In obedience to God, and with a strong desire to do so because of Laban’s treachery, Jacob left the land of Haran and was already within the borders of the land which God had promised to him, and before him to his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. Laban had pursued Jacob and had falsely accused him and then returned to his own land without laying a hand on Jacob, because God had appeared to him and warned him not to touch him.
Now a new fear grips Jacob. It was not an unexpected one, nor was it a sudden apprehension that overwhelmed him. For a long time the matter had been in the back of his mind. But now as he approached his father’s house, that fear forced itself to the front place in his consciousness. He must face Esau! Twenty years before this, he had cheated his brother and lied to his father. He had used treachery and deceit, and had gotten the birthright blessing by trickery. Indeed God gave it to him according to a promise given even before he was born. This does not take away the fact, however, that Jacob was deceitful. Instead it only shows more clearly that Jacob was not walking by faith. He did not take hold of God’s promise. He was not walking by faith, but as though God had not given such a promise, or was unable to fulfill His promise without Jacob’s sin. And that is awful! To doubt God’s faithfulness, to question whether He is able to do that which He promises is one thing. But to conduct oneself in such a way as by it to say that God needs your SIN to help Him do what He promises is quite another thing. That is what Jacob’s deception of his father, and struggle with Esau for the birthright blessing, means and shows.
With a spiritual mentality like that we can understand that Jacob had real and great fears as he comes back home to face his brother who had made known his plans to kill him. Was his father still living? We have no indication that Jacob had any knowledge to the effect that his father was alive. The closest we come to it is that we read that God told him to go back to the land of his fathers. This need not at all mean that Isaac was still alive. And remember that Isaac had called Esau in to fix venison, and intended to bless him, because he thought that the day of his death was near. Remember also that Esau had declared that he would kill Jacob as soon as his father was dead. And although twenty years had come and gone, Jacob had not forgotten any of this. What is more, Jacob had a whole lot more to lose now than then. He had a family of eleven sons and one daughter. Benjamin had not yet been born. It is not now the matter of Jacob’s own life alone that concerns him, but he has twelve children and two wives (and their maids) that are his direct responsibility and the object of his love.
In His mercy God sent an host of angels to encourage him. No matter how unfaithful we become, God remains faithful. And knowing our weaknesses He sends us courage and comfort. If only we would look at those angels which God also sends to meet us in our trials and fears, we could have courage and comfort as well. Those angels are there. In fact we read in Hebrews 12:1 that we have a cloud of witnesses to encourage us as we live in the midst of countless enemies whose power is increasing every day, and whose hatred of us is not covered but open. No, we must not expect an host of angels to come from heaven into our living room, bedroom, hospital room, or funeral parlor. We cannot, as Jacob did after this host appeared, call a particular spot Mahanaim, that is, Two Hosts, but we do have these angels appear before us on the pages of Holy Writ. And we have more than angels therein. For we have the Angel of the Lord, Christ Jesus our Lord Himself to assure us that no man can pluck us out of God’s hand or keep us from our birthright blessing in the new Jerusalem.
But even after this display of guarding angels, the weakness of Jacob’s faith again comes to manifestation. He sends his servants to meet Esau with the word, “Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now: And I have oxen, and asses, and flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.” Now, that Jacob wanted peace and sought favour in Esau’s sight need not be wrong or a manifestation of weakness of faith, or unbelief itself.” Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” But note that Jacob calls himself Esau’s servant, and calls Esau his lord. That he does literally, not merely by implication. He is up to his old tricks. Yes, he trusts in God, but also thinks that God needs his help. He had the birthright. He was designated to be the head of the church after his father’s death. And he need not humble himself in the dust before Esau and call him lord. God had told him before he left Haran, “I will be with thee.” Twenty years before this at Bethel, God, standing at the top of the ladder which Jacob saw from heaven to earth, had said to him, “I am with thee, and will keep thee I in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee back again to this land; for I will not leave thee, until: I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” Just before speaking these words God had promised to give that land of Canaan to him and his seed; Jacob need have no fear of Esau. He did have great fear. But he had need of no fear. And yet we read that after his servants had met Esau and returned to Jacob, and informed Jacob that Esau was coming with four hundred men, “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels into two bands; and said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.” Jacob is trying to salvage what he can by his own ingenuity and wrestling with men. His faith is not strong, and he has definite lessons to learn.
Now Jacob had remembered that God had given him all those promises. For he makes mention of that fact in his prayer to God immediately after he had given these instructions to his servants. He cried, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst to me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee; I am not worthy of the least of Thy mercies. . . . for I passed over this Jordan with my staff; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me I pray Thee from the hand of my brother Esau: for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” Yet right after that prayer he sets aside a present for Esau consisting in two hundred she goats, twenty-one he goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals. Indeed he needs to learn a lesson or two. He prays to God, and yet at the same time he seeks to win Esau’s favour by gifts of that which God was pleased to give him.
God is now ready to teach him that lesson. Jacob is alone. And out of the night a man appears and begins to wrestle with Jacob. Did Jacob at first consider this to be one of Esau’s men, who had come to prevent him from proceeding on his way back to his father’s house? At any rate Jacob could not go forward. He was halted in his tracks and barred from further movement towards his father’s house by one who wrestled with him till the break of day. It was actually the Almighty God Himself Who wrestled with Jacob, and in wonderful mercy the Almighty limited Himself to the exact strength of Jacob so that neither He nor Jacob prevailed. He could have broken Jacob in two and crushed every bone in his body. He could have destroyed him and cast him into the lake of fire. But He did not. He matched Jacob’s strength so that the wrestling match went on hour after hour until the day began to break. But He did more than that. All this was physical. He also worked spiritually in the heart of Jacob so that he began to understand that this was no mere man, and indeed was God Himself, and God to Whom he had prayed for deliverance from Esau and his hatred. And God did this in connection with touching the hollow of his thigh and making him a cripple. Unable to continue the wrestling, because his thigh was out of joint, Jacob throws his arms around the neck of this wrestling Partner for support. He is not wrestling now. He is not fighting his adversary now, but is clinging to him for support. He clings to a Friend instead of pitting his strength against an enemy. Knowing now that it is God, Jacob inwardly clings to Him by faith, and outwardly with his fleshly arms also holds tightly on to Him. And when God tells Jacob to let go because the day was dawning, Jacob says, “I will not let Thee go until Thou bless me.”
Now, for the moment at least, Jacob understands : that all his trickery and attempt to help God actually were fighting Him, wrestling with Him. Jacob was aware of the fact that all his life he had been wrestling with men — with Esau, with his father Isaac, and with Laban. Now he understands that, since he was not clinging to God by faith with implicit trust in Him, and with patience for Him to fulfill His promises in the way of righteousness, he in all his sins was wrestling with God; and in this he was hopelessly outmatched. He learned the hard way that He must wrestle in prayer with God, and not with men by means of the arm of his flesh and the ingenuity of his own mind. He prevailed and got the name Israel, Prince of God, not by wresting it out of God’s hands, but by prayer and clinging to Him in faith.
And now for the rest of his life he is a cripple. But understand well that God blessed him with a crippled leg. O, yes, it was a blessing for Jacob. So often we fail to see God’s blessing in that which He does for us and unto us. And without a doubt it bothered Jacob to halt in his walking. Undoubtedly we would want to pray for Jacob that God would take this away as some form of the curse. But not so! For the child of God nothing is a curse. Christ bore all the curse. He drank the whole cup to the last drop and left none for us yet to drink. And we see so clearly when we also walk by faith that this was a blessing for Jacob, and that in his life also all things work together for good to those that love God. You see, Jacob continued through the rest of his life with his old Jacob-nature even though he had received the new name Israel. He still had his old man of sin, even though the new man is the Prince of God. And every time that Jacob was tempted to go back to his old tricks of wrestling with men of God’s blessings, that old thigh problem would remind him of this lesson which he learned. God gave him that reminder to take along with him the rest of his life for that reason. Do not curse your afflictions. Do not accuse God of working things against you — unless you are an unbeliever — when He gives you thorns in the flesh. He does that in mercy to humble you, to teach you to look to Christ, in Whom we have the healing of all our diseases in the day of His coming. Do not complain about anything that God gives you to draw you closer to Himself. Instead, thank Him for these things.
Jacob prayed and said, “I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me.” God did bless him, not simply in that name Israel but in that crippled thigh which reminded him every step of his way that he must wrestle in prayer with God, and in that way be the prince of God. If God gives you that which makes you seek Him in prayer, you are blessed by that affliction, that fear, that circumstance. And by the power of prayer you will prevail to enjoy the truth of being His prince.