“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. 29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. 31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. 32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.”
The old man sat by the brook called Jabbok waiting and watching. He was all-alone now by design, for he had sent everyone else away. Haunted by his past, apprehensive of the future, terrified of the present, the old man passed the time wondering what the morning would bring. Each moment by the flowing tributary of the Jordan River seemed like an eternity. He now had the opportunity to remember.
The man remembered his rich heritage. He was the son of the one called Isaac, whose name means “laughter.” Isaac was so named because his mother Sarah had laughed when she heard that she would bear a child in her old age. While she laughed in doubt, her husband Abraham laughed in faith.
He staggered not at the promises of God. In time, Isaac was born. He too grew to be a great man, with children, one of which now sat alone in the dark by a babbling brook. “My name is Jacob,” thought the man bitterly. “What a proper name my parents gave me. I have been true to character. I have cheated and chiseled, I have schemed and I have been successful but oh, what a price I have paid.”
The sins of former years came rushing back, and Jacob remembered them all. He remembered that he had cheated his brother Esau out of the family birthright. The opportunity had presented itself suddenly. Esau had been out hunting one day, but without success. Returning home, Esau was very hungry. He smelled the food that Jacob was eating and asked for some. One brother asked another brother for some food, only to be surprised when the price turned out to be the spiritual birthright.
Not being a clever man, Esau conceded to the demand. He gave up his birthright for a bowl of pottage. He also gave up his immortal soul. The ease with which Jacob was able to take something important, encouraged him to plot to take from his brother the family blessing. And Jacob found a way.
Actually, it was his mother Rebecca who thought of a way. As Isaac loved Esau for his manliness, Rebecca loved Jacob for his tenderness. And Rebecca was determined that her favored son should be honored. There was deep division in the family that Jacob came from. Rebecca was willing to deceive her sick and blinded husband, and betray one of her sons, to help the other son whom she favored (Genesis 27).
Jacob remembered how he had been afraid that the plot his mother conceived would not work. She was confident that it would, and she was right. Dressing up like Esau, Jacob tricked his father, and received the family blessing. But Esau was angry, and vowed revenge after Isaac died. “I had to flee,” remembered Jacob as he sat under the starry sky. “I fled to my uncle Laban in Haran.”
It was on this journey that Jacob learned something of God’s grace (Gen. 28:11). On the night that Jacob fled, he took some stones and put them for his pillow, and lay down to sleep (28:11). Suddenly, God burst into his life through a dream.
As Jacob recalled, there was a ladder (Gen. 28:2) set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. The angels of God were seen ascending and descending on it. Then Jacob heard the voice of God saying, “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:13-15).
After he awoke, Jacob continued on his journey to Haran, but he never forgot his dream. Following his greatest sin, he found the grace and mercy of God His Saviour. Arriving in Haran, Jacob enjoyed the faithfulness of His God. Despite a father-in-law as cunning and ruthless as himself, Jacob prospered.
The years passed, and finally the Lord told Jacob to return home (31:3). It was in obedience to the heavenly voice that Jacob started to go home to Palestine. But at home there was Esau. Esau had vowed to kill his brother, and there was no reason to believe that Esau had changed his mind after twenty years.
When great acts of injustice are involved, time has a way of standing still. When a personal relationship is severed in a dramatic way, all of life has a way of being defined by that crisis. A look, a thought, and all the raw emotions of past injustices comes flooding back.
By a brook in the middle of the night, Jacob was flooded with guilty memories. His heart filled with fear. He became depressed. It was in this highly agitated state of mind that Jacob heard something. His worst fears were coming true. Someone was walking towards him. Someone had found him. “Was it an assassin? Had his brother Esau located him and sent a servant to kill him? Did all of his peace offerings fail?”
Jacob had hoped that a scheme to appease Esau would succeed. He had laid out a five-fold plan. The first part of The Plan was to send messengers with specific dialogue to his brother. Jacob commanded his servants to say to Esua, “I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight” (Gen. 32:5).
The implication of this message was that Jacob no longer needed, or wanted the material prosperity that Esau had. What Jacob wanted, and needed, was grace. When we have offended someone and desire reconciliation, we need the offended person to show us grace.
The second part of Jacob’s Plan was to divide his large company into two parts. If Esau attacked one party, the other could escape (Genesis 32:6-8).
The third part of The Plan involved heartfelt, earnest prayer. Listen to the prayer of Jacob. “And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee” (Gen. 32:9).
In this prayer we find Jacob reminding God he was returning home according to Divine instructions. There is a geographical will of God for each of us. We need to be where God wants us to be. The prayer continued.
“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Jacob acknowledged that he has been blessed of God. He is returning to pass over the Jordan with the gifts of God, for the people of God. Now, God must protect what He has given to Jacob. 11 Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children” (Gen. 32:10-11).
Jacob honestly confesses his fear of Esau. Neither time, distance, money, or a personal bodyguard could alleviate Jacob’s fear of his brother. Such is the nature of sin. Sin causes the heart to fear. The prayer continues. “And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude” (Gen. 32:12). Jacob reminds God of the Covenant He had established so long ago. It is good to remind God of His own promises. It is a proper part of prayer.
The fourth part of Jacob’ Plan consisted of presenting presents in three waves. “And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother” (Gen. 32:13).
The presents Jacob wanted to give to Esau were significant, and rightly so. The expression of repentance should be as deep as the sin that was committed. Jacob wanted to give to Esau “Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams, 15 Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals” (Gen. 32:14-15). This was to be a very generous gift to Esau.
However, in case Esau was not willing to receive the gifts of redemption, Jacob had another facet of The Plan, and that was to place his servants in harm’s way as a final protective barrier. The fear of Jacob led him to use human shields to protect his own troubled life. And Jacob said unto his servants, “Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove” (Gen. 32:16). Jacob put others, humans and animals, as a buffer between himself and Esau, and his army of four hundred.
Finally, Jacob “rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. 23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had” (Genesis 32:22).
Now, after all of his scheming Jacob was still left alone. This is a perfect example of how our own fleshly, grandiose plans play out. We put them into operation, and find ourselves all alone, still full of fear and anxiety, and ready to wrestle anyone that comes near, including God.
Alone in the dark, sick with fear, and desperate for his life, Jacob attacked the first person that came near him in the night, and he began to wrestle. Jacob felt that he was fighting for his life, and so he struggled with all the intensity in his possession.
How long the wrestling match continued is not known, but finally, there came the breaking of the day. It was then that The Stranger with whom Jacob had been struggling decided to do something extra¬ordinary. The Stranger had to end this struggle, and so he touched Jacob on the hollow of his thigh, the source of the strength of a wrestler. There was something about the way that this all happened which caused Jacob to suddenly reconsider the situation. There was divine illumination.
Whomever he was wrestling was not a mere mortal. A thought came to Jacob. “Could it be that I am wrestling with the Angel of the Lord? Could it be that I am wrestling with God Himself?” Jacob had to find out. Though his physical strength was now gone, he still clung to The Stranger and cried, “I will not let you go until you bless me. Cripple me if you will, kill me if you must, but I will not let you go!” The Stranger was moved by the pleas, and He blessed Jacob by the babbling brook called Jabbok.
What are we to make of this wrestling match, in which it turns out that Jacob had been holding the Lord God Almighty in his arms? There are two main thoughts to be considered. The first thought, is that there is a wrong way to spiritually hold God in our arms. The second thought, is that there is a proper way to hold the Lord in our arms so that we prevail with Him with power.
There is no doubt that during the long night of struggle, Jacob held the Angel of the Lord in his arms, but he did not know it, and it did him no good, for it was all done in the energy of the flesh. The wrestling match with the Lord began in fear and distress, all of which was unnecessary, for God had drawn near to Jacob to comfort Him. Divine initiative always comes first in salvation, in sanctification, and in the security of the soul.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul writes, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Lord had already heard Jacob’s confession of faith (Gen. 32:9). The Lord had listened as Jacob acknowledged his unworthiness (Gen. 32:10), and asked for divine protection (Gen. 32:11).
It was in response to the desperate situation that Jacob found himself in that The Stranger came to honor him, and be near him, for this is a theophany, this is a divine manifestation of God prior to the incarnation.
But what does Jacob do? He jumps The Stranger, and wrestles with Him. We have to ask in astonishment, “Jacob what are you doing? Do you not realize that The Stranger is God, and it is God that you hold in your arms? Jacob, the Lord has come to help you. He has come to reassure you. God has drawn near to you in your deepest hour of need. Why are you wrestling with Him in this way?”
The wrestling with The Stranger in the dark was rooted in fear and despair. Jacob felt that he must use all of his fleshly power to prevail. Though he tried, he failed. Spiritually, when we grasp hold of the Lord in the wrong way, we will fail. One of the ways we try to grasp hold of the Lord is through merit.
Charles Spurgeon has noted that, “It has been thought, by some people, that a man can attain to a certain degree of merit, and that then, he will receive heaven’s blessings; – if he offers a certain number of prayers, if he does this, or feels that, or suffers the other, then he will stand in high favor with God. Many are living under this delusion; and, in their way, are trying to get power with God by what they are, or do, or suffer. They think they would get power with God if they were to feel sin more, to repent more. It is always something that they are to do, or something they are to produce in themselves, which they are to bring before God, so that, when He sees it, He will say, ‘Now, I will have mercy upon you, and grant you the blessing you crave’. O dear friends, all of this is contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ”.
I know that it is common to focus attention upon the physical wrestling of Jacob with The Stranger, as if that was somehow meritorious. But the truth of the matter is that the Angel of the Lord got tired of that sort of wrestling, and was ready to leave because “He prevailed not.” It was only after Jacob was physically crippled that the spiritual integrity of his heart was manifested, and we discover that Jacob wanted to be different.
He wanted fear to flee. He wanted anxiety to disappear. He wanted fellowship to be restored in his family. But most of all, Jacob wanted The Stranger to bless him, and to be pleased with him.
In the concluding moments of this night of wrestling, we finally discover that Jacob wanted to hold God in his arms, and never let Him go, because at last, Jacob perceived that he had God in his arms.
That is what makes this story so precious. Not the first part, but the last. Not the fear and fighting, but the faith and pleading. All through the night Jacob held God in his arms in a wrong way. But then came the moment of complete disability. Jacob lost all of his physical strength. He lost all of his human ability and merit to prevail, but his heart still wanted more. Spiritual insight came, and Jacob realized who it was he held.
Immediately, the way Jacob held the Lord changed. Instead of grappling with The Stranger in the flesh, Jacob touched the Lord in faith, and prevailed. There is a right way to hold God in our arms.
I know it is your heart’s desire to be like Jacob, and to have power with God and to prevail.
It can happen, but we must hold God correctly, and then we will have power. How then, do we have power with God?
The answer is this. Power with God comes in four ways. First, there is power with God through the poverty of spirit. Second, there is power with God through the promises of His Word. Third, there is power with God on the basis of a personal relationship. Fourth, there is power with God by pleading past actions.
First, God’s people get power with Him from the very character of God’s nature. The nature of the Father is one of infinite love and tenderness. When the Lord sees our plight, He is moved to help – and therein we have power with Him. We see this concept at work in our own hearts.
Have you ever been presented with an extreme situation of financial necessity? Did you not want to help? Did not the very poverty of the person move you? In like manner, spiritually, when we plead with God our helplessness, He is moved with compassion.
Therefore, like Jacob did, it is wise for us to plead before the Lord our weakness, that He may pity us, and make us strong (Gen. 32:11). It is wise for us to bring to God our hurting hearts, our trembling spirit, and our utter helplessness. In that way we shall have power with Him.
We get another view of the source of spiritual power with God when we reach the next point, namely, God’s promises. In particular, there are promises that relate to the privilege of fellowshipping with Him. There are many passages in the Bible that teach us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.
The Lord has promised us that if we desire to know Him, we shall. The promises of God are precious, and all of them are true. And since God cannot lie, He is bound by His promises. Therefore, “Point to and plead the promises” C.H. Spurgeon.
The true child of God knows of another source of power with God, which is the power of a personal relationship of grace. God in His infinite, sovereign mercy, has been pleased to choose certain people to be His children. “I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18). That is not indiscriminate language. It is personal.
Now a son and a daughter have a very special relationship. They can do things others cannot. They have a power that others do not have. During the days of the American Civil War,
President Lincoln allowed his sons, Tad and Willie, free reign of the White House. And the boys took full advantage of that special relationship. Even when cabinet meetings were taking place, Lincoln’s young boys were allowed by their father to interrupt, and press their immediate needs no matter how trivial the matter was. President Lincoln always made time for his children, much to the distress of others. The Christian has power with God because of a personal, intimate relationship with Him, for not all men can call God, “Father.”
Finally, the child of God knows there is power with the Lord because of past actions.
The Bible tells us that God chose us. Then He called us. Then, in mercy, He saved us.
“Once a sinner near despair
Sought thy mercy seat by prayer;
Mercy heard and set him free Lord,
that mercy came to me!”
Oh dear Christian, do you understand? God, having shown us in the past great mercy, shall He not freely give us all things in Christ Jesus? If the Father has done wondrous things for us at Calvary, what will He not do for us in time, and in eternity? As we plead past mercies, we can seek new ones, and say with Jacob, “I will not let you go except you bless me!” And God will bless, and give power with men, and with Him.
When God’s people have power with Him, they become a source of blessing to others, reflected in Abraham’s ability to save Lot from Sodom. Moses had power with God, and two million people were spared destruction. Aaron had power with God. He took a censer filled with burning coals and incense, and ran to stand between the living and the dead. A terrible plague was stayed.
The Lord Jesus stands to defend those whom He has purchased with His own blood. We need to seek to have power with God, in order to help others. The important thing is to understand, that like Jacob, we need to prevail to have power with God.
To prevail might involve tears. In Hosea 12:4 the prophet tells us that Jacob had power over the angel; he wept and made supplication unto him. Jacob was covered by sweat, and he was covered by tears, just like Jesus. There are some things we will not enjoy until we are able to say,
“With Thee all night, Lord,
I mean to stay and wrestle,
till the break of day.”
Maybe someone needs to wrestle over a loved one who is still lost. “Oh, Lord save him!” Wrestle with God. But in the struggle, do not wrestle in the flesh. And do not remain ignorant of Whom we spiritually hold in our arms. Let us make a soul adjustment on that point. Then, we will hold onto God in love, and not fear and despair. In the dawning of a new day, there will be a blessing.
And there will be power, through the poverty of spirit, through the promises of His Word, on the basis of a personal relationship, and by pleading past actions. I tell you, God has come to us. We hold Him by faith. Now go, and be close to the One who loves us, and gave His Son to die for us. Hold onto the Lord, but in the right way.