Jacob has progressed further than ever before in his acknowledgement of God. He is about to enter the Promised Land, but to do so he must face the consequences of sins buried long ago—and his own sinful character that spawned those sins. Esau is coming with 400 men. Jacob has prayed in his desperation. Only God knows what the outcome will be. God has been working on Jacob for twenty years now. Before the sun rises again, before he faces Esau, Jacob must come to the breaking point when he abandons his self-reliance and scheming ways in order to trust Yahweh has his God from here on out. It is a trust well earned by God’s promises and blessings.
Schemes first, prays second; but reveals by his prayer how much his attitude has changed over the years: conscious helplessness, reiteration of God’s promises made to him long ago, but full sense of his own unworthiness to receive any help at all.
We are just like Jacob.
God promises us good. God providentially blesses us over the years. God reveals Himself to us from time to time.
While we may give Him some acts of worship, in our hearts we hold off from Him, and bargain with Him, because we just cannot fully trust Him to be for us what He says He will be. We fear submitting to Him, trusting Him, taking up our cross and following Him. We fear losing our plans, our potential, our hopes—we fear losing ourselves.
That is mankind’s great trouble. That is your trouble and mine. Unless and until there comes that crisis moment that converts our heart attitude toward God. That’s what happens to Jacob in the passage before us this morning.
I. THE CRISIS (22-24)
This crisis happens “the same night” as all the other significant events: his fear and distress, as his prayer, as his gifts of appeasement.
For all of his family and servants to ford the Jabbock (which means wrestling) river—waste deep, thirty feet wide—would have potentially exposed them to attack. He sends them over during the night, so that only he need cross in the morning.
24: “And Jacob was left alone.” What he’s about to go through is something that a person must wrestle through for himself. Whether or not to yield to God, to cling to Him for His blessing, not your own will. No one else can do it for you. Intensely personal, sometimes excruciatingly lonely.
“There wrestled a man with Him.” Jacob does not initiate this conflict. Who is this “man”? So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered."
Jacob thought Esau is his big problem. But in reality, Esau was not the problem, God was his problem. Jacob’s inadequate relationship to God.
MLJ, 16-17: “The essence of this vital experience is this: an individual comes into personal contact with God. We must not think of . . . Christianity simply as a matter of morals and of actions. Nor must we think of it merely as a matter of ideas or principles. Christianity is not a point of view; it is not just an attitude towards peace and war, education or industry. It is not primarily a message about what can be done for society—No, no, in the first instance it is this—a man coming to a personal encounter with God.”
It must dawn on us where our real problem lies.
We give most of our effort and time and worry to problems that are not the real problem, the real danger:
Esau, loss of goods and family.
Wealth, education, relationships, new start, a break, opportunities, a weakness that you cannot shake.
World focuses all the time on solving problems that are not the real problem—healthcare, better government, financial stability, improved education, international peace, nuclear safety.
MLJ, 30: “Esau isn’t the problem, the atomic bomb isn’t the problem, industrial conditions are not the problem –No, no, you yourself are the problem ultimately, not Esau but God, not Esau but myself, not being what I am meant to be; not land and possessions and goods but the loss of my immortal soul and the jeopardizing of my eternal future.”
Jacob has been wrestling with God all his life (Hosea 12:3-4). He wrestled the birthright and the blessing from his brother Esau. Ironically, God had promised these things to him from the start. He was fighting with deceit and cunning to gain what God had already promised to give him.
Maclaren, 225: “Revelation to Jacob of what God had been doing with him all his life, and was still doing? Was not that merciful striving of God with him the inmost meaning of all that had befallen him since the far-off day . .. . he had left his father’s tents, and had seen the opened heavens, and the ladder . . . ? Were not his disappointments, his successes, and all the swift changes of life, God’s attempts to lead him to yield himself up, and bow his will? And was not God striving with him now, in the anxieties which gnawed at his heart, and in his dread of the morrow? Was He not trying to teach him how crime always comes home to roost, with a brood of pains running behind it.”
That is man: fighting others and fighting God to enjoy the blessing that God would give him if he would yield to God. But man will not trust God.
Note: entirely on account of God’s action that Jacob comes to this realization. He did not choose for God to pronounce blessing on him back at Bethel. He did not choose to wrestle this night. God did.
MLJ, 24: “What makes a man a Christian is not something that he does, it is something that God has done and God does.”
God dealt with sin on the cross apart from man. He demonstrated his love while we were yet sinners. He made a way before the foundation of the world. He made the first move. He secured salvation for us while we turned everyone to our own way.
II. THE TURNING POINT (25)
Astonishing paradox: “did not prevail . . . touched his hip socket . . . put out of joint.” Only God could cripple a man so easily.
But if the Wrestler can with a touch dislocate Jacob’s thigh, how is it that this Supernatural opponent cannot prevail? Actually, this gives us incredible insight into the very character of God. You see, it is not God’s desire is to crush man—such an outward victory would be a trifle for God. What God wants is for man to yield to Him. Inward victory. Love. Trust.
This also gives us insight into the history of mankind. Many impugn the character of God that he has let sin and all its ravages prevail so long without crushing it. That he has let Satan have his little day and strut upon the stage for so many centuries. Scripture’s Answer: He is longsuffering to usward and not willing that any should perish.
Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Not until God touches Jacob’s source of strength—not till God cripples the power on which Jacob has relied—so long using trickery and deceit, even as his birth name conveys—not till that reliance is broken, does Jacob change in his purposed desire.
Somehow at this moment the realization finally came to full shining that God was not someone to dread, not a threatening enemy in the night, but the very Source of blessing that he craved, the One most needful thing—Person—of all.
God: “Let me go, for the day has broken.” Why would God say this? What is God doing here? He is doing the same thing as Jesus did with the two on the road to Emmaus: “He made as thought He would have gone further.” It is the same as when he came to the disciples on the water: he would have passed by.”
God creates in the human heart the startling realization that we are about to miss the blessing we most need and now suddenly, most desire. So now Jacob stops fighting to get away and starts fighting to hang on. "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And in this Jacob prevails.
What God means when he says to Jacob, now Israel, you have prevailed with God. You have laid hold of Him—you have owned for yourself the great blessing He intended you to have. But you cannot have it unless you want enough to fight for it.
This desire is exactly what you must come to if you will ever be saved. Your relationship to God—must become the most important thing of all to you.
John Piper wrote in Desiring God, “Saving faith is the heartfelt conviction not only that Christ is reliable, but also that he is desirable. It is the confidence that he will come through with his promises and that what he promises is more to be desired that all the world.”
III. THE TRANSFORMATION (27-30)
Jacob’s Identity (27-30)
Had to confess his character from birth had been that of a conniver and supplanter. God gives him a new name that speaks of God’s striving with him, and his own striving to hold on in faith to God.
Not always called Israel; sometimes called Jacob. Why? Because his new name denotes his spiritual standing, his new character and his old name reveals that the flesh is still there and comes to the forefront from time to time.
What is true of Jacob’s descendants—God calls the Israelites “Jacob” when He wants them to remind them of their natural character versus their transformed status.
After Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, there were significant times he called him Simon: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
Jacob’s Future (31-32)
Never the same again. Physically, his limp vividly reminded him and others that he had encountered God face to face and that when he was made weak in his own strength, he finally became strong by trusting completely in God
Jacob’s sending Esau on ahead with the promise to follow is the last time the Scriptures record any tricky strategy from Jacob. From thereon, he suffers the tricks of others, but does not behave so himself.
When we are truly converted and receive our new nature, we still battle the flesh, but the track of our life is changed forever.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made hi to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”