Born From Above

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Crisis of Transition from the Earthly to the Heavenly

Reading: 1 Cor. 15:45-49; Gen. 32:9-12, 24-31; 35:9-15; 46:29-30; 50:7,8,10.

We have been occupied with the matter of the displacing of the earthly man to give place to the heavenly Man. I shall say very little, if anything, about what has gone before. This that we have before us is in itself a concise presentation of that very thing.

We read that portion in 1 Cor. 15, "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is of heaven", and we noted the statement that there is to be a transition from the one to the other in our case.

Jacob's Life Divided into Two at Peniel

Now in these verses which we have read from the book of Genesis, putting together these fragments, we have compassed the life of Jacob and the great transition which took place in that life from Jacob to Israel, from the first man of the earth to the second man of heaven. Jacob's life is distinctly divided into two - that of Jacob and that of Israel - divided at Jabbok, at Peniel, on that great, eventful, critical night.

Jacob represents self-government. Peniel represents self-dethronement. Israel means God-governed. Those three words or phrases sum up the whole of these two sides of life: the earthly man and the heavenly Man, with a great crisis between. We are not dealing with an unsaved man, although what we are going to say can apply to such in some respects. We are dealing in type and figure with a man of God, the one who stands closely related to Divine purpose and the sovereign choice, the sovereign election, the sovereign grace of God.

We have seen from the letters to the Romans and to the Corinthians that there are two sides to the life of a child of God: the Jacob side and the Israel side. There is the side of the earthly man and the side of the heavenly Man with such as are already vitally related to God through sovereign grace and election.

Jacob Wanted God's Best

I want to be as concise as possible, so first of all, with what I have just said as the basis, let me point out that Jacob, as Jacob, was a man or the man who wanted God's best. Whatever you have to say about his character and about his conduct, if you go right inside of Jacob you find that, misguided as he was, he wanted God's best. That could not be said of his brother Esau who despised God's best. Jacob had this drawing towards God's best. He knew what the birthright signified for himself, for his posterity. He saw something of the sovereign counsels of God. He had some measure of perception and apprehension of the great purposes of God, and he set himself in the direction of possessing them and entering into them. He wanted God's best. He had some sense, some intimation, that he was called into the great sovereign purpose of God and into God's promise in connection therewith. That is where we begin with this man, leaving aside what that purpose was so far as Israel, that is, the nation, was concerned, I think we can begin.

From the Beginning Jacob had a Sense of Purpose

Undoubtedly there are not a few in this gathering who want God's best, who have said so to Him, who at some time or other have glimpsed that God has a great purpose, and that purpose concerns them. They have heard the phrases of the New Testament - "called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28), and they have in their hearts responded and have said, "Yes, I want all God's purpose to be realised where my life is concerned, I want to be in the good of the eternal purpose". You have had some sense that God really has the meaning of a great eternal purpose bound up with your life, or your life is bound up with it. I leave it for you to say whether that is so or not in your own heart, but I venture to think it is true. You have had this either presented in a message or through reading the Word, or it has come to you in some way, at some time, that God has a great purpose, that you are somehow included in it, and you have said, "I want all that God wants; I want God's best". But that may have been some years ago. While the sense of it still remains, the truth of it abides, this desire has not faded, you are still in that attitude, that position. It is some time back, and you do not seem to be getting there.

Jacob had that experience. At the beginning, God intimated it to him, he knew that it was wrapped up in the birthright. He heard in his dream that night the voice of God above the ladder. He had this, he knew this twenty years ago, and he is not in it yet, it is not maturing, the whole thing is under arrest; there is delay, there is frustration. All that he was led to believe that meant, is not coming into experience; something about it is not satisfying, the situation does not answer to expectation, he is not getting there.

Delay in the Realisation of the Purpose

In John's gospel, where we are dwelling so much, immediately after we have got past the Cross at the end of chapter 3 the Son of Man is lifted up, and in spiritual meaning the man of earth has been set aside in the Cross; the Nicodemus earthly man of frustration and defeat and limitation, hopelessness, he has in figure been taken to the Cross of the Son of Man. The very next thing is Jacob's well: "He (Jesus) must needs pass through Samaria" (John 4:4), "So He cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar... and Jacob's well was there" (v.5,6). And then you know all that happens at Jacob's well, "Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?" (v.12) The greater than Jacob is here. "The water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life" (v.14). You have heard that, you have read that, you have hoped for that, and you have felt that that is the thing that will answer. If only there is within you the open well springing up, the living water flowing forth from within, that wonderful satisfaction that the woman of Sychar did not know for the first half of her life, but came to know through Him who was greater than Jacob, the true Israel of God. You want that. If only this well within were a reality - but it is delayed, it is deferred, it is under arrest; with all your wistfulness, hope and belief that that is God's purpose; it does not mature. Time goes on, you are not there. Jacob for twenty years tarried between the hope, the expectation, the mental apprehension, the vision, the inward assurance that that was God's will - and the realisation.

Defeat and Failure Because of Self-government

Delay, but more than delay - defeat and failure. Look what occupied the twenty years. Yes, God in a way was blessing, was prospering him in temporal ways, was standing by him in many situations, but there are a lot of things during those twenty years that do not speak of the heavenly Man by any means, and do not indicate that Jacob is getting on very well spiritually. The spiritual side of things is very limited, very much held up by delay, defeat, disappointment, all because it is still Jacob self-governed, the man who is governing his own life and whose interest in heavenly things has a self-ward direction; the man who has his hand upon his own life and wants to realise himself. So he tricks Laban. So he bargains with God. There is, right at the heart of everything after all, this deeply-rooted, not always perceived, but ever dominant self-direction, self-government, self-interest, wanting spiritual things to bring him somewhere as Jacob, to realise his visions as Jacob - albeit in relation to God.

Defeat and failure may be because of this, that which you and I are not prepared to admit or perhaps we cannot see, but it is there. God sees it, God knows it. While the first thing is true, that we are the called according to His purpose and that our lives through sovereign grace have been apprehended by God unto a great heavenly purpose, and there has been a registration in us of our desire to have God's best, delay like this has some reason. There is a reason for it, a cause, an explanation.

The Lord will not Commit Himself to Jacob

I hope you are remembering John 2:24,25-3:1: "Jesus did not trust Himself unto them, for that He knew all men, and because He needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man; for He Himself knew what was in man. Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus", and he is one of the men to whom the Lord Jesus will not commit Himself. Are you wondering why the Lord is not committing Himself, why the Lord is so limited in your life, why the Lord is not just going on? He knows what is in man, and He knows the place, the measure, the strength that the self-interest principle has in us, and it is the most dangerous thing to the interests of God. He will not commit Himself to it, for if He did, then our flesh would glory in His presence. There is an explanation, and it is in some way this Jacob, the government of self, the strength of self.

The Lord Precipitates a Crisis

Well, what is going to happen? Something has got to happen. This cannot go on indefinitely. You say, "This cannot go on indefinitely, this is a contradiction! This raises fundamental questions as to the very truth of all that I have believed and accepted as to whether God is faithful to those who want to be really out and out. We cannot go on like this. It cannot be God who is at fault; we dismiss that. Then it must be me. There are only two parties in this - God and you and me, and this cannot go on". I may only be speaking to some who really do know that something has got to happen or disappointment and tragedy will mark the life. What is going to happen? Why has God put this word right in our midst? May it not be that God is doing what He did with Jacob? He precipitated the crisis Himself. He said, 'Now is the time, now is the hour, we are going to have a settlement on this matter here and now.' "And there wrestled a man with him" (Gen. 32:24). God precipitated, God took the initiative, and said, 'Now then, we are not going on like this any longer, it is going to happen tonight before the day breaks.' God has taken this step. But Hosea 12:3 tells us it was God who wrestled with Jacob and Jacob came to that conclusion, "I have seen God face to face" (Gen. 32:30). The heavenly Man has come on the scene to deal with the earthly man. "There wrestled a man with him", a heavenly Man. God has come down in the likeness of man to deal with the earthly man, to get rid of him, to put him out of the way, to take his place. Is-ra-el - El is God. God precipitated.

Jacob's Positive Reaction

But then you know that there are always two sides to a crisis. While God said, in effect, 'The time has come, this has gone on long enough, you have looked for this day, now it has come', Jacob was swift to recognise this was the time, God was on the move, and he came into it, he engaged in this matter with God very definitely. The one thing (if this is your position) that might defeat God's end, even though He may move towards you in this hour, one thing which may make this whole thing abortive may be passivity, "Oh, if anything is going to happen, the Lord must do it; I will sit and wait for the Lord to do it all!" Passivity may defeat it all. Did not the Lord Jesus say, "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence (permitteth of violence), and men of violence take it by force" (Matt. 11:12), indicating that there is another side to this matter? We are not going to inherit anything by works, that is not what is being talked about, but there is this side of coming in with God, taking up the matter with God, recognising that now is God's time for settling the issue.

Jacob entered into and laid hold, and said, "I will not let Thee go." God said, "Let Me go, for the day breaketh." "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." You must understand that God is acting a part. When He asked Jacob his name, do you not think that God knew what his name was? Of course! Why does He say, "Let Me go, for the day breaketh." Will this man let Him go? Will He not extend this man to the full, see if he really does mean business, prove that this man is so set upon the blessing, that he will not give it up easily. He has asked for the blessing; will he let it pass, let it go, be put off? God is going to try him right out over this. He prevails with God, but not by his strength, not because he is greater than God, and not by sheer force or determination.

Jacob's Self-strength Touched by God

He prevails with God in this way - by importunity, his refusal to accept less than all that God meant, and he knows God now. So he enters in, he is fully extended, and then to show that with all his strength and all his determination, that that is not the ground on which he is going to be blessed, God touches the sinew of his thigh, and he is a lame, maimed man for the rest of his life. Just a touch of God, and all his strength is gone. Yes, his self-strength is touched at last. There is no virtue in his strength. He has shown God that he means business, but he has not got blessing by his own self-strength. He is touched by the finger of God, and for evermore he is a weakened man and he knows his weakness to his dying day; he went limping for the rest of his life. That will of Jacob's is the will of the earthly man. That will of the flesh, that will of the soul, is broken. That is the point of the trouble. Jacob thought he could do anything by his own strength, his own cunning, wedded to a persistent will; he could have anything, do anything, get anywhere. He is touched in the heart of his self-life, and for evermore that self-life is known to be crippled. That is the focal point of the transition.

Jacob's Shattered Self-confidence and Self-esteem

"What is thy name?", asks God. Listen! "What is thy name?" "Jacob - Supplanter - Trickster". He had to admit, confess, and acknowledge what he was by nature. Jacob! I do not think he answered God very jubilantly. He had to come to the place where Esau looms into view and all that Jacob the Supplanter meant twenty years before where Esau was concerned, comes up as a terrible shadow and threat, right into his consciousness. Esau was coming with his four hundred men to greet his brother, but for Jacob it was the most awful prospect because of his awareness that he is Jacob, the Supplanter. There is nothing good about that name. It had to be divulged what he is by nature. "What is thy name?"

Now then, are you a very fine person? What do you think of yourself, what are you going to say about yourself before God, what is your testimony of yourself now in the presence of God? We have to come down to a very low place where our very name, which is our nature, is something we are not a bit proud of. We may have been able to outwit our Labans, we may have been able to do a lot of things successfully in this world, we may have been something among men, but in the presence of God, what are we now? This is the crisis where we are brought to the place where we abhor ourselves, and admit that our name is Jacob. Are you already there?

Are you a successful person in this world, in your business, in your profession, in your affairs? You have usually been able to get what you set your mind on having, been able to wangle it somehow; you never take "No" as an answer. But now there is no obtaining by scheming, no getting round things in God's presence. What are we in the presence of God? 'My name is Jacob.' All right, you have come down there, have you? You are broken in your will, broken in your soul-force, humbled, ashamed, knowing that you can never get through to God's best with all your desire, or by any other resource than God Himself. You know that you must die, that Jacob must be buried. You know that there will be the marks of an awful crippling upon that soul self-life.

"No more Jacob, but Israel"

If you are there - "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Is-ra-el." No longer self-governed because self-deposed. Now God has the government of our life. The thing that was a horror to you, the Esau and his four hundred, and all that which you dreaded has turned into a blessing. It has passed, and now under the sovereign hand of God, has turned to your good. You come to Bethel and you are able to pour out something to the pleasure of God. You were never able to do that before, to bring a drink-offering into the house of the Lord. And then the Lord speaks and says, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 35:11). It is a new prospect: heavenly fruitfulness. The well is open, heavenly fruitfulness is possible now.

Satisfied with Christ

The next picture we came to was of Israel being brought to Joseph, Joseph coming to meet Israel his father, and the words from Israel to Joseph - "Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, that thou art yet alive" (Gen. 46:30). Joseph is a beautiful type of Christ exalted, and Israel has come to the place in the spirit of the great Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in perfect satisfaction. Christ is exalted, and Jacob is contented because Christ is exalted. "Now let me die." Oh, this restless, discontented, striving man, this man of care has come to contentment and satisfaction, and now it is not because he has got somewhere and got something, but because this other one is alive. Satisfied with Christ, self removed, Christ on the throne; satisfied.

Glory to God Through Israel

And then (and what a different end it might have been) the next picture. Israel dies and is buried, but oh, what a burial, what a picture of honour to Israel. Everybody comes, everybody mourns with great mourning and lamentation for this one for whom they were so grateful. Thank God for Israel, thank God for what He did in that man's life, thank God for the great transition and transformation, thank God for all the fruit that has come from that life! There was great mourning. It is an honourable burial. Jacob might have passed out in dishonour but for Peniel. He passed out in honour and glory because of Peniel.

Do you want to come to restful contentment? Do you want to come to an end where people can say, "Thank God for the remembrance of So-and-so, their life meant something very much of the Lord. When you met them, you saw the work of grace, you saw what God can do in a life! It is a pity they have gone, the earth is the poorer for their departure!" We are not wrong and it is not selfish, to desire that. Do you not hope, I do, that when we have gone people will say, well, not, "Good riddance!" but, "Now the world is the poorer, there is something less of the Lord, something less of the heavenly Man here". That will be to the glory of God, and it all hinges upon this - the crisis in the life of the child of God where that self-strength, self-will still unbroken and unshattered, and that ability still to stand up and be erect, has met its match and master in God, and has been broken with all the wonderful consequences of being broken.

Are you a broken man or woman, a broken Christian? Has the self-strength been maimed? Do you know that you cannot go upright in your own strength? Do you know that your own soul is marked by the finger of God and marked down to impotence, that you dare not, cannot, assert yourself in the old way? It turns upon the Cross. "I have been crucified with Christ... it is no longer I... but Christ" (Gal. 2:20). The earthly man has passed out, the heavenly Man has taken his place. "The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is of heaven."

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