A Man Who Was Desperate
Notes on a message given by Pastor Alan Redpath in The Moody Church on July 17, 1955.
I will not let thee go except thou bless me…What is thy name?…Jacob…and he blessed him there” (Genesis 32:6). “No more Jacob, but Israel” was the blessing which God gave that day. You, of course, know that in the Bible there is an immense significance in the name that is given to a man. You know the meaning of the word “Jacob.” It means deceiver, supplanter. You know the meaning of the word “Israel.” It means prince with God. Something happened in that man’s life that simply pulverized the Jacob out of him, and made him Israel.
I want to speak to any of you who are tired of being like you are; in whose lives there is too much of the Jacob and too little of the Israel. I am afraid some of us go to church so often and have been doing it for years, that we have long since ceased to expect anything except to go through the usual round of program, and that’s all. We take our part in it. We sit down and listen to a sermon and to the singing, sing a few hymns, and then go home and put our feet up and say, “That’s been a nice Sunday,” and we wait for the next one. But as for really facing a spiritual crisis, I am not sure that there is a sense of expectancy in the hearts of any of us about that.
There is an utter need that in our lives there should be less Jacob and more Israel. All of us are in desperate need. It may be that the Holy Spirit wants to jolt some of us out of a sense of complacency in getting used to it all, into a sudden consciousness God has a real work to do in our lives. Perhaps some of us just never expect God to meet us or do any more than He has already done.
“The name,” said God, “shall be no more Jacob, but Israel,” and I want to remind you that it wasn’t the first time that this man had met God—21 years and more had gone by since that first happened. You remember the circumstances—what an unfortunate home this man Jacob came from. And you remember how the mother of Jacob taught this boy his lessons in deceit, and how Jacob from the background of that home one day escaped for his life with his brother Esau on his trail.
As he went away for a few week’s vacation, at his mother’s suggestion until Esau’s anger calmed down, Jacob found himself away from home for more than 21 years. It was a long vacation. But his first night away from home he met God—met Him in the open air. He lay down on the roadside and put a stone down as a pillow, and as he went to sleep he had a dream, and in his dream he saw a ladder stretching up to heaven with its foot down on the earth, and the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it, and he saw at the head of the ladder God Himself. God spoke to this young man, and pleaded with him, and offered to look after him and take care of him, and watch over him; and Jacob made a bargain with God that if God would do that then Jacob would trust Him. Jacob wakened up and he left a monument and he went on his way.
I have no doubt whatsoever that if this story was in the New Testament, we would say that that evening marked Jacob’s conversion. His first interview; his first night away from home; he was what we call in evangelical language “saved.” I am sure of that because there are all the marks of a genuine conversion there, because Jacob was afraid. “Surely God is in this place,” he said. “Surely this is the very gate of heaven.”
Jacob was conscious of his need and he was fearful of what was going to happen to him. He knew something about sin and deceit in his life, and he began to tremble at the presence of God. Yes, I am quite sure that those are the genuine marks of New Testament conversion. They are often lacking in the average profession of Christianity. Today it would almost seem as if we were doing God a favor when we decide for Christ. Very seldom do we see real genuine tears of repentance and of conversion. Very seldom is a man really broken up as he meets with God in Jesus Christ, but I am sure that that night at Bethel, 21 years before this incident, Jacob really met God in reality.
But the thing I want to impress upon you is this, that though this man as a young man apparently met with God, for 21 years he was no different—still lived on the same level. You remember the story of how he went into Laban’s house, and how Laban deceived and tricked him, and how Jacob answered back constantly, gave as good as he got, and this man, who at that place at Bethel 21 years ago, had lived a defeated, hopeless, vacillating, deceitful existence. I say that because I am so much afraid that so many of us as so-called Christian people live just like that.
Some of you have at one time or another professed conversion. You’re not pagan, you’re not disinterested in religious things, you have come to know God in some measure, you have met with Him, you have heard the name of Christ being preached and proclaimed, and in some way you have made a decision, but what difference has it made to you? How long ago is it since some of us first met with God in Christ? We say we recall the day and the moment, and we look back upon that day when Jesus met us. Tell me, are we any nicer to live with now than we were then? Are we any less bad-tempered than we were then? Are we any less touchy and resentful of other people than we were then? Is there something nicer about us, and more Christ-like about us than that day when we say we met with God? What practical difference has your experience of conversion meant?
For 21 years Jacob lived as a believer, but with no real experience of victory. And that’s the whole trouble so often in the churches today. We believe, we receive, we accept, we make a decision, but to all intents and purposes we live just on the same level. It doesn’t make us more honest, or more trustworthy, or more fruitful, or more kind, or more Christ-like, and there is no real taste of a victorious life. Is that your experience? God steps in to your life and says to you now, “Thy name shall be no more Jacob, but Israel.” With all the longing of the heart of our God, He desires that somebody who has drifted through life on this low-level experience of profession of belief in God, should face a crisis and should understand that Christianity is a practical thing, that is worked out in a transformed home life, business life, and social life, that everything is different when a man gets to grips with the Lord.
But, too long some of you have just drifted along on a low level of defeated experience. You claim to be Christians and to know God, and to believe your Bible, but to all practical purposes it has not made any difference. Is that you? That was Jacob. For 21 years he lived like that, and if you question my theology on that point, may I just say this, that the New Testament makes it perfectly plain that it is desperately possible for a man to be indwelt by the Spirit of God, and yet to be dominated by his own nature; perfectly possible to have Christ and yet live for himself; perfectly possible for a man to be born of God’s Spirit, to be regenerate, to be saved, and yet to live a life on a carnal, useless, defeated level. I know that from personal experience. It is possible to have a saved soul and a wasted life. I wonder if that’s the experience of some of you.
And whatever it may be that’s on our conscience, life has just drifted along and we have got used to it, and we fit it into a religious program of services with a round of church activities. Instead of going once to the movies, and the show—that’s all cut out now; there is a round of religious activities. One kind of activity substituted for the other, but still the same personal life of defeat, carnality and failure—still Jacob.
It wasn’t for that that the Lord Jesus died and rose again! It wasn’t for that that He shed His precious blood! It wasn’t for that, and it isn’t for that that He lives today to save you! “Thy name shall be no more Jacob.” I am desperately concerned that this night should mark the end for some people of a kind of low-level, compromising, carnal Christian experience, when it shall be true of you—no more Jacob, but Israel.
How did that change take place? It took place simply because Jacob became desperate about his condition, and that’s always when God begins to work in a fellow’s or girl’s life. What had happened? Well, you remember the story, the God with whom Jacob had met at Bethel, met him again when he was living in his uncle’s home and told him it was high time he pulled himself together and got back again to his own home, and Jacob set out on his homeward journey. But as he went back home he was very frightened. He remembered Esau, remembered a stolen birthright, remembered the act of deceit that he had practiced on his brother, and he somehow felt that a brother wouldn’t forget too easily.
I think that Jacob went back home that night, and as he was on his homeward journey, reflected upon the meeting he had had with God 21 years ago, and recalled 21 years of miserable failure and he began to say to himself, “I wonder what all this kind of thing looks like in the light of heaven? What’s all my life of defeat and carnality, sin, and failure look like from the standpoint of the God who met me at Bethel, who said if only I’d trust Him, He would care for me, He would look after me, He would take me safely to this far country, and bring me safely home? The God who met me then, I wonder what He thinks of me now?”
If the Holy Spirit would answer the prayer of my heart, He would be gripping you with that very same question, and you would be saying to yourself, “I wonder what my life looks like now in the light of all these years of professed Christian experience? I wonder what it looks like from the standpoint of the Throne of God that I am no different, that I have no victory, that I have no power, that I am still defeated, deceitful, and untrustworthy, there is still so much of the Jacob and the failure in me in spite of all that God has promised in His Word to do? I wonder what the 21 years of Christian experience, so-called, look like from the Throne of Heaven?”
Jacob began to be afraid. And you remember what happened—he sent his family, and all the cattle ahead of him, and we are told in the 24th verse of this chapter that Jacob was left alone. Some people are afraid of being left alone; afraid of being in a room by themselves; afraid of sitting down to think things out; afraid of examining their own position; afraid of taking stock—“And Jacob was left alone.” There came a moment of absolute solitude in this man’s life. But no sooner was Jacob left alone than we read, “There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” A strange encounter this, with none other, I am sure, than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who often appeared in this form in the Old Testament.
And after 21 years, Jacob, on his way back to his home country at the command of God, finds himself through the night engaged in an encounter, in mortal combat with God, and “there wrestled a man with him.” It wasn’t Jacob wrestling with God; it was God wrestling with Jacob. And God wrestled with this man, with this defeated, carnal, inconsistent, dishonest man who 21 years ago met him, and now there is another encounter. There is a second interview. Here is another crisis, and God and Jacob are meeting in hand to hand combat. And God said to Jacob, “Let me go for the day breaketh.” How easily God could have broken free, but He didn’t do that. He waited for Jacob to come to Him in an attitude of surrender and yieldedness, and Jacob in sheer desperation said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
Ah, my friend, when a man gets to talk to God like that things happen. Twenty-one years of failure—I don’t know how long it has been in your life, how long the Jacob has been there, how long the same low-level experience, how long this professed conversion has been yours and made no practical difference in your home life, in your social life, or anything else. I don’t know how long you have simply fitted into a church program and taken your part, but have had no concern for it, no burden for it, no real heart care for it, it hasn’t really gripped you at all, and you have lived on that superficial level.
I do pray that there may be those who are saying, “Lord, I won’t let you go, except you bless me. I want to be at the end of this Jacob business; at the end of this low-level of Christianity. I long that there should be a crisis that should make me different. How can this be?” “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” And God touched the hollow of that man’s thigh, and it was out of joint. And Jacob for the rest of his life bore the marks of that interview at Peniel, and all through his life he limped as a token of a day in his life when there had been a desperate, hand-to-hand, face-to-face encounter with God.
God wants to meet you face-to-face like that. God wants to get beneath the surface and the circumference, and beneath and beyond the outward form of worship, and He wants to grip you like He gripped Jacob, and get hold of you and deal with you, and, if I may say it, God in love wants to pulverize the Jacob out of your life and to make you Israel. A painful business is an interview with God like this. It hurts, and there is nobody in the world who really meets God as Jacob met Him that night, but who will bear the marks all through his life upon him—there is an unmistakable mark in the life of someone who has met God like Jacob met Him.
If you ever meet someone whose demeanor as a Christian, savors of self and pride, you can be quite sure there has been no meeting with God as Jacob met Him. And if you meet someone whose voice has been changed, and whose tone has been changed, whose love has been altered, and his whole life somehow seems to manifest the presence of the Lord Jesus, you can be quite certain that that man has met God like Jacob met Him, and all through his life thereafter there’s a difference.
Yet, in Genesis 33 and 34 you will find that Jacob was sill, in fact, Jacob. He left the interview at Peniel, but he went back again into the world and he was still the same man. For no sooner had Jacob left this crisis experience than he met Esau, and he lied to him, and deceived him. And then you find that Jacob pitched his tent at the very gate of the city, and you will also find that Jacob’s wives were carrying with them idols and gods and Jacob was helpless to do anything about it. This man who had a tremendous crisis experience alone with God, was still apparently the same, and yet God had said to him, “Thy name shall be no more Jacob, but Israel.”
There came a moment in that crisis when Jacob stopped struggling and began clinging like a little child to the God whom he met that night. And if Jacob had only understood that the attitude in that crisis when he clung like a child to his God must be the attitude to maintain all through the rest of his life in every situation, he wouldn’t have failed again. His attitude in the crisis must be the attitude in every minute of every future day. Listen! There can be no crisis with God which will stand the test of even one day unless the attitude you take in the crisis becomes the attitude of your life moment by moment every day.
Jacob had his name changed and that means his character changed. When he stopped his struggling and wrestling and fighting and began clinging and said, “Lord, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me,” and Jacob from that moment could have been Israel. If only through all the rest of his life he had learned to cling, to trust, to depend, to count upon that same Lord who met him and broke him at Peniel.
So God is saying to somebody, “Thy name shall be no more Jacob, but Israel.” No more failure, defeat, disillusionment, disappointed Christian experiences. No more of that. He wants you to stop struggling, and trying, and striving to be something that you can never be in your own strength. He wants you to come to Him through Jesus Christ, our crucified, risen Lord, and cling to Him, knowing perfectly well that all that God expects of you can only be done by the Spirit of Love in you, and that when you cling to the Lord like a little child, and go on clinging, He’ll begin to make you Israel.
Are you desperate enough for God to meet you on a crisis level like that? Are you tired of the mere going through a religious service and a program, and with all your heart you long that your life might be a victorious and a radiant one? Are you? God’s offer is “No more Jacob, but Israel.” Will you trust God? Take Him at His Word? Would you cling to Him, and come to Him in utter surrender like Jacob did that night, and say, “Lord, I’m so tired of all these years of frustration and failure. I just can’t think what they look like from the standpoint of the Throne, but, oh God, please make me different.”