Introduction: We ended last time with Rebekah trying to grasp the meaning of the struggle inside her between her two pre-born sons. God’s answer in Gen. 25:23 describes a conflict between two nations in her womb. Rebekah could never have foreseen such a mysterious answer to her husband’s prayers for her barrenness in Gen. 25:21. More on this mystery of election in next week’s notes. This week’s notes from Genesis 25 and other verses will give us the deeper understanding of prayer that we will need in order to ‘keep praying and not give up,’ (Luke 18:1) – even when God’s answers run counter to what we had hoped or expected.
Monday: read Genesis 25:22-28 and Hebrews 4:14-16. Even the manner of the birth of Rebekah’s sons signifies the painful conflict between them: Esau, ‘the hairy one,’ (who even in birth looked the part of the elder, stronger, ‘manly’ son), came out first and grew to become his father’s favorite; Jacob, (whose name means ‘supplanter,’ because with his mother’s help he would eventually claim the blessing ahead of his brother), even now at birth grabs his brother’s heel as if trying to be first in line. What is Rebekah to do in the face of such a struggle in which BOTH sons will sinfully strive for supremacy? Surely she must continue to go ‘inquire’ of the Lord (Gen. 25:22) because only in resorting to the Lord by prayer will she find the comfort needed in the face of the heartbreaks of this life – including sons at war.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that by the blood of Jesus Christ we along with Rebekah have a ready retreat (Hebrews 4:14-16) where we can find the comfort to meet whatever calamities come into our lives. Thank Jesus that He knows how to comfort us because He has been tested ‘in every way just as we are.’ Did Rebekah have a divided home? Jesus has the grace to help her in her time of need: for ‘even His brothers did not believe in Him,’ (John 7:5).
Tuesday: read Genesis 26:34; Genesis 27:46 and Luke 22:39-46. Rebekah’s ‘weariness of living’ (Gen. 27:46) because of Esau’s Hittite wives must have often made her habit of resorting to the Lord in prayer a real struggle as she sought to hold her family together by faith. In the same way, even the most committed of Jesus’ disciples found the sorrow of following Christ (Luke 22:45) exhausting when they should have been alertly praying. Such struggles of faithful believers in prayer and perseverance run counter to today’s superficial attitude that ‘a little bit of prayer makes everything okay.’ Even the title of the Gospel hymn ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer,’ misses the reality that prayer is often hard in the face of life’s exhausting disappointments!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His honest portrayal of the difficulty of prayer. Take heart when you struggle in prayer by remembering how even the disciples were unable to remain awake for just one hour in prayer (Matthew 26:36-46)! Why? Because, as Luke says, ‘they were exhausted from sorrow,’ (Luke 22:45). Thank God that He gives us the Holy Spirit as our intercessor in prayer to groan with us and to pray for us when our prayers fail! Thank God that, ‘He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust,’ (Psalm 103:14).
Wednesday: read Romans 8:26-27 and Job 42:1-6. We need almost daily reminders of the Holy Spirit’s strength in prayer because prayer so often brings out our own weakness. We therefore must always begin our prayer times in the same low place as Job 42:5-6: ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’
Meditate and Pray: May God keep us low and humble in prayer, realizing that the best prayer to begin and end each day is: ‘God have mercy on me a sinner,’ (Luke 18:13). At the same time, let us have confidence that the Holy Spirit never tires of groaning with our spirits – even when our spirits fail.
Thursday: read Jonah 4:1-3 & 3:9. When we begin our daily prayers where Job led us to yesterday in Job 42:5-6 – ‘in dust and ashes’ – our questioning of God changes from ‘Why don’t I get the answers I expect when I pray?’ to ‘Why does God answer my prayers at all?’ To have any audience at all with the Lord in prayer is a miracle of grace. This is what makes the complaining, angry, bitter prayers which we can be tempted to utter along with Jonah in Jonah 4 so sinful. We simply have no right to be selfishly demanding in prayer – desiring that prayer further our agenda instead of God’s.
Meditate and Pray: Ask God to give you grace to realize your true standing before God in prayer, expressed not only by Job but even by our father in the faith Abraham, who said in prayer: ‘Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes,’ (Genesis 18:27).
Friday: read Isaiah 65:22-25 and Romans 10:19-20. After facing the stern difficulties of prayer this week and seeing that God’s answers can be mysterious and even painful for a time, we may wrongly conclude that God is a begrudging Hearer of prayer who gives us perplexing answers in order to discourage us from continuing to pray.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s reading begins with God’s eagerness to answer our prayers. As John Piper says about Isaiah 65:24: “God’s will is that we, his creatures, ask him for things. And it is not just His will, it is His delight…He is so eager to answer our prayers and respond to them that He says, ‘Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.’” We may well ask how is this possible, that God so eagerly wants to hear us when we are such undeserving sinners? “Yes,” we may admit, “‘God is pleased with the prayer of the upright,’ (Proverbs 15:8), but I am merely sinful dust and ashes – how can I expect God to be eager to answer my prayers?”
But consider who it is whom God is so eager to answer in Isaiah 65:24: it is those who did not ask for God or seek Him in Isaiah 65:1! In other words, it is precisely those who deserve to be heard THE LEAST in prayer that God is eager to answer – as the Apostle Paul proves by quoting Isaiah 65:24 in his great chapter on the Gentiles being found by God in Romans 10:20!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God right now that in your prayer-less past of being no better than ‘dust and ashes,’ you are a most likely candidate to be heard in prayer. God delights to answer the prayers of those who have NOT sought Him as they should and those who have NOT asked Him. He reveals Himself to such as these. Why? Because prayer is a means of grace, not a work of merit. If you are driven to your knees with a deep sense of being unable to form any words of prayer deserving to be heard by God – take heart – those are the kinds of prayers God hears.