Loved, Still.

When our sin has made us miserable enough to cry out for His mercy—God is there welcoming our return.  His love has never stopped.

I’ve been stalled over Jeremiah 31 for a week or so now. It is a beautiful must-read holding out hope and reassurance of God’s love for ones who’ve resisted His overtures and sought satisfaction elsewhere. And who of us hasn’t at one time or another?

It is of course directed specifically to Israel but points forward to the covenant God will establish in Christ, a covenant that goes well beyond Israel to include every one whom He has called to be His own. Despite Israel’s failure to keep God’s commandments, despite her unfaithfulness and chasing after other lovers, God remains faithful to Israel. Yes, he has disciplined her severely; this is a critical part of His faithfulness. He will not allow her to find joy or satisfaction in her wandering. He sends her into exile. As a good father God disciplines his sons and daughters, for their own good. (Cf. Heb.12:7)   Discipline is painful but never intended as a shunning from the Father.  Rather it is intended to turn us back to Him, to bring us into subjection to Him so that we may find LIFE! and share His holiness. (See Heb.12:9,10) So it was with Israel. So it is with us.

And in this joyful passage the Lord makes all manner of promises to faithless Israel based on His tender love.  The discipline of letting her be taken captive by her enemies has worked wonders. Joy is just ahead. He’s bringing her home!

But I will let His words speak for themselves. Let them be salve to your own heart if you have found yourself in misery far from any sense of God’s pleasure in you. He welcomes your return.

“The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you…”

With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’  For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.  They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. 

Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD.”

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.

I have heard Ephraim grieving, ‘You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God. …

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD. Jer.31:9-14,16,18,20


Jeremiah’s prophecy looked toward the time God would send Jesus and through Him provide forgiveness once and for all to all who believe. It pointed to a time when God’s very own Spirit would reside in man—the promised Comforter, sent in token of Jesus’ ascension to the Father–writing His law upon their hearts, making them righteous, enabling obedience, inclining their wills to do His will out of love for the One who has so loved them.

We live on the other side of this event! We who are ‘in Christ’ are blessed indeed.  I was reading Ephesians 1 the other morning.  Have you pondered it lately? 

  • We’ve been chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.
  • We’ve been predestined for adoption as sons which will bring him praise because of His grace
  • We’ve been bought from the slave market of sin, forgiven all the ways in which we’ve violated God’s commands
  • We’ve been lavished with the riches of his grace
  • We’ve been made heirs of God!
  • We’ve been marked as His by His Holy Spirit within us….

And all this so that we can be included in God’s plan to culminate all of history in the glory of the Son.  We, as recipients of His lavish grace actually bring Him glory as we revel in His lovingkindness.

It is God’s design for us that we be satisfied with His goodness.  He will stop at nothing less; His heart yearns that we return and find in Him our satisfaction:

“Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virgin Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? … For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” …  And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD. … 

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. … 

Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.” Jer.31:21-22,25,28,33,37

Are you satisfied with the goodness of the Lord, or weary and languishing?  He longs for your return. 


I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might… Eph.1:16-19

But Am I Pleasing?!

If you, like me, go a little crazy sometimes with wondering if God is pleased with you, may I share some things I’ve been pondering this week?

It is the most natural thing in the world for a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit to want to please God.  It would indicate a serious problem if this desire were not present to some degree in the heart of a believer.  BUT I’m pretty sure it is not God’s intention that we be obsessed and doubtful as to whether or not this, that and the other thing is just exactly what He would have us be doing at any given moment.  It is not His desire for us to be continuously anxious about how well we’re doing?  Are we praying enough, giving enough, doing enough of the right things… Are we pleasing to Him or is He just a bit exasperated with us and well, just putting up with us and wishing we were doing better…

This is not faith. This kind of thinking casts God in a bad light, as if He were a begrudging Father, exacting and hard-to-please.  So it’s a kind of thinking I want to be rid of!  It is not as ‘spiritual’ as it may sound on the surface, because it is not based in faith or in truth.  The fact is mankind can’t and doesn’t please God apart from His intervention.  For this we have Jesus.  He is very pleased with His Son.

We were discussing Jesus’ baptism in Bible Study this week.  Why was He baptized if He was sinless?  There are various conjectures but the primary reason we have to go by is of Jesus’ own insistence in the face of John the Baptist’s reluctance: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Mt.3:15 ESV  Jesus never failed to please the Father. In every circumstance He knew and did the Father’s will.  And God was pleased with Him and said so on more than one occasion: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Mt.3:17

Now the application that is commonly given at this point is that God said this of His Son before He had even ‘done anything’ (as though living a sinless life for the thirty years up to this point were nothing!) and since we too are God’s children, this is naturally true of us regardless of what we’ve done or left undone.  And quickly the attention is diverted from Jesus as God’s perfect spotless Lamb to assuring ourselves that God is saying this to us despite our spotty histories, because we too are His children.  It makes us feel very special and fills up that craving to know we are pleasing, at least for a split second…But if you’re like me, one affirmation is never quite enough.  One more is always nice. Where does it end?  Maybe we’ve missed the primary point being made in this passage?  Maybe it’s not about us.

In this historical moment in history Jesus is being presented to the world asThe Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jn.1:29  It is crucial that the lamb offered for a sin offering be spotless. This, in my opinion, is  the significance of God’s affirming voice from heaven.  This is the Lamb of God who has come to die in our place. This statement from heaven is not about us.  But that’s a good thing.  We are not always pleasing, anymore than a two year old having a temper tantrum is especially pleasing at that moment to his parents.  We are not naturally good, or sweet, or loveable.  But God provided the Lamb and that has made all the difference.

We are no longer dependent on our own virtues or law-keeping or dutiful sacrifices to gain favor with God. We don’t have to be obsessed with ‘am I pleasing’.  God, knowing our inability to please Him provided the Lamb.  And we can be glad Jesus was baptized as a part of ‘fulfilling all righteousness’ because we never could do this on our own.  Instead, what the law was powerless to do, God did, by sending Jesus as a sin offering and so he condemned sin in the flesh  ‘in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom.8:4

Jesus’ baptism was a part of fulfilling the righteous requirements of God’s law on our behalf.  This is the wonder of this moment. We don’t need to try to get the passage to say that God is pleased with us. God is pleased with His Son and it is our response to His Son that determines whether He is pleased with us.

[As a side note, it is a fact sometimes overlooked that though God loves everyone in the whole wide world, He is not pleased with everyone.  Most have rejected the sin offering provided in Jesus.  God is not pleased. Apart from faith it is not possible to please God.  Unless one in faith lays his hand, so to speak, on the head of the Lamb and claims His blood as having been shed on his behalf, sin will still separate him/her from God and the wrath of God will abide on him instead.  But I digress…}

So, what then is the ‘take away’ cure for my obsessive desire to ‘be pleasing’?  Better to look on the Son and revel in God’s words about Him and thank God for this perfect sacrifice on my bumbling behalf.  In Him I am complete despite my weaknesses and failings, my inherent inadequacies and even my floundering doubts.   By faith in the Son I can walk in confidence that I am loved without doing anything and any ‘pleasing’ that follows will be on account of the life of the Son lived through me by His Spirit.

Faith is evidenced not in struggling to ‘be pleasing’ but in rejoicing to have been adopted, ‘accepted in the Beloved, holy and perfect in God’s eyes because of Christ.  He sees  the end from the beginning and those He’s justified are as good as glorified in the eternal scheme of things! (See Rom.8:30). It’s hard to imagine, but isn’t that what faith is for?

But practically speaking, surely there are specific things that please God. I did a quick concordance look-up and these are things that popped out at me:

What pleases God?

His Son pleases Him.

The glad doing of His will pleases Him.

Faith pleases Him.

A contrite heart pleases Him.

Seeking Him, fearing Him, praising Him, thanking Him, making much of Him—all these things please Him.  I didn’t find any grounds for a petulant insistence on asking ‘Am I pleasing’.  It’s the wrong question.  Rejoicing in the pleasing Son might make a better focus!

A few other considerations have been helpful to me in re-framing my mindset.

  • God is the one who leads me in ways that please Him, who works in me to make me willing and able to accomplish His pleasure. Phil 2:13 The pressure is off. I am dependent on the Spirit to lead me in ways that are pleasing to Him–to direct me into all His perfect will.
  • I cannot please God by any effort of my own apart from that which His Spirit accomplishes in and through me. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Jn.15
  • Without faith, active dependence on Him, it is not possible to please Him. Doubt is no virtue here. Heb.11:6
  • Though sin does not please Him–He hates it–a contrite heart does. An acknowledgment of my sin, including my doubts, pleases Him. Ps.51
  • The best gift I can offer is my grateful praise for who He is and what He’s done on my behalf! Ps.69:30 I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
  • Generosity pleases Him, perhaps because it shows I am truly trusting in Him to supply all I need and am aware how generous He has been with me! He’s pleased to give us the Kingdom! Why do we sweat the small stuff–food, clothes, cares of this world…Luke 12:22

And those are my scattered ponderings of the week. This area is somewhat of a stronghold in my life so I welcome your prayers for me as I continue to take these truths to heart in a way that liberates me to live as God has intended for His children.

I’d also welcome your feedback in the Comments below.  Is this an area where you have struggled.  What has been of help to you?


Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,  make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20,21

“…but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Ps.147:11

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Col.1:9-12

The Best Advice a Befuddled Sinner can Hear

Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.  Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.

And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver for they are empty.

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for Himself.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

Only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things he has done for you.

But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. I Sam.12:20-25

I love these words of Samuel!
They hold out hope for the one who knows they have blown it.  They point out a path of restoration.  They demonstrate both the justice and the mercy of our King.  And they invite us to follow Him still though we have failed Him grievously.

They are addressed to the people of Israel after they have rejected Samuel as their judge and God as their King and have insisted on having a ‘real’ king like the nations around them. They wanted a king to be their judge and most of all to go ahead of them and fight their battles. After all, Samuel, their priest and judge, was getting old. His sons were corrupt.  And besides, the Ammonites were attacking! They were sure they needed a mortal king like the ones the nations around them had, despite Samuel’s warnings of what this would cost them–He will take your sons for his chariots and horsemen, his farmers, his arms makers.  He will take your daughters as perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and orchards.  He will take from your grain and your vineyards to feed his household.  He will take your servants, and your donkeys to work for him.  He will take from your flocks and “YOU SHALL BE HIS SLAVES”.  (I Sam.8)

They were willing to be slaves for the perceived benefit of being safe and secure. And they would not be denied.  They demanded to have a mortal king to reign over them in place of Almighty God!  So God granted them their request and instructed Samuel to fulfill it.  Tall, dark and handsome Saul was anointed king.

But in his final address to them Samuel is clear that this is not cause for rejoicing, as they have been doing up till this point (I Sam.11:15).  He recites his own faithful track record in being their judge and then he recounts God’s righteous deeds on their behalf despite their apostasy.  On each occasion that they have forgotten the Lord He has allowed them to be dominated by their enemies.  And on each occasion that they have cried out to Him, God has sent a judge to deliver them and restore their peace and safety.  God has been faithful but they have insisted on having a human king instead.

There is no indication up to this point that they even comprehend the evil they have committed.  So now for the object lesson:  It is the dry season, time for the wheat harvest.  Samuel calls on God to send untimely thunder and rain as a demonstration of His might and His anger toward them.  As He had once thundered to rout the enemy (I Sam.7:10), now God thunders against His own people to instill in them the fear of the LORD.  They are terrified, and convicted and desperate for Samuel’s prayers on their behalf: “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” (I Sam.12:17)

And this is the point at which Samuel gives them the best advice a convicted sinner can hear:

Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil, [it is true], yet don’t turn aside from following the Lord…

The fear of the Lord is not meant to drive us from Him but toward Him.  For He is the only one who can acquit us of sin and spare us from judgment. Unless we turn toward Him in repentance God remains our worst Enemy.  This God of love who extends the offer of reconciliation to all who will come and bow the knee, will be our Judge if we opt to find peace and safety apart from Him. Why then do we run? Why do we hide? Why do we turn our backs even temporarily on the only One who can deliver us from our worst Enemy, the only One with whom we are safe!

I find Samuel’s words compelling.

  • They compel me to pray for ones who have rejected God’s Kingship in pursuit of things that cannot profit or deliver.
  • They encourage me with the reminder that the Lord will not forsake His own for His name’s sake. Our bad judgment, even our rebellion, is not the final word.  He goes to great lengths to rescue lost and wandering sheep.
  • And they show me the path back—the fear of the Lord that brings to conviction and repentance and a fresh zeal to follow Him.  It is never too late to turn around.

Ours is a jealous God who will contend with all suitors that would draw our hearts away from His own.  He is the One to whom all our praise and devotion is due.  He will not yield it lightly to another.  He hates the sin that would destroy us yet looks with compassion on the contrite sinner.

These are the things I am pondering this week, for myself and for so many others who have yet to realize, or have forgotten, the tender mercies of our fearsome God.


You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.  Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”  Isaiah 12:1-2

Consider the following passages that beautifully demonstrate both the discipline and the mercy of our God:

“Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be. Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small. Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all who oppress them.  Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the LORD.  And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Jer.30:18-22


‘…my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” …  For the Lord will not cast off forever,  but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;  for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. …I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’  You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.  Lamentations 3:17,19-24,31-33,55-58 ESV


And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.  Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.  Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Is.12:4-6

Jesus, Thank-you!

I’ve been working my way through Isaiah 12, one verse per week, hoping to put the entire wee chapter in my memory bank.  But more than that I’d like it to be true in my life.  Here’s what it says:

1 You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. 2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. 6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Is.12:1-6 ESV

Now from the context (Is.11)  it is pretty clear that this prophecy is specifically referring to Israel and is descriptive of their Messiah’s return to set up His Kingdom and to deliver them from their enemies.  But there’s also a pattern here which I believe holds true for all who have found peace with God, all those who have found the comfort of knowing that their sins are no longer held against them and God’s wrath toward them has been turned away because of Jesus.

The pattern I see is one of deep heartfelt gratitude for God’s salvation, and of fearless trust in light of who God is to me.  It is one of confidence and joy as a result of continuing to drawing on this salvation for daily strength.  This phrase: “With JOY you will DRAW WATER from the wells of salvation” is a beautiful one.  Salvation is not a one-time thing, but a continual life sustaining refreshment.  The reality that I’ve been ‘saved’ from God’s wrath and made His child is never meant to grow ‘ho-hum’ or irrelevant to my daily experience, but rather to result in a continual consciousness of God’s greatness and His active presence in my life and in all the world around me.

“Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

We live between Jesus’ first and second comings.  His salvation has been provided through the cross for all who will look and live. The wells of salvation have been dug, so to speak.  And they are sufficient to sustain life and godliness in this broken world despite the blight of sin within and without, despite its consequences, despite disappointments and pain and sadness.  At the wells of salvation there is always strength, always grace, always rest, always wisdom, always joy!  This is a great salvation we are meant to draw from and to keep drawing from.

We were never intended to settle for fearful,  joy-deprived, burdensome living.  Instead, we are invited to draw water and drink deeply from the wells of salvation and there to find joy unspeakable.  And if this passage is any clue, it all seems to begin with gratitude for what Christ has done in turning away God’s  wrath so that we might know His comfort.

And curiously enough, the words of a song  entitled: “Jesus, Thank-you” have been playing over and over in my mind this past week.  They’ve been just what I’ve needed!  I commend them to you.

Jesus, Thank-you!

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end
Lover of my soul
I want to live for You.

May you (and me too!!) know the joy of drawing deeply from the wells of salvation this week, and for eternity


“…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Heb.9:28

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. I Pet.1:8,9

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Mt.11:28-30 as paraphrased in The Message by Eugene Peterson

When Strivings Cease…

Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with God has long been a fixating story for me.  I returned to this post this week because I still need the reminder that rest is found in surrender to our Faithful and Almighty God…

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel,” by Gustave Dore, 1855

What is the essence of this story from Genesis 32? Is it a model for prevailing prayer?  A template for securing God’s blessing?  Or is there more to this story than meets the eye in its sparsely told format?

Up to this point in Jacob’s life there has been little to commend him as a man of faith.  He has lived up to the meaning of his name mostly, and has struggled with everyone in his life in order to secure himself a blessing.  He’s been a cheat and a conniver, looking out for his own interests and enjoying the blessings of God without acknowledging God as His rightful Lord.  He has spent the most productive years of his life living in exile from his own family, putting in slave labor for his uncle, being cheated and taken advantage of himself but always rising to the top, always making things work out… and now he has a big family, two wives, and a whole lot of progeny, not to mention flocks and herds. He left home with just a staff and now he’s returning with his own entourage…

Yes, he’s returning at last. This was God’s idea.

But years ago when he set out on this journey he had made a promise—granted it was an unabashedly conditional, ‘Jacob’ sort of promise—but a promise it was.  God had ‘seen him off’ on his journey with a vision by night in which He said: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. … and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen.28:13 Jacob was awestruck by God’s presence and made a sort of altar out of his stone pillow in the morning, christening the place, “Bethel” (house of God), and vowing that if God would keep him in food and clothes and bring him safely home again that he, Jacob, would make this God his own God.

And now here he is, almost home.  But this is scary. The immediate dilemma in Jacob’s mind is that his presumably embittered brother, Esau, is on the march with 400  men. Jacob could lose everything, including his own life. But there’s another One he’s been running from. This God to whom he vowed allegiance has not forgotten Jacob’s vow at Bethel. He loves Jacob far too much to let him go on living by his own strength. And when Jacob has taken every last measure he can think of to gain his brother’s approval, and has sent his loved ones across the stream ahead of him…when he’s all alone at last, God shows up.

I love this about Jacob’s story. It’s really a story of God showing up, intervening, blessing, protecting, and guiding Jacob’s life in spite of himself, to a point where he will rest from his conniving and let God be God. It’s a story of God pursuing man. It’s our story… But I run ahead of myself.

The details of the all-night wrestling match are sparse. A ‘man’ wrestles with Jacob until morning light. Jacob refuses to yield until his hip is dislocated and finally, clinging on for dear life he declares “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  (Gen.32:26) Who does he think is in charge?  Who’s not letting who go?  It seems to me that it is God who has initiated this match and God will say when it is finished.

Hosea’s commentary on this event helps: “The LORD hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways…He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us… Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.:” Hosea 12:2-6

I see a picture of a repentant Jacob finally yielding to God’s power, finally willing to admit that he really does need God’s blessing. He has found that ‘place of repentance’ that eluded his brother Esau.  God, like a kind Father has brought him to repentance, first matching his strength till he is spent, then with a mere touch dislocating Jacob’s hip…all to bring Jacob to the point of crying “Uncle!” (or could we say “Abba”)?  Or as he puts it: “ I will not let you go until you bless me”.  Jacob acknowledges that he is dependent on God’s mercy.  He cannot coerce God to bless him but he desperately needs what only God can give him–a new name, a new allegiance…God has orchestrated this moment.

It is not so much Jacob’s persistence that is to be lauded, but his crying out with the last of his strength for God’s mercy–recognizing that he is beholden to God for everything, even life itself.

“It depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy.” Rom.9:16

All night long God has hung on to Jacob awaiting his surrender, like a Father feigning weakness as he ‘wrestles’ with his toddler,  but this is no game.  God knows what Jacob needs most, the blessing of forgiveness and acceptance despite all he has done. He needs to be rightly related to this God as his God. A precious thing transpires at this point. God asks him a question that seems so obvious as to be silly. “What is your name.”

Long years ago Jacob had been asked this very question by his own father. And he had answered with a lie, the consequences of which have dogged him down through all these years and brought him full circle to this moment. He had said‘I’m Esau’ to procure his father’s blessing. And now he is here, a grown man pleading for a blessing from the God who has brought him to this moment for that express purpose.

But first he must confess his real name: “I’m Jacob” (the cheat, the deceiver, the usurper). And God is pleased to bless him with a new identity. He has come to the end of his struggling and will now bear the name Israel, denoting his life-long struggles with man and God, but also that “God Perseveres”. And I start to see that this is not so much the story of Jacob as it is that of God’s mercy and unrelenting love, carrying out all He has promised. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Rom.11:29  Jacob, now Israel, goes from this encounter, a reconciled man—finished with his struggles with God and with man. First chance he gets he buys up a parcel of land on which to pitch his tent and erect an altar.  And guess what he calls it?!  El-Elohe-Israel—God, the God of Israel.

His story gives me hope…for this God is my God.  This God is the One who holds me in the night of my fears for myself and my family.   When I struggle to work things out myself, He reminds me it’s His game plan that matters.  When I question ‘Why did you make me like this?!’ He reminds me that He is the Potter and that’s no way for clay to talk…When I see how weak I am, He reminds me this is the best place for His strength to be on display…

Ah, which reminds me.  There was another conversation God had with Jacob.  The night of wrestling was past.  The reunion with Esau had gone splendidly.  And God told Jacob to build an altar at Bethel. There God answered the question Jacob had asked of Him on the dark night of their wrestling: “Please, tell me your name.” Gen 32:29

God answered, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name…And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply…” Gen.35:10,11 The introductions were over. God Almighty is now the God of Jacob and Jacob will in turn  invoke this name to bless his own sons and their sons (43:14) just as his own father had done for him.

The story of Jacob at this point gets all but buried in the narrative of Joseph’s life. Jacob grieves the loss of his favored son Joseph until he is surprised beyond belief at the announcement that Joseph is alive and ruling in Egypt—a literal God-send for his family’s preservation. Life in God Almighty’s care goes beyond anything he could have schemed or dreamed up for himself. And so he grows old in the land of Egypt. But do you know what he is commended for in the great Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11)? It is not for his ‘power with God’ in that long ago wrestling match. It is not for his big family. He is commended for the faith expressed in his dying breath as he blessed the sons of Joseph bowing in worship on his staff. (Heb.11:21)

This was his blessing:

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” Gen.48:15,16

How was this an expression of faith? Here are these two Jewish/Egyptian lads, Manasseh and Ephraim,  being reared in a pagan culture, but Jacob is confident that God Almighty is well able to take them and weave them into a great nation as He has promised. Jacob has traded in his wrestling for worship, his self-confidence for faith. And so he is commended for his faith not in wresting a blessing for himself, but in passing it on…

I’ve been magnetized to Jacob’s story for two weeks now, perhaps because I see my own propensity to struggle with God to bless me and mine, as if He were not faithful, as if all depended on my faithfulness…As if the struggle were requisite to the blessing.

One morning early last week I was bemoaning my perceived woes, filling my ‘quiet time’ with rankling memos in my journal of all that is not right in my little world…It was time to put on the teapot and fix breakfast and still I could not see God’s truth through my self-absorbed fog. At that moment I was reminded of these words from Isaiah: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” And a little farther along in the same passage, “The Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Is.30:15,18) Old familiar verses freshly applied to my heart.  They are the story of Jacob’s life and the requirement for my own.  It is not in the struggle that I prevail but in repentant rest and quiet trust. And when I cannot see the blessing that is promised, it is the waiting that will be blessed.


“So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” Hos.12:6

“We do not present our pleas because of our righteousness but because of your great mercy.”  Dan.9:18

“O Lord, be gracious to us;
we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning,
Our salvation in the time of trouble.”


–I know this has been long but there are two songs that beg to keep company with Jacob’s (and my) story.  Take a few minutes to bless the God of Jacob as you listen:

In Christ Alone [Click title to listen]

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease

My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

Songwriters: Julian Keith Getty, Stuart Richard Townend


I am not skilled to understand
What God has willed, what God has planned
I only know at his right hand
Stands one who is my Savior

I take him at his word and deed
Christ died to save me this I read
And in my heart I find a need
For him to be my Savior

That he would leave his place on high
And come for sinful man to die
You count it strange, so once did I
Before I knew my Savior

My Savior loves, my Savior lives
My Savior’s always there for me
My God he was, my God he is
My God he’s always gonna be

Yes, living, dying; let me bring
My strength, my solace from this spring
That he who lives to be my King
Once died to be my Savior.
–Aaron Shust’s adaptation of the original by:
Dor­o­thy Green­well, Songs of Sal­va­tion, 1873

Originally posted Feb.10, 2012 as Wrestling with God