Rachel: Can Your Gods Be Stolen?
August 21st, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
CAN YOUR GODS BE STOLEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-21-83 7:30 p.m.
It is a privilege, one incomparable to me, to welcome the uncounted multitudes that share this hour with us on radio and on television. They are televising these services now, morning and night, and sending them literally over the earth. I meet people from South Carolina, from Washington State, from Illinois, who listen to our services on their cable television. And here in the city of Dallas, where I live in East Dallas there is no cable, but I am told by people who live in certain areas of our great metroplex that there is a cable televised service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas every night at nine o’clock. So it is incomparable privilege to welcome you to these hours of Bible study and spiritual appeal.
As has been suggested in name, these present Sunday evenings are dedicated to "The Bible’s Amazing Women," and the one tonight is Rachel, and the title, Can Your Gods be Stolen. Let us turn in our Bible to the Book of Genesis; the Book of Genesis, and let us begin reading at the thirtieth verse, and read through the thirty-fifth verse. Genesis 31, Genesis 31, beginning at verse 30, and reading through verse 35; Genesis 31: 30-35. Now let’s read it together:
And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father’s house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?
And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me.
With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them.
And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, and into Leah’s tent, and into the two maidservants’ tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah’s tent, and entered into Rachel’s tent.
Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel’s furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not.
And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images.
It’s out of that incident that I have introduced in the message tonight the story of Rachel; Can Your Gods be Stolen.
If you have been in some of the heathen nations of the world like Thailand, I have seen those little images in the homes of the people, and they have a little place where they burn incense before them, where they light candles before them, and they pray to those images. It was such that Rachel, when Jacob was called of God to go back to Bethel and back to Canaan, that she took the household gods and images of her father Laban. And to conclude that part of the story, when we are introduced to Jacob at Peniel in his new experience with God and his new name Israel, the prince of God [Genesis 32:28], you have the story following where Jacob, the new Israel, says to his family, "We must give up these strange and idolatrous gods, and we must reconsecrate our lives to the Lord and change our garments" [Genesis 35:2-4]. And under an oak at Shechem, he buried them. And from that day forward, we never read of anything in the life of the family of Israel concerning the images and the idols that the Canaanites and all of the other heathen round about worshiped.
Can you gods be stolen? If your gods are in this world, the answer is yes. And inevitably it’ll come to pass: you will lose them. You’ll find somebody stealing them. If your god is money – Jay Gould was one of the riches men of all time, and he said, "I suppose I am the most miserable man in the world." If your god is success, your god can be stolen. I so well remember when George Eastman, who invented the Kodak and named the company, when George Eastman committed suicide. If your god is fame, you will live to see the day when somebody else receives the laurels that you coveted and worshiped. And if your god is beauty, time will steal it away. I think one of the reasons that you read of the suicide of some of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, as the days pass and multiply, they begin to lose their pristine beauty, and finding it stolen away, find themselves unable to face the imponderables of life. Can your gods be stolen?
The story of Rachel is one of the saddest in all human literature. There was a providence in her life that brought unusual despair to her heart. She was beautiful, very, very beautiful. And I think that the story of most beautiful women is sad, almost always, almost inevitably. And the story of Rachel is no different; it is sad. Her sister Leah, who was pawned off on Jacob, became the mother of four magnificent sons, Reuben, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah. But Rachel was barren; and the years multiplied, twenty of them, and she had no child. In desperation she prayed, saying, "Give me children or I die" [Genesis 30:1]. In the culture in which she lived, and in the culture of many of the nations of the world today, a barren, sterile woman is an outcast.
I have stood before some of the gods of India in the shrines and temples of that teeming nation. And I have seen women world without end bow, kneel, prostrate themselves, cry, lament, pray before those gods. They are barren, they are sterile, and in the culture of India, they have no status and no standing. The husband, if his wife is not soon a mother, can push her out to starve. She has no rights and no privileges before the law. And they cry before those gods, pleading for a child. In the culture in which Rachel lived, it was doubly so, and the sadness of her heart was multiplied by the taunting of Leah. She, Leah, the mother of those magnificent boys, and Rachel, barren and sterile; "Give me children," she cried, "or I die."
The death of Rachel was sad indeed. After the passing of twoscore years, she became the mother of Joseph. Then when God called the family to Bethel in the land of promise, the Lord sent them on down toward the south; and as they journeyed toward the south and came to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem, Rachel travailed in childbirth. And the midwife who was attending her said, "God is going to give you this child." And Rachel lived long enough to name the son, then she died. She named the child Ben oni, "the child of my sorrow." Out of love, Israel changed his name to Benjamin, "the son of my right hand." But in that agony of childbirth, Rachel died as they came to Ephrath, Bethlehem, and was buried there in broken-heartedness on the part of Jacob who loved Rachel [Genesis 35:16-20].
The sorrow of Jacob and the sorrow of Rachel became a remembrance in Israel throughout all of the centuries and the millennia that followed after. In the forty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Israel, Jacob, is dying in the hieroglyphic chamber in Egypt. And as the great patriarch dies, in a note of infinite tenderness and pathos, he describes the scene of Rachel’s death, when he left her buried alone in Ephrath of Bethlehem [Genesis 48:7]. And a thousand years after that, the weeping prophet Jeremiah, in describing the desolation and the destruction and the captivity of Israel and of Judah, speaks of it like this: "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children, and refused to be comforted because they were not" [Jeremiah 31:15]. And five hundred years after that, Matthew, the First Gospel writer, in describing the sorrow of the mothers in Bethlehem when Herod slew the children, seeking the life of Christ, "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Ramah was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not" [Matthew 2:17-18]. Throughout all of the centuries and the millennia in the life of the people of God, the story of the sadness, and the weeping, and the lamentation, and the crying of Rachel became a part of the memory of the nation.
As I read it and as I pray over it in the Holy Scriptures, God must have some purpose in the sorrows of His children. It is in Ramah, where Rachel weeps with crying and lamentation, that our Lord was born. And in Isaiah 53, verse 3, He is described as "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." It must be that God has a purpose in the sorrows that we bear in our lives. And as I read of our Lord and the sorrows and tears of His life, there are three things that come to my heart; God’s purpose in our sorrows, in our tears, in our weeping. The first is this: it makes us sympathetic and understanding, kind, considerate. Sorrow does that. It says that of our Lord in the Book of Hebrews: "It behooved Jesus to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried" [Hebrews 2:17-18]. And look again: "For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:15-16]. There are no tears that we shed that He didn’t shed. There are no heartaches that we experience that He didn’t experience. There are no trials in life that He didn’t find a trial in His life. Who’s ever been hungry and He wasn’t hungry? Who’s ever been cast down and sad and He wasn’t heartbroken? In that He was tried, He is a faithful High Priest, wherefore come boldly. He knows every tear we cry and every heartache and disappointment we experience; come boldly. He understands. He knows. You’ll find grace to help in time of need. Sympathy comes out of sorrow.
I heard it said of a wonderful preacher, "Since his son died, you ought to hear him now." Mary Crowley a moment ago mentioned that she was here in the days when the great pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, the prince of preachers, stood in this pulpit. There was a tragedy in his life. Captain Arnold of the Texas Rangers was elected chief of police of the city of Dallas, a devoted and faithful member of this church. And upon a hunting trip, Dr. Truett accidentally, accidentally became the instrument for the death of the great, wonderful captain and head of the police force in the city of Dallas. He shot him, and the man died. The great pastor said, "I don’t think I can preach again," and he secluded himself and secreted himself in agony and torment and suffering before God. That’s when the Lord appeared to him and called him again to the ministry. And when I used to hear Dr. Truett, as I did many, many times a youth growing, growing up, there was a note of pathos in his voice that is beyond any voice I had ever heard in my life. I used to listen to Dr. Truett as he would speak of the most common and ordinary things, and as I sat there and listened to him, I would weep; the effect of that pathos in his voice upon me.
Having come here to Dallas, and speaking with some of the members of the church, I was told this: on that second row right there, the widow of Captain Arnold for the years of her life, as long as she lived, sat right there in black widow’s tweeds. And every time Dr. Truett stood up to preach, there sat the widow of the man he had killed. Suffering, and out of that came the incomparable sympathy, even in his voice, of the great pastor, George Truett.
I lay at ease in my little boat, fast moored to the shore of the pond,
And looked up through the trees that swayed in the breeze
At God’s own sky beyond.
And I thought of the want and the sin in the world,
And the pain and the grief they bring,
And I marveled at God for spreading abroad
Such sorrow and suffering.
Evening came creeping over the earth,
And the sky grew dim and gray
And faded from sight; and I grumbled at Night
For stealing my sky away.
Then out of the dark just a speck of a face
Peeped forth from its window bars;
And I rejoiced to see it smile at me:
I had not thought of the stars!
There are millions of loving thoughts and deeds
All ripe for awakening
That never would start from the world’s cold heart
But for sorrow and suffering.
Yes, the blackening night is somber and cold,
And the day is warm and fine;
And yet if the day never faded away
The stars would never shine!
["The Stars"; Robert Beverly Hale]
God has a purpose in the sufferings, in the tears of our lives. "Wherefore being tried in all points as we are, come boldly to the throne of grace, that you might find help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:15-16]. He understands. He knows.
Not only out of suffering is sympathy born, but supplication is born. In the story of Rachel, her prayers were not routine, they were desperate: "Give me children or I die." John Knox parodied that when he fell on his face, crying, "Give me Scotland, or I die." It’s out of suffering and hurt and agony that our supplications are born. In the Book, "Our Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears unto Him who was able to save Him from death. And though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered"; suffered [Hebrews 5:7-8]. Suffering gives wings to our prayers, and they’re brought up to the very throne of God in our hurt, in our cries, and in our lamentations.
And last, not only does suffering bring to us great sympathy and supplication, desperate praying, praying in agony, but it also brings to us an heroic submission before God. That’s what I just read. "In the days of His flesh, offering up in His supplications with strong crying and tears, though a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. And being made perfect, complete, in His tears, in His agony, He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" [Hebrews 5:9]. Suffering brings to us a submission before the will of God that otherwise we could never, ever know; to bow in the presence of our great Lord; "Not My will, but Thine, be done" [Luke 22:42].
This last week, reading Spurgeon as I always do, I copied out this passage from the great London preacher. He was speaking on Lamentations 1:12: "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." And this is what Spurgeon said: "I shall never forget when I shook the hand of David Livingstone," immediately I was riveted in attention. Think of shaking hands with David Livingstone!
I shall never forget when I shook the hand of David Livingstone. I count it one of the great honors of my life to have known him. It was the love of Christ that made him tread pathless Africa and die among the heathen. But he was not the first who counted it all joy to succumb to climate and to perish among strangers for the cross of Christ. Look at the first centuries, how men marched to the rack to be tortured, to the stake to be burned, to the amphitheater to be devoured of wild beasts, for Jesus’ sake. The Roman Empire with all its legions and cruelties could not stand against the insignificant, unlettered, humble but earnest and intense followers of Christ.
Later ages tell the same story. Our land has seen the heroes of the cross enduring unto the end. Over there at Smithfield
– which is just outside of London –
Over there at Smithfield were men and women who early in the morning were summoned forth to be burned at the fiery stake. And they were seen to clap their hands when every finger was a candle, and they were heard to cry, "None but Christ! None but Christ!" And the crowd that stood around them, who were they? They were cruel men and brutal priests; but they were also men and women and children of whom it is written, in the humble church records of the day, that they went there to see their pastors burnt, to learn the way how to die.
I just couldn’t imagine that. As the saints were burned at Smithfield, not only was the cruel, brutal crowd surrounding them, but there were men and women and children of whom it is written in the humble records of the church of the day, that they went there to see their pastors burned, to learn how to die. Lord, Lord, let it be such with me that the people standing by the bedside when I die could learn how to die. He went on:
Even boys and girls learned at their mother’s knee so much of Jesus’ suffering that they became invincible. ‘We are ready, by the good hand and grace of God, to seal our faith with our blood.’ This is what the cross of Christ can do: it can make men suffer for His name’s sake.
It’s a great faith. It’s a great commitment. And however life turns for us, God purposes some wonderful thing, whether it is in our joys or in our sorrows, in our smiles or in our tears. And if God is good to us, we’ll learn the most in our sorrows and in our tears. May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven who suffered, who died, that we might learn how to live, and if in the providences of life we are called upon to suffer and to weep and to cry, may we not become bitter; may we remember God purposes some holy thing for us, that we be sympathetic, that we pray in deepest earnestness, and that we heroically submit ourselves to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Oh, what a faith! The wounds, the tears, the blood, the dying, the suffering of our Savior, and we’re called to follow Him in the faith. May we not draw back, may we not find fault, may we never become bitter, may we receive as from God’s hands the providences that overwhelm us. And if it be tears and sorrow, may the Lord find us heroically faithful unto death.
And while our people pray and wait, you, to give your heart to a Savior who loves you, died for you, in heaven intercedes, who understands all about us and who bids us come in faith to Him, God bless you tonight as you answer with your life His appeal and His call. "Pastor, tonight I’m accepting Jesus as my Savior," or "Tonight, pastor, we’re all coming into the fellowship of this dear church," or "My wife and I, the two of us are coming." Or just you, as the Spirit shall make appeal, make the decision in your soul. Do it now. And when we sing our song, down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles on the lower floor: "Here I come, pastor, here I stand." May angels attend you in the way as you come.
And thank Thee, wonderful Savior, for the sweet harvest You give us tonight. In Thy dear and saving and loving name, amen. While we sing, welcome. Welcome. Welcome.
RACHEL: CAN YOUR GODS BE STOLEN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. False gods can be stolen
II. Tragedy in Scripture
1. Rachel just after Benjamin’s birth
2. Jeremiah – describing the destruction of the land wrought by Assyrians then Babylonians
3. Birth of the Lord, "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"
III. God’s purpose in sorrow
1. Sympathy; Hebrews 2:16-18; 4:13, 16
2. Supplication in earnestness
3. Submission, surrender to God
IV. Lamentations 1:12
1. Spurgeon, "None but Christ" from those being tortured to death
2. Cross of Christ can make strong those who suffer for His name’s sake
3. God teaches through suffering