Jacob was on his way back to Canaan, after an absence of twenty years,—years that he had spent with his uncle Laban to whom he had fled from the rest& of his sin. He now finds himself on the outskirts of Canaan with his household. He is afraid of Esau, whom he thinks still angry with him, and doubtless he thinks right. So on his fear he sends messengers to Esau with gifts, hoping in this way to pacify his brother. But apparently the attempt ended in failure. For the messengers return with the terrifying tidings that Esau came to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob fears the worst. He beseeches the Lord to deliver him out of the hand of his brother. Rising from his prayer, he again sends to Esau by the hand of his servants. Then he sends his entire household over the brook Jabbok, and Jacob is left alone. And there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. It was the Angel of the Lord, Jehovah Himself. But Jacob knew it not. When the unknown antagonist saw that he prevailed not over Jacob, he touched his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint. Then Jacob knew that it was the Lord. Our source of information of what took place is not alone the book of Genesis but also the prophecy of Hosea (Hosea 12:3, 4). The passage in its entirety reads, “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God. Yea, he had power over the angel and prevailed; he wept and made supplication to him.” This then took place: When Jacob perceived that it was the Lord, he stopped wrestling with him in the physical sense, and began to weep and supplicate Him instead, saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” And the Lord blessed him there. So did Jacob end with weeping and making supplication unto the Lord.
Surely, it was only in the way of weeping and supplication that Jacob could obtain the covenant blessing. To understand this statement, we must consider Jacob’s calling. This calling is known from his name, Jacob, which means not deceiver but supplanter. As borne by Jacob, the name bas a good meaning. This is plain from Isaiah 44:45, “One shall say, I am the Lords, and another shall subscribe’ with his hand unto the Lord, and name himself by the name of Israel.” The prophet is here speaking of the calling of the Gentiles. The converts call themselves also by the name of Jacob. The name therefore denotes the calling of the patriarch Jacob. In the final instance it denotes the calling of every believer. Jacob’s calling was to supplant Esau in the matter of the covenant blessing. Though Esau was the firstborn, the blessing was Jacob’s, he being the object of God’s eternal and sovereign love in contradistinction to Esau who was reprobated. This blessing was in one word the Heavenly; it was and is the salvation that God has prepared for His people through Christ Jesus.
But there is this question. How must Jacob supplant Esau with respect to the blessing? Not certainly by a carnal warfare, but solely in the way of implicit faith in Christ and through Christ in God, and in the way of fighting the good fight in the firm belief that the victory over the world as represented by Esau was his in Christ. He must confess from the heart that in himself he is not better than Esau and that his only hope, therefore, is Christ. And as so confessing he must walk as a child of the light in Esau’s presence and rebuke Esau for his profanity. This is his calling. This was his calling. And in the way of walking worthily of his calling and as becomes the Gospel he will triumph over Esau and obtain the blessing. But Jacob’s warfare was at times carnal, as when, taking advantage of Esau’s hunger he got him to sell his birthright for some food. He should have rebuked Esau for his profanity and admonished him to set his affections upon the blessing and to fear the Lord. Then he posed as Esau in his vain effort to get Isaac to bestow upon him the blessing. Isaac, too, had fault to be sure. He was determined to bestow the blessing upon the profane Esau though he knew, could know, the will of God. It had been revealed, “The elder shall serve the younger.” Jacob’s eception of his father was a great sin nevertheless. It proceeded from the vain imagining that the Lord cannot take care of His own cause and that He is served by deceit. Jacob was here again making flesh his expectation. He was trusting in self. What he loses sight of is that He with whom he has to do is not Esau but the Lord, and that unless blessed of the Lord he is not blessed at all but cursed. True the believer may not be passive. He may not sit still. Rebecca’s duty was to use every right means for preventing the blessing for persuading Isaac. And she should have considered that it is only God who can bless and not a man. Having exhausted every right means, they should have left the matter entirely to the Lord as believing that He is able to do all His good-pleasure.
Jacob’s great fault is plain. After an exile of twenty years he is again re-entering Canaan. But before he can be permitted to continue his way, he must be taught a lesson. He must get right with God. He must be brought to a point that he expects all his salvation only from the Lord. He must be made to understand and confess that it is the Lord with whom he has to do, and not Esau. He must be made to discern that, making flesh his arm, he will perish at the hand of God.
So the Lord comes to him there in the thick darkness of the night and wrestles with him in that same natural strength in which Jacob contended with Esau, no not with Esau but with the Lord. Jacob goes down in defeat with the muscle upon which he had most depended contracted. He knows now that he is in the hand of the Almighty. The hollow of his thigh is out of joint as he wrestles with the Lord. After having laid him low the Lord does as if he wants to leave him there alone in his sorrow. “Let me go for the day breaketh,â€쳌 says He to Jacob. But Jacob cleaves to the Lord. “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me,” is his answer. He is hanging to God now. He has learned his lesson as taught by the Lord. He weeps and makes supplication. “Bless me,” is now his prayer. Bless me, O Lord, and I shall be blessed. The Lord inquires after his name. “What is thy name,” says He to Jacob. This name is important. It is expressive of his calling to supplant Esau, to overcome the world as represented by Esau, as understanding that the victory that overcometh the world is faith and faith only. Thus as understanding that to fight the world with its own weapons is to be overcome by it and to perish with it.
So the Lords question to him, “What is thy name,” was like His saying to His servant, “What is thy calling?” And he returns answer, “And he said, Jacob.” His reply is his owning his calling and a confession that he has been a discredit to his name, to the calling denoted by it. His reply is a confession that he has not walked worthily of his calling, and that, if the Lord would enter with him into judgment, he could not stand. For he weeps and makes supplication. Would that the Lord forgive him in the greatness of His mercy. And the Lord says now to him, “Thy name shall no more be called Jacob but Israel, for as a wrestler thou hast wrestled with God and with man and didst overcome.” Overcome whom? Overcome God and man, overcome man in overcoming God by weeping and supplication. So reads this verse in the original. he meaning is that Jacob wrestled with God in prayer. So in principle he had been wrestling with God through all the years of the past, but in principle only. At times his faith had been so weak. At times he had been so carnal. He had not been serving God with that zeal that he was bound. There were times when the evil lusts of his flesh had the upper hand. Of the true obedience he had but a small beginning. He weeps therefore and makes supplication. And in the way of his weeping he has power with God. For his weeping is of God through Christ in His Spirit. And the Lord honors His own work in Him. He overcomes therefore. He prevails with God. And therefore, “Thy name shall no more be called Jacob but Israel.” The thought contained in the name Israel is precisely, “One who wrestles with God and prevails.” Thus the idea of the statement, “And thy name shall no more be called Jacob,” is not that the Lord now frees him of this name because the name means deceiver. He really retains this name Jacob. But the Lords speaking as He does has as its purpose this, namely, that Jacob must know that he has supplanted Esau indeed, and this, surely, only for Christ’s sake, and not because of any merit on the part of Jacob. And so the Lord blesses him there. And he goes his way rejoicing in the knowledge that he, the ill-deserving and condemnable Jacob, has seen God’s face and lived, been blessed of the Lord, received of the Lord the covenant blessing.