Life Of The Spirit -- Life Of The Flesh - Part 1
This Psalm is the fifth and last in the second series of the 15 Songs of Degrees.
This concludes what the psalmist has been experiencing in the four preceding songs.
He is anticipating with increased faith that which is to come.
His first expression is that of a painful reminiscence:
"Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say..."
We do not know the author of this psalm.
We do not know the occasion for its composition.
It would be appropriate if David is the composer.
David had multiplied experiences of afflictions, and he could speak for all Israel.
The author is speaking for Israel; he is not merely speaking for himself.
The writer puts his words in the manner that the nation would express itself:
"May Israel now say."
This Israel may be a person -- Israel a man -- or it may be a nation the people of God.
Therefore it may be applied to Israel personally or it may be applied in a corporate sense.
We are acquainted with the history of Israel as a person.
We know that from his youth up he passed through conflicts and every kind of affliction.
This Israel was formally Jacob.
Jacob was transformed into Israel after a long history of God's dealing with him.
He was born as Jacob, a supplanter one who seemed to know how to grasp
every opportunity and turn it to his advantage.
Jacob had a real desire for good things.
He had a desire for spiritual things.
We know this because he sought to have the birthright, which represented something spiritual.
The problem with Jacob was that he always tried to obtain good things in his own way,
by his own clever method, and by using his own strength.
As a consequence, he got himself into all kinds of affliction.
Jacob was a man of afflictions.
It was though he was a man born out of time.
From his birth there was an inner aspiration for the rights of the firstborn.
Jacob was born second to his brother Esau.
He should have been born first because he had this consuming desire
to possess the birthright for himself.
Jacob was determined to get the birthright.
One day he was cooking a lintil soup, which he had made for himself.
It was something that would satisfy him.
He was willing to give the soup to Esau in exchange for the birthright.
I believe that Jacob would have sacrificed anything if he could lay his hands on the birthright.
Also, he cleverly deceived his father to receive the blessing which belonged to the firstborn.
He would stop at nothing to obtain the firstborn's blessing.
Jacob sought the right things but always in the wrong way.
Because Jacob cheated his brother and his father, he had to flee for his life.
He went to Padan-Aram and lived there for 20 years.
Jacob seemed to be prosperous there, but Laban, his father-in-law, cheated him,
just as he had cheated his father and brother before.
Laban changed his wages 10 times.
He suffered hardship and numerous afflictions.
His domestic troubles were continuous, and he had all kind of difficulties.
Jacob was a man who wrestled to the very end with anyone who might get in his way.
He wrestled with his brother, and he wrestled with his father.
He also wrestled with his father-in-law.
He was a wrestler!
Yet, it seemed that he always came out on top.
He did secure a family and many cheap goats and properties.
- He prevailed over his brother in securing the birthright.
- He prevailed over his father in securing the blessing.
- He seemed to be able to prevail over his equally as clever father-in-law.
Jacob appeared to prevail and emerge as the winner in all situations.
But did he really?
Consider how much Jacob suffered!
He was the supplanter.
He knew how to take advantage of every circumstance and to turn it to his good,
and in doing these things found himself often in trouble.
If the Lord had not intervened, he would have lost everything.
- He obtained the birthright, but he was compelled to flee for his life.
- He received the blessing, but he had to leave his home and hide as a fugitive in the wilderness.
- He acquired his family and his flocks and herds, but in doing so he experienced
every sort of domestic trouble and hardship that you can imagine.
He confessed this as you can read in Genesis 31: 42.
Ironically, he ultimately had to share the fruit of the labor of his hands
with his father-in-law and even with his brother Esau who had not even worked for it.
He was a wrestler.
He would wrestle with anybody and everybody.
He seemed to come out on top every time.
When you look closer though, he really didn't!
He was a wrestler who seemed to prevail.
- If the Lord had not been with him, he would have lost everything.
- If the Lord had not protected him, his brother would have killed him.
- If the Lord had not intervened, Laban would have taken everything away from him.
Yet, when he was wrestling with man, he was in reality wrestling with God.
Look at what occurred at Peniel.
The experience of Peniel stands as the culmination of every past experience
that Jacob had experienced since his youth.
It was not something new.
During all these years, this kind of encounter had been going on.
Yet, Peniel serves to reveal what had been taking place throughout those years.
His entire past was consummated at the fork of the Jabbok River.
Jacob comes to the river with his huge family and with all the possessions he has acquired.
He has just been delivered from the hands of his father-in-law, and now he has to face
his brother Esau.
Esau is approaching with 400 men.
What a situation!
Jacob thinks, he plots, he arranges, he maneuvers; he employs every means and method
that he can devise.
Finally, Jacob settled upon a plan to divide his family.
He sends his people over the river, but he does not cross over it.
He has figured out everything, but he is not certain of anything.
Everyone has crossed the stream and only Jacob remains.
Can you not see how this perfectly betrays his inner situation?
He is surrounded by an extremely large family, and yet he is a person very much alone.
In this plight he is reduced to isolation, because all his people and all his wealth
have preceded him across the river.
Somehow he is not able to plunge forward.
He hesitates. He lingers alone.
Jacob is not by himself for long.
Soon a Man, an angel of the Lord, appears and wrestles with him throughout the night.
It is strange that the angel is unable to throw Jacob to the ground.
That angel had the power to prevail but did not use that power.
He held the power back until daybreak, and then he touched the sinew of Jacob's thigh.
At that moment Jacob is crippled for life.
He is crippled, but he continues to cling to that angel of the Lord, and cries out:
"Bless me! Unless you bless me I will not let you go!"
The angel of the Lord seemed to have prevailed over Jacob, and yet, when you read
the Scripture carefully, you read: "The angel of the Lord said to Jacob,
'Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have stricken (or wrestled) with God
and with men, and have prevailed.'"
(Genesis 32: 28)
This was Jacob's experience at Peniel.
Jacob wrestled with man and always seemed to prevail.
Jacob wrestled with God and God prevailed.
However, the Scripture says of this encounter that once again Jacob had prevailed!
Here's the mystery of God's dealing with man.
When Jacob had wrestled with different people, it actually had been God who had wrestled with him.
Jacob was strong and he was clever.
He always stood firm, no matter what.
He would not budge an inch.
So, he appeared to prevail against every man; yet the fact is, Jacob suffered terribly
because of his apparent prevailing.
It was by means of this very suffering that God had been wrestling with him.
God wrestled with Jacob until He was compelled to crush the sinew of his thigh and to
cripple him for life.
In wrestling, the most important part of your body is your thigh.
That is the strongest, most strategic area for wrestling.
If you can stand firm on your feet, you will be able to continue to fight.
At Peniel we see that Jacob, after enduring long years of affliction and suffering, caves in.
He finally gives ground.
As he gives in, God declares:
"You have prevailed today.
You had not prevailed before, in neither wrestling with man or with God.
You may have thought you had prevailed, but in reality you suffered defeat.
But today, when you were defeated, you have prevailed."
Do you now understand the mystery of God's dealings?
Jacob's prevailing lay in his defeat.
The times that he thought he had succeeded, he had actually been defeated.
He had to run for his life.
He got himself into trouble.
He fell into every kind of affliction.
When he finally acknowledged that he was defeated, he clung to God and said,
"Without your blessing, Lord, I cannot go on any more."
God replied, "You have prevailed, not only over man, but also with God.
And because of this, your name shall henceforth be Israel, a prince of God."
"May Israel now say: many a time have they afflicted me from my youth:
yet they have not prevailed against me." (Verse 2)
This was so true in the case of Jacob!
From his youth he was afflicted many times, but even so, "they have not prevailed against" him.
Why did they not prevail against Jacob through all the afflictions, individual situations, and events?
Why did they not crush him beyond restoration?
It was certainly not because of his cleverness, his cunning, or his strength.
He had all those things.
These qualities would appear to account for all his apparent success.
And yet, these talents and abilities only served to involve him in more trouble and suffering.
So, we must probe deeper.
When we do, we will realize that if the Lord had not been with Jacob, his seeming victories
would have ended as defeats.
Jacob gained the birthright by taking advantage of his brother's weakness.
He obtained the blessing of the firstborn by cheating his father.
If the Lord had not helped him, he would have been killed by his brother.
Jacob lost everything when he left home, but the Lord stood by him and promised him great things.
Though Jacob possessed wives, sons and daughters, flocks and herds and properties,
if the Lord had not intervened, he would have lost everything once more.
In other words, the circumstances could afflict Jacob but could never prevail against him.
They could never overwhelm him beyond restoration, because the Lord had been with him
and had interposed on his behalf.
God had been using these many afflictions to transform a Jacob into an Israel.
That constitutes real prevailing, and that becomes a genuine victory.
In a sense, this holds true for every one of us.
We have within our hearts a desire, a longing, an aspiration after spiritual things.
God has put those desires in us.
If we do not have a desire within ourselves for God and for spiritual things,
then there is a possibility that we have not been saved.
If we are saved by the grace of God, then that life which is within us carries with it a desire
and longing for spiritual things and for God.
It is sad to see so many of God's people with little or no desire for Him or for spiritual things.
I do not believe that this was true in the very beginning of our Christian life.
Most likely when we became Christians, there was such a desire and longing within us for God,
but sad to say, we, too often, lose that desire.
That kind of desire must be in each of our hearts.
- Every child of God is born again with a desire like Jacob had.
- Every child of God has a desire for the birthright and a yearning for the blessings of God.
- Every child of God has a desire for spiritual things and an aspiration to be more like Christ.
You should have a strong desire.
Do we have such a longing within us?
To be like Jesus?
To love God more?
This should be the inner condition of each one of us when we are born anew.
If the desire is there, and the desire is right, it is proper for us to seek the birthright and blessing.
The question is are we, like Jacob, attempting to fulfill this desire of ours
in the wisdom and energy of our flesh?
Do you long after God?
Why do you desire Him?
Are you growing spiritually?
Why do you want to be spiritual?
End Of Part 1
Sermon By Dr. Harold L.White