A Stormy Walk — Clinging to God
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 32 as we continue our study in the life of Jacob. As we have worked through Genesis 30 and 31 and the first part of Genesis 32 we have said over and over that God is teaching Jacob to trust Him and to acknowledge Him alone. And that's the lesson that continues tonight in this very well-known passage. As well known as this passage is, it's a mysterious passage. It's only the second time in the book of Genesis that the Lord manifests Himself in human form. He has appeared to the patriarchs in many times and in many ways, but this is only the second time that He did so in human form. He did once with Abraham, and now He does here with Jacob. So let's turn our attention to God's word in Genesis 32, beginning in verse 24.
Our Father, we thank You for this word. Protect us now from its familiarity. So many of us have heard this story from our youth and we've heard it preached on and preached on well. It's spoken to our hearts. As we approach You tonight we pray that You would remind us even in the midst of this familiarity that there is a great mystery in this passage and there is much to learn. So help us by Your spirit to learn. And if we come this night not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, may this passage be one which You will use to speak to our very souls. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.
Jacob, having just departed from his Uncle Laben, now faces the greater challenge of meeting Esau. Last week we saw him send gift after gift after gift after gift to Esau hoping to soften his heart. We also saw Jacob lift up a very powerful scriptural prayer. We can see that Jacob, perhaps more than at any other time previously in his life is entrusting himself to God. But he is now facing what is perhaps today the greatest crisis of his life. He's tempted to trust in his own schemes and inventions. He's tempted to fret when he ought to be calm in the midst of the promises of God. And so having sent the caravans ahead of him, he remains behind alone. Having prayed to God, he senses the need to be alone. Perhaps very specifically for the purpose of praying to God again. And in that context, we see this extraordinary passage unfold.
In verses 24 and 25, God Himself comes and initiates a struggle with Jacob. And then in verses 26 through 29, Jacob, having already been permanently wounded, goes on the offensive. Notice in verses 24 and 25, God is the one who has taken the initiative. You see how it reads. A man wrestled with Him. God is the one who has taken the initiative in this divine wrestling match. He has initiated the match with Jacob. But in verse 26 through 29, Jacob turns, and though he is incapacitated to an extent, he is now initiating. He refuses to let go in this wrestling match because he craves the blessing of God. And then in verses 30 through 32 we see listed three permanent reminders of this encounter with God that Jacob has before him now to remind him of it permanently. So let's look at this passage together.
I. God will have our wills purged and redirected to Himself.
First of all, in verses 24 and 25, as we have said Jacob is now posed with a situation that is beyond his ability to manipulate. No matter how many gifts he gives to Esau, he cannot guarantee a change of heart in Esau towards him. No matter how much he grovels before Esau, and let me tell you he's going to do some groveling. No matter how much he grovels before Esau, he cannot make Esau's heart be soft towards him.
And so Jacob is up against something that he can't manipulate. You remember way back when we said it was interesting that God had chosen to touch Jacob in the vulnerable area of his family life; because in the dynamics of those family relationships, Jacob was faced with situations that he couldn't control, he couldn't manipulate. He could not alleviate the tension that was brought about in his home by having two wives, and then being given their maids as concubines. It was nothing that he could do to alleviate the tension which was thrust upon him there. The only thing he could have done is refuse to have taken a second wife. But having done that he was faced permanently, or at least as long as they lived, with tension in the home. And so God gave him a test, an area of trials, where he couldn't use his skills to manipulate himself out of it. And once again here in this family relationship with Esau he is faced with something that he cannot change. So, thank God, he has already resorted to prayer. In verses 9 through 12 he lifts up a beautiful prayer. And we looked at the five parts, or petitions in that prayer the last time we were together.
But now Jacob wants to be alone, and that is the very moment that God comes to him. Jacob has come to the end of himself. He has no more plans, he has no more strategy, he has no more schemes, he has exhausted his bag of tricks. He's at the end of himself. He's beginning to reflect upon the way that he cheated Esau, the way that he treated his father, the way that he's related to his family. He has come to the end of himself. And it's that very moment God comes to him. We are told in verse 24 that a man came and wrestled with him. However, that man is identified by God Himself in verse 28 as God. And Jacob in verse 30 identifies the person with whom he has wrestled as God. I have wrestled, I have seen the Lord face to face, and yet I have been spared, he says. Furthermore, in the book of Hosea, the prophet Hosea will identify this man as the angel of the Lord. Turn with me to the book of Hosea, chapter 12, and look at verses 2 through 5. Hosea 12, verses 2 through 5. The prophet says this. “The Lord also has a dispute with Judea and will punish Jacob according to his ways. He will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel. And in his maturity he contended with God.” Verse 4, very important. “Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed. He wept and sought his favor. He found him at Bethel, and there he spoke with us, even the Lord, the God of hosts; the Lord is His name.” And so Hosea identifies the man who wrestles with Jacob as the angel of the Lord. And as you know, the angel of the Lord is the usual term in the book of Genesis used to represent a physical, visible manifestation of God Himself, and especially to represent a visible, physical manifestation of the Second Person of the trinity.
Now it's interesting, if you look at the second half of verse 24 and the first part of verse 25, the man who wrestles with Jacob has physical limitations. He wrestles til daybreak. This isn't one of those matches that begins with a quickly and is over. This match goes on and on and on til daybreak. So the man wrestling with Jacob does not exercise immediately extraordinary powers. Furthermore, we're told in verse 25 that the man does not prevail against Jacob, but even in the midst of those apparent, physical, human limitations with a touch He immediately cripples and disables Jacob permanently. And with that you get a picture of the power, the reserve of power that this person, this man has who is contending with Jacob. This is only the second explicit manifestation of God in human form in Genesis. As we have said, the man who wrestles with Jacob is identified with God, and he is distinguished from God. He is identified as God, as God who is the Lord of hosts by Hosea, as well as by himself and by Jacob in this passage in verses 28 and 30.
But he is also spoken of as the angel, and then, of course, in verses 24 and 25 we see pictures of physical limitations which do not belong to God, and so orthodox divines in the past have identified this not merely as the theophany. A theophany is just a physical, visible manifestation of God, but they have identified this as a Christophany, that is a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ.
Whatever the case is as God wrestles with Jacob, God breaks him. He breaks him by smiting his hip, and so Jacob is put in a physical position where he cannot win this wrestling match. He is given a physical limitation which will prevent him from being able to win in his own strength. Now, all that he can do is hold on. But it is that very act of his wounding that reveals to Jacob who this is. Suddenly he realizes with a touch of that finger and with his own immobilization that he is dealing with something far greater than man. In fact, he's come face to face with the living God. And it is as God breaks Jacob that He reveals to him Himself and purges His will and redirects His energies towards desire of God. Love of God. God wanted Jacob's will. That will that he had so often asserted in his own interest by his own devious means. But God wanted that will purged, cleansed, and redirected, redirected toward His glory alone. Redirected towards desire for Him. Redirected towards love for God, and so God had to bring Jacob to the end of himself.
Jacob needed to understand that the battle that was going on was not ultimately going to be a battle between Jacob and Esau where God comes in to help Jacob out of a fix. The real battle was between God and Jacob. Esau was a sideshow. Esau was an occasion. Esau was a circumstance. Esau was an excuse. The real battle was for Jacob's soul and the real battle was for the glory of God.
You see in all of the trials of our lives, there are always two great battles going on. One is whether we will trust in God and obey Him. The other is whether God will be glorified in us. Just as in the story of Job, God's integrity was impugned by Satan. You remember the story? Satan comes and God says have you considered my servant, Job. And Satan says yes, but does he serve You for nothing? Satan impugns the integrity of God. He says the only reason that Job loves You like he does is because of the things that You have given him. And so Job doesn't realize it, but the battle that is going on in the destruction of Job's wealth, and then in the destruction of his household, and then in the destruction of his health is not about a battle between Job and Satan, or between Job and other human enemies or between Job and natural disasters, it's about a battle for the integrity of God. Job's trials are just a side show in that great battle. And that's the same thing here in the story of Jacob. And it's the same thing in our lives. And God has to bring Jacob to a point where he realizes that no matter what happens that next day with Esau, the important thing is that Jacob trusts in God alone, and that God gets all the glory. That's the important lesson that Jacob needs to learn.
And friends that the lesson that we need to learn. It's easy to stand up here and say that. It is very difficult to live that when we ourselves are in the midst of the crucible. And so now is the time before we're there to begin working to believe what God has said in His word about our trust in Him, and about His zeal for His own glory.
II. God in His grace cultivates in us a desire for Him alone.
And then in verses 26 through 29, after Jacob has already been wounded, he goes on the offensive. He craves the blessings of God. And in that weakness, God cultivates in Jacob a desire for Him alone. God does three things in this passage to disclose Himself to Jacob. And it's very interesting that He doesn't do it in the straightforward way. Even when Jacob asks the Lord to give him his name, the Lord answers in a different way than Jacob asked him. God decides how and when and where He will reveal Himself to us. And it's our job to have our eyes open when that revelation comes. Look at the three ways in which God reveals Himself to Jacob.
First of all, He reveals Himself at the end of verse 25 by breaking him. He reveals Himself by touching or smiting that hip and producing a permanent impairment in Jacob. He teaches Jacob by doing this that Jacob must depend upon Him. It is not Esau or Laben that Jacob need fear. It is God who he ought to fear. Larry Richards says, “Sometimes a wound is a very special act of God's grace. How often we need to be wounded because it is easy for us to trust in our own skills and abilities. And Derek Kidner says, “That when God touched Jacob's socket, it was defeat and victory all wrapped up in one.” The impairment, the weakness, the thorn in the flesh, if we can speak of it in New Testament terms, that Jacob experiences is the deceit that brings victory. Because in it he realizes his own weakness, his own needs, and he has to cling to God. That's his only hope. He can't win this now. All he can do is hang on. That's the first way that God reveals him.
Then in verses 27 and 28 He reveals Himself again by doing what? By renaming him. Look at the exchange that goes on there. Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless him.” And so God says to Jacob, “What is your name.” And Jacob responds, “Jacob is my name.” And then God says in verse 28, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Jacob's change of name is a self-revelation of God. Who has the right to rename God's people? Only God. God had renamed Abram. He had given him a name which would suit him better when the fulfillment of God's promises were realized in him. God renames Jacob. He takes away that name which was a reproach. The deceiver. How many times must Jacob have heard a play on words on that name in his life? And God says no, now your name will be Israel. May God Himself strive for him. That's your name now. Your name is Israel. By this change of name, it indicates a dramatic change in the inmost being of Jacob, and He identifies Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac before him, the one who changed the names of His patriarchs.
And then in verse 29, He reveals Himself in a third way. He blesses him. He breaks him, He renames him, and then He blesses him. Jacob responds to this by saying tell me who you are. Tell me what your name is. They had been wrestling all night long. And God says to him do I have to tell you My name? You know who this is, Jacob? I don't need to tell you who I am, you know exactly who I am. But then he reveals Himself to him just as explicitly as if He had said I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and you. He reveals Himself by doing what? Look at verse 29: “And He blessed him there.” And I wonder if the reason that God does not say His name in that situation, and blesses Jacob is so that Jacob will realize that God Himself is the source of all his blessings.
Why does God want to go before the dawn? Because of Jacob's protection so that Jacob will not see God and be destroyed.
Why does He not tell Jacob His name? Because Jacob already knows it. And God emphasizes it by revealing Himself through blessings that He is the source of all blessings. Jacob had a struggle. They were all his desires and his fears and his view that God was the one who could give him his desires and fix his fears. But God wanted to understand Jacob. That Jacob's desires and fears weren't the big issue. Jacob's trust in God and God's glory was the big issue. And so Jacob had to have a radical shift in the way he viewed God. And in the midst of this wrestling match, you can see Jacob's desires be turned towards God. He realizes that nothing, nothing is more important that the blessing of God. And it's not that God exists to help him in His agenda. It is that Jacob exists for the glory of God, but that all the blessings that Jacob experiences as he seeks the glory of God come from God alone.
You know we experience time in our Christian growth when we realize that and we can identify that as a great step forward in our growth in grace. It's almost like a conversion. Jacob's experience here is almost like a conversion. In fact, it looks an awful lot like a conversion that a friend of mine experienced. I don't normally read sections of books, but this illustration is just too good to miss. I've told you before about my friend, Douglas MacMillan, who has gone on to be with the Lord, who was one of the great evangelistic preachers in Britain. And he shares his testimony, and I can't read all of it, but I want to read a little snippet of it. He had grown up in a Christian home, his father had been an elder in the church, his family was very active in their local congregation, but as a teenager he fell under Communist teaching and rejected belief in God. And he lived a very worldly life. And when his mother died, she bore witness to him. It didn't soften his heart. Thing after thing, after thing happened and he never softened his heart. And then he tells this story: ‘My older brother used to drive my father to the midweek service in the church six or seven miles away. But on one Wednesday around that time, my brother was away at a cattle sale, and I got the job of driving my father to church. I intended while he was in church to go to the pub for a drink, and then to go visit a girl. However, as we came near the church I had an idea. I asked my father, “Who will be preaching tonight? Is it that young preacher.” “Yes,” my father said. I thought this is my chance to find out what everybody is talking about in the village. I went in with my father, but as soon as I sat down in the church amongst all those old people, I began to wonder if I was going mad. What if my friends knew that I had spent my Wednesday evening at church. Then the door behind the pulpit opened, and I got quite a shock. I thought that all preachers were old men, ready to crumble and fall into the grave. They were religious because they had nothing better to do. But this young man was just a little bit older than myself, and he looked as if he had a broken nose. In fact, his whole appearance reminded me of my hero, Freddie Mills, the British cruiser weight boxer who was then the champion of the world. At first I was disappointed when he began to speak. His voice was low as if he were afraid of the old ladies on the back row. But his text was from Revelation, chapter 3. “Because you say I am rich and increased in goods and had needs of nothing and know not that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I counsel you to buy from me gold that is tried in the fire. To this day, I am amazed that he chose to speak on a text like that when he must have expected to address a group of older Christians. Anyway, he described what he found in the text the spectacle of a sole worshiping itself. What took my breath away was he gave an exact description of me and of my life. I was living for myself for pleasure and for what I could accomplish. I drank, I enjoyed the company of the lassies, but there were also hard ambitions which have taken over my life. I lived for money. And there was another thing. I used to do the round of the highland games and I was often featured on the prize list for the heavy event. I was especially keen on hammer throwing, and I'd been doing it since I was fifteen. And I thought that in about four years I could reach the top. But as I listened to the preacher in that quiet country church, all those things lost their dazzle. The very things which had become the focal point for my driving ambition began suddenly to look pathetic and empty. What was the point in giving my life over to these things. The mass, you see, was being removed from my life. I began to wonder, did my old man tell this preacher that I would be here? But no, I didn't even know myself that I was going to be there until I entered the door.
I was not converted that night, though I promised the preacher that I would come to church again. And it was three weeks before I saw him. I was driving along beside the sea in an old truck that we used at the farm, and I spotted him walking beside the road carrying a gas cylinder. He had about a mile to go yet, and I said to myself, will I stop or will I go roaring past him. If I give him a lift he’ll ask me why I haven't been back to church. In the end I stopped, and I said quite roughly to him. “Want a lift, jock?” He wanted a lift all right. He threw the cylinder in the back, he climbed up beside me and just as I thought the first thing he said to me was, “You never came back to church.” “No, I've been busy,” I said. “You’re a liar, he said. That's a terrible thing for a preacher to say, but you are a liar. It wasn't because you were busy, am I right?” “I suppose you are.” He shouted above the sound of the old engine, “You know what I think? I think you’re running scared. I think you’re scared that you’re going to be converted.” “No, I'm not scared. Actually, I would like to be converted, but I don't think I can be.” “What do you mean?” “Well, since that night I've asked God two or three times to change me and nothing has happened.” By this time we reached where he was staying and he said, “Why don't you come in.” I went in with him, and he talked to me as no one has ever talked to me before. He said to me, “If you’re really serious about this, what about going down on your knees and we’ll ask God to change you right now.” I wasn't very keen. I was embarrassed. And then I said to myself, I want this if I can get it. So I went down to my knees. At first he wanted me to pray, but there was no way I was going to do that with him there. And I said, “You’re the one who's paid to do the praying, you pray.” He began to talk to God as if he really knew Him. And he continued and he quoted John 3:16. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I had known these words all my life, but as He quoted them it was as if someone drew a side curtain so that light came into a dark room. I saw that Christ had finished all that was necessary for my salvation. I didn't have anything to do to save my soul. I got hold of the preacher's arm, and I said, “Say that again.” He stared at me. “Say what again?” “Say that bit again about God loving the world. Say that again.” He repeated the text. And I said does that mean that if I really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died on the cross of Calvary to save us from our sins, and trust Him because of that, I will be saved? He said, “Yes, that's exactly what it means.” And I said to him, “It can't be as simple as that.” But although I was arguing like that, I felt as if I were understanding the way of salvation for the first time in my life. What I had known in one way for so long, now seemed so new. And as I believed it for the first time a great peace began to flood into my heart and a stillness came over me. And then I thought that's all right, but you know how a Christian is supposed to live. I began thinking of all the things that I would have to stop. He saw my face changing, and he said, “What's wrong now?” I said, “I don't think that I could live like a Christian. I'd have to give us too much.” “Listen, Douglas,” he said, “You think through everything you feel you would have to give up. You think about it very carefully.” And then he said, in this hand, holding out his right hand, “I will give you everything that you are afraid of losing. And in this hand, I’ll give you Christ. Which one is it going to be?” He didn't make it easy on me. And I'm sure I must have sat there for ten minutes. He said afterwards that it felt to him like an eternity. I thought deeply about what was involved, and then at last I absolutely knew which one I had to take. I said, “If I can really have Christ as my Savior, I’ll take Him.” As soon as I said that my heart was filled with love and joy.
And then I suddenly remembered my father. I had dropped him off at the village at 2:00. He was to collect his pension and visit a friend and I was to pick him up at 4:00, but by now it was half past 7:00. I said to the preacher, “I've forgotten my old man. He's been waiting for me for three and a half hours.” And so I jumped into the old truck and I went roaring off, back to the little bungalow where he would be. The lady of the house came to the door and let me in. I hurried in ahead of her to the living room. My father was sitting opposite the door, and as soon as I came in he got up and he crossed the room, and he took me in his arms, and he said, “Douglas, thank God.” And I said, “Why?” “You've been converted.” “How do you know?” “I can see it in your face as soon as you came in the door. I knew my prayers had been answered.””
God dealt with Jacob that night just like He dealt with Douglas MacMillan. He held out all the things that He wanted in one hand, then He held out himself in the other. And He said, “Jacob, which is it going to be?”
Every single one of us face that challenge. And there's really only one choice to make, isn't there? And Jacob chose right. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, by Your grace draw us to desire You only and above all else, for Jesus’ sake we ask it, Amen.