The Japanese language, which is written by combining a variety of
characters has an interesting way of describing a ‘crisis’. It combines the
character for ‘danger’ with that of ‘opportunity’ thus giving tacit
recognition to the fact that crisis times can be growth times in the
development of the individual.
The most important crisis in Jacob's life is
found in the passage before us. His crisis
can be described by using four verb pictures.
‘trembling, wrestling, clinging and limping.’
We will examine Jacob’s crisis by using
Have you ever been kept awake at night trembling with fear? Jacob knew
that experience as he prepared to meet his brother Esau. The prospect of
Esau and 400 armed men riding into his camp was very unsettling! He had
taken every possible precaution but would his plan for protection work?
We read in v22 that he got up in the middle of
the night and sent his family and possessions
across the Jabbok river, while he remained
alone on sentry duty. He anticipated the
possibility of a night attack. Gripped by
fear he was covering every
Jacob had left himself completely and absolutely alone. Probably the last
time he had been aware of such aloneness had been 20 years previously at
Bethel . Then his aloneness had provided the setting for God’s revelation.
Sometimes God leads us into situations where there are no other living
persons to help us for then we are often more sensitive to his
Jacob was about to learn that the one thing that
separated him from God's greatest blessing -
was Jacob himself. His greatest danger
was not Laban or Esau but his own
stubborn self-will and
Jacob was poised to enter the great turning point of his life, when he would
be faced with a true knowledge of himself and of his need. Other biblical
characters had made similar discoveries, when they too were alone;
1. Moses was a lonely shepherd for 40 years before being called to deliver
Israel from Egypt.
2. Backslidden David, faced with the rebellion of his men, entered the
classroom of loneliness at Ziglag.
3. Elijah, when alone in a cave in Mt. Horeb, had his inadequate
understanding of God corrected.
4. Paul, when alone in the Arabian desert for 13 years, had
his theological understanding turned upside down.
While Jacob was standing guard a hand reached out and laid hold of him. He
found himself wrestling for his life. Was it Esau, or one of his men? Jacob was
no coward and he had no reason to think that he would not win this match.
After all he had succeeded in everything he had ever attempted in life. In v30
Jacob had become aware that his protagonist was God. Hosea identifies the
figure as 'The Angel of the Lord' Hos.12.4. Scholars believe this was a pre-
incarnational appearances of Christ. God who took the initiative.
This passage is mistakenly used to illustrate man's
perseverance with God in prayer. But Jacob
didn’t set out to pray. He was not looking
for God to do business with him.
The reverse was the case. God persevered
with Jacob until he realised he could not
win. At that juncture God would break
him in order to remake him.
The physical struggle of this contest mirrored a spiritual struggle of far
greater importance. Jacob came not only to a point of physical but of spiritual
submission. He came to realise what a poor, helpless, worthless creature he
really was. Only as he recognised his weakness would he discover the source
of true strength.
Paul’s shares a similar experience. On three occasions he had asked God to
remove his thorn in the flesh…
“But God said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my
weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in
weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in
persecutions, in difficulties. For when I
am weak, then I am strong”.
Have you ever had to wrestle with God, when you thought you knew better
than him? If so, perhaps you can identify with what follows:
First, note the duration of this wrestling match v24. It lasted from dusk till
daybreak. Most professional wrestling bouts today last about 20 minutes
after which the contestants are often completely exhausted! Jacob was
determined he would not be beaten.
The essence of stubborn self-will is a refusal to yield.
And so God must sometimes become our fierce
antagonist in order to overpower the strong hold
of self in our lives.
Secondly, Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled. This was the
extreme measure God resorted to because Jacob refused to yield. God
always wins this kind of contest and it is best to submit sooner rather than
Has God ever had to put your life out of joint?
Has he ever had to dislocate your plans, when you
attempted something contrary to his will?
Suddenly the hand of God reaches out to
create a crippling financial setback, or a debilitating
illness or grievous disappointment.
God has many moves designed to weaken us in
order that we might own him as the source
of our strength.
We have a different picture in v26. Jacob is now clinging to the one, who
has defeated him. We hardly recognise the man. Jacob's strength is broken
and he is clinging onto Christ for his blessing. He is no longer struggling for
supremacy but clinging childlike for support.
Jacob’s opponent had wasted what is recognised to be the strongest
ligament in the body.
Jacob would be a cripple for the rest of his life. And any hopes be
may have had of overcoming or even out-running Esau are now
completely dashed. He is helpless and knows it!
He is totally dependent upon God to deliver him.
Clinging Jacob is now a man remade by God's grace and surrendered to his
will. It is a faith picture made all the more remarkable by Jacob’s realisation
that his protagonist was not after all Esau but God. And his longing for God’s
blessing was greater than the humiliation of his ego. Jacob’s experience is
beautifully reflected in Wesley’s hymn;
Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
Jacob could now say with Paul:
“I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me”. 2Cor.12.9
The blessing Jacob sought was not cheaply secured. The Lord asks him in v27
'What is your name?' This echoed his father’s question, asked 20 years
previously, when he entered Isaac’s tent disguised as his brother Esau.
‘Who are you, identify yourself before I give you my blessing’.
On that occasion Jacob had replied ‘Esau’. He had pretended to be something
that he wasn't in order to gain the blessing. At that point his behaviour had
truly reflected the true meaning of the name ‘Jacob’, ‘heal grasper, cheat,
Now God asks the same question put to him by Isaac. ‘Who is it that seeks
my blessing?’ God cannot be deceived. He sees right into our hearts. Blessing
comes not by hiding our true identity but by exposing it. So by identifying
himself, Jacob did more than confess his name to God, he confessed his
character. He owns up to being a schemer, a plotter and a deceiver. By forcing
him to confess his past God prepared him for a new beginning, marked by a
new name - ‘Israel’. The change of name spoke of a change of heart.
The word ‘Israel’ appears to be a compound of two Hebrew
words 'sarar' meaning ‘struggle for supremacy’ and 'el'
meaning ‘God’. And so ‘He struggles with God’ but the
name Israel can also mean ‘God rules’. As a result of
wrestling with God Jacob has now begun to submit to
God’s rule. We then read ‘Israel’ in v28 as irony.
When Jacob had contended with men, he always thought he had won but
he had really lost.
He had cheated Esau of his blessing but lost his way spiritually.
He had outwitted his blind ailing father but lost his home comforts.
He had deceived Laban but lost his goodwill.
None of these victories had brought Jacob real
satisfaction. In his latest encounter, this time with
God, he had suffered a reversal of fortunes.
He had lost, but in losing he had won! This is
divine logic. We win by losing!
The greatest example of this truth is surely
the death of Christ on the cross and his
resurrection from the dead!
In the C19th, George Muller began a number children's homes for orphans in
Bristol. He made no public appeal for money but looked only to God to
provide. It is estimated that a sum of £2 million was donated during his
lifetime. He was once asked the secret of his extraordinary fruitful life.
He replied, ‘There was a day George Muller died’.
He was speaking of the importance of dying to self-will. We win by losing!
What did Jesus say?
'Unless a grain of wheat falls into
the ground and dies, it remains only
a single seed. But if it dies it produces
many seeds. The man who loves his live
will lose it, while the man who hates his life
in this world will keep it for eternal life'
Are there wounds, which we proudly wear, deaths that we have died,
surrenders we have made? Amy Carmichael challenged her Christian
readership with this poem:
"Hast thou no scar? No hidden scar on foot or side or hand, I hear thee sung
as mighty in the land, I hear them hail thy bright ascending star, Hast thou no
scar? Hast thou no wound? Yet I was wounded by the archers spent. Leaned
me against a tree to die and rent, by ravening
beasts that compassed me; I swooned.
Hast thou no wound? No wound? No scar? Yet as
the master shall the servant be, and pierced are
the feet that followed me. But thine are whole:
Can he have followed far,
Who has no wound nor scar?
The final picture shows Jacob limping on his way to meet Esau cf v33. Jacob
left the wrestling ring as the sun was rising on a new day, on a new beginning
for a new man. In the world's eyes he was a cripple. In God's sight he had
become an overcomer through defeat. Jacob no longer strides confidently
through life but is wholly dependent upon God. His wound, he would carry
for the rest of his life - a reminder of the most critical day of his spiritual
pilgrimage and a day that filled his heart with praise.
A wonderful comment on the significance of this
event is found in Heb. 11.21:
'By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each
of Joseph's sons, and worshipped as he leaned
on the top of his staff.'
Jacob would gladly carry his scar into the glory of eternity.
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress, as Mr. Valiant for the Truth was preparing
to leave this earth and enter the Celestial city, he spoke these last words:
“I am going to my Father's and though with great difficulty I have got here,
yet I do not regret all the trouble I have been through to get to where I am.
My sword I give to him who shall succeed me in my
pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him to him
who can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me,
to be a witness for me, that I have fought His
battles, who now will be my Rewarder.
Is God wrestling with you at this moment? Have you resisted his will for
weeks, months perhaps years? Has God begun to touch some area of your
life as he touched Jacob’s life, to bring you to an end of yourself? Are there
deaths to self to which you have to die? God does not wrestle with you in
order to destroy you but to equip you and make you
fruitful in his service.
The scars of such encounters are not to be
worn with shame but with gratitude and
carried into glory, where we will have the
opportunity to rehearse, what God has
done in and through us despite the
difficulties, which we placed in his way.