Appearances Are Deceitful
By George W. Truett
"And Jacob said, All these things are against me."
That old saying, "Appearances are deceitful," is pre-eminently true. It is a temptation for everyone of us to judge by appearances. Such judgments often mislead us and do us untold harm. Appearances are deceitful. In the case of Jacob, the old man, appearances were altogether repellent and forbidding. They were dark, with the darkness of midnight. And yet in his case they were utterly deceitful, as the after chapters so clearly reveal. This simple text has for us some truths this morning that we may briefly look at, I trust with profit. May the Holy Spirit teach us and help us.
The first truth that emerges from this text is this: There come times when all things seem to be against us, just as such a time came to Jacob. He was an old man when he said, "All these things are against me." His career had been remarkably checkered. He began very badly. He was cunning. He was a trickster. He was sharp, with a sharpness that had meanness in it. Now he is an old man, and he can trace by memory the long years through which he has come. On this particular day the old man seemed shattered, as a tree is shattered in the storm by the fearful lightnings. A little while ago Rachel died, and he has never been the same since. Isaac, his father, had recently died, and the blow of that was still across his heart. A little while ago two of his boys broke his heart by some shameful chapters of impurity. There is nothing comparable to that in breaking a parent's heart - the wrong course of one's children! And some years ago Joseph, a child of his old age, and evidently his favorite, had an evil thing happen to him. Jacob was the father of twelve sons and one daughter. Rather late in life two of those sons, Joseph and Benjamin, were born unto Rachel, his beloved wife. Joseph became the special object of his father's pride and joy. Jacob had the unwisdom to manifest partiality for Joseph, a terrible mistake for any parent to make. As a mark of his special favor he had a coat of many colors made for Joseph. This and other evidences of the father's partiality caused envy and hatred to spring up in the hearts of Joseph's older brothers.
From his youth, Joseph was a dreamer of dreams. His older brothers were infuriated when some of those dreams were related before the family. Partiality produced envy. Envy produced hatred, and hatred produced murder in the hearts of his brethren. In other words envy is incipient murder. Let envy grow to its full proportions, and it will murder. If there is a tinge of envy anywhere in your life, pluck it up as you would a foul and poisonous weed and fling it from you. Those envious brothers caught Joseph out one day, stripped him of his coat of many colors and cast him into a pit, while they conspired to slay him. But Judah persuaded them to sell him to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites who took him to far away Egypt where they sold Joseph as a slave. Then the brothers rent and bloodied Joseph's coat and brought it to their father, saying: "This we found. Is not this thy son's coat?" They feigned the whole matter, and the old man's heart was broken. I wonder if he did not suspect those boys right then, that they had killed their brother? If so, he kept it to himself; but later along, on the occasion of our text, he seems to charge it, I think, for he says: "Me have ye bereaved of my childen: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and now you propose to take Benjamin away. All these things are against me."
And then, added to this sea of troubles that I have just outlined, there came upon the land of Canaan a sore famine.
Those Eastern countries are subject to terrible famines, even to this day. Jacob and his family like many others, were facing starvation. They were in the ashes of desolation, and one day Jacob said to his sons: "Why do you sit holding your hands? We are starving to death. The heavens are as brass. The grass is dry as the ashes. The beasts lie dead from lack of water and food. Why do you sit here holding your hands? They tell us that down in Egypt there is plenty of corn. We shall soon perish if we do not get relief."
And so ten of Jacob's sons set out for Egypt, there to buy corn. There they met their long lost brother, Joseph, though they did not recognize him. He had become prime minister of Egypt. He was next to the king himself. During the seven years of plenty he stored up the grain of Egypt against the years of famine he had predicted would come and he sold it to the nations ridden by the famine. Thus he entered into dealings with his ten brothers. He knew them all the time, but they did not recognize him. And then he said to them: "If the things that you men say are so, then I will keep this man Simeon as a hostage, and the rest of you may go back, and if you be true men and not spies, you will bring back Benjamin, about whom you have told me, and when you come with Benjamin, then I will release Simeon, and then I will know that you are not spies, but that you are true men, just as you represent yourselves to be." So they went back home and told their father, and the old man was immersed in a sea of trouble. "Me have ye bereaved of my children: "Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and now you propose to take Benjamin. All these things are against me."
Now, didn't it look to be so? Do you see how he could have said anything else? Do you see how he could have felt differently? There come times when we are immersed in a veritable sea of trouble. Do you recall the story of Job, the patriarch in the land of Uz? What a good man he was! How influential! How powerful! How useful! And yet he was plunged into a maelstrom of trouble. The messenger came telling him that his property, and he was the richest man of his day, was all taken away. Another messenger came with the tidings that his servants were all taken away. Another messenger came with the tidings that his children, not one, but all, had gone down in an evil hour into dusty death. And then came another messenger, and that messenger was physical affliction, so that from his head to his feet his body was one festering mass of affliction and suffering and pain. And then came some erstwhile friends of the day of his prosperity, and they sat about him for seven long days, as he sat in the ashes, scraping himself with the potsherd. And when at last they deigned to break the silence and tell him what they thought, they said to him, in effect: "Man, you are the worst man out of perdition, or you would not be in such a plight as you are in." And then, added to all that, his own wife - Oh, I think she dealt him the hardest blow of all! If a man can have on his side God and conscience and his wife, he can face anything. His own wife turned on him, in the bitterness of his awful sorrow, and said to her husband: "Curse God and die. Everything is against you."
Oh, how true it is that there come times when everything seems against us. Two proverbs phrase the truth for us: "It never rains but it pours." "Troubles never come singly, but in groups." Everything at times seems against us. Jacob's case is not peculiar. You have not gone far in life but that experiences have crowded upon you. One Black Friday and one messenger after another, coming with the dreadful story of disaster there and trouble here, and in the evil hour, when the sands seemed slipping from you, and the bridge seemed to be breaking, and the black billows were beating against you, you said with Jacob: "All these things are against me." Was it true? Not at all. It was not so in Jacob's case. Nor was it so in your case.
A second great truth emerges from Jacob's story, namely, seeming disadvantages often prove to be blessed advantages. In the bitterness of his awful grief Jacob said: "All these things are against me. I am done for. I am at the end of the road. I am in a trough of the sea. Its waves come over me." Yet at that very time Joseph was prime minister in Egypt. He was planning to save his father's house, and save his loved ones, and save his own blessed country, this same Joseph. And Simeon was in the safest hands possible, for he was down there in Joseph's hands, and Joseph was taking care of him, and would have had all the treasures of Egypt brought to bear to take care of Simeon. And when Benjamin shall be brought down Joseph will put the resources of all Egypt to take care of Benjamin. And Joseph will be reunited to his aged, broken-hearted father Jacob, and there will be a family reunion a little later, and music, and forgiveness, and healing, and there will be songs sweeter and higher and louder than ever echoed in Jacob's house or in Jacob's family. If only he could have realized it!
"All these things are against me," said Jacob, and seemingly they were. But through those very things against which Jacob was crying out in his despair, God in His infinite wisdom would bring to pass some very wonderful and far-reaching purposes. For one thing, Jacob and his family and vast numbers of other people would be saved from starvation. The children of Israel, at that time a rude nomadic people, would be brought into close contact with the most advanced civilization of that ancient time. During their four centuries in Egypt Jacob's family would multiply into hundreds of thousands. They would be made slaves? Yes. But in the hot furnace of slavery they would develop a fierce love of liberty which has characterized them from that day to this. They would produce a Moses, an Aaron, a Joshua and a Caleb. Through Moses God would give to the world the Ten Commandments, an amazing sanitary code and the noblest system of worship known to the world before the coming of Christ. These and many other rich blessings grew out of the conditions against which Jacob cried out, saying: "All these things are against me."
There are times when everything seems to be against us, yet they turn out to be for us rather than against us, just as in Jacob's case. Oh, my fellow Christians, God's blessings are often wrapped in disguises, and His blessings often come robed in black. We may wish them to come robed in white, nicely tied up. But God does not choose to send them that way all the time. Oft times these blessings glorious from God come wrapped in disguises. Sometimes you have welcomed a thing as a great blessing, and it has turned out to be an unmitigated curse: sometimes you and I have looked upon something that came as a burden, as an evil, as a hindrance, as a limitation, as a handicap, and it turned out to be the best thing in the world for us - time and again. Appearances are deceitful.
Sometimes "a piece of good fortune," as we call it, comes to a family, and it spoils them all. Father and mother and children are all spoiled, and they take their plunge from that very hour into the ditch of destruction. Prosperity spoils many people. Prosperity has in it unspeakable danger. If one be exalted and lifted up, in any calling, he is in danger, because that makes for pride, and pride makes for destruction, and a haughty spirit always makes for a fall. Let any man be puffed up about his prosperity, no matter what it is, nor whence it comes, and that man is riding for a fall. Oft times our blessings are supposed to be curses, and our curses are supposed to be blessings. That is because we are so shortsighted and because we take such narrow looks at the things about us. God's blessings often come wrapped in disguises.
I entertain the hope that millions of our sons who are now serving in the armed forces of this nation will come back from this bloody struggle strengthened both physically and morally. If we fortify their camps and Protect their morals and guard their habits, and look after them as we ought, many a young fellow, now soft-fibered, will come back with noble plans and serious purpose and give to the world a great life for the after days. Ease undoes nations; and if that be true, our nation needs something right now to call it to its knees. Too many of our people are ease-loving, pleasure-loving, money-loving. Too many of our people are being lured by the voice of pleasure and the greed for gold. Nations that feed on pleasure and gold are destined for desolation. Our nation needs to be summoned and challenged, that its moral nature shall not be flabby, but shall be mightily disciplined and strengthened. God's blessings often come wrapped in disguises.
Hannibal spent one winter in Capua, and turned himself loose to all the inclinations of the flesh. What the hot suns of Italy and the snows of the Alps could not do for him, one winter's rest and ease in Capua did. The indulgencies of Capua robbed Hannibal of his power and plunged him into wretched defeat. Ease-loving men and women are headed for destruction. For that reason God often sends them experiences which come robed in black. But in those black robes there may be hidden undreamed-of benefits and blessings which the future will unfold for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. All life demonstrates the truth of this observation.
My fellow-men, we do not serve two Gods, the one a God of redemption and the other a God of providence. The God of redemption is the God of providence, and the God of providence is the God of redemption. He is in these little lives of ours. He is concerned about every detail. He is concerned about every life story. He is concerned about every sickness. He is concerned about every sorrow. He is concerned about every despair. Yes, the God of redemption is the God of providence. The very hairs on our heads He has numbered, everyone, and not a little sparrow falls to the ground except by His permission. We are to cling to Him and be unafraid. And if we will cling to Him when we are in the sea of trouble, as was Jacob of old, He will bring us out, just as he brought Jacob out in the long ago.
That great physician, Dr. Moon, of Brighton, England, who had England at his feet, admiring him for his great skill as a scientist, was stricken about life's middle time with irrecoverable blindness. He chafed under it! He rebelled! But one day, after he had held his hands for some weeks or months, he rose up and said: "I cannot sit and sulk and hold my hands. I had better be busy. I had better try to do something." Then it was that he fell upon that discovery, made that invention, whereby blind people can read, though their eyesight is gone, through the tips of their fingers by means of the raised letters. And so it turned out that even though he said: "All is against me," millions of blind people bless God that he was led, in that terrible way, to be such a blessing to them.
That is a wonderful story, perhaps already familiar to you, of the blind Scotch preacher, George Matheson. Ambitious he was when young, and self-centered to a marked degree, as young life often is. He was engaged to an ambitious girl, beautiful, but very ambitious and self-centered. The day for their wedding drew near, and Mr. Matheson's eyes were troubling him seriously, and he sought out a great oculist to see what the trouble was. When the oculist had made his careful diagnosis he said: "Mr. Matheson, you are a strong man. You are not a baby. You want to know the facts?" "Certainly," said Mr. Matheson; "what are the facts?" "The facts are," the scientist said, "that in a few hours you will be blind, irrecoverably so. All the oculists in the world cannot help your eyes. You have dead nerves in there, and you will be blind in a few hours. If there is anybody you need to see, or wish to see, you had better make haste, because the hours are just a few in which you can see anything. There was one person he wanted to see, one above all others, and he sought her out, and with brokenness of spirit he told her the story. Oh, how could she do it! Her heart froze. She pitied Mr. Matheson. She was quite sorry for him, but he would understand that the relations between them were terminated that very hour. She did not bargain to marry a blind man, and so he would go his way, with her commiseration, to be sure, and she would go hers and choose her own course. With his heart broken he went into the shadows. But a little later George Matheson wrote that immortal hymn, which we often sing in the church, one verse of which goes like this:
"0 love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary heart on Thee.
I give Thee back the life lowe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
Might richer, fuller, be."
And out of that Black Friday, out of that grim sarcasm, out of that awful flail of disappointment which flung him into the deepest dust, George Matheson came as one of earth's great preachers and authors. The trouble came, but the trouble had about it marvels of mercy.
You should not take only the short look. You need to look ahead. So I invite you to consider one other truth for a moment. Though things may seem to be against us, and may really be against us, we will get triumph out of them all, if we cling to God. God has not saved us and left us alone in some little corner, to take our own little boat and battle with the storm-swept waters. He is with us on every journey. He is with us in every crisis. He is with us in every experience. He is with us in that night when we cannot sleep. He is with us as alone we are shut up with Him, saying: "What on earth am I to do with this perplexity?" He is right there, and He is saying to us: "Whatever your doubt, or your fear, or your combination of troubles, your sea of troubles, your wave upon wave of troubles, whatever they are, cling to me, trust me, follow me, and I will bring you out more than conqueror.
How do we receive these experiences in life? How do we treat them? What is our attitude in them all to God? When the boy goes away, how do we treat that? When the great change comes in the family or in the life, how do we meet it? When reverses come, how do we meet them? When disappointments sting, like a biting wind, how do we meet those disappointments? How do we meet life? We can meet it and be doomed, or we can meet it and soar as if on eagle's wings, according as is our relation to God.
At the beginning of the last century there were two men in Great Britain, wonderful writers, acquaintances, friends. One was Lord Byron, and the other was Sir Walter Scott. It happened that both of them were lame. Nobody ever heard Sir Walter Scott utter one word of complaint about his lameness. He never discussed it. He never complained. In all the circles wherein he moved, never once did he refer to that limping limb, to that incurable lameness, never once. But Lord Byron was bitter about his lame limb, and everywhere he went he paraded it and talked about it. He grumbled. He moaned. He protested. He rebelled. He was miserable himself, and he made everybody else miserable. Whereas, Sir Walter Scott said within himself: "I will just take my lame limb and I will do the best I can with it. I will not murmur. I cannot help it, and I will not afflict anybody else with my murmuring." And all Britain, wherever he went, welcomed this man, the apostle of sunshine, of optimism, of good cheer. And one day, when Byron met Scott, Byron said: "Scott, I would give all my fame if I could just have your spirit, if I could just have your happiness." Scott knew the Lord. Evidently Byron did not know Him. So he wrote:
"My days are in the yellow leaf.
The flowers and fruits of life are gone.
The worm, the canker and the grief
Are mine alone."
But Sir Walter Scott sang daily, sang constantly, sang everywhere, like Whittier:
"I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air.
But this I know, I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care."
0 my busy, burdened, battling friends, gathered in this house of prayer this Lord's Day morning, you are missing it utterly if you do not cleave to God. You will make shipwreck if you do not cleave to Him, and your troubles will be against you, if you try to meet them and go through them without God. But He will refine them; He will make them so that they shall be mighty lessons of education, of discipline, of reinforcement, of mighty help for you, if only you will cleave to Him, saying: "Lord, Thou mighty God, Thy way, Thy will be done. I trust Thee, whatever comes."
Are these lessons for you today? Won't you take them to heart? Let us pray.