The Face of God
June 29th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE FACE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-29-58 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Face of God. The sermon for this morning is prepared out of the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Now we have opportunity at this hour to pick up where I left off last Sunday morning. I got half-way through the message last Sunday morning. So we will finish briefly by summary the Word of last Sunday and then come to the message for this hour in the thirty-second chapter of Genesis. Now last Sunday morning we left at the twenty-ninth chapter of Genesis. So this morning briefly let us look at the thirtieth chapter.
The message of last Sunday morning largely was centered around the building of the home of Jacob. Laban the father of Rachel had made a contract with Jacob that if Jacob would work for Laban seven years as his reward he would be given Rachel to wife. But Laban when time came to fulfill that covenant refused to do so saying that in his country it was not the custom for the younger girl to be married before the first the older daughter was married.
So Jacob was given Leah instead, by stealth by subterfuge. So you had the situation: unhappy, of Leah who is the wife of Jacob, unwanted and disliked. And last Sunday morning we spoke of these things in the building of the home of Jacob. Now in order to have Rachel whom he loved, he worked seven more years – fourteen. But he was given Rachel at the end of the first seven years then promised to work seven more in order to win her. But he was given [Leah] at the end of the first seven years. So when you come to the twenty-fifth verse of the thirtieth chapter of Genesis, Jacob has been in Aram and has been working for Laban for fourteen years.
Now Rachel was not the mother of a child. Leah had one son after another; a compensation of God for the sorrow of her life. But Rachel had no child. And [Rachel] prayed and God answered her prayer. And Joseph was born at the end of the fourteen years. Now this twenty-fifth verse:
And it came to pass when Rachel had born Joseph that
Jacob said unto Laban Send me away that I may go unto
mine own place and to my country.
Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served
thee and let me go: for thou knowest my sevice which I have
[Genesis 30:25, 26]
So at the end of the fourteen years when Joseph is born as soon as the wife and the child are able to make the long and fatiguing journey why, Jacob proposes to go back to the land of Canaan. Now when he said that it was alarming news for Laban; look at the next verse, the twenty-seventh verse.
And Laban said unto him I pray thee if I have found favour
in thine eyes tarry: for I have learned by experience that the
Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.
When Laban hears from Jacob that Jacob plans to return to the land of Canaan he is alarmed. For God greatly blessed him he says because of the presence of Jacob. So he pleads with Jacob to stay with him. All right, Jacob sees an opportunity there to drive a bargain with Laban. And he drives it. And that is the strangest bargain you ever saw in your life. It was one of those things where both men thought that they had outwitted the other.
There in the thirty-first and thirty-second verses Jacob says, "I will stay with you and I will work for you if all of the spotted ringed-streaked and all of the off-colored of the cattle are mine. Then all the rest are yours." Well, Laban just chuckled to himself, "Practically all of those goats and sheep over there are either black or white. You don’t have many spotted ones ring-streaked ones – very few." And yet that was the bargain all the spotted ones ring-tailed ones. Well, they were going to be Jacob’s. And all the rest of them that were normal were going to be Laban’s.
Well sir, Laban just chuckled to himself. That is the best bargain he ever drove in his life. So he went away just happy thinking he had surely outwitted Jacob. Now on the other side it is just the opposite. Jacob knew that he had a steed whereby he was going to get all of those offspring to be spotted, ring-streaked brown and off-colored. So he was just laughing up his sleeve about how he was going to outwit Laban.
Did you ever see such goings on in your life? That is one thing about the Bible when it presents the character of the man. It has no respect of persons. You see the fellow just as he is. And you are looking at Jacob here just as he is just as you look at David as he was, just like you look at Simon Peter as he was, just like you look at all of them just as they were. Well, that is the way the Bible presents it. The Bible is a wonderful delineation of human character the inside of the man as well as the outside.
So the thing goes along and Jacob certainly succeeds in what he thought he could do. He got practically all of those calves and all of those kids and all of those lambs to be spotted or ring-streaked or brown. It was an unusual affair all written there in that thirtieth chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Then you come to the thirty-first chapter and there the Lord God speaks to Jacob. Jacob is capable of infinite religious dedication. Esau was capable of no religious recognitions. He was just a fine animal. Some men seem to be that way. You could pray for them forever. They could go to church forever. You can talk to them about the Lord forever. And they are the same dull clod that they were to begin with.
That is one of the strangest things. And I see it in the same household. There will be two people in the same household one of whom will vibrate at the hand of God. His heart will be a chord upon which God can play. And there may be in that same household a blood-brother or a blood-sister and they are as dead and impervious to spiritual influences and spiritual appeals as though they were animals.
Now with all of the weakness that you find in Jacob – Supplanter, schemer – he had in him those infinite possibilities to be made into a prince of God. And now the time is coming. And there in Haran where he is outwitting his uncle – scheming, and plotting, and planning – and Laban changing Jacob’s wages ten times he says. And Jacob doing everything he can to keep his head above the water. While he is over there in that country why, the Lord speaks to him. Now look at the third verse of the thirty-first chapter of Genesis. "And the Lord said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee."
"Time to get out of this Jacob, time to get out of it," now you know you have there a little parable of life between the Passover deliverance and entrance into Canaan. There were the long years of the wilderness wandering. Between the time that God appeared to Jacob at Beth-el and the time that God sends him back to the house of God and tents of his father’s, there are these twenty-some odd years in Haran.
Did you ever think of your own life? We are like that. Between the time of our conversion and the time of our final rest – our entrance into Canaan – there is all of this that goes on in our lives, and in our times, and in our days, and in our homes. Ah! The wanderings, and the overthrowings, and the foilings of God’s children just look at your own life. How much of regret, and how much of soul bitterness, and how much of fault and failure; all of us are like that, every one of us.
So the Lord comes and speaks to Jacob and says "Jacob it is time to go back to Bethel." Now I suppose that God could see it says there in the closing verse of the thirtieth chapter of Genesis, "And this man Jacob increased exceedingly and had much cattle and maidservants and menservants and camels and asses." I suppose God could see that Jacob was losing the pilgrim spirit. He was affluent increased in the land where he lived.
When God said the children of Israel to go back out of Babylon to Palestine, very few of them left. Very few of them went. Very few of them returned. They were prospering in Babylon. They had business houses. And they had all kinds of interests and holdings. And they were not interested in God anymore. And they were not interested in Jerusalem anymore. And they were not interested in the house of the Lord anymore. And they stayed in Babylon. They lost the pilgrim spirit. I would think that God was thinking that Jacob was losing that.
You know I don’t what and I don’t know why. But I can tell you since I have become pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas that there is not anything that takes people away from God so much as affluence. Well, the accumulation of this world’s goods it does something to people. It corrodes. There are exceptions to it. There are a few well-to-do rich people who stay devout and humble and close to the Lord. But there are not many of them; and their children hardly any of them.
Ah! I suppose the reason so many of us are poor is because it is the only way God can keep us humble and close to Him. Well, the Lord is sure keeping me poor and humble. No we have enough. Most of us do. But that thing God could see it.
And the Lord said to Jacob, "Now get up and go back to the tents and to the lands to the house of your father that I promised you. And this is not your home. It is in Canaan."
Now I want to point out something here in the Bible that I think is always true, always true about a call of God. How do you know the Lord wants you to do such-and-such? Now let me show you a certain way to tell. In my humble persuasion whenever you have a true call of God it will be corroborated by outward circumstances experiences. Things will happen that will corroborate God’s call in your heart.
Now look here, "And the Lord said unto Jacob Return unto the land of thy fathers and to thy kindred." Now look at that previous verse. "Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban and behold it was not toward him as before." And he said unto his wives Rachel and Leah and called them out secretly into the field and he said, "I see your father’s countenance that it is not toward me as before."
You see God said to him on the inside in his heart "Now you go back to Bethel. You go back to Palestine. You go back to Canaan." Then on the outside he looked at the circumstances of life and they said, "You ought to go back. You ought to get out. You ought to move on."
Now let me apply that in the little moment that I have. If a voice says to me, "God has called me to preach," and he is the only one that believes that God has called him to preach, I don’t think God has called him. I think God’s call will be corroborated by outside circumstances. He won’t be the only one that will know it. There will be other people who will feel that same thing.
Now next Sunday we are going to dedicate that morning’s hour as we always do to the memory of the great pastor of this church. It was the church that ordained Dr. Truett. He was not going to be a preacher. He was going to be a lawyer. And he was getting ready to be a lawyer. But the people said, "No. God has called you to preach." And it was the people who – though Dr. Truitt felt that it in his soul and knew it in his heart – it was the people who so greatly and largely corroborating it almost forced him into an ordination hour.
And I think that will be true in all of your lives. You ought to do something. God calls you to do something. Then there will be corroborating circumstances that indicate it. Now I haven’t time to elaborate on that and a thousand multitudinous multifarious different instances of your life. But it is all the time like that. When you ought to do something God will send corroborating evidences that it ought to be done.
Just like this building over here that we have. Who would ever have thought that that thing would turn as it did? Yet it was the thing for us to do because of the hand of God the moving of the circumstances of life. There will be in all of the great choices that God would have us make, there will be outside corroborating circumstances. If a man will take God as his partner – I don’t care what business you are in – if you will take God as you partner you will have a certain answer every time you come to a great decision.
"Shall I buy this property? Shall I build this building? Shall I expand my business? Shall I accept this position? Shall I move to this new location?" All of these things God will give you a certain answer. It will be first on the inside of your heart. You will have a conviction. And that conviction will be corroborated by circumstances on the outside. That is the sure way to make a right decision.
And that’s the way it happened here in the life of Jacob. And the Lord says "Jacob go back." He looked at the face of Laban. And from the look of the countenance of the face of Laban; Jacob said, "That’s right. I’d sure better go back." They both go together.
Now we must hasten. So we come to the message of this morning’s hour and the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis; now Genesis 32. Jacob is on his way back. "Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said ‘This is the hosts of God!’ This is God’s hosts. "And he called the name of that place Mahanaim." That means "two hosts." [Genesis 32:1, 2]
Now you know let’s just look at that for a moment, just for a moment. Do you ever wonder about those things? How did that happen? That’s all it said nothing else, no explanation, no anything just that. Was it around some turn of a mountain pass when Jacob saw the two hosts of God meeting? Well, how was it? Did they meet one at a time angel facing angel? Was it two-by-twos? Were they four abreast? Were they marching to some celestial music? Were they singing?
He went on his way and he met the hosts of God. When you read in your Bible "The Lord of Hosts" that doesn’t mean the Lord of great armies here. It means the Lord of the hosts of heaven, the Lord of hosts.
Wonder what they looked like. And now may I say the other question? I wonder if angelic hosts pass us today. I wonder if we meet them on the way and don’t know it. I wonder if sometimes when we’re blue, and down, and discouraged, and defeated and we think we are alone and by ourselves, I wonder if the mountains are filled with horses and chariots of fire round about us but we can’t see them. And I wonder if God’s angelic hosts meet us and pass us on the way and we don’t realize it. Well, it’s something to think of isn’t it? And he is on his way and the angels of God met him. And he called the name of the place "The Two Hosts, the two bands, Mahanaim."
Now as he comes back home – ah! With what fear and trepidation does he face that awful encounter with Esau. He sent messengers to Edom to the land of Seir down there south of the Dead Sea to the country where Esau dwells. And he says "I’m coming back home."
And those messengers returned to Jacob breathlessly with the terrible news. "We came to thy brother Esau and we told him that you were coming. And he arose and he armed four hundred of his men to meet you; and they are on their way now." And Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed because the last time he saw his brother, last thing he heard from the lips of his brother was, "I will kill my brother Jacob." And here Jacob is returning to the land of his fathers. And as he comes nigh the border of Palestine this terrible news confronts him. "Esau is on his way with four hundred armed men."
And what does Jacob do? Now I want you to look at this. He can’t go back. That Tower of Mizpeh between him and Laban says they will never trespass. Jacob will not go to Laban and Laban won’t bother Jacob. The Tower of Mizpeh bars the way. On either side are robber tribes. If he shows the least sense of vacillation or of fear they are eager to seize the rich booty, take away his family, sell them as slaves, take away all of his substance, destroy his own his life. But to go ahead is to face apparent and inevitable ruin with Esau’s armed men.
Well, what does he do? He did just like you and I do if we love the Lord. You don’t meet a situation like that if you are a Christian if you don’t bow your knees and pray. I guess even an infidel will do it. But certainly God’s child does it. He prays. And may I make the comment there that here again maybe the will of God in the distresses that overtake you in your life is not without purpose and not without good? Maybe they are to drive us to our knees. And Jacob could not go back couldn’t turn to the right or to the left. And to go on was to face apparent destruction. He got on his knees. He bowed and he prayed.
Now I want you to look at this prayer. This is one of the finest little examples of how we ought to pray of any little prayer I have found in the Bible. It is only about one, two, three; it’s only three verses long. Now you look at it. He starts off with a promise and he closes with a promise. In the ninth verse: "And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, the God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me" – and then he quotes what God had promised him; and what God had told him: "Return; and I will deal well with thee."
Now look at the twelfth verse. He does the same thing again. "O God Thou sadist, I will surely do thee good and make thy seed as the sand of the sea which cannot be numbered for multitude." When he gets down on his knees the first thing he does and the last thing he does he quotes a promise of God. He reminds the Lord what the Lord had said.
Now that’s a good way to pray. "Lord you said in Thy Word; Thou didst say in the Holy Book," then just quote a great promise. Ah! Just to remind the Lord, "Lord look on this page here. Look right here. Look what God said. "If My people which are called by My name shall humble themselves and pray then will I," these great promises of God.
All right look at the second thing there, that next verse the tenth verse. Look what he says about himself. "I am not worthy." Isn’t that a good way? Isn’t that a good position for a man to be in when he is talking to God? "I am not worthy."
When Abraham made his appeal he said, "Behold I take it upon myself to speak unto Thee I who am but dust and ashes. I am not worthy." Coming as a suppliant bowed down and then his appeal, "Deliver me I pray from the hand of my brother Esau: for I fear him." There is nothing wrong in being honest with God is there? Just tell Him, "I am afraid of him lest he will come and smite me and the mother with the children."
"I’m afraid Lord. I’m afraid. I don’t know where to turn. I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid Lord. I’m afraid." Tell Him. Just bow down before Him and lay your whole heart before God. Tell Him. I repeat that is one of the finest examples of real praying you will find in the whole Book this little, this little appeal of Jacob.
So after the prayer he divides that family and flock doing the best that he knew how to spare them. And at the brook Jabbok, the river Jabbok at the ford of the Jabbok River pouring from the East to the West into the Jordan River, he is on the eastern side of the Jordan – at the Jabbok River, small stream and at a ford – why, he sends everybody over. He sends his families, sends his children, sends his flocks and his herds. He sends everything over. And he is there by himself alone. Now the twenty-fourth verse:
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with
him until the breaking of the day.
And when that man saw that he prevailed not against Jacob
he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s
thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him.
And the angle said Let me go for the day breaketh. And Jacob 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 that that thou dost ask after my name: And he blessed him there.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel
– Peniel, Face of God –
for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.
And as he passed over Penuel
– another spelling of the same thing –
the sun rose upon him and he halted upon his thigh – a cripple.
Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank which is upon the hollow of the thigh unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
Now for this little moment that remains we come to the heart of this message. First it is the messenger, the angel; it is the angel of Jehovah that wrestles with Jacob. It is God that is doing it. It is not [that] Jacob picked a fight with the angel of Jehovah but the angel of Jehovah has seized Jacob. And that’s the way many times it is in the life of a Christian. God confronts you, you. Here you are, you are going on your way following your will; these plans, and ambitions, and programs, all of the things of this self-life – that’s you.
And God confronts you. And God wrestles with you. Is this an actual physical thing? It is both. It is an actual physical thing here because he halted on his thigh. And the sinew shrank. And the children of Israel do not eat that part of the animal that corresponds to the sinew that shrank in Jacob’s thigh to this day.
I know was physical actual just like it happened here in the Bible because of the actual crippling of Jacob. But it also is a great spiritual reality. God confronts Jacob and all of those things of him. They have to die. Have to be crucified. The sinew of this selfish life of ours has to shrink before the Christ life can live within us. God confronts Jacob. God does it. And Jacob resists.
Did you ever know what that is? And Jacob resists. "I don’t want to do that Lord. I don’t want to obey Lord. I," and that’s where the civil war ends; I, I, I’ve got my mind made up. I’ve got my plan. I’ve got my program. I’ve got my wish and my heart set. I Lord. And that’s the struggle.
And God didn’t overcome him either. Jacob was so resisting and in no humor to yield. And God struggled with him and he struggled against God all night long. And he didn’t prevail. And when the day began to break it was time for the angel to depart. And when the angel saw that he didn’t prevail he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh. And it shrank. And weak and crippled there he lay overcome. And then the old Jacob died – weak and crippled left there facing the morrow.
Ah! What would it be with Esau and the armed men and he there crippled; left alone and in desperation? He clung to the angel of the Lord. He said, "Don’t leave me like this. Don’t leave me like this. I have come to the end of my way. I am undone. I am defeated. I am down. There’s nothing of me left nothing." And he clung to the angel of God.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, and in reproaches, and in necessities. And when I am weak then am I strong. "For my strength," says God, "is made perfect in weakness," when we quit trying to triumph in ourselves and our only strength is just to cling, just to cling. "And the angel said, What is thy name Supplanter?" No, not any longer; broken now, a new man now. "Thy name shall be called Israel," the Prince of God. For as a prince of God," as a clinger now, "thou shalt have power with God and with men. Thou has prevailed, stooping to conquer, bowing to be lifted up, humbled to be exalted."
Isn’t that the strangest fact of Christian experience? God’s people are strong when they are on their knees, when they are broken in pieces, when they are crying to the Lord, when they are clinging to Jehovah God, when tears like showers of rain from their faces, when they’re looking for Jesus; power with God, power with men. "And He blessed him. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, face of God. For I have seen Him and my life is preserved."
Ah! These things, these things as you read them here in the Book. You will find them just exactly like the experience that will reverberate in your own life as you learn what it is to be a Christian to walk in the way of the Lord and to grow in His love, and in His patience, and in His grace. "For when I am weak then am I strong."
Now while we sing this song, somebody to give his heart to the Lord, somebody to put his life in the church; a family you, or one somebody you, anywhere, while we make this appeal. On the first note of the first stanza, would you come while we stand and while we sing?