Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me Your name." "Why do you ask My name?" he replied. And He blessed Jacob there.
Genesis 30:37; Genesis 31:20). Returning home greatly enriched, he heard of Esau at hand. He feared his anger. No help in man; God's promise his only refuge. Could he trust to it? His wrestling. We cannot picture its outward form; but its essence a spiritual struggle. His endurance tried by bodily infirmity (cf. Job 2:5) and by the apparent unwillingness of the Being with whom he strove (cf. Matthew 15:26). His answer showed determination (cf. 2 Kings 4:30). This prevailed; weak as he was, he received the blessing (cf. Hebrews 11:34). And the new name was the sign of his victory (cf. Matthew 21:22; 1 John 5:4).
I. THE STRUGGLE. Why thus protracted? It was not merely a prolonged prayer, like Luke 6:12. There was some hindrance to be overcome (cf. Matthew 11:12); not by muscular force, but by earnest supplication. Where Scripture is silent we must speak cautiously. But probable explanation is the state of Jacob's own mind. Hitherto faith had been mixed with faithlessness; belief in the promise with hesitation to commit the means to God. Against this divided mind (James 1:8) the Lord contended. No peace while this remained (cf. Isaiah 26:3). And the lesson of that night was to trust God's promise entirely (cf. Psalm 37:3). When this was learned the wrestling of the Spirit against the double mind was at an end. Such a struggle may be going on in the hearts of some here. A craving for peace, yet a restless disquiet. The gospel believed, yet failing to bring comfort. Prayer for peace apparently unanswered, so that there seemed to be some power contending against us. Why is this? Most probably from failing to commit all to God. Perhaps requiring some sign (John 20:25), some particular state of feeling, or change of disposition; perhaps looking for faith within as the ground of trust; perhaps choosing the particular blessing - self-will as to the morsel of the bread of life to satisfy us, instead of taking every word of God. There is the evil. It is against self thou must strive. Behold thy loving Savior; will he fail thee in the hour of need? Tell all to him; commit thyself into his hands; not once or twice, but habitually.
II. THE NEW NAME (Cf. Revelation 3:12). No more Jacob, the crafty, but Israel, God's prince (cf. Revelation 1:6). The token of victory over distrust, self-will, self-confidence. In knowledge of poverty is wealth (Matthew 5:3); in knowledge of weakness, strength (2 Corinthians 12:10). That name is offered to all. The means, persevering prayer; but prayer not to force our will upon God, but that trust may be so entire that our wills may in all things embrace his. - M.
Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.
I. It is a question worth the asking. There is a despair of religious knowledge in the world, as though in God's rich universe, theology, which is the science of God Himself, were the one field in which no harvest could be reaped, no service of sacred knowledge gained.
II. The knowledge of God is the one thing needful. He who seeks to do the work of a Paley in presenting Christian evidences in a sense conformable to the intellectual state of thoughtful men, as the shadows are folding themselves about this wearied century — above all, he who cultivates and disciplines his spirituality until it has become the central fact of his being — it is he who offers in a right and reverent spirit the prayer of Jacob at Penuel, "Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name."
III. It is necessary not only to ask the great question of the Divine nature, but to ask it in a right spirit. Jacob acted as though there were no other way of asking the question aright than by prayer; he must also ask it at the cost of personal suffering.
IV. What is the answer when it comes? Jacob's question was asked, but was not answered; or, rather, it was answered not directly and in so many words, but effectually: "He blessed him there." It is not knowledge that God gives to striving souls, but blessing. He stills your doubtings; He helps you to trust Him. You go forth no longer as Jacob, the supplanter, mean, earthly, temporal, but in the power of a Divine enthusiasm, as an Israel, a prince with God.
(J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.)
(D. C. Krumreacher.)
I. THE REQUEST here, as Jacob urges it, is this: "Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name."
1. The manner is bold and abrupt. It appears strange, sometimes, as we note the real prayers on record in the Bible, to find them so short, so sharp, so resolute in utterance. "Master, carest Thou not that we perish!" — "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!" ..... Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!" — "Lord, save me, I perish!" It is an old Reformer's saying: "Prayer is the Christian's gun-shot. As then the bullet out of a gun, so prayers out of the mouth, can go no further than they are carried. If they be put out faintly, they cannot fly far. If they be hollow-hearted, then they will not pierce much. Only the fervent, active devotion hits the mark, and pierceth the walls of heaven, though, like those of Gaza, made of brass and iron."
2. But what does this request of Jacob's mean? Indeed, it seems quite fair to retort the question of the angel. Jacob asked to know the name of the Being he had been wrestling with. Most surely, we are not left to imagine he still remained in ignorance who his antagonist was. You have already learned, from the change in Jacob's own name, that names in those days meant character — indicated personality. And when this wearied man girds up his remaining force for a new petition, he is simply pressing the old answerless question of the human soul: Who is God — and What is God?
3. The order of experience in this heart-history is of special value, and must be noted also. It follows success and not failure. It best becomes, therefore, the symbol of prayer founded on encouragement. It suggests to us a rewarded soul standing on the vantage-ground of a previous welcome, and stretching out its hand for a yet more advanced disclosure of love.
II. THE DENIAL. It seems to be the settled determination of the Divine will to hold in a holy and unbroken reserve the heights and depths of His character and being. Enough only is revealed for us to be sure He is our friend and our well-wisher. It cannot be called an unwholesome question, this in our text, even though it never meets an earthly answer. It stimulates the soul. Even a reverent curiosity about God is better than a dead apathy.
III. THE COMPENSATION. "And He blessed him there." There is something surpassingly beautiful in this quiet statement. The mystery remains unrelieved, but the affection pays for it. Just as a loving mother grants every wish of her little one, until a serious mistake is pressed as a petition. Then she declines with a smile, and compensates with a kiss, so that the child is glad to be disappointed. And that is exactly the delicate figure of the Scripture: "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you," saith the Lord. But now you press the inquiry — Is there any answer to the old question — does not this same Being, who is to judge us at the last, as He made us in the beginning, elude our every search — oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat — has He no word to speak to me? Yes — I answer; there are two disclosures at least in this experience of compensation that give relief. They are always made. They are here, as elsewhere, in the story of Jacob. One of these is a clear revelation of the right of human petition. The other is a new repetition of Divine confidence.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
1. The contrast observable between this and a former revelation made to Jacob's soul. Twenty years before he had seen in vision a ladder reared against the sky, and angels ascending and descending on it. Exceedingly remarkable. Immediately after his transgression, when leaving his father's home, a banished man, to be a wanderer for many years, this first meeting took place. Fresh from his sin, God met him in tenderness and forgiveness. After twenty years God met him again; but this second intercourse was of a very different character. It was no longer God the Forgiver, God the Protector, God the covenanting Love, that met Jacob; but God the Awful, the Unnameable, whose breath blasts, at whose touch the flesh of the mortal shrinks and shrivels up.
2. Again I remark, that the end and aim of Jacob's struggle was to know the name of God. "Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name." In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters. These three, it has been observed by acute philologists, correspond to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, Jews. In the first of these periods, names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given then were simplicity and sincerity. They were drawn from a few simple sources: either from some characteristic of the individual, as Jacob, the supplanter, or Moses, drawn from the water; or from the idea of family, as Benjamin, the son of my right hand; or from the conception of the tribe or nation, then gradually consolidating itself; or, lastly, from the religious idea of God. But in this case not the highest notion of God — not Jah or Jehovah, but simply the safer and simpler idea of Deity. The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterized by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought and feeling more intensely religious. The heart of the nation was big with mighty and new religious truth — and the feelings with which the national heart was swelling found vent in the names which were given abundantly. God, under His name Jah, the noblest assemblage of spiritual truths yet conceived, became the adjunct to names of places and persons. Oshea's name is changed into Jehoshua. The third period was at its zenith in the time of Christ — words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow unreal state of all things. A man's name might be Judas, and still he might be a traitor. Yet in this period, exactly in proportion as the solemnity of the idea was gone, reverence was scrupulously paid to the corpse-like word which remained and had once enclosed it. In that hollow, artificial age, the Jew would wipe his pen before he ventured to write the Name — he would leave out the vowels of the sacred Jehovah, and substitute those of the less sacred Elohim. In that kind of age, too, men bow to the name of Jesus, often just in that proportion in which they have ceased to recognize His true grandeur and majesty of character. In such an age it would be indeed preposterous to spend the strength upon an inquiry such as this — "Tell me Thy name?" Jehovah, Jove, or Lord what matter? But Jacob did not live in this third period, when names meant nothing; nor did he live in the second, when words contained the deepest truth the nation is ever destined to receive. But he lived in the first age, when men are sincere, and truthful, and earnest, and names exhibit character. To tell Jacob the name of God was to reveal to him what God is and who.
3. This desire of Jacob was not the one we should naturally have expected on such an occasion. He is alone — his past fault is coming retributively on a guilty conscience — he dreads the meeting with his brother. His soul is agonized with that, and that we naturally expect will be the subject and the burden of his prayer. No such thing l Not a word about Esau — not a word about personal danger at all. All that is banished completely for the time, and deeper thoughts are grappling with his soul. To get safe through to-morrow? No, no, no! To be blessed by God — to know Him, and what He is — that is the battle of Jacob's soul from sunset till the dawn of day. And this is our struggle — the struggle.
II. THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY.
1. It was revealed by awe. Very significantly are we told that the Divine antagonist seemed as it were anxious to depart as the day was about to dawn; and that Jacob held Him more convulsively fast, as if aware that the daylight was likely to rob him of his anticipated blessing; in which there seems concealed a very deep truth. God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct. He is felt in awe, and Wonder and worship, rather than in clear conceptions.
2. Again, this revelation was made in an unsyllabled blessing. Jacob requested two things. He asked for a blessing — and he prayed to know the name of God. God gave him the blessing. "He blessed him there," but refused to tell His name. "Wherefore dost thou ask after My name?" In this, too, seems to lie a most important truth. Names have a power, a strange power, of hiding God. Speech has been bitterly defined as the art of hiding thought. Well, that sarcastic definition has in it a truth. The Eternal Word is the revealer of God's thought; and every true word of man is originally the expression of a thought; but by degrees the word hides the thought. Language is valuable for the things of this life; but for the things of the other world, it is an encumbrance almost as much as an assistance. Lastly, the effect of this revelation was to change Jacob's character. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel, because himself was an altered man. Hitherto there had been something subtle in his character — a certain cunning and craft — a want of breadth, as if he had no firm footing upon reality. The forgiveness of God twenty years before had not altered this. He remained Jacob, the subtle supplanter still. For, indeed, a man whose religion is chiefly the sense of forgiveness, does not thereby rise into integrity or firmness of character — a certain tenderness of character may very easily go along with a great deal of subtlety. Jacob was tender and devout, and grateful for God's pardon, and only half honest still. But this half-insincere man is brought into contact with the awful God, and his subtlety falls from him. He becomes real at once. Every insincere habit of mind shrivels in the face of God. One clear, true glance into the depths of Being, and the whole man is altered. The name changes because the character has changed, No longer Jacob the supplanter, but Israel the Prince of God — the champion of the Lord, who had fought with God and conquered; and who, henceforth, will fight for God and be His true loyal soldier: a larger, more unselfish name — a larger and more unselfish man — honest and true at last. No man becomes honest till he has got face to face with God.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name? —
(A. G. Mercer, D. D.)
He blessed him there. —
1. Life being itself a blessing, and to one who believes in God and hopes from Him the greatest of all blessings, God makes it a yet greater blessing by ordaining for it a fixed plan.
2. God does not expect perfect characters to fulfil His purposes. He chooses the fittest instruments He can find for His purest purpose, and trains them and bears with them until their work is done.
3. God uses circumstances as His angels and voices to us, and He has special epochs and crises in which He visits our souls and lives.
4. The perfection of youth is eagerness without impetuosity; the perfection of old age is wisdom without cynicism, and a faith in the purpose of God which deepens and widens with the years.
(Bishop Thorold.)1. Evil conduct will, sooner or later, bring trouble to those guilty of it.
2. We may meet with trouble in the way God bids us go.
3. The memory of former wrong-doing robs us of comfort and hope under new trials.
4. God will help us if we repent, confess, seek pardon, and call for His aid.
I. THERE IS A FULNESS OF BLESSING IN GOD TO MEET OUR NEEDS BEYOND ALL WE HAVE EVER REALIZED. We can have blessings spiritual, moral, mental, physical, secular, personal, family, national.
II. GOD IS WILLING AND WAITING TO BESTOW ALL WE NEED OUT OF THAT FULNESS. We see this from —
1. The nature of God. "God is love."
2. The promises.
3. Past dealings.
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE BLESSING BECOMES OURS IS EARNEST, FERVENT PRAYER. This the key that opens the treasure, the channel that conducts the water to my soul, the hand that grasps the blessing.
(J. Marsden, B. A.)I. WHAT WAS JACOB'S BLESSING IN THAT PLACE?
1. He was saved from a great peril — Esau's attack.
2. He was forgiven a great wrong — supplanting.
3. He was able to feel that a great breach was healed (Genesis 33:4).
4. He had won a new name and rank (ver. 28). He was knighted on the spot, made a prince on the field.
5. He was now under a fresh anointing: he was a superior man ever after. "The angel redeemed him from all evil" (Genesis 48:16).
II. WHAT WAS THE PLACE? "He blessed him there."
1. A place of great trial (vers. 6, 7).
2. A place of humble confession. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed to Thy servant" (ver. 10).
3. A place of pleading (vers. 11, 12). "There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day" (ver. 24).
4. A place of communion. "I have seen God face to face" (ver. 30).
5. A place of conscious weakness. "As he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh."
III. ARE THERE OTHER SUCH PLACES?
1. Before the earth was created the Lord blessed His chosen people in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3, 4).
2. At the Cross the tomb, and the throne of Jesus.
3. In the heavenly places.
4. At conversion (Psalm 32:1, 2).
5. In times of stripping, humbling, chastening, pleading, &c. (James 1:12).
6. In times of prompt obedience (Psalm 1:1).
IV. IS THIS SUCH A PLACE? Yes, if you are —
1. Willing to give up sin.
2. Willing to have Jesus for your all in all.
3. Willing to resign yourself to the Father's will.
4. Willing to serve God in His own way.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)1. God's blessing on His saints unites their hearts unto Him to seek His praise.
2. Saints ascribe all their blessings to the face or favour of God.
3. Gracious souls desire that exaltations of God be monumental and perpetual.
4. God's face-discoveries have been in measure to sight towards His saints of old.
5. God's sensible discoveries of Himself have been dangerous to the life of His saints (Daniel 8:27).
6. God's appearance, visible in grace, hath been to the preservation of humbled souls (ver. 30).
7. God giveth a pass to His servants in their way after He hath tried them.
(G. Hughes, B. D.)Job 22:21). He knew that his power to prevail with Emmanuel Himself would fill him with power to prevail with Esau.
Arvine's Anecdotes.I have here (said Mr. Fuller) two religious characters, who were intimately acquainted in early life. Providence favoured one of them with a tide of prosperity. The other, fearing for his friend, lest his heart should be overcharged with the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches, one day asked him if he did not find prosperity a snare to him. He paused and answered, "I am not conscious that I do, for I enjoy God in all things." Some years afterwards his affairs took another turn; he lost, if not the whole, yet the far greater part of what he had once gained, and by this disaster was greatly reduced. His old friend, being one day in his company, renewed his question, whether he did not find what had lately befallen him to be too much for him. Again he paused and answered," I am not conscious that I do, for now I enjoy all things in God." This was truly a life of faith. To him it was as true as to Jacob — "He blessed him there."
1. "I cannot serve God in this home," says one. If their parents and friends had been religious, if their training had been otherwise, it would have been otherwise with them. Now, believe it, God can bless and keep you there. There was " some good thing in the house of Jeroboam," the most unlikely house in Israel. Abijah was there, a God-fearing and a God-favoured youth. Some little while ago I noticed in a field quite a vast growth of fungi — yellow, purple, black, spotted, no end of toadstools and devil's snuff-boxes — and right in the middle of the ghastly, pestilent, poisonous growth there was a single mushroom, white and fragrant, a veritable pearl of the field. So Abijah stood in the house of Jeroboam.
2. "I cannot serve God in this neighbourhood," says another. Ours is a bad neighbourhood, say they, and nobody can live in it and be what they ought to be. Have you never thought how wonderfully God preserved the primitive Christians in such cities as Rome and Ephesus and Corinth, full of atheism, idolatry, sensuality, as they were?
3. "I cannot serve God in this calling," says another. They feel their business is unfriendly to religious life, that their business relations are so. The tailor says, We are a loose set; the shoemaker feels as if all his comrades were infidels; the horse-dealer wants to know how he is going to keep a conscience; the collier, the soldier, the sailor, feel how difficult it is with their vocation to serve God. Do not spend your life sighing for another and more helpful calling; God can bless you where you are; He can give you grace to resist the special temptations of your lot; m slippery places He can make you to stand, in dark places He can make you to shine.
4. "I cannot serve God in this situation," says another. The domestic servant feels this sometimes. She lives where there is not a thought of religion, and it seems incredible that she could keep her soul alive there. Seek God's blessing now. That was a strange place where Jacob wrestled with the angel, on the wild heath beneath the stars; but he was resolute for the blessing, and he got it. Are you earnest for the blessing as he was?
(W. L. Watkinson.)
The name of that place Peniel. —
(D. C. Krummacher.)
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