I was looking up a commentary in blueletterbible.org on Isaiah 61:1-3 when I took a wrong turn and unknowingly wound up in Psalm 61. I read the commentary by Chuck Smith and it just didn’t jive. Then I noticed I had taken a wrong, but meaningful turn.
I have always been intimidated by those who spew Hebrew and Greek with ease especially when they use it in general conversation, not in explanation. Mizpah was such a word. So I cracked up with Chuck Smith’s explanation. I am no longer intimidated. This is a long quote but if your back is against the wall, I think it will encourage you as it did me.
“God brought many people of the Bible to the end of the road. I think of the angel wrestling with Jacob all night. It was a bad day for Jacob. He had just left his father-in-law, and that was a bad scene. They had had words, and their leaving wasn’t on the best on terms. Even though when they departed from each other they said, “Mizpah,” which means, “The Lord watch between me and thee while we’re absent one from the other.” Yet, that isn’t as pleasant as it sounds when we put it into English. In the Hebrew it literally means, “You’ve ripped me off, and now you are leaving with all of my goods that you have ripped off from me. And I can’t keep my eye on you anymore, because you are going to be gone. You have gone with my daughters, you’ve gone with my flock, my herds, and I can’t watch you any more, so may God watch over you while we are absent one from the other, you crook.”
“And it had been a bad scene; Jacob didn’t know how he was going to fare out of it. In fact, he wouldn’t have fared so well unless God had been with him. And the night before his father-in-law had caught up with him and the Lord said to his father-in-law, “Don’t you touch Jacob. You keep your hands off of him.” And so because Laban was afraid of God, he didn’t touch Jacob. He said, “Listen, I have the power to really do you hurt, but last night the Lord told me not to touch you.” So it was a strained experience.
Now Jacob has left his father-in-law. They have gone back toward Babylon, and Jacob receives word, “Your brother is coming with a host of men to meet you.” But that isn’t really a welcome home party kind of a thing that you are anticipating or looking for, because the last time you saw Esau seventeen years ago, he was saying, “As soon as I get a chance I am going to kill that rat.” And his brother had been threatening to murder him. Now, if his brother was coming to welcome him home, he wouldn’t need two or three hundred men with him in a welcome party, so Jacob knew that trouble was brewing, and he was trouble.
That was the night that there came an angel of the Lord and wrestled with Jacob all night. The Lord was trying to bring Jacob to the end of the road. You see, he was going to need all kinds of strength tomorrow. He is going to be meeting Esau. He doesn’t know what the situation is going to be; it could be perilous. And so all night, a night when you especially need sleep, you need strength for tomorrow; he is wrestling with this angel. Now, Jacob at this point is a ninety-six-year-old man. I mean, he is no spring chicken anymore. And in the morning, as the day began to break, still wrestling. Man, this guy is tenacious. He’s not going to give up. So the angel touched him in his thigh and caused his muscle to shrivel, and crippled him. And the angel said to Jacob, “Let me go before the day breaks.” And Jacob at this point was hanging on with all that he had, but he broke down and he began to weep. Now, Genesis doesn’t tell us that he wept, but Hosea tells us that Jacob now was in tears; he was a broken man. And he said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” But that was not a demand, that was a plea. It was a plea with tears. “Please don’t go without blessing me.” He is defeated now. God has him where He wants him.
Jacob, the name means heel catcher, Jacov. For when he was born, he had hold of his brother’s heel, so they said, “Oh, look at that heel catcher.” And the name stuck. “What is your name?” “My name is heel catcher.” “You won’t be called heel catcher anymore. You are going to be called Governed by God, Israel.” His life was changed. No longer the supplanter. No longer the deceiver. Now a man, Israel, governed by God. What a difference. But God had to bring him to the end of the road to bring about those necessary changes. And so the last cry of desperation that came forth with weeping and tears from Jacob was really the first cry of victory.
So often that is true in our lives. When my heart is overwhelmed, when I turn to God out of desperation, that becomes the beginning of God’s glorious victory in my life as He leads me to the Rock that is higher than I.
For you have been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy [the shelter of the rock, strong tower]. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert [or the covering] of thy wings. For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: you have given me the heritage of those that fear thy name. And you will prolong the king’s life: and the years as many generations. He shall abide before God for ever: O prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him. And so will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows (Psa 61:3-8).
I don’t think it was a wrong turn at all. We have had some serious challenges this week. This is how Smith concludes his commentary; “And so David ends the psalm with more or less words of confidence. “God, You are going to take care of it. The Rock that is higher than I will see me through. He will bring me back. I will dwell in Your tabernacle. I will dwell before Thee.”