold earrings, and then bring them to me'" (Exodus 32:2). This may have been a case of Aaron giving into the crowd. Some people have suggested that Aaron was obeying the crowd to show them how foolish they were being - sort of like saying, "Okay, good idea, let's see what happens when we try that." Still others guess that Aaron gathered gold as a delaying tactic, waiting to see if Moses was coming down before it was too late. We don't know, and I'd like to think that I would put everybody right and save the day, but picture the scene. No Moses - he might even be dead. An angry mob. A request to build some gods to lead them. I'd like to think I'd do better, but who knows?

"All the people obeyed Aaron and brought him their gold earrings. Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded and tooled it into the shape of a calf. The people exclaimed, 'O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!'" (Exodus 32:3-4). It's not hard to see why Aaron built a calf. It was a common idol image in the ancient Near East. Most scholars tend to think that Aaron wasn't really building a new god for the people to worship. What Aaron was trying to do was to provide a concrete point of contact between the people and god. He wasn't saying that the golden calf brought them out of Egypt, but that it represented the God who brought them out of Egypt. Back then, they thought that calves were like pedestals that gods sat on or stood over. In essence, while God was giving Moses instructions on building a Tabernacle that would be the place where God would dwell, a point of contact between the people and God, Aaron was building his own for the people. The people weren't saying that the calf was the true God; they were saying that it represented and was associated with God.

"When Aaron saw how excited the people were about it, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, 'Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD!'" (Exodus 32:5). You can see how this is getting out of control. Verse 6 continues, "So the people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and indulged themselves in pagan revelry."

Well, God didn't take this too well. We won't read all that happened, but God sent Moses back down to deal with the situation. This is the part that really blows my mind. Listen to what Aaron said to Moses when he was confronted with the situation:

"Don't get upset, sir," Aaron replied. "You yourself know these people and what a wicked bunch they are. They said to me, 'Make us some gods to lead us, for something has happened to this man Moses, who led us out of Egypt.' So I told them, 'Bring me your gold earrings.' When they brought them to me, I threw them into the fire—and out came this calf!" (Exodus 32:22-24)

You can almost the wheels turning. "I've got a good excuse, sir…wait just a minute while I decide what my excuse is. It's the people's fault. No, wait, it's a miracle. It just popped out of the fire." We don't read it in this passage, but God was very angry with Aaron. In Deuteronomy 9:20, Moses says, "The LORD was so angry with Aaron that he wanted to destroy him. But I prayed for Aaron, and the LORD spared him."

This was Aaron's first test as a leader, and he failed. I don't want to be too hard on Aaron. What he did was wrong - I just don't know if I would have done any better. I hope so, and certainly in hindsight, I'm sure Aaron would have said so too. Let's look at the second major failure that Aaron encountered in his life - one that is seemingly unrelated. Let's see what happened and then begin to see if there's any common thread.

Betrayal - Numbers 12

The next story's found in Numbers 12 (page 164). It's hard to believe as well. Miriam is Moses' big sister - the one who approached watched Moses float down the Nile River in a waterproof basket, and who thought quickly enough to allow Moses to be raised by his mother. Aaron, as we've already seen, is Moses' brother. Somehow the two of them got jealous of Moses. "While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. They said, 'Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Hasn't he spoken through us, too?'" (Numbers 12:1-2).

We need to read between the lines a little bit again. In the original language, it says that she spoke, meaning Miriam. This isn't to put Miriam down overall. She had an important role in the Bible too - rescuing Moses, singing the first psalm that's recorded in the Bible. She's the instigator, but Aaron joins her. The real issue wasn't Moses' wife - that was just a smokescreen. The real issue was Moses' special relationship with God. Miriam and Aaron thought that they should be recognized too.

"But the LORD heard them" (Numbers 12:2). Oh no. Miriam and Aaron knew that God hears everything, but they hadn't taken it into account. We read what happens next. God summoned the three of them into the Tabernacle - with a little trace of anger too - and confronted them. Let's pick up what happened at verse 9:

The LORD was furious with them, and he departed. As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, Miriam suddenly became white as snow with leprosy. When Aaron saw what had happened, he cried out to Moses, "Oh, my lord! Please don't punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed. Don't let her be like a stillborn baby, already decayed at birth." (Numbers 12:9-12)

Moses also prayed for her, and God responded with both grace and firmness. Aaron seems to have gone unpunished, beyond being rebuked by God. Another test; another failure.

We're beginning to see a pattern here. Aaron's been in trouble twice. Aaron wasn't the instigator in either case; he just went along. In both cases, Aaron could have resisted the course of action that was taken, but he just chose to go along. Aaron seems to be easily influenced by those around him.

Striking the Rock - Numbers 20

What we don't see too easily as we move to the third incident is how much time has elapsed since the first two mistakes. We don't see it too easily, but 37 years have elapsed between the last mistake and this one. You'd think that there would be some credit for good behavior, but it didn't work that way in this case. The people failed, and Aaron joined along. Miriam failed, and Aaron joined along. Now Moses fails, and Aaron joins along. Read what the people say in Numbers 20:2 (page 174):

There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, "We wish we had died in the LORD'S presence with our brothers! Did you bring the LORD'S people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, figs, grapes, or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!" (Numbers 20:2-5)

I can imagine how frustrating this would have been for Moses and Aaron. What was even more frustrating was that they were at the very spot of Israel's worst rebellion ever, almost forty years previously - the site of the first scouting mission that had ended in disaster. Moses probably had a sense of despair. I'd be thinking, "Haven't these people learned anything? Can't they pull themselves together? We're almost there!"

Moses and Aaron did exactly what they were told. They went to the Tabernacle and got instructions from God to speak to some rock, which would start to flow with water. What we read next starts out okay. "So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the LORD" (Numbers 20:9). But what we see next is the accumulation of forty years of frustration.

Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. "Listen, you rebels!" he shouted. "Must we bring you water from this rock?" Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So all the people and their livestock drank their fill. (Numbers 20:10-11)

Was Moses wrong? Absolutely. Would I have done the same thing? Who knows? But I'm sympathetic. I can see why Moses did. God's judgment on Moses and Aaron was immediate. Verse 12 says, "But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!'" Moses dishonored God and his holiness by making God appear to be capricious and hostile - even human. Aaron, who seems to have been more or less a bystander in this incident, stands condemned along with Moses.

Epitaph

So we come to the end of Aaron's life. God says to Moses in Numbers 20:24:

"The time has come for Aaron to join his ancestors in death. He will not enter the land I am giving the people of Israel, because the two of you rebelled against my instructions concerning the waters of Meribah. Now take Aaron and his son Eleazar up Mount Hor. There you will remove Aaron's priestly garments and put them on Eleazar, his son. Aaron will die there and join his ancestors."

So Moses did as the LORD commanded. The three of them went up Mount Hor together as the whole community watched. At the summit, Moses removed the priestly garments from Aaron and put them on Eleazar, Aaron's son. Then Aaron died there on top of the mountain, and Moses and Eleazar went back down. When the people realized that Aaron had died, all Israel mourned for him thirty days. (Numbers 20:24-29)

Aaron's life comes to an end. Three people went up the mountain; two came down. I was thinking about what we could learn from Aaron's life and the mistakes that he made. What lessons does Aaron's life have for us today?

1. Guard against others leading you to disobey God

One of the strongest lessons from Aaron's life is that we've always got to be careful how we're being influenced. With some of us, it's not a problem. There are some very strong people around, who quite frankly, don't get influenced. They influence others; others don't influence them. But for most of us, the greatest influence on what we do and what we believe and how we act is what others around us say. The real danger is what happens when others lead us to disobey God.

It's like when we were kids. Isn't it true that you got into more trouble hanging around certain kids than when you were alone? Just hanging around a certain individual made it twice as likely that you were going to get into trouble. It doesn't change when you're an adult. One of the lessons for us is that we've got to figure out what to do when our friends, our coworkers, our marriage partners - whoever - influence us to disobey God.

You've got to feel a little bit sorry for Aaron. He wasn't the instigator anytime that he got in trouble. But he still got in trouble. God was so angry with him one time that he wanted to kill him. Eventually, his mistakes cost him his life, and prevented him from seeing the Promised Land.

I also feel sorry for Aaron because of who influenced him. The people - well, Aaron should have known better. Miriam - well, it's hard to resist a sister sometimes, but he should have known better. But Moses? I thought Moses was one of the good guys. The biggest mistake of Aaron's life was following the lead of somebody who was his own spiritual leader. You've got to feel sorry for Aaron.

You and I are going to be influenced a lot in our lives, but we're still ultimately responsible to God. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, "Bad company corrupts good character." Let me ask you: who is influencing your life? What people - even good people - may be leading you away from obedience to God? What steps do you need to take to make sure that even if you're a follower-type personality, you don't end up following others away from God?

2. A few mistakes can undo years of faithfulness

Remember Survivor? I don't know if it was just me, but the challenges seemed a bit lame the last time. Flying kites. I don't know. That just doesn't cut it for me. The challenges that really get me are the endurance challenges. Hold on to a pole or stand on something, and the last one still doing it wins. One slip - one brief moment - can undo hours of effort.

Aaron teaches us the same thing. He served for some forty years. Most of the time, he did really well. He played an important role. He did a lot of good things. But mostly, when we talk about him, we talk about the mistakes he made. There weren't a lot of them, but they were big enough that they marked his entire life.

I look around me and realize the same thing. I can live my entire life well and mess everything up near the end by one indiscretion, one really bad mistake. It's really not how well we start the race. It's how we finish that matters.

I guess this should make us humble. I used to think that I was invulnerable to certain temptations. I used to think that I would never mess up in certain areas of my life. I think my attitude has changed. I'm not so sure anymore. I'm not so confident that I'm not going to mess up my life by one or two really bad decisions. Remember the hymn? "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." The guy who wrote those words did slip away. I'm capable of the same. It doesn't take a lot to undo years of faithfulness. This should keep us humble, depending on God. "If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

3. God's grace is always bigger than any of my mistakes

Despite Aaron's failings, God still used Aaron. God continued to use his descendents, right down to the time that Jesus came. The man that God sent to prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist, was a direct descendent of Aaron (Luke 1:5). Even when Aaron died, the people entered into a period of mourning for thirty days. God's grace is always bigger than our mistakes.

Once in a while I wonder what would be written about me if my life was recorded in the Bible. I can think of times that I've failed God, in big ways and in small ways. I can think of times that I've been influenced away from obedience to do something wrong, very wrong. I'd be too embarrassed to share some of these with you. They haven't been my best moments. I'm pretty sure that I'm capable of making serious errors in my life, so bad that the mistakes would undo most of the good in my life. But God says that his grace is always greater than sin. Where sin increases, God's grace can increase all the more.

I invite you to pray with me.

What would be written about your life? What people tend to influence you in the wrong direction? What failures have marred your record? God's grace is always bigger.

Father, I pray that you would help us to remain loyal to you, even when others - even good people, maybe even pastors - influence us away from obedience to you. I pray today that you would make us aware that no matter how secure we may feel now, we are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. I pray most of all that everyone here would experience the grace of Jesus Christ which is greater than all of our sins. If there's somebody here who hasn't received that grace, along with the forgiveness and restored relationship with you, that they would receive it today.

We love you and praise you, in the name of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Famous Bad People: Jacob

Last week, we started looking at famous bad people of the Bible. I love the fact that the people we read about in the Bible are so real. I'm always surprised by the people that God has chosen to use. I can't relate to everything that they went through. I lose it when I read about all their concubines and their cattle and some of the strange things that happened. But I always relate to their struggles, their doubts, and their mistakes. I begin to realize that the people that God used were just like me - just as messed up, and they made just as many mistakes. That gives me hope.

The person I want to look at today is named Jacob. You may or may not be familiar with the story of Jacob. He was the grandson of the man we looked at last week - Abraham. He's one of the most significant people in the Old Testament, the third link in God's plan to start a nation from Abraham. You still hear people talk about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even today.

When Jacob was alive, he developed a reputation for two things: scheming and manipulating. As he was being born, he and his twin brother got into a wrestling match, almost like they were fighting to see who would become the firstborn son. Later, he manipulated his older brother into giving him the birthright, and still later, he manipulated his dying father to receive the blessing that belonged to his brother. He manipulated his dishonest boss, who also happened to be his father-in-law, into a good severance package after a lengthy tenure. Jacob spent his entire life scheming and manipulating. He was very successful, very prosperous, very determined - somebody we would admire. He fought for everything he had, and he usually ended up winning.

Today, I'd like to look at two scenes from his life. These are not normal, everyday scenes, yet they represent two struggles that I can relate to. I'd invite you to look with me at the first one, found in Genesis 28 (page 32 of the pew Bibles).

Scene One (Genesis 28:10-22) - What God Really Wants

The first scene is pretty familiar. You've probably heard about Jacob's ladder. This is the inspiration for the song Stairway to Heaven. Let's read what happened, beginning in verse 11.

At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone for a pillow and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from earth to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down on it.

At the top of the stairway stood the LORD, and he said, "I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I will give it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will cover the land from east to west and from north to south. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What's more, I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised." (Genesis 28:11-15)

When Jacob was alive, in that area, it was common for people to think of gods traveling down stairways to descend and be worshiped. In Joseph's dream, it's like a portal has opened between heaven and earth, and he sees angels traveling to earth to do their errands, and ascending to heaven with reports when they're done. And then Jacob sees God standing beside the stairway, and God has a message for Jacob.

The dream wouldn't have unusual in Jacob's time. What's unusual is what God says to Jacob. God blesses Jacob by promising that he would bring Jacob back to the land where he was sleeping, and then promises that his descendents would fill that land and bless the entire world. When Jacob wakes up, he recognizes the place where he slept as a sacred spot - as a portal between heaven and earth - and he makes a conditional vow. Read with me what Jacob says in verses 20-22:

Then Jacob made this vow: "If God will be with me and protect me on this journey and give me food and clothing, and if he will bring me back safely to my father, then I will make the LORD my God. This memorial pillar will become a place for worshiping God, and I will give God a tenth of everything he gives me."

Jacob actually keeps this vow when he returns to the land in Genesis 35, a little while later. God had to remind him to return to this place and complete his vow. But for now, Jacob's vow was conditional. He didn't get rid of his gods. He didn't make the LORD Jehovah his God. He hadn't yet given God a tenth of what God gave him. Jacob was ready to commit only if God came through and things went his way. Jacob was more interested in what God would give him than in committing, unconditionally, to God.

I guess a modern parallel would be God saying to us, "Let me bless you. I want a relationship with you," and then having one of us reply, "If I get this promotion that I want, and if my kids turn out, and if you start to help my marriage, then I'll consider making you my God." We live at a time in which there are so many choices, that many of us feel that if God doesn't work out, there's always something else. It's almost like God has to compete with Dr. Phil on Oprah, and we'll see which one makes our life better.

I thought about this in my own life. When I started to think about becoming a pastor, part of my struggle was wondering if God would really come through. I thought, "Okay, God, I'll do it, but do you realize I could make more money doing something else?" I remember battling with this for quite some time. I didn't want to - I knew I should just obey - but it's hard to commit. I used to looking after myself and following the best options.

Sometimes I've even preached messages like this. "If you want your life to be successful, if you want your kids to grow up right, if you want to have a thriving marriage, follow God's commandments." It's not that this is wrong. Following God will make you a better parent and marriage partner. The problem is the presupposition. It's almost saying that following God is worth it for the benefits. Would I still follow God if the benefits weren't as attractive? Does it open me up to competing offers? What if following God didn't enrich my life, it actually cost my life? Do I see my walk with God as another way to improve my life - quit smoking, lose weight, go to church?

Last week, Curtis Joseph signed with Detroit. The issue really wasn't the money. The issue was that Cujo wanted to sign with a winning team, one that had a shot at the Stanley Cup before he retired. Who can blame him? We've been waiting in Toronto since 1967 for another Stanley Cup. When I read Jacob's conditional commitment to God this week, it hit me that I have a tendency to approach God the same way - conditionally, based on what I get from the relationship. God approaches our relationship as our Creator, the one who gives us every single breath, the one who sustains the entire world by his power. He says, "I want to bless you." We say, "I'll consider your offer." God says, "No, don't consider it based on what you'll get, even though you will get a lot. Consider it based on who it is that's speaking to you. Don't put me on the same level as Dr. Phil. Don't put your life out to tender. I am God."

You may be here thinking, "That's a little heavy. Yes, I want to relate to God, but to be honest, I am here because of what I'll get out of that relationship. The real reason I'm here is because I want my kids to be religious or because my girlfriend brought me here or because I want to go to heaven." I appreciate your honesty. I don't think God is offended by those reasons. I know I came to God for some of those reasons - heaven sure sounded better than the alternative. You can come to God with motives that are probably less than ideal, and God won't turn you away. He didn't with Jacob. But he wants more.

God will gradually work in your life so that the real reason you love him isn't because of what he can do for you. He will lead you to relate to him ultimately because he is God, and because if you don't praise him, the rocks will cry out. Where you are now is okay, but God will lead you to more. God doesn't want your conditional commitment, based on what he'll do. He wants you to surrender, not because of what you'll get, but because of who God is.

Scene Two (Genesis 32:20-32) - How God Will Get Us There

The next scene we're going to look at is found in Genesis 32. By this time, Jacob is 97 years old. Jacob's spent his whole life fighting for himself, and most of the time, he's won. He still hasn't learned, though. His commitment to God is still conditional. But God is about to bring him to the point where he has no other choice.

Sometimes God takes a long time to teach us what we need to know. Sometimes we're very slow learners.

This is another one of the famous scenes from Jacob's life. In this scene, Jacob wrestles all night with an angel - possibly with God, at least an angel of God. Jacob eventually gets a blessing from God, even though he's injured. I've heard that this is a model of prayer for us, that we should wrestle with God all night to try to extract a blessing from God. But that isn't the point of this passage. Jacob didn't pick this fight with God; God picked it with Jacob. Jacob was only defending himself. Jacob didn't win the fight by wrestling; he won by surrendering. For years, God had put up with conditional commitment, but now God was about to bring Jacob to the point in which the only option he had left was to surrender to God.

I don't know if you've ever been in one of those situations, in way over your head - some sort of crisis in which you reach the end of yourself, and there's nothing left to do but what God can do for you. When we meet Jacob in this passage, he's at one of these points in his life. All his life, he's been fighting for himself and winning, but he's now at a point that he can't handle by himself.

Jacob was about to meet his brother, Esau, for the first time in 20 years. He was afraid - probably with good reason - that Esau was coming to kill him in revenge for stealing his birthright. For the first time, Jacob knew that this was a situation that only God could handle. Listen to what he prayed:

O LORD, please rescue me from my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to kill me, along with my wives and children. But you promised to treat me kindly and to multiply my descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore—too many to count. (Genesis 32:11-12)

When we're at a very low point in our lives, God has a way of teaching us what we needed to learn all along. It's hard to learn when things are going well. God sometimes waits until we hurt enough before he teaches us what he wanted us to know all along. God decided that this was a good time for Jacob to learn surrender and unconditional commitment to him.

Genesis 32:24 says, "This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until dawn." We read later that Jacob recognizes this man as a divine being - an angel, possibly even God himself. Use your imagination for a minute and try to picture what's happening.

What's the point? I don't think the point is a physical wrestling match. Think about it. It's an angel - possibly God himself - verses a 97-year-old man. The point isn't who's stronger. Look at what happened when the angel just touched Jacob's hip, in verse 25: "When the man saw that he couldn't win the match, he struck Jacob's hip and knocked it out of joint at the socket." The fight could have been over before it started if it was just a physical fight. There was something deeper going on, something that God wanted to teach Jacob.

When Jacob fights all night, finally getting injured, he realizes it's the first fight in his life that he isn't able to win by himself. When you're the undefeated champion of your entire life, you start to think that you can handle everything yourself - that even God isn't really needed. What happened here is in some ways a picture of Jacob's entire life. He had spent his whole life fighting, but finally he was fighting a battle he couldn't win. I love how J.I. Packer puts it: God was bringing Jacob to "a spirit of submission and distrust… low enough for God to raise him up by speaking peace to him and assuring him that he need not fear about Esau anymore" (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). God was raising him up by bringing him low. He was blessing him by humbling him.

Jacob didn't win this battle by prevailing. He won the battle by submitting - by surrendering to God. Jacob finally said the words that God had been waiting to hear for over forty years: "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Genesis 32:26). Finally, Jacob realized he was helpless, and cast himself on God's mercy. The minute that Jacob submitted, he won. Verse 28 says, "Your name will no longer be Jacob…It is now Israel [God fights], because you have struggled with both God and men and have won."

This is a hard lesson for us to learn. It's only when we stop fighting, stop relying on ourselves, that God is finally able to bless us as he wanted to all along. We put conditions on God. We fight the battles ourselves. But God will eventually bring us to the point where we realize that we can't fight all the battles, that the only way to live is to die - that the only way we can win with God is if we surrender to him.

Our Lives

Sometimes I think that one of my greatest spiritual problems is that I'm doing pretty well; that overall, I'm contented and happy with my life. I start to think that I'm responsible for my successes. I start to think that I'm the reason that things are going well, and that if things aren't going well, I just have to try harder, and with enough resolution, enough effort, there isn't any battle that I can't win.

Larry Crabb writes:

Satan's masterpiece is not the prostitute or the bum. It is the self-sufficient person who has made life comfortable, who is adjusting well to the world and likes living here, who longs only to be a little better—and a little better off—than he already is.

One of the most deadly spiritual diseases is one that I have - the sin of self-sufficiency. One of the deadliest conditions we can have is to think that we can get by in our lives based on our own efforts, with a little bit of God thrown in to help out. God will cure this disease by bringing me to a point in which I realize I can't win - I never could - apart from surrendering everything - who I am, all I have - to God.

It's very possible that you're going through a period in your life in which things aren't clicking. Things are actually falling apart. You're not used to this. Most of your life has been good until now. You're wondering if God is punishing you, or you can't figure out what's going on in your life. All you know is that you're at the end of your resources, and you need God to come through for you in a big way. As somebody once said, "Well, we've tried everything else. I guess there's nothing left to do now but trust the Lord!"

I want to suggest that what could be happening is that God is bringing you to the end of your resources, the end of yourself, so that God can show up and bless you. He wants us to "relax our determined grasp of our empty selves enough to appreciate His purposes" (Larry Crabb).

This won't take away your pain, and it might not make it easier. But I do know that coming to the end of ourselves is a very good place to be, especially when God is there. When we're at the end of our resources, we see for the very first time that we never had the resources to deal with life in the first place, that the battles we thought we had won before weren't really battles that we had won. They were battles that God won. We just t ook the credit.

Sometimes, God uses failure in our lives to draw us to depend on him. One man has said, "In his severe mercy, God takes away the good to create an appetite for the better."

You may be at that point where all you have to do is to surrender to God, to give up and ask for his blessing. Stop fighting for yourself. Stop your conditional surrender. Give it all up to God today. He's been waiting for years for you to get to this very point.

There may be others of us here who aren't going through a hard time right now. The reality is that our faith is real. We've trusted God for our salvation, we say grace at every meal, and we believe that God has blessed us. But we also think we're invincible. We haven't fought many battles that we haven't won. If the truth were known, we haven't completely surrendered to him. We haven't come to the end of our resources. We're more interested in what God can do four our lives than in unconditionally surrendering to him.

God is waiting for us to stop taking credit for what he is doing, to stop setting conditions on our obedience. He is waiting for us to be still, to know that he is God. We don't have to learn this lesson the hard way - we can surrender and submit to him today. But if we don't, God will find another way to teach us. When God wrestles, he always wins. When Jacob wrestled with God, he won - not because he was stronger, but because he submitted. The only way to win with God is to surrender to him.

I'm going to invite you to reach that point today. It took Jacob 97 years to get to this point. I think all of us have Jacob beat. Let's pray and surrender to him right now.

Prayer

Jacob was wounded, at the end of himself. He had been fighting all his life, but he had nothing left to give. He was fighting a battle he couldn't win. He said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Today, God is inviting you to come to him - wounded, limping, at the end of yourself, and to say, "I surrender. I'm ready. I surrender - not conditionally, not reservedly. I surrender. Now bless me."

Would you silently acknowledge to God the times that you've been self-reliant; the times that you've felt you were in control - maybe even the times that you've schemed your way through life, and thought that you were in control?

It's only by submitting to God that we win with God. "Only in the agony of His absence, both in the absence of blessings and in the felt absence of His Presence, will we relax our determined grasp of our empty selves enough to appreciate His purposes… Only when we've given up on everything else can we finally find that ultimate hunger in our heart." (Larry Crabb)

Would you silently relax your grip of your empty self…open yourself up to the ultimate hunger in your heart - to know God, to submit to God, to be blessed by God?

In our weakness, Father, show us your strength.
In our struggles, reveal our limitations
So we can see that you have none.

In our woundedness, let us lean on and submit to you.
May we realize that the way to win with you
Is not to fight against you
But to surrender to you.
In Jesus' name, Amen.