Misplaced Dependence

Originally posted at Women of Purpose, November 9, 2019.

This week as we cover Hosea 11:12-12:14 we find a fascinating parallel. According to Hosea, the life of the nation of Israel follows the pattern of the life of their patriarch, Jacob. Because these parallels from Jacob’s life show up in our passage, we spent quite a bit of time looking at Jacob’s life in Genesis, and then after Hosea mentions Moses we turned to Deuteronomy.

For this week’s blog post I’m going to let Scripture and Tim Chester’s commentary on this passage of Hosea do most of the talking.

In the womb [Jacob] took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
the Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.” — Hosea 12:3-6

Verses 3-6 begin with Jacob’s birth, but then jump straight to an episode later in his life, after he has lied and schemed himself into fleeing for his life—twice—and is now fleeing his angry father-in-law whilst running straight back towards the brother who, last time he saw him, vowed to kill him. Jacob has nowhere else to turn. So when the Angel of the Lord shows up he wrestles with him all night long. “Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Gen. 32:26, emphasis mine). Hosea elaborates that Jacob was seeking God’s favor—seeking God’s grace (12:4).

Tim Chester’s questions on this mirror my own, that surely it can’t be grace if we must wrestle it from God. Grace is a gift—not to be earned or taken by force, but freely given by God because of his love. And furthermore, how in the world could Jacob, a mere mortal, overcome God in a wrestling match? His best answer to this is twofold:

  1. God makes Himself weak so He can bless us. That is what He does with Jacob. He lets Himself be defeated by Jacob so that He can bless Jacob. And that is what He does at the cross. He lets Himself be defeated by humanity so that He can bless us.
  2. God makes us strong so He can bless us. . . . God Himself empowers us to fight Himself for his grace. It is a battle He wants us to win. We fight for grace through grace.

The idea of wrestling with God captures the urgency, the passion, and the fervour of our need of and desire for and love for grace. We are to be people who fervently seek God’s grace and who are passionate about His grace.

But we do so in God’s power. God fought against Jacob, but He also empowered Jacob’s victory! Our longing for God is evidence of His work in us. Our seeking after God is proof of God’s work in us.[1]

As I read this even now, it occurs to me that the whole conundrum of earning versus receiving grace is about our salvation. Jacob wasn’t wrestling for God’s salvific grace—he was wrestling for the grace he needed to face the impossible situation before him. Jacob was chosen by God before he was born—God had already given him unmerited favor for salvation. We who are in Christ have been elected to salvation before the foundation of the world and saved by the gift of grace through faith (Eph. 2:4-9). Sisters we are saved by grace, but we need grace for our impossible situations. Goodness, some days I need grace simply to live in this hurtful, discouraging, fallen world. This is the grace for which we must hold fast to God, wrestling until he blesses us.

Tim Chester then applies “wrestling with God” to situations when we just aren’t feeling passionate or fervent for God, times when faith feels flat. But as I said, we face impossible situations. So I think this wrestling applies also to those times when our faith is in crisis. When trials come or depression hits or questions arise, bringing our faith to the brink of a breaking point. What do we do when the only prayer we can choke out is, “Lord, why?” or “God, help my unbelief?”

The answer is, You fight! You fight for God’s blessing. You fight for His favour. Pray until God moves you. Search His Word until it blesses you. Think of yourself as wrestling in prayer for God’s blessing. But know this: when you wrestle with God and win His blessing God has not only fought against you, He has also fought for you. He has empowered your longing. Why? Because He wants a relationship with you. He wants you to pursue Him, to long for, to seek Him and in this seeking to find Him and know Him and love Him.[2]

And this is precisely where Israel was getting it wrong. When they encountered trials—or even the opposite, when they encountered prosperity—they didn’t hold fast to God for answers, they didn’t wrestle in faith for God’s grace. When Israel had the least question, they ran to their pagan neighbors and the Baals. When God blessed them, they gave credit to their idols. When they had questions, they didn’t seek God in prayer, they sought answers from the culture around them.

Look again at Hosea 12:4. The second half of the verse tells us that Jacob “met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us.” Hear Tim Chester’s comment on this:

In other words, the word spoken to Jacob is still spoken to us. Bethel was the place where Jacob met God. And we too can meet God through His Word. The Bible is our Bethel, the place where we meet God. The Sunday sermon in your church is a Bethel, a place where you can meet God as His Word is expounded. Above all, Jesus is our Bethel. He is the Word of God in whom we meet God. It is by this word that we are fed and guarded, just as Moses fed and guarded the people in his day.[3]

When we have questions, we must seek God in his word!

Speaking of guarding, farther into our text we find Jacob again, guarding sheep, and an oblique reference to Moses guarding the people of Israel. Everyone knows that Moses is the prophet God used to bring Israel out of Egypt, but Hosea is placing the emphasis on God being the actual cause of the deliverance from bondage and the true guardian of the flock of God.

Jacob fled to the land of Aram;
there Israel served for a wife,
and for a wife he guarded sheep.
By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt,
and by a prophet he was guarded. —Hosea 12:12-13

How did Moses guard the people? By the word of God.

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ — Deuteronomy 4:5-6

And yet, Moses anticipated another prophet to come. A prophet raised up by God who will speak God’s words by which we will be protected, and to whom we should therefore listen.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— . . . . And the LORD said to me. . . . “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” — Deuteronomy 18:15, 17-18

Who is this prophet to come? It is Jesus. He who perfectly speaks the words of God and perfectly guards the people of God.

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” — John 12:49-50

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. — John 10:25-29

Jesus speaks to us in and through his word to reveal to us the Father. And his word perfectly reveals—as far as we are able to comprehend—the character and glory of the God who made himself weak in order to empower us to fight for and grow in grace. Let the following passages of Scripture sink into your hearts and minds as you meditate on the love of this God who sent his Son to die for his people:

[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. — Philippians 2:6-8

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. — Hebrews 1:1-4

So, what is our takeaway from this lesson? God meets with us in his word. God reveals himself to us in his word. God guards us by his word. God delivers us by his word. We who are God’s sheep must be in his word, for this is where we hear the beloved voice of our Shepherd. And it is through his word that God transforms us ever more into the image of his Son, convicting us of sin and training us in righteousness.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:2

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. — Hebrews 4:12

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word. — Psalm 119:9-16

Let’s not be like faithless Israel, ignoring God’s word and forgetting him. Let us press on to know him!

In class I mentioned that I have been delighting in a newly published devotional on Psalm 119, His Testimonies My Heritage, edited by Kristie Anyabwile. To read more about it or to add it to your wish list, you can find it here at Amazon. or here at Goodreads.

[1] Tim Chester, Hosea: The Passion of God (Scotland, UK: 2014) 195

[2] Ibid., 195-196

[3] Ibid., 198

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