How to Wrestle with God and Yourself
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
The Great Pretender
The Great Pretender
Jacob had a pattern. Everywhere he went and every situation he was in he was working a hustle to get what he felt he needed or deserved or just wanted. He was clever. He was bold. But you couldn’t say that he was wise.
At one point he ended up with the father-in-law he deserved. They both hustled each other. Jacob ended up with two wives when he only wanted one but he also got the better of a cattle breeding deal.
It’s best not to deal with people who can’t be straightforward. If they always operate in a way that says: oops and the oops is always in their favor you’re dealing with someone like Jacob. If you keep going down that line they will bleed you dry. This kind of person looks for people they can take advantage of when necessary. There’s no reason to keep being that person. If you keep falling for the same thing over and over expecting a different result how likely is that really? The best thing you can do for a manipulator is to call them on it. Don’t enable them.
What usually happens with this kind of person is exactly what happened to Jacob. Eventually people figure it out and drop them. Ultimately they have nowhere to turn. They try intimidation to keep a good thing going. How dare you? Gas lighting you into feeling bad for discovering their pattern. They almost never apologize and only when they have no other option to gain your sympathy. But once someone sees through them they move on. Until there’s nowhere else left to run.
Jacob had cheated his own brother out of his inheritance in a weak moment. He probably knew that one day he would have to answer for this. But in between he was the great pretender. The deceiver. A manipulator extraordinaire.
The Not Quite Final Showdown
The Not Quite Final Showdown
When Jacob had nowhere left to go but had finally accumulated a lot for himself by manipulation, he decided to go home. He decided it was time to face his brother. He was still in manipulation mode. He sent a messenger saying he had stuff he could give to Esau if he found favor in his eyes. He anxiously awaited word.
The messengers returned rather urgently. He probably worried as they approached so swiftly.
6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”
Four hundred men! That’s an army! Did he finally admit the issue? No. Did he send his family away so they would not be harmed for his double-crossing? Ha! No. He used them as human shields. If he attacks one group the other may escape. Guess who would be in the other, lol. So he went as far as he could by nightfall. He sent the family across the ford in the Jabbok stream. In the morning it would all be over. He would spend his last night alone. Or so he thought...
Ever have a restless night? Mind going a million miles an hour? Body uncomfortable? This was not just a long day at work or some rough words with family keeping him up. Jacob’s whole life was crashing down around him. Jacob was going to have to face reality. Maybe for the first time in his entire life.
As if this wasn’t enough a man showed up out of nowhere and they began to wrestle...
As the wrestling continued Jacob tried every move and he knew every move. In modern college wrestling it’s called an escape when you break loose from the grip of your adversary. Countless times Jacob had wiggled out and gotten himself free and taken what he wanted. But tonight there was no wiggling free. They wrestled on.
Jacob couldn’t get free but he didn’t stop squirming either. He persisted in wrestling against the will of the man. But was this adversary just a man? We are talking hours. How did this go on? What sort of thoughts were going through Jacob’s mind? Maybe when you are up against a physical challenge that takes all you’ve got, you don’t have time or energy to keep lying to yourself. Maybe Jacob was wrestling with himself. Realizing this is it! Cue the Kenny Loggins song. I can’t keep playing games. It’s now or never. Do I really want to play these games well into old age?
But he is also wrestling with his own fears? He knows God has been there for him time and again, but he has just used God to get out of trouble then gone back to his ways. This time if anything good was going to happen God would have to be on the scene. He was no match for an angry brother, 400 men and a lifetime of malice building up.
If God has always been with him maybe God is with him right now. Right here. Even in this endless wrestling match of the ages.
Was this man an angel? A divine agent? Something like that. And even the divine one realizes this guy isn’t going to give up.
At daybreak he knew it was time to change the game. He reached out and touched the socket of Jacob’s hip. Pain is the only thing that will eventually stop a manipulator.
If Jacob was just out to escape this would be when he stopped. The one who touched his hip was wanting to break free. But Jacob has wrestled enough to break through his self-serving ways. Now he wants something more. Something only God can truly give him. He needs God’s blessing on his life. So now for once in his life he is wrestling through the pain to get to what is real. He’s convinced God is on the scene. This camp sight was transformed into altar and Jacob’s whole life was laid out before God.
26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
He needs that blessing. This goes way beyond meeting Esau now. He needs God in his life. He needs forgiveness for all his scheming and conniving. He needs to be transformed by the power and love of God. He needs to become the kind of man who could inspire his family and lead them well.
Is it happening way late in life? Yes, but better late than never by far. It’s never too late to repent and make a fresh start with God.
But God had to be sure the change was genuine so he had one more question for him...
27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”
What is Your Name?
What is Your Name?
Why did he ask that question? Surely God knew his name? Jacob means the subplanter, manipulator, deceiver, pretender. Some people live up to their name, Jacob lived down to his.
It seems like when he said his name out loud he was confessing to what his life had been. It revealed his character. In that moment he knew himself maybe for the first time. Perhaps he felt small, but perhaps he felt real.
A New Man...
A New Man...
He was perhaps becoming a new man.. He was breaking into new territory. Turning at last from his old ways...
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
God blessed him. Finally, the blessing he had stolen from his brother was rightfully his.
The way to wrestle with God and yourself is to do it for all you’re worth, trusting that God is there working through it all. The Apostle Paul wrote about it this way:
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Cooperating with God involves knowing yourself and processing honestly with God. It’s the only way forward. But know that it’s God working through this process. You can trust God.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
By grace we are saved in that moment. By grace we continue to be saved as the process of being purified begins and continues. By grace we can be sanctified and more of our life filled with God’s holy love. By grace one day we will be fully and fianlly saved: signed, sealed and delivered into the presence of our holy God. Until that moment keep letting God have his way… If you find yourself wrestling make sure it’s for more of what God has for you...
Jacob had a new name: Israel. He gave thanks because he saw God and lived to tell the story. A new name for a new man…Finally more mature, ready to be the father of a people… He’s not perfect, but in this moment he has a perfect heart it would seem...
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
Up until this time he was constantly self-medicating the pain of life with manipulation. Today the pain let him know something real had happened. He was still alive. He had a destiny to fulfill. As he limped toward the bright horizon he was never more alive...
Esau wasn’t coming with 400 men to kill him. Esau was coming to let him know God had taken care of him and provided for him despite what Jacob had done. It was ok. It was time to come home. And they embraced a sweet embrace… The pain melting away. The brotherly love rising once again...
A Song of Ascents. 1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
This morning you don’t have to pretend. You may have to wrestle with yourself. But God stands ready to bless and restore you.
If you’re young today learn the lessons of Jacob the easy way. Treat others well. Don’t take advantage. Be an example right from the beginning. If you’ve already messed it up and burned some bridges, learn the lesson now. Before the stakes get higher. Come to God and set things right and make a fresh start...
But even if you’re old this morning, it’s never too late to be honest with God and yourself. Jacob made the most of the years that remained. He made a few mistakes but he walked a much better path and became the father of a great nation.
When God’s people were captive in Egypt and it was time to set them free, God called Moses. And when he called him he said: I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God was willing to be known by his name.
That moment could not have happened without this moment. Who knows what God will do with your life? His whole adult life Jacob had been afraid to find out. But all the best stuff came after he said yes to God and held on for being transformed; after he held on for the blessing.
This morning God wants to bless you. You can stop trying manipulate things to your best advantage. But you’ll have to yield control. It may hurt a little to let go and confess to God. No more pretending. If Jacob can become worthy of a new name then anyone can. Let’s pray...