And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of day. 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 . . . And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me . . . And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
And Jacob was left alone.
There wrestled a man with him.
And he blessed him there.
This is God’s system of pedagogy: alone, wrestling, blessed!
Have you been to this school lately? If you have, you understand what it means to see God face to face and have your life preserved. From an outward, natural point of view these are frightening moments. It is the most terrifying experience for the child of Godto be left alone and to wrestle with God.
A dark corridor leads to the arena of this wrestling match:
Sleepless nights when the conscience is seared with pangs of guilt over sins committed.
Long, lonely hours when the stillness of the night is broken by the groans and sighs of the suffering.
Hot tears of anguish that flow from a soul that throbs with the sorrows of death.
Ears bruised with the deafening roar of battle followed by a stillness that is smeared with blood. Anxious souls cut deeply by the barbs of strife, disappointments, unfulfilled ambitions, lost friends, and seemingly total failure.
Indeed, it is a dark corridor that leads to the wrestling match.
It was that way for Jacob too.
Listen to him as he enters this corridor, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac. . . . I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant. . . . Deliver me, I pray thee!”
We would almost pity poor Jacob, he appears broken, torn by inner strife, all things seem to be against him. He has just become two bands. He had feared the worse, it seemed as if defeat was imminent, Esau was coming and that with 400 men!
It was only 20 years before that Jacob had contrived with his mother Rebekah to obtain the birthright blessing from his blind father Isaac. Having the goats hair tied to his arms and neck, while he carried in his hands the savory meat of the freshly prepared morsel of meat, he had bowed before his father and exultingly said, “I am Esau, thy first born, bless me!” The consequences of this brought Jacob to the lonely crags of Bethel, where God came to the sole wayfarer and assured him that He would be with him and bring him back to the land of Canaan. Encouraged by the sight of the angels and promise of Jehovah, Jacob pressed on to Padanaram. There he stayed for twenty years, fourteen of which were spent as payment for Leah and Rachel and the remaining six for wages. Called by God to return, Jacob loaded his possessions on the beasts of burden and took with him his two wives and two concubines who together bore him twelve sons and one daughter. With his servants, they managed to guide the caravan southward to Canaan.
But Jacob became concerned. One question leaped irrepressibly before his consciousness, Esau, what about him? Had the passing of time dulled the keen edge of bitter revenge? Would he yet carry out his threat to kill Jacob? There was one way to be sure. Jacob sent a delegation of servants to inform Esau that he need not be afraid, for Jacob’s return to Canaan would pose no threat to Esau’s security. Even though Jacob had secured the birthright blessing, he was not coming now to take from Esau his possessions or claim them as his own. He wanted Esau to know that he had plenty of his own.
The report came back, “Esau is coming, and that with 400 men!”
Jacob fell on his knees. To God he directed his prayer. He poured out the anguish of his soul, for he was “greatly afraid and distressed.” The corridor that led to the arena was indeed dark.
We ask, why was the chromatic hue so black?
In the deepest sense his problem was spiritual. God had promised him a safe return. The covenant God, the God of his father and grandfather had said, I will deal well with thee, I will surely do thee good and make thy seed as the sand of the sea.
Here comes. Esau with a band of soldiers! What more can he expect but to be exterminated by the flash of the sword? He could already hear the insane shriek of soldiers satiating their thirst for blood by plunging their swords into his wives and children. How would God reckon this with His promise? What of the covenant? What of the cause of the church?
“O God of my father Abraham. . .I am not worthy. . . deliver me!”
You have had the same kind of problem very often, haven’t you? The night seems so black, the cause of Christ seems so helpless that it appears hopeless. Sometimes the corridor is very long and it is always black. From our human point of view it seems as if our personal faith is about to be jeopardized, or the covenant of God seems to be brought to nought in our families, or the forces of evil seem to swoop down upon the church and are about to destroy it. Our struggle is like Jacob’s, how will God allow this, the God of our fathers, the covenant God who has promised that there shall be found faith upon the earth when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.
The dark corridor leads to the arena. God answers our plaintive cry.
A man began to wrestle with Jacob.
It is not important whether Jacob thought this man was Esau or not. The fact remains that out of the dark a man came forward and began to fight with Jacob. Jacob had separated his present for Esau and instructed his servants to tell Esau they were for him. These in turn were followed by the droves of animals and at the end of the procession was his beloved Rachel. He alone remained on the northern shore of the Jabbok. Suddenly out of the darkness this man grabbed him. We must not blame Jacob for having hallucinations brought on by an anxiety syndrome. Neither is the presence of this man simply a visionary encounter. A real man with flesh and blood grabbed Jacob and engaged in an actual physical encounter.
They fought until daybreak and neither prevailed. It is not so, that one was a great deal stronger than the other and thus arose unscathed above his prostrate victim. Both had sweated and strained, but none had won.
At daybreak a change came.
The man touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh.
It left him a cripple.
It brought a change. Jacob forsook fighting with his fists, he fell to his knees and clinging to the man cried out, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me!”
Christ drew Jacob into the arena. The answer to his urgent prayer came in the form of this wrestling match. God was teaching Jacob deep spiritual lessons which we also must learn through wrestling with God.
When the man touched his thigh, Jacob’s heart was touched. It was then that he saw that he fought not against flesh and blood, but “God face to face” and that in human flesh which is Jesus Christ. Christ of the Old Testament came to Jacob. He has the answer to spiritual problems.
And what was that answer?
Jacob had relied upon his own fallible human strength. Like an adder striking its victim he had turned upon his fainting brother, “Sell me thy birthright and I will give thee of the pottage.” Plotting through mean deception he had wrested the birthright from the lips of his blind father. Provoked by the capricious ways of his Uncle Laban, he refused to be content with Leah whom God had thrust into his bosom, but he bargained for Rachel besides. Wantingly he stooped to the gutter with his reeds in order that his livestock might abound. Ah, indeed, this is Jacob with all his clever schemes.
What did it accomplish? Esau is coming and that with 400 men. He had fought, but did not prevail.
The arm of flesh can never accomplish victory in the battle of faith. Jacob had to become a cripple before he could properly face Esau. We have to see this for ourselves as well.
The long dark corridor brings one to the encounter with God. Stripped of all human vanity, we are brought by Christ to see the true perspective of the battle of faith. How shall we be preserved? How shall the only covenant God of heaven and earth realize His covenant?
Not by human strength, not by God being dependent upon man, not through clever stratagems or compromise.
The touch of Christ brought Jacob to his knees and instead of fighting Him, he threw his arms around Him and would not let Him go. In that humble posture he cried out, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”
Let’s learn this lesson with Jacob. Drawn into this arena with him we wrestle with God. By the touch of His grace in our hearts we come to see ourselves as nothing. By nature we fight against Christ. Our great ideas and aspirations are so wrong. What we think is the only way by which our lives can be useful in God’s sight, is frequently wrong. Our ideas of how the church should operate and what God should do in and thru His church, are so often foolish. Whatever is of man, of the flesh, is against Christ. We must be stripped in the arena, we must see ourselves as nothing and unworthy before God. The arm of flesh cannot gain the victory.
There is only one way, we must cling to Christ! We must learn to take our problems to God in prayer through Jesus Christ. We must open the Scriptures and find the answer to our problems there. Even as Jacob, we cry to God in the name of Christ, “Bless me.” Forgiveness, strength, courage, and wisdom flow from the throne of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“And he blessed him there.”
What is thy name? Jacob. Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God and man and hast prevailed.
The encounter with Christ produces a marvelous change. Indeed, “He halted upon his thigh.” He wasn’t in much shape to face Esau and his 400 men from a physical point of view, yet by faith he faced him and God brought him safely to Bethel where he fulfilled his vow.
Pupils that are drawn into God’s school learn this precious lesson. The cry, “Deliver me” is answered, “Israel—Power with God!”
Let’s turn away from the frail arm of flesh.
Let’s cling by faith to Jesus Christ and cry out, “Bless me.”
By this strength we too are able to face life and prevail. No matter how great the trial, no matter how dark the corridor, no matter how strong the enemies appear, this we know, God has promised to be our God and the God of our children. He hears our every cry and will surely give us the final victory in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. This is blessed indeed.
May God touch our hearts so that we cling to Christ.
Then the peace of victory is ours. God is faithful.