The Sun Rises upon Jacob.

In Genesis 32, verse 31, the rays of the rising sun falling upon a limping Jacob describes what actually happened;  but it also had great spiritual significance. The light of God’s blessing was shining on him. “As he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him”. It had been a night of physical and spiritual struggle, when the proud, stubborn, self-willed Jacob was subdued and physically weakened. The passing from the darkness of that night into the welcome light of the dawn speaks of Jacob beginning a new phase of His life, one which would be characterised by physical weakness, but also by humility and submission to the will of God. Yet Jacob was happy.  There is surely a note of joy in verse 30, as he says, “I have  seen God face to face and my life is preserved”. He had had a unique encounter with God. So close was he to God that, as far as he was concerned, he had seen God ‘face to face’. So close that he is happily amazed that he survived. He did not actually, physically, see God for God is a spirit, and cannot be seen with physical eyes, except as we shall see Him in the  face of Jesus Christ in heaven, but close enough to move him to call the place, ‘Peniel’, literally, ‘the face of God’. ‘(Penuel’ in verse 31 is the same word but in a different grammatical case in the Hebrew. )

Verse 31 shows us how significant Jacob’s experience was, not only to himself, but also to the children of Israel. They commemorated it every time they ate of the part of an animal round the hip joint. They reverently abstained from the sinew  attached to the thigh. This commemoration does seem strange to us, especially as it is not part of the Mosaic law. It is not the only such commemoration in the scriptures. In Ezra chapter 9, we read of the commemoration of the great deliverance of the children of Israel from the murderous intents of the wicked Haman, whose mind was set on exterminating them. The annual event was called ‘the days of Purim’. It is  difficult for  us to understand how these ‘extra-law’ commemorations were not condemned by God, except to say that they were not multiplied, and, perhaps, thus tolerated.

Finally, in view of the evident confidence of Jacob that God had truly blessed Him, what is the  blessing of God on a person who is already saved? This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. God’s blessing  may take many forms, but it is certainly not ‘health, wealth and happiness’ any more than it was in the case of Jacob. In the case of Jacob it was a weakening, leading to dependence upon God. It also involved a special revelation by God of Himself, leaving Jacob in such a state that he believed that he had seen God. Now Jacob’s experience was unique. Nevertheless,  we must pray continually, as we go, “Lord, bless me”. And if He answers, let us keep it to ourselves lest we glory in it. I am convinced that we lose the blessing if we fall into boasting, which can happen all too easily. We might justify this by claiming to be trying to ‘help’ others. We must also say that the circumstances of the believer have changed since Jacob’s time: we have the complete word of God, and that is the main channel of His blessing. If we are continually searching the scriptures for our own personal benefit,  we will sometimes find that God reveals Himself to us in a special way, even giving us foretastes of heaven and the glory and pleasures that are there.


What is in a Name?

As this amazing encounter between God and Jacob continues, we find the question, ‘What is thy  name’? being asked twice. Firstly in Genesis 32: 27, it is asked of Jacob by God; secondly, in  verse  29 it is asked of God by Jacob. This question is obviously, in each case, more than just a request for information; so, but what is the significance of the question? As we read the Old Testament, we find that knowing a person’s name often, but not always, involves far more that it does to us today.  To us the question, ‘what is your name,  involves nothing more than a request for information, but it is not so in the Old Testament. There, it is very clear that often a person’s name was an expression of his or her personality or character.  This is very clear from a number of texts, for example, Exodus 3:13,14, Psalm 9:10, and Psalm 91:14. To change a person’s name was to change their character or personality. When it comes to the name of God, it is clear that to know His name is to know Him in His very essence. This comes out particularly in many of the Psalms; 9;10; 33;21; 54:1; 86:11.

In Genesis 32:27, God asks Jacob, ‘What is your name?’. Jacob answers simply, truthfully, and probably painfully, ‘Jacob’. It was a confession of his sinful, twisted and deceptive character: a confession of deep-seated sin. The name ‘Jacob’ is derived from a Hebrew root meaning to take by the heel. Jacob and his brother Esau were twins. They fought in the womb, and Esau emerged from the womb first. However, Jacob then emerged, holding on to Esau’s heel. From this Jacob got his name. The Hebrew word from which ‘Jacob’ is derived means to ‘catch by the heel’: but the expression, ‘catch by the heel’ in Hebrew usage can also mean to ‘deceive’, and that sums up Jacob’s character. This was not a coincidence, but an example of the sovereign rule of God who knows the end from the beginning. Jacob in verse 27, is facing up to his sinful, deceitful nature, and confesses this before God when he simply answers, ‘Jacob’. In one word he is saying, ‘I am a sinner. I have deceived my brother and usurped his position as the first-born’. This confession is the fruit of his physical weakening, and his realisation that he can no longer survive on his own, but that he is utterly dependent on God.

God’s gracious response in verse 28 would be beyond Jacob’s wildest expectation. When he deserved, and perhaps expected, to be cast aside, he is given assurance by  God that he is forgiven and accepted. His new name was a confirmation of this. It was to be ‘Israel’, a combination of two words:  ‘strive’ or ‘fight’, and  ‘God’, referring to the period of wrestling, when, even after being physically weakened by God, he hung on, and would not let go, until he got the what he now knew he needed most: the blessing of God upon his person. He was the classic example of God’s strength being made perfect in weakness. Jacob knew by now that the identity of the One who wrestled with him was God Himself: but now he wants more than knowing God’s identity, he wants to know God’s nature and character; so he asks, ‘Tell me, I pray thee, thy name’. God’s response is in two parts: firstly, a question, ‘Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name’, and secondly, the blessing without which Jacob would never release his hold. The question is one that Jacob must use to search himself and find out why he really wants to know God. God leaves the question with him and blesses him. We must look yet more closely at what that blessing was.



Jacob Transformed

We continue looking at Genesis 32: 24 – 32, and the story of the Angel wrestling with Jacob. Last week we looked at the subduing of Jacob by the Angel, simply by a touch on Jacob’s hip which put it out of joint, verse 25. This Angel was no ordinary angel, but a pre-flesh appearance of God the Son, who in due time was to actually take a full human nature into permanent union with Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he might  suffer and die on the cross to save sinners.

One thing is sure, no one can wrestle if his hip is out of joint, but there is something that such a wrestler can do.  If he can get a grip of his opponent with both arms round the waist, clasping his hands behind his opponent’s back, he can hang on and refuse to let go. This must now be the position of Jacob in relation to the Angel. He is hanging on, and refusing to let go. This is where the transformed Jacob begins to spiritually shine. His self-sufficiency has been crushed, but he realises that the One he is holding on to is God, who alone is able to bless him directly and personally. When we gather together what the scriptures give us in Genesis 32:26-28, and Hosea 12:3-4, we realise the intensity of this period of Jacob’s holding on to God. We read that he ‘wept and prayed’ to God. It is here that, ‘as a prince he had power with God and with men’, it is here that he ‘prevailed’, it is here  that,’by his strength he had power with God’; it is here that he had ‘power over the angel’. Surely what God said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he struggled with his thorn in the flesh, has rarely found clearer expression: “My strength is made perfect in weakness”.

When God says , “Let me go for the day is breaking”, something of massive significance for our prayer lives is displayed, and it is this: that God is actually detained  by our prayers. It is always we that bring our prayer to an end, not God. Clearly, God could have freed Himself from Jacob at any moment, but He chooses not to do so.  Here the Glory of His grace towards His people is laid bare before us. He condescends to remain until we let Him go, by bringing our prayer to an end. This is indeed ‘Amazing Grace’ on the part of the Almighty. It is difficult to ascertain the meaning of the words,  “for the day is breaking”, unless we attribute them to Jacob, as some do. However this makes the reading rather strained. Perhaps it is a reminder to Jacob that he still has duties and responsibilities to fulfill.

Jacob’s response in these circumstances is truly beautiful, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me”. Here he is, wounded, weakened, humbled, but showing that he now has his priorities right. He does not say, ‘I will not let you go, unless you heal my hip’; or even, ‘until you guarantee the safety of my family and flocks’. His clear priority was to have the blessing of  God on his person. Our most frequent and earnest petition in prayer should be, ‘Lord, bless me’. We should have the habit of flash prayers throughout our day, as we apply ourselves to what the Lord has laid to our hand. The most frequent content of these prayers should be the simple plea, ‘Lord, bless me’. We need to be clear that we  pray this in the sure knowledge that God’s blessing is not always what we want, but what we need, and may very well involve a weakening in order to make us less self-reliant.

Jacob has been spiritually transformed. For the rest of his life he will have the reminder in his body of the fact that he needed to be weakened that he might be spiritually strong; walking humbly with God, looking to Him for his strength, rather than to himself.



Jacob being Subdued

Jacob has committed all he had in this world, wealth (ie, flocks and herds), wives, family, into the keeping of God, in order that he might be alone with God. His brother Esau from whom he had fled twenty years previously was coming to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob was defenceless. God was his only hope, so he is now alone to give himself to prayer. One can imagine the earnestness of his prayer. He is rewarded with an amazing experience. A ‘man’ grapples with him. The identity of this ‘man’ is not really difficult to ascertain from what happens here and from other parts of the Old Testament. He was a pre-flesh appearance of God the Son: the One who was later to be made flesh in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ in order that He might suffer in our place, and so purchase salvation for us.

This ‘man’ wrestles with Jacob till the breaking of the day (Genesis 32: 24). The account of this amazing contest is an account of something real and factual. It did really happen: but  for us it is symbolic. What does it symbolise? It symbolises what may happen when we are in earnest prayer, and God comes and blesses us,  not just with  what we ask for, but with what we all need most of all: we need to be humbled and truly brought into a state of total submission to, and dependence upon, God:  a state where, as far as we are concerned, He is Lord of all. We are all ‘Jacobs’ in the sense that we resist God’s total rule over us.

In order to grasp the meaning of this wrestling, we have to keep before us that it was instigated by God, not by Jacob. The aim was to subdue Jacob, and so bring him into a state of  total dependence upon God. Jacob resisted this to the last, but God will have His way. Just with one touch, He physically weakens Jacob by putting his hip permanently out of joint.

This shows us that this contest was not just a struggle of near equals, but one where God could have overcome Jacob at any time. Surely  the whole contest is symbolic of man’s resistance to God’s total dominion. This resistance persists even when we have already been brought into a state of friendship with God, and are RightWithGod through faith in Jesus Christ. The saved person, as long as he is in this world, will struggle with indwelling sin, especially the sin of self-reliance. Self-reliance logically leads to prayerlessness.  If we are self-sufficient, we do not need God’s help, except perhaps in emergencies. A large part of God’s work of sanctification is to do with humbling the saved person, and bringing  him into full submission to God Himself, weakening him as far as his own capabilities are concerned, but by that weakening, making him spiritually strong.  Such a person is  the one who, by God’s grace, “has power over the Angel” (Hosea 12:4). As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12;10, “When I am weak, then I am  strong”.

In order to understand this wrestling, and reap the benefits  of  it  for our own spiritual lives, we must keep three things before us: (1) Our circumstances, good or bad,  are all of God. Through these circumstances, God often brings His own child into the secret place alone with Himself, burdened , worried and therefore earnest in prayer.                                                                                           (2) In benefitting from  this unique story,  we must distinguish between the physical contest, and the symbolic meaning.             (3) If it was just a physical contest, God could have subdued Jacob at any time.

With this weakening of Jacob,  we  enter into the most beautiful part of this story. God-willing, we shall look at this next week.


Getting to the Secret Place

Few, if any, believers find prayer easy. Our concentration span is small, and Satan opposes us every way he can. He will engage us with worldly things in order to prevent us getting to prayer, and when we get there he distracts us using anything and everything to prevent us concentrating on prayer. It does however help us in our prayer efforts, to learn all we can of what the scriptures teach about prayer. Particularly helpful is the passage in Genesis 32: 24 – 32 dealing with Jacob’s encounter with the ‘man’: one of the most amazing passages in all scripture. We put ‘man’ in quotes because, as we shall see later, the ‘man’ was not just a man. What we learn here is particularly about one kind of prayer: prayer in the secret place, where we are alone with God.

In Genesis 32: 24, Jacob is in dire straits. He had left home twenty years before to flee from his brother Esau, who was out to kill him in revenge for cheating him. He had gone to Padan-Aram to live with, and work for, his uncle Laban. There, he stayed for twenty years, became wealthy and was blessed by God with a family. Then God commands him to return home to Canaan. On that journey he had all his loved ones and all his flocks with him, and there is no doubt that his worst fear was that Esau would meet him, and attack him and destroy all that he had. Now he hears that Esau is on his way to meet him with four hundred men! Jacob does not stand a chance.

Jacob’s response to this is extremely important and instructive. Some say this was cowardice, but that is not what was in the mind of Jacob, but something much higher. He sends all his family and animals on ahead, and remains behind on his own. He uses what means he can to placate Esau, but the main thing for him was to get to be alone with God in order to pray, and commit himself, and all that he had, into God’s care. That is why he stayed behind. There would have been no opportunity for this unless he sent family and flocks on ahead. The priority was to get into the secret place for prayer. Sometimes we have to ‘clear the decks’, and make difficult choices in order to get into the secret place.

We can safely say that Jacob’s difficult choice turned out to be the right one. In the course of his prayer, he becomes conscious of a man wrestling with him as if trying to overcome him. This continued all night until the dawn was breaking, Jacob did not give in (verse 24). It is important to notice that the emphasis of the passage is on the ‘man’ wrestling with Jacob, not Jacob wrestling with the ‘man’. But who was this ‘man’? In the Old testament there are several appearances of a particular angel taking the form of a man, who sometimes speaks for God, and sometimes as God, and is often referred to as ‘the Angel of the Lord’. It is generally agreed that He is an appearance in human form of God the Son, who was in time to actually become a man, and come into this world to die in the place of sinners.  Hosea 12:3.4 sheds a little more light on this for us.

God brought Jacob into truly dire straits, in order that he might bring him into the secret place, and bless him abundantly, as we shall see. The secret place is an important place for all who are RightWithGod; but getting to the secret place often requires effort and determination. In this Jacob has shown us a good example.