And he said to him, My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die - Genesis 33:13.
Jacob is returning to his own country. He has been away some 20 years. He left his parental home, having offended Esau, his twin brother to such a degree that Esau intended to kill him. Through his mother, Rebekah’s influence his father Isaac sends him back to the ancestral home. He had stolen the blessing due to Esau the older brother. This was in addition to Esau bargaining away his birthright to Jacob. The taking of the blessing was the crowning offence. All the honour and spiritual blessing that should have gone to the firstborn has now been secured by Jacob. He had prospered. He had gained two wives, two concubines, children, much livestock and, no doubt, a good number of servants.
Esau learns of Jacob’s return and gallops towards him with an army of four hundred men. Jacob is terrified; he was “greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:7). He is a man who has been opportunistic in getting the birthright and deceitful in obtaining the blessing but he is so very different to Esau. Esau is a man of the world. Jacob wants the blessing of the God of his fathers more than anything. He is resourceful, wealthy in a measure, strong and blessed but now everything he has, even life itself, is under mortal threat.
There is only one thing for him to do. He must get through to God in prayer; he must petition Heaven’s throne. He is a man of the Spirit and he is led by the Spirit. This is a qualifying hallmark of all God’s children. Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” In such a crisis he knows the answer is in God alone. This surely is one of the main reasons why God allows extreme adversity to sometimes confront His children. It is to bring us into full dependence upon Him. What a place of prayer Jacob enters at Peniel:
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved - Genesis 32:30.
This prayer battle is recorded in Genesis 32:24-26:
And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25And when he saw that he had not prevailed 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. 26And he said, Let me go, for the day breaks. And he said, I will not let you go, except you bless me.
Jacob is renamed Israel ‘A Prince of God’. He’ll never be the same again. He is crippled. The old nature with its self-reliance is finally put to death. He has entered a new realm; he has attained a new and princely position. How vital it is that all Christians should ‘pray and not lose heart’ (Luke 18:1). How often in the lives of God’s children is this option presented to us—whether to “pray” or to “lose heart”. Without exception all believers are confronted at times with the stark choice of battling through in prayer, or giving way to exhaustion and defeat. The battle for the survival of Jacob, his family, his servants, all his possessions, had been won on Jacob’s knees. God had answered. Esau’s whole demeanour is now transformed. He probably could give no account of the reason why he now welcomes and embraces the brother he loathed so much. God always respects our freedom of choice but He can cause us to find favour with the people of this world, as His purpose decrees. Esau seeks to help Jacob on his way. He proposes to leave some of his men with Jacob, as a sort of escort.
However, Jacob just wants to see the back of Esau and his band. It is always so for God’s children. They cannot fellowship or make common cause with the ungodly. If they try to, it always becomes stressful. Issues will arise which illustrate, often painfully, that they belong to completely different worlds. Paul put the question, “what accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). The answer must be a resounding negative. Jacob tells Esau that the “children are weak” and they have little lambs and calves with them and to drive them for just one day will cause them to die. He tells Esau that his flock is very vulnerable and if driven too hard they will actually lose their lives—force them and they will die. They can only go at a certain pace. God knows this of us all. He knows the speed at which we can go in our spiritual development.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins; nor punished us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him.  For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. - Psalm 103:10-14
What a tender God we have. Two dimensions are mentioned in the above psalm—the height of heaven above the earth, and the distance between East and West. Both dimensions are actually infinite. One speaks of God’s mercy, the other of His forgiveness. How gracious is our God! This is His character but it is only the atoning death of Jesus that enables Him to show the mercy that is in His heart. God is love but He cannot deny His justice in spite of the love that is in His heart. This has been so ever since man was created. The “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) has secured grace beyond measure. It is only because justice has been satisfied at Calvary that God is enabled to forgive, bless and protect any human being who comes to Him in repentance and who puts his trust in Christ’s precious blood. It also enables God to show the tenderness that is part of His wonderful character.
There are scriptural examples which show how God is a Father who pities His children and does not drive them beyond their capacity. In Exodus we see that God heard His people’s cry and He came down to rescue them. But things got worse. Their taskmasters become more cruel. This happens so frequently when God really deals with souls. Sometimes it has to be drastic. The children of Israel had to be brought to the point where they could no longer endure a state of servitude and cruel bondage. Are we so desperate to be finished with those things that hurt and spoil our spiritual life that we will take the way of escape in Christ no matter what it may cost us? We should never pray to be tried and chastened but we should seek and desire liberty in the Spirit, whatever it may cost us. But God knows what we can endure and what stage we have reached spiritually. When the Jews had left Egypt, they faced the battle of faith needed to enter the Promised Land, but they were weak, unbelieving even cowardly. What an amazing concession God makes to their flawed characters.
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and they return to Egypt - Exodus 13:17.
In effect God was saying to Moses, ‘Don’t make them face the Philistines yet. If they are faced with a fight they will give up and go back.’ How properly could this have been challenged. One could imagine some of the holy angels saying, ‘But LORD, they have seen all these mighty signs and wonders. They have seen your supernatural plagues fall one after another on their Egyptian masters with terrible severity. They have seen how they were preserved from these Divine Judgments. They have known the protection provided by the blood of the lamb from your wrath when the avenging angel slew all the firstborn sons in the land. They must surely believe that you are with them and more powerful than all their enemies, the Philistines included. They should surely march forward in triumphant faith against their foes.’
How true. But God knows where people are. What level of faith and courage they have reached. What they can endure and what will be too much and will break them. When Jesus was challenged about his disciples not fasting He considered the issue. He was told that the Pharisees fasted, John the Baptist’s followers fasted, but His disciples did not. He gave two answers to this challenge. First, that while He, the bridegroom, is with them they cannot fast because it is such a joy to them to have His presence. He speaks of His departure from the earth and confirms that in that time the disciples will fast. However, He also makes the point that no-one puts new wine into old bottles. If they do they will lose both the wine and the containers and if old they could be cracked and worn and the new wine would pour through and be lost. The bottles must be new. God does not inflict on new converts an impossible regime of self-denial. First, He makes us all anew:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new- 2 Corinthians 5:17.
When we are renewed in Christ, filled with truth and His Spirit, we are ready for a life of discipleship and self-denial. After Pentecost an army of spiritual men appeared - self-denying, zealous, totally committed—ready for fasting, and prayer, and great Gospel endeavours. How vital it is that every one of God’s children should experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit which is promised to all who believe. After Christ’s ascension, Pentecost came and all who believe can now receive what Jesus had spoken of on that last day of the feast.
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirsts, let him come to me, and drink. 38He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. 39(But this he spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified) - John 7:37-39.
This supernatural water was additional to the water of salvation, which had already been offered by Jesus before His ascension. In John 4, He speaks to the woman at the well and tells her if she had known who He was, and had asked Him, He would have then and there given her living water, the kind that springs up to Eternal Life:
Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water… 14But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life - John 4:10, 14.
We may now, in this day of Pentecostal power, receive the full baptism in the Holy Spirit with fire. This will make “our weak hearts strong and brave”, to quote the William Booth hymn.1 We have been given all that we need for “life and godliness” as Peter tells us in the first chapter of his second epistle:
As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us by glory and virtue: 4Whereby are given to us exceedingly great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust - 2 Peter 1:3-4.
However, we have a tender, merciful, long-suffering God, who “knows our frame and remembers we are dust”. He carries us, we do not carry Him. Isaiah puts it so well in chapter 63, verse 9:
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bore them, and carried them all the days of old.
Our Heavenly Father wants us to be victorious, loving, overcoming Christians, but He leads us so gently to a greatness that is all His own, so that we will be able to say with King David “your gentleness has made me great.” (Psalm 18:35)
About The Author
Roger Winter-Smith is the Pastor of Stroud Green Christian Assembly, a traditional Pentecostal church in North London where he has served for 21 years as the minister. He has also spent many years in the legal profession and is presently a Litigation Consultant to a busy London Legal practice. This is a part time post. Roger's main work is very much as a pastor and Bible teacher and in recent years Roger has travelled internationally to minister.
He is married to Cheryl and they have three children who are now grown up, Wendy, Peter and Hannah. The Stroud Green website is www.sgcaonline.org where further details of the Church can be seen.