Choose Battles Wisely – When to Fight and When to Walk Away

In the upside-down world we live in, we must choose our battles wisely, knowing when to fight and when to just walk away. I don’t always have a clear direction to know when a fight is worth it.

My younger cousin and I would often wrestle. Both wiry and good-natured, the wrestling usually resulted in healthy competition and laughter. On one particular occasion, my cousin’s intentions shifted. My father sensed it and gave warning. This fight ended all future fights! I limped away with a black eye and bleeding nose, while he was unscathed. Though younger, he clearly overpowered me.

Dog Fight

It was the beginning of learning to choose my battles wisely!

Meet Jacob

Jacob was used to fighting. He fought his way out of the womb holding his brother Esau’s ankle, later robbing him of his birthright and blessing. Jacob lived up to his name, grasping the heel, taking advantage of and deceiving others.

The contention in the womb led Rebecca to seek God, “Why is this happening. . .?” (Gen 25:22)

“The LORD said, to her,
Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:23

The battle between the two brothers grew so strong that Jacob fled for his life with only a staff and the clothes on his back. Alone, there was no one to swindle or fight, but himself.

Fighting FIsh

The first night away, Jacob had a God-inspired dream of a staircase to heaven. Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning the house of God.

“When Jacob awoke from his sleep,
he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place,
and I was not aware of it.’
He was afraid and said,
‘How awesome is this place!‘ . . . “
Genesis 28:16-17

Jacob’s Match

After the long trek to his ancestor’s homeland, Jacob met both his future wife, Rachel, and her father, Laban. Jacob didn’t know it yet, but in Laban, he met his match.

Try as he might, he was unable to out-swindle and out-connive Laban who cheated him into marrying the wrong woman and changed his wages continuously.

“You know that I’ve worked for your father
with all my strength,
yet your father has cheated me
by changing my wages ten times.”
Genesis 31:6,7

After twenty years, Jacob learned to pick his battles; he ran for the hills instead of fighting (31:21,38). Sometimes, I’m just as slow in learning which match to engage and which to leave alone.

Cat Fight

Laban, though a cheat, was no fool. He recognized God’s blessing on Jacob created increased wealth in his coffers. Gathering a renegade mob, he pursued Jacob to bring him back, but God warned him against taking action.

Laban chose his battles wisely. Jacob he could handle, but once God stepped in, Laban backed out of the fight.

The Real Battle

Our ultimate battle isn’t against people or any political or economic system. The real battle we face rests within ourselves. The closer Jacob came to “home,” the closer he came to himself.

Genesis 32:1 says, “. . . the angels of God met him.”

I would appreciate a few more details, but none are given. Jacob knew he was entering hallowed ground. Yes, he was “in great fear and distress” over seeing his brother Esau, but a deeper foreboding cast its shadow. Jacob knew it (Gen 32:7).

Fighting Tigers

Finally, we witness a glimpse of the “new” Jacob: a humble Jacob, a contrite and God-seeking Jacob.

“Then Jacob prayed, ‘O God of my father Abraham,
God of my father Isaac, LORD . . .
I am unworthy of all the kindness
and faithfulness you have shown your servant,
I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan,
but now I have become two camps.
Save me, I pray,
from the hand of my brother Esau,
for I am afraid. . . ”
Genesis 32:9-11

What’s this! An honest Jacob, too!

A Battle Worth Fighting

In the night, whether through self-protection or God-direction, Jacob sent gifts ahead to Esau to pacify him” (Gen 32:20). In the middle of the night, Jacob also moved his entire household, servants and possessions across the Jabbok. A vicious battle was about to ensue. Unsure of the outcome, he moved everyone to safety.

“So Jacob was left alone,
and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”
Genesis 32:24

Tearfully, I remember my moments “alone.” Moments of only God and me. Contending for His promises. Resisting His discipline. Questioning His agenda. It wasn’t easy with Jacob; its certainly wasn’t easy for me either.

Horse Fight

Did his family hear his screams of anguish, his groans of pain, or his wails for mercy from the other side of the stream? How far did his voice echo through the once still night?

Neither God nor Jacob relented. The past needed to be dealt with before the unfolding of Jacob’s future destiny. With not even a staff to lean on, Jacob faced God. It was both his darkest night and his brightest dawn.

God’s Discipline

Hosea offers insight into why God chose this battle wisely.

“The LORD . . . will punish Jacob according to his ways
and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
as a man he struggled with God.
Hosea 12:2,3

This battle separated Jacob’s past from his future, from living in self-motivated deception to walking with the God of Truth, from contending in the flesh to trusting in the Spirit.

Jacob died that night! For “no one sees God and lives!” (Ex 33:20)

Bull Fight

In the dust of Jacob’s life, Israel rose. Israel struggled with God, walking out of personal darkness into the dawn of his purpose.

“. . . I saw God face to face,  
and yet my life was spared.”
Genesis 32:30

God is just and always good. Jacob’s corrupt nature had to die before he would receive God’s promised blessing. Whenever God brings up our past, His purpose is redemptive. God’s discipline always points to future hope.

“The Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:6

God chooses His battles wisely with us, too.

Limping Forward

My battle left me with a black eye and bloody nose; Jacob’s left him with a permanent limp. Rather than a mark of weakness, the limp marked a man of divine strength — humble and submissive to His Lord.

“He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.”
Hosea 12:4

Everywhere Jacob went from that time forward, he would consecrate it to God. In Shechem, “he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel” (Gen 33:20).

God was no longer just the God of his ancestors, but now El Elohe Israel, his own Mighty God. God longs to be personal to each one of us — intimate and near.

Goat Fight

God brought Jacob back to Bethel, the stairway to heaven. Jacob consecrated his entire family in preparation. Now instead of running from God, Jacob ran to Him.

“God appeared to him again and blessed him . . .
you will no longer be called Jacob;
your name will be Israel‘ . . .
And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty.”
Genesis 35:9-11

When we choose our battles wisely, we walk with new identity, albeit limping in humanity’s weakness, but princes and princesses of God, nonetheless.

God Almighty

Encounter by encounter, Jacob experienced an ever-increasing awareness of the God he contended with. Jehovah, LORD God of his fathers. Then as personal LORD, the I Am. In the face to face night encounter, Jacob found God to be imitate, loving and gracious, powerful and just. At Bethel, God revealed Himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, the one who pours Himself out, liberally and completely.

The same is true for us! The longer we walk with God, battling through our internal issues and surrendering to His invitation to intimacy, the more we discovery His greatness and goodness.

Lion

Jacob learned to choose his battles wisely, walking away from the insignificant, making peace with his oppressors, leaving behind the deceivers, and contending with the only One with Whom it really mattered.

May we all choose our battles as wisely, discovering that God is present with us in an ever-increasing measure.

Tamar, Contending for Her Inheritance! A Woman Who Would Not be Denied!

Meet a contender wrestling with cultural inequality to secure her inheritance. Tamar would not be denied life, dignity and destiny.

Tamar is the first woman listed in the genealogical record of Jesus the Messiah. What merited Matthew’s inclusion of this incredible woman?

God intends for man to take his place as defender, protector and provider of his household, walking faithfully before Him. What happens when men stumble and lose their way? When deliberate choices to abandon personal identity, home and family invade, then what?

Choices

Judah

Genesis 38 begins with the words, “at that time

What time is “that time”?

“At that time” when Judah was involved in a jealous conspiracy to kill his own brother, eventually selling him into slavery. It was “that time” when lies couldn’t conceal sin or soothe a father’s grief. “At that time” when guilt haunted and self condemnation screamed.

“At that time,
Judah left his brothers
and went down to stay…”
Genesis 38:1

Little words containing enormous ramifications! Judah “left”Running away from his family, he hoped to escape himself. He “went down” the well-travelled road ultimately leading to dead ends.

Boundary crossed

Judah withdrew from more than his family, however. He crossed God’s boundary line of protection by marrying a Canaanite woman.

Together their marriage produced three sons: Er, Onan, and Selah.

Tamar

Tamar enters the picture as the wife chosen for Er.  Er was wicked in the LORD’s sight“, so wicked God put him to death. (38:7). Are there any willing volunteers  to take Tamar’s place? Instead of the fulfillment of a little girl’s dream of happy marriage, Tamar found herself in a painful nightmare.

Judah instructs his second son to fulfill the Levirate marriage requirement to ensure the continuation of his brother’s family line and protection of his widow. Onan also was “wicked” (38:10). He was all too happy to use Tamar for his own sexual pleasure while refusing to fulfill any obligation to her, his family or God.

Stubbornly refusing to face his own sinful heart or the blatant wickedness of his sons, Judah casts all blame toward Tamar.

Sin is never “private”! It’s twisted deception infects and affects everyone! 

Live as a widow
in your father’s household
until my son Shelah grows up.”
Genesis 38:11

Unknown path

An hollow empty promise, to be sure! With a word, Judah cut Tamar from her inheritance pushing her out of his sight — a widow, childless and vulnerable.

Her story unfolds like a soap opera! Tamar waits! Years pass! Still she waits.

Tamar means date palm, the ultimate symbol of life and productivity. Her confinement concealed the true destiny and calling within her name! Would she settle as castaway? Would she bare the burden of another’s sins in powerless obscurity?

Life

How long the wait was, we are uncertain. The bible simply says,

After a long time,
Judah’s wife … died.
When Judah had recovered from his grief,
he went to Timnah…” 
Genesis 38:12

Judah too had experienced great loss; no one dare minimize his anguish and grief. However, he gave himself permission to “recover from his grief.” 

His daughter-in-law was granted no such grace!

Because of Judah’s unwillingness to give his youngest son Shelah to Tamar, he alone could fulfill the Levirate Law.  With courage and boldness, Tamar veils herself and waits by the road, risking all to defend her family rights.

“When Judah saw her,
he thought she was a prostitute,
for she had covered her face.
Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law,
he went over to her by the roadside and said,
come now, let me sleep with you.”
Genesis 38: 15-16

One black sheep

Judah’s journey took him further than he ever thought possible! The cost was incalculable! 

“Sin will take you farther than you want to go,
keep you longer than you want to stay,
and cost you more than you want to pay.”
R. Zaccharias

This account of Judah is nestled within Joseph’s larger story.  A young goat’s blood was given to convince his father of Joseph’s staged death. Now Judah reaches into the flock a second time to mask another dark deception.

The Pledge

Judah promises a goat as payment for her services — a payment woefully lacking! Not searching to satisfy lust or fleshly desire, nor seeking revenge for gross injustice and mistreatment, she asks only for what is due her.

Boldly she claims her inheritance!

“What pledge should I give you?”
“Your seal and its cord,
and the staff in your hand,” she answered.
So he gave them to her…”
Genesis 38:18

The seal was a symbol of a man’s identity marking his personal worth, while the attached cord symbolized the binding of two things together. The staff in Judah’s hand was far more than a walking stick! It was an emblem of his authority, like a royal sceptre. It was probably hand carved; the length carefully etched with the names of his ancestry.

Staff of authority

Yet Judah willingly placed everything into the hands of an “unknown” woman! For one moment of sexual pleasure, he yielded his identity, authority and generational inheritance. Astonishing! 

Judah later sent his friend with the goat to pay the woman and retrieve his pledge. Unable to find her, his friend returns empty-handed.

Let her keep what she has,
or we will become a laughingstock.”
Genesis 38:23

“Let her keep what she has?” Judah flippantly disregards the value of what has been lost. Nonetheless, words prophetically spoken.

Tamar’s Honour

Tamar became pregnant in the encounter. The life growing within her forming the connecting link between Abraham and Jesus. The promise protected in her womb outweighed any treasure in her hand!

“The “widow” is pregnant!”

Years of suppressed resentment and anger burst forth from Judah with hot volcanic force,

Bring her out
and have her burned to death.”
Genesis 38:24

What could satiate a man’s tormented mind and heart? Public disgrace? Cruel aggression? Murder?

The flames of anger

Tamar’s godliness shines through in polar opposite,

“As she was being brought out,
she sent a message to her father-in-law,
“I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said … 
“See if you recognize whose
seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25

Tamar’s strength of character and honour toward a man unworthy of such kindness overcomes. No public accusation of his failure! No shaming the guilty or demanding justice! Tamar privately presents the evidence and leaves the result to God.

Destiny Secured

Judah is humbled by Tamar’s integrity, wisdom, and bravery.

“…She is more righteous than I…”
Genesis 38:26

Within her, Tamar carried a double portion — two sons! One of them, Perez, would carry the DNA of his courageous mother who refused to forfeit her destiny. The DNA of a woman worthy of inclusion in the bloodline of the Messiah!

Tamar spurned the victim’s stool! She disdained the wicked example of those around her. By living above reproach she saw fulfillment of her destiny. Without compromise, she humbly followed the God others openly rejected.

Her reward? Her name forever written in God’s record of great women

Tamar's inheritance

Tamar modelled godliness in ungodly circumstances. Will her example of contending for inheritance be duplicated in our day? Who among us will choose integrity and honour in the face of injustice? Who will lay claim to the spiritual blessing available for this and future generations?  

Is there anyone who will stand against the cultural currents bringing Christ to the world today?  

Tamar presents a challenge worth considering!

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