Rahab’s Faith

Hebrews 11:31 “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”

In Washington, D.C., there are many monuments and statues raised glorifying the valiant men of our past: our presidents, generals, and statesmen.

In Hebrews 11, the apostle Paul raised a magnificent monument on which he recites the victories of faith. In Enoch, faith triumphed over death. In Abraham, we see faith triumphant over the infirmity of old age, when Isaac is born. How much greater a monument this chapter raises to faith than all the monuments raised to glorify the exploits of man.

The list in Hebrews includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and others.

And then we read, “By faith Rahab perished not.” She was saved from the destruction meted out in wrath against Jericho.

We should take note that her faith was a singular faith. She alone, of all the inhabitants of Jericho, believed. She alone repented of her sin and asked for mercy. And consequently, she alone with her family was saved. She stood all alone. She was the solitary champion of a righteous cause. She was a lonely follower of a despised truth, a friend of a hated race. She has a singular faith in that she had one goal–to be a part of the people of God. I have an idea that she recognized the spies and knew the danger they were in, so she called them into her house, not to entice them, but to save them. She was found faithful among the faithless.

In the second place, I like to point out that her faith was a saving faith. It was, of course, a saving faith in the temporal sense. She and her family were saved from the destruction of Jericho. She alone remained alive. But it was far more than that. Her faith brought with it the salvation of her soul from hell. It rescued her from divine wrath. She who would be accounted by many to be chief among sinners was as welcomed into Christ’s bosom as the best of saints. The wonder of divine grace was wondrously worked out in the faith of Rahab.

In the third place, Rahab’s faith was firm and enduring. The Canaanites were afraid, that’s for certain, but not without hope. There was the flooded Jordan River to cross, and the high and strong walls of Jericho to breach, and the innumerable Canaanites to be subdued. Maybe, just maybe, their cause was not lost. No matter, Rahab’s faith subdued those obstacles. Her God, the God of Israel, could and would give the city to Israel and deliver her from her sins. She was sure. Her convictions were firm and enduring. Once that faith took hold of her, nothing could sway her.

Finally, Rahab’s faith was a sanctifying faith. Rahab’s career as a harlot ended. Probably, it had ended already before the spies went to her house. But surely it ended once she became a member of the nation of Israel and married Salmon, a prince of the tribe of Judah. She became a woman noted for her piety and faith. She walked in the fear of the Lord. Her faith was real and true. It no doubt made her say, “The Lord has forgiven me for all my great sins. I will sin no more.” To believe is to strive to be holy.

Because of her faith, unknown to her, she became an ancestor of Christ. Her own son would die for her sins and take them all away. That son would also come to take away our sins.

John Kalsbeek

Joshua

Joshua 24:14-19 “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.  And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; For the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:  And the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God.  And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.”

Joshua was another of many Old Testament types of Christ.  His name is the Old Testament name of Jesus.

Before Moses died, he was appointed to be Moses’ successor.  He was given two important tasks to do: lead Israel into the promised land and destroy the Canaanite inhabitants; and divide the inheritance of the land among the tribes.

In Joshua 11:12 we read that Joshua “made war a long time with all those kings.”  The conquest of Canaan was not a matter of days or weeks or months, but rather years.  It took a long time to complete this part of his mission.  When this task was finished Joshua directed the distribution of the inheritance to the various tribes.  This was done by divine direction using the means of the lot.

The land now enjoys rest.  The Canaanites are subdued, the people of Israel are settled on their inheritance, and Joshua is now old and stricken in years.

Joshua realizes that his days are numbered and he is determined to speak to Israel before he is taken away.

He called for the elders, the judges, the officers of Israel in order to give them a message that they should pass on to each of their tribes.

He reminds Israel of the lovingkindness and goodness of their God.  He rehearses in their hearing all of the wonders God has done for them.  He tells them that God has given them this good land as He had all along promised.

And now, amazingly, he tells them they have to make a choice.  ”Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.”  Does Joshua know what he is telling the people to do?  It seems preposterous–the height of foolishness.  Choose between God and the heathen gods of the Canaanites.  Elijah, years later, sends forth the same choice.  Serve God or Baal–don’t try to serve both.

Joshua tells the elders and Israel to make up their mind.  If you think it is evil to serve the Lord, serve the idol gods of the heathen.  Choose one or the other.  Don’t try to serve both.

Joshua’s discourse is about religion.  According to the dictionary, religion is “the service and adoration of God or a god as expressed in forms of worship.”

True religion is defined in Deut. 10:12, “And now Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”  Thus, true religion is to serve the Lord.

Such religion is entirely a matter of freedom.  It is not coercive or compulsory.  True religion is spontaneous, not forced.  Those who serve the Lord, do so willingly and eagerly and zealously.

This is the kind of worship that is pleasing to God.  This is the kind of worship God desires from Israel.  This is the lesson Joshua is trying to get across to them.  Choose one or the other.  Don’t try to corrupt the true worship of Jehovah by also serving idol gods on the side.

We, too, are faced with the same choice.  We, too, as Israel of old know what the proper choice ought to be.  With them we say, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.”

And yet so often we foolishly forsake the way of true religion.  Instead of serving God wholeheartedly we make allowances in our lives to serve the god of materialism.  We prostrate ourselves to the gods of this world, and are unmindful of the God who has created us.

What an impossible choice.  How evident that He, God, had to do more than just make salvation possible.  That would not have been enough.  He has to do more.  He chose us, He saved us.  He is the author of our choice, just as He was the author of Joshua’s choice.

The child of God’s choice is God’s choice.  And in that choice His people declare a loathing for darkness, for sin, and for the world, and a love for God and His kingdom.

God befriends us and creates in us the desire to worship Him in sincerity and in truth.

John Kalsbeek

Church History Video Clip

To view a sample Church History lecture, click here.

Jethro

Exodus 18:1, 5, 7, 17-19, 24 “When Jethro the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt… Then Jethro came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, when he encamped at the mount of God…And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent…And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.  Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee: thou are not able to perform it thyself alone.  Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God…So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.”

According to Edersheim, the man Jethro “may be regarded as a kind of firstfruits unto God from among the Gentiles, and his homage as an anticipating fulfillment of the promise; ‘And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ Isaiah 2:3.”

Jethro, the Midianite was a descendant of Abraham’s son Midian, who was born of Keturah.  He was not in the line of the covenant but rather a Gentile descendant of God’s friend.  But a child of God nonetheless.  Abraham’s short influence on the sons of Keturah (probably no more than 30 years) bears fruit in the life of Jethro some 500-600 years later.

Who can possibly know the ways of the Lord?  We can only guess at the process.  From generation to generation in the family of one of the sons of Midian, God’s name was glorified and reverenced.  Jethro, a name which means “excellency,” is also, according to Exodus 2:18, called Reuel, which means “Friend of God.”  So even in his very name we see the evidence of faith that must have dominated the life of his parents.

We also read that he was a priest of Midian.  Ophoff suggests that his priesthood was more on the order of that of Melchizedek.  The very fact that in Ex. 18:12, Jethro offers the “burnt offerings and sacrifices for God” and not Aaron, suggests the possibility that his priestly office was recognized by Moses and Aaron and the elders of Israel to be higher than that of Aaron.  His was of superior excellence.

As a priest, he too offered typical sacrifices and he seems to do this spontaneously.  He no doubt understood that the typical sacrifice was an instrument of praise to God.  He was also aware of the need for atonement and the symbolism of a blood sacrifice as a covering for sin.

He was the father-in-law of Moses.  When Moses fled from the wrath of Pharaoh, God led him to the house of Jethro.  For 40 years Moses enjoyed his fellowship and companionship.  He married one of Jethro’s daughters and became part of the intimate family circle.  A mutual respect grew up between them.  It was a relationship of love and friendship.  It was on the basis of this friendship that Jethro could give sage advice to Moses.  On the other hand, it was the basis for Moses’ willingness to not only listen courteously to this advice, but also to accept it and put it into practice.  Jethro was indeed a firstfruit, not of the heathen, but of the Gentiles.  God used him so that His people Israel could receive good.

Moses was, as you know, overextending himself.  He was attempting to carry the entire load of Israel’s problems all by himself.  Jethro saw this immediately.  And so he advised Moses to elicit the help of other wise men in Israel to be judges to handle the many smaller problems that always arise within a society or culture of people.

It’s important to note also that Jethro came to Moses and to Israel, to the mountain of Jehovah, and to house of the God of Jacob.  He came and was taught the ways of the Lord with His people Israel.  And he was a willing and appreciative listener.  His immediate response to this instruction was that he rejoiced for all the goodness which God had done to Israel.  He is unable to contain himself.  He blesses the name of the Lord.

In Genesis 12:3 God promised Abraham that he would “bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.”  That promise is fulfilled in Jethro.

Jethro in his generations experiences God’s blessing and favor.  His descendants were the Kenites who continued to be the friends of Israel and Israel’s God.  Jael, the wife of Heber, killed Sisera the captain of the Canaanites–she was a Kenite.  During the reign of Saul, the Kenites are warned about the destruction of the Amalekites and willingly move from among them.  Jehonadab, the son of Rechab, the godly man Jehu invited into his chariot, was also a descendant.  Another reference is made to Jonadab in Jeremiah 35:5-10.  His family is commended for obeying the voice of their father.  Because of that obedience, God would protect them from the evil about to fall on the house of Judah.

God blesses those who bless the people of His covenant.  Though Jethro and his progeny were Gentiles, they experienced the wonderful blessings of Jehovah throughout the ages.  They were taught the truth about God and walked from generation to generation in His paths.

And so it is with us today.  God blesses our efforts as school teachers and as parents when we diligently instruct His covenant seed.  That’s a promise He has made.  He kept that promise with Jethro.  He will keep that promise even today with us.  Now we have the wonderful incentive diligently to continue carrying out our calling to God’s glory.

John Kalsbeek

Moses – The Choice of Faith

Hebrews 11:24-26 “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.”

Choosing rather to suffer.

What a choice!  Who is so foolish as to choose suffering?  Could it be possible?

Suffering.  Since the fall of man into sin, suffering has been the portion of the human race.  Daily, man lives in the awareness that death is a lurking enemy.  Sickness and disease frequently interrupt his long laid down plans.  Accidental injuries frequently maim and disfigure.  Psychological suffering can mean experiencing the scorn and ridicule of even friends.  Who can begin to measure the suffering each of us has had to bear in our own lifetime.  And how would one measure it–what standard would we use?

All of us know from experience what it means to suffer.  God’s heavy hand has had its humbling effect on each of us.

Suffering?  Yes, but surely not by choice.  We do all in our power to avoid suffering at all cost.  Not one of us enjoys being sick, and surely we would not choose to be sick or to face any other form of suffering.

Yet here we read of Moses “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God.”

Moses had to make a decision.  He had two choices.

As the son of Pharaoh’s daughter by adoption, the whole land of Egypt was his for the asking.  Its riches were at his disposal.  Thoroughly versed in the wisdom of Egypt, and mighty in words and in deeds, a high and honorable office in the government was no doubt a distinct possibility.  No one in all Egypt had a future as bright as Moses.

On the other hand, he could return to the people of his parents.  A people who were afflicted by cruel taskmasters and forced to work for the Egyptians.  They were slaves, and suffered the oppression of slavery.  They were a people who were not about to follow the lead of an Egyptian prince.  When they saw Moses, they were probably envious of him and certainly suspicious of him.  So much so, that when Moses takes their part, they reject him and turn against him.

That’s the choice.  The pleasures, the honor, the glory of Egypt or the reproach of a despised and cruelly treated nation of slaves.

Humanly speaking, the decision was a foregone conclusion.  No one in his right mind would reject the Egyptian connection.  And to even consider choosing the  Hebrew alternative surely bordered on insanity.

And yet, Moses does exactly this.  Moses’ choice is the choice of faith.  By faith he chose to suffer affliction with God’s people.  Faith makes such an unseemly choice possible.

The man of faith is indeed a very strange man.  He’s a man who is moved by God’s grace to make the proper choice.  It doesn’t make sense.  But when faith–which is a gift of God–is active, it doesn’t have to make sense.  This faith values the friendship of God above all else.  This faith will bring into subjection all of life to the service of Him who gives it.

The man of faith has a different value system.  At the top, and of greatest importance, appears the name of our God.  Second on the list is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Thirdly, we have our fellow saints in the world.  Here we have the Grand Triumvirate of the Covenant.  The man of faith counts it all joy to suffer for the sake of God, his son Jesus Christ, and fellow saints.

Moses saw with eyes of faith beyond the present reproach and affliction of Israel.  He was given eyes to see the glories of God’s kingdom–a kingdom far greater than that of Egypt.

The choice was the choice of faith.

Moses’ choice must be our choice today.  We live in a world of luxuries.  The danger is real.  We can so easily be distracted by our desires for these material goods that we make unwise choices.  But, like Moses, we must choose the despised way, the way of God’s kingdom.  Because, like Moses, we must see that the reproach we bear as followers of Christ is far greater than the treasures we can lay up for ourselves in (modern-day) Egypt.

John Kalsbeek

Joseph

The historical account given us of Joseph is filled with pathos.

He is led by God in the paths of righteousness, but those paths indeed included much sorrow and woe.  He is hated of his brothers and sold by them into slavery.  To be cast into slavery was a cruel blow, but the knowledge that his own brothers did must have been almost unbearable.

As a type of Christ he, like Christ, came unto his own, and his own received him not.  Rather, they sold him into a life of bondage.

He was unjustly condemned to life as a prisoner on the word of a jealous, vindictive, godless woman.  Things seemed to be improving.  But in the matter of a few hours, events go from bad to worse.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason for this turn of events.

As a type of Christ, he too, was, despised and rejected of men.  Joseph, too, was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.  Patiently he bore the trials and afflictions sent to him by a loving God.

Through it all, the dreams of his youth must have been called back to his memory and been a sense of comfort to him.  God was working out His purpose, and that purpose was the good of Joseph, the good of his brothers, the good of his father, and the good of God’s covenant.

Joseph didn’t understand but he did trust that God was for him, and not against him.  God in the deep way of trouble is preparing Joseph for the important work of ruling over the mighty country of Egypt and of bringing about the confession of sin and repentance of his brothers.

As Christ was first among his brethren and was the way of salvation for his people, so Joseph was first among the sons of Jacob and led them out of the deep morass of sin into which they had fallen.

As Christ loved his own even unto death, even so Joseph the type loved his brethren and sought their spiritual welfare.

Joseph’s seemingly cruel treatment of his brothers was rather an act of tenderest love.  Vindictive?  A seeker of vengeance?  Then why did he flee from their presence to weep and cry for them?  A cruel monster determined to get revenge?  Then why did his bowels yearn for them?  Instead, Joseph is an instrument used by God to bring his brothers to the knowledge and confession of their sin.  For seventeen years their lives must have been conscience-stricken.  God gave them no peace.  Just the mention of Egypt causes them to look at one another in such a way that Jacob wonders what is going on.  When Joseph talks roughly to them they all think back to that terrible sin they committed years before.  God has given them no peace.  And now Joseph their brother is about to take that heavy burden from off them.

It was love that moved Joseph.  It was love that made him turn from them and weep.  It was love that put their money back in their sacks.  It was love, not revenge that governed all of Joseph’s actions toward his brothers.

Rough sandpaper makes a smooth surface.  When God uses rough sandpaper on us, we must not pray that he will change it for smooth silk and soft satin.

When we are led in ways of hardship and trial, God is using His sandpaper to smooth out our lives.  God has His purpose in each of our lives.  When He leads us into difficulties, pray that we may patiently endure and also grow spiritually in truth and righteousness.

The paths of righteousness also include hardships, sorrows, affliction, rejection, and bitter depression, besides the joy and happiness, peace and comfort also given to God’s people.

Let us remember that both the good and the (seemingly) bad work for our salvation.

John Kalsbeek

The Ten Brothers of Joseph

Genesis 37:18-20, 23-27 “And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.  And they said one to another, Behold this dreamer cometh.  Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams….And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors that was on him; And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.  And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.  And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?  Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh.  And his brethren were content.”

Proverbs 11:17 “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”

Sometimes acts of cruelty are carried out by one person against another, but usually it’s an act of a group over against a single, defenseless person.  Such was the case in a particular instance during my teaching career.  On the school bus, four students passed notes  to a fifth student, calling her names.  From what I was able to determine, she had done nothing deserving of this treatment.  And even if she had, cruelty is never permissible or acceptable.

According to the Websters New Collegiate Dictionary, the word “cruel” means “Disposed to give pain to others; inhuman; merciless.”

Sometimes, to give pain and suffering results in good.  A doctor may, in an operation, cause his patient much suffering, but the end result is for the well-being of the patient.  Such treatment, though in a sense merciless, is not cruel.  Sometimes a parent may have to wield the rod of discipline to cause physical pain to his child.  But again, the motive is to purify the child and cast out the evil.  In such cases, the pain and suffering is a result of the love of the parent for the child.

Acts of cruelty, however, are never motivated by love, but always arise out of anger, wrath, hatred, envy, and jealousy.

Such was the case with Joseph’s ten older brothers.  Because their father was determined to give Joseph the birthright and plainly favored him over and above themselves, they were envious and jealous.  And because Joseph revealed himself to be more spiritually-minded than themselves, they hated him and could not speak a civil word to him.  The sons of Leah despised him because his father preferred him above their brother Reuben, who they though should receive the birthright and blessing.  The sons of Bilhah and Zilpah hated him because Joseph told his father about the evil things they did. (see verse 2 of Genesis 37)  And finally, all of them were jealous because he had received dreams and they had not (verse 11).

The results were an urge to hurt their brother and to kill him.  And now the opportunity came for them to vent their wrath and anger.  Joseph, the object of their hatred, was coming, blissfully unaware of their intentions.  Some were of a mind to slay him, but cooler heads suggested instead that they cast him into a pit.  Later, he was sold as a slave to a passing band of Ishmaelites.  Now to cover their cruel actions, they lied to Jacob their father and deceived him so that he though Joseph was killed by a wild beast.

Cruelty is a weapon often used by the wicked, but it is also sometimes used by God’s people.  Because of the depravity of their natures, they, too, use cruel devices out of hatred for others.

We often say that “children can be so cruel.”  And there is a lot of truth in that statement.  But grown-ups, too, are often cruel–and they should know better.

I believe almost every sin against someone else is an act of cruelty.  Every time we gossip and backbite, we are being cruel to an unknowing victim.  Every time we lie to protect our own interests and someone else receives the blame, we are being cruel.  It’s not just that torturing, or persecuting, or killing someone is cruel.  Cruelty is also found and seen in name calling, ostracizing others, and evil words.

We and our children need to be constantly and repeatedly warned against being cruel to each other.

The Bible tells us that “he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.” (Prov. 11:17)  Such was the case with Joseph’s ten brothers.  For some ten to fifteen years, they were troubled with the consequences of their cruelty.  Day after day, year after year, they observed the deep sorrow of their father, Jacob.  Their consciences were repeatedly pushed to the quick.  Finally, after unknowingly meeting Joseph, the ruler of Egypt, and experiencing his apparent wrath and cruelty, they openly admit to each other, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother” (Gen. 42:21).

And so it is to all who use the weapon of cruelty.  God troubles them.  They lose their sleep at night.  They are restless and discontent.  God no longer favors them with the blessings of peace.

John Kalsbeek

Jacob – Wrestling With God

Genesis 32: 9-12 and 24-30: “And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred; and I will deal well with thee:  I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.  Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.  And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude. … And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.  And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.  And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh.  And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.  And he said unto him, What is thy name?  And he said, Jacob.  And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men and hast prevailed.  And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?  And he blessed him there.  And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have see God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

God in scripture has told us a great deal about the life of His servant Jacob.  There are many incidents in the life of Jacob that we could profitably consider for devotional purposes.  It would no doubt be possible to prepare a whole series of devotions pertaining to the life of Jacob.

Though such a series is possible and would no doubt be profitable, I’d like to direct your attention to but one incident in Jacob’s long and illustrious life.  That is that period in his life when he wrestles with God on the banks of the brook Jabbok.

Three words stand out and strike our attention: alone, wrestling, and blessing.

Jacob is alone.  His wife, children, servants, flocks, and herds have passed over the stream.  Jacob is alone with his fears of his brother Esau who is coming to meet him with 400 armed men.

Earlier, he had unburdened himself in prayer and begged God to deliver him.  But he didn’t have much confidence that God had heard him, and if He did, that He would deliver him.  For Jacob had decided to try to appease Esau with presents and to divide his family into segments in case there was a need to escape.

Alone at night–in the darkness–a time of meditation, devotion, self-examination.

Sleep, the blessed sleep of the righteous, has fled from him.  A guilt-ridden conscience, agonized groans and sighs, hot tears of anguish are Jacob’s portion on this fear-filled night.

Alone, but not alone.  Someone else is there.  Someone whose presence provides a foretaste of heaven.  Someone who can be trusted.  Someone who cares.  Someone able to deliver.  Someone able to bless.

Jacob had prayed the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous man and now that prayer was to be answered with a wrestling match.

Jacob’s mind is in a turmoil.  His past behavior, his past deeds and actions are paraded before his seared conscience.  The wrestling is both physical and spiritual.

God wrestles with Jacob to teach what a poor, worthless, despicable creature he’s been throughout his whole life.  He had always relied on his own cunning and craftiness, on his own strength.  He buys a birthright that was already his for the price of a bowl of soup.  He takes advantage of an aged, blind father and through deceit gains the blessing that God had promised him before he was even born.

The wrestling continues through the night.  Neither gains the upper hand.  But then as streaks of light on the eastern horizon announce the new day, Jacob’s strength is taken away.  A touch by the stranger makes him a cripple for life.  It was a touch that also affected Jacob’s heart.  Jacob is changed.  Jacob is brought to his knees and now instead of fighting, he wraps his arms around his adversary in a death-lock grip, and refuses to let go.  In that moment, he realizes who he is fighting.  He becomes aware that his prayer is answered.  He need not be afraid–God will deliver him from Esau.  Clinging to God, he asks for and receives a blessing.

All of God’s people, ourselves included, are wrestlers like Jacob.  God exercises us with various kinds of conflicts and difficulties.  He forces us again and again to consider carefully our life and walk so that we see how worthless we are.  By nature we wrestle against God every day when we sin against Him and violate His just and righteous laws.  By nature we set up our own earthly goals.  We have our own materialistic aspirations.  Often times these are contrary to our calling to live a life of sanctification.

We too need the touch of God that opens our eyes to see things in the spiritual light of His Word.  Through His work in our lives we, too, are changed. Instead of contending against God, we now contend with Him and for Him.

John Kalsbeek

Rebekah

What a remarkable woman Rebekah was.  Certainly she was a prime example of the virtuous woman held up for our reverent gaze by Lemuel in Proverbs 31.

She was industrious–going for water herself instead of sending a servant.  She was polite–addressing Abraham’s servant, a complete stranger, as “lord.”  She was gracious, quickly giving him the drink he asked for.  She was self-sacrificing, drawing large amounts of water to quench the thirst of his ten camels.  (How much could ten thirsty camels drink?  Twenty-five gallons each?)

She was lively–running to do the work and not at all dragging her feet.

If the daughters of Zion today need an example to guide them – and they do – Rebekah should be at the top of the list.

And her mother and her brother asked her, “Wilt thou go with this man?”  And Rebekah answered and said, “I will go.”

What a world of meaning is contained in these three little words.  Does Rebekah really know what she is saying?

“I will go” means that she will go to a strange land a great distance away with strangers–a man and his servants she has known for less than one day–to marry a man who is a stranger to her.

“I will go” means that she will leave behind her father and her mother and her siblings and her friends.  She can never expect to see them again.  She will leave behind any plans or aspirations she may have had.

At a moment’s notice, her “I will go” will bring unknown and drastic changes to her life.

She will go and learn to love a man she has never seen or met.

Her “I will go” includes future implications.  She is willing to become a mother of the covenant.  Her “I will go” means that the promised seed will be born.

How is it possible for such a young maiden to give such an answer?  Does she really know what she says?

I think the answer is “no,” she really didn’t understand all the implications of her response.

But that really didn’t matter to her.  She had heard the Lord speak to her through the lips of Eliezer.  She had listened attentively to his amazing message and heard God’s call to her.  Years earlier her Uncle Abraham had heard a similar call and had obediently left all behind.  Now the call had come to her.  She could in no way disregard that call.  It was plain–she had to go to Canaan.  With implicit faith in God that He knows what’s best for her, she will go.  Her “I will go” is the speech of obedience to God’s will for her.

When I considered the complete submission of Rebekah to the Lord’s will, I could not help myself from thinking about another mother in Israel, Mary, the mother of our Lord.  After Gabriel gave her the message that she should “conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus” she responded “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  Oh, the blessedness of their “I will go’s.”

The Old Testament is the time of types and shadows.  I don’t recall anywhere in the Old Testament where a woman is a type of Christ; but Rebekah’s “I will go” certainly prefigures in a sense the response of Christ himself–her descendant–to His calling.  Christ said “I will go.”  I will go the way of the cross and bear the hellish torment meant for my people.  I will go my Father’s will to do.  I will die the accursed death of the cross in order to redeem those given me by the Father.

And what about us?  How often is our response, “I will go” or “I will do” thy will, O Lord?  Are we ready to give up everything for the sake of Christ?  Are we really so eager to see Christ come again on the clouds to call us to Himself?  As teachers, are we ready to be servants of God and to serve Him by serving His covenant seed and each other?  Or are our goals selfish goals to serve selfish ends?  Selfishness on the part of Rebekah, Mary, and Christ would have disqualified them.

By grace, we too, when He calls us, say “I will go.”  And we go because He irresistibly draws us with cords of tender love.

John Kalsbeek

Isaac: An Example of Passive Restraint

Gen. 26:17-31 “And Isaac departed thence, and pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.  And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.  And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.  And the herdmen of Gerar did strive with Isaac’s herdmen, saying, The water is our’s: and he called the name of the well Esek; because they strove with him.  And they digged another well, and strove for that also: and he called the name of it Sitnah.  And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.  And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba.  And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with they, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.  And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.  Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phichol the chief captain of his army.  And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?  And they said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee: and we said, Let there be now an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee; That thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace: thou art now the blessed of the Lord.  And he made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.  And they arose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.”

What do we learn about Isaac’s character as it is revealed to us in his relationship with Abimelech and the Philistines?

Is he a weak personality or a strong one?

From a human point of view one might be inclined to think that he was not a spiritually strong person.  He does not seem to stand firm in the faith.  He utters not one word of protest when Abimelech violates the covenant he (or probably his father) made with Abraham in Genesis 21:30-32.  Isaac appears to be submissive–not one to always demand his rights; willing to yield ground before the injustice of the wicked.

And yet, could not these apparent weaknesses be just the opposite?

His patient suffering at the hands of the Philistines makes Isaac a type of Christ who was “reviled and reviled not again.”  He, like Christ, but in a little different way, was led as a lamb to the slaughter and opened not his mouth.  He was oppressed and he was afflicted and uttered not a word of protest.

Not once in all of his troubles with Abimelech did Isaac meet violence with violence.  The naming of the two wells later stopped up by the Philistines shows us that he was not insensible to the wrongdoing.  The name of the first, “Esek,” means “to strive.”  The name of hte second, “Sitrah,” means “adversary.”

Instead of striking out in holy anger, he takes his injury patiently and leaves the scene of strife.

He could have demanded his rights and no doubt backed it up with force since even Abimelech is forced to acknowledge that “thou art mightier than we.” (vs. 16)  But, no, Isaac backs away.  He will not engage with the wicked in warfare for the possession of the earth.

He allows himself to be despitefully used and in the end receives vindication and God’s blessing.

Later Abimelech and a couple of his mighty men surprise Isaac with a visit.  They make no apologies for past behavior.  Rather, they cover up and try to claim kindness in their past dealings with Isaac.  They come to Isaac to make a covenant with him.  They desire peace with the man who has always shown himself peaceful.

Isaac is a person of remarkable gentleness, a most lovable and patient saint.  He is of the meek who inherit the earth.  His forbearance and restraint are, humanly speaking, unnatural.

This outward apparent weakness in Isaac is really the strength to endure patiently the bitter experiences that come ultimately from the hand of a loving God and Father.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I find little of Isaac’s character in myself.  How quickly I can take offense.  How readily I defend my own honor.

And when I look upon my students how few of them are Isaacs.  How few of them can patiently endure the reproach of others.  How many of them will back off and retreat from strife rather than lash out with worlds or knuckle sandwiches?

This is an aspect of Isaac’s character often ignored and unstressed.  We dwell on his sins and conveniently pass over his patience and meekness, his forbearance and his restraint.

Here is an Isaac we ought to pay attention to.  Here is an Isaac that all too often puts us to shame.  Here is an Isaac worthy to be our example.

John Kalsbeek

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