The sun rose above him as he passed by Penuel, and he was limping because of his hip.
Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel. Twenty years before Jacob learned at Bethel to know God as a living and present Protector. This a great step in spiritual life; belief of God in heaven, becoming consciousness of God "in this place," guiding all events. It is the first step towards walking with God. But his training not yet complete. Truth is usually grasped by degrees. Unbelief, cast out, returns in new forms and under new pretences. A common mistake at beginning of Christian life is to think that the battle is at an end when decision made. The soul may have passed from death to life; but much still to be done, much to be learned. Many a young Christian little knows the weakness of his faith. During these years Jacob shows real faith, but not perfect reliance (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.
In these bodies of ours there is often perpetuated the recollection of some former sin, and the wrestle for pardon which grew out of it. You remember that during the awful fight with Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation, Bunyan tells us that Christian, despite of all he could do, was wounded in his head, his hand, and his foot. Few men there are, whose early life has been profligate, who do not even to this day bear in their persons most recognizable pains, and perplexing inabilities, and mortifying memorials of the sorrowful past. Repentance brings pardon, but never restores the ravages of sin. In the child's story, we were taught that it was easy to draw the nails that numbered our faults from the tree-trunk that recorded them; but the scars remained for ever. More often, however, this memorial of conflict takes the form of constitutional weakness, or besetting sin. An early inadvertence, a youthful vice, a wild habit, an impulsive act of criminal evil, from the guilt of which the penitent man has been restored by the pardoning mercy of God, has yet proved to be of sufficient moral force to leave behind it a permanent mark. The wound healed, but it is only cicatrized over; it can never be less than a centre of solicitude, tender and sensitive to exposure. Always after this that soul has one insecure, one vulnerable point to be watched. There are men to-day who, just because they once swore an oath, have to put up special guards against profanity. There are men who once read a page of a vile book that have never got over the tendency to impurity it bred in their souls. We may definitely conclude, from wide observation, that no wickedness has ever been committed which has, in the end, left the man where it found him. God may forgive much; but the devil's service fixes its own memorial on the soul. One of its natural sinews of strength has been shrunken, and now it betrays itself by the limp. Two lessons will follow just here. One is this: — Let every person, young and growing beware of all vice, and be on the alert against even early sin. You maybe called upon to carry its stigmas with you to the great day of your death. You may be a weaker man all the days and years you live afterwards, just because of one seemingly trifling indulgence. This body of ours is a wonderful thing. It is the most beautiful object in the world. When the artists searched the universe for the curve of absolute beauty, they found it in the maiden's shoulder; when they wanted the colour of absolute purity, they found it in the infant's cheek. But this body may be deformed, disfigured, ruined, by sin. Be careful about that! The other lesson is one of consideration for others. When we see a man with a personal mutilation, every instinct of courteous life bids us hesitate to causelessly wound his feelings. When the weakness is mental or moral, the appeal if yet more direct and overwhelming to our thoughtfulness and care. He who would heedlessly disregard a sign of weakness or old exposure like this is more unthinking and more ungenerous even than he who would drink wine in the presence of one who had been a drunkard, or rattle dice in a reformed gambler's ear. The silent plea of feebleness ought to be simply irresistible to every noble mind. It seems to say plaintively, like the suffering Job: "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me!" We must use our Christian freedom cautiously, lest with our indulgence we should injure one for whom Christ died.
And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. I.
FROM THE GREAT CONFLICT WITH SIN NONE COME OFF WITHOUT MANY A SCAR. We may wrestle and prevail, but there will be touches of the enemy, which will leave their long and bitter memories. The way to heaven is made of falling down and rising up again. The battle is no steady, onward fight, but rallies and retreats, retreats and rallies.
II. The reason of our defeats is that THE OLD SIN OF THE CHARACTER CONTINUES, AND CONTINUES WITH UNABATED FORCE, IN THE HEART OF A CHILD OF GOD. There are two ways in which sin breaks out and gains an advantage over a believer.
1. A new temptation suddenly presents itself.
2. The old habit of sin recurs — recurs, indeed, sevenfold, but still the same sin.
III. ALL SIN IN A BELIEVER MUST ARISE FROM A REDUCTION OF GRACE. This is the result of grieving the Holy Ghost by a careless omission of prayer or other means of grace. There was an inward defeat before there was an outward and apparent one.
IV. DEFEAT IS NOT FINAL. It is not the end of the campaign; it is but one event in the war. It may even be converted into a positive good to the soul, for God can and will overrule guilt to gain; he allows each defeat to teach us repentance and humility.
The sun-rising may be in special mercy unto tempted persons, as well as good to all.
2. Holy conquerors in temptation may go out halters.
3. Halting is no evil while it tends to humbling Jacob and his seed (ver. 31).
God's visible actions to his saints have been apt to be mistaken by men.
2. Jacob's children have been forward to turn God's spiritual intentions to carnal interpretations (ver. 32).
()Jacob is to me the most difficult character in the Bible history. He looks so worldly, shrewd, and even unscrupulous, that it is hard to reconcile ourselves to him. I feel the justice of the sneers about him, and sometimes it seems humbling that this should be one of the patriarchs, even in that rude time. But if all were on one side, it would be easy, however painful, to judge of him. It is his singular contradictions, with his visions of angels, &c., that make it hard. He cheats his brother; and behold him just afterward with his consecration, his awful sense of God's presence, and hear his simple vow! Behold Jacob so shrewd to Laban, so calculating and successful! Behold him returning; see the shrinking of his guilty and timid heart; and then at night see this scene of wrestling! We are all of us mixtures of earth and heaven, but I know of none like this. On the one hand I see Jacob sometimes so merely a Jew that he seems the father of Jewish guile, fear, unscrupulousness, and thrift. On the other I see him sometimes not only as the deeply faithful lover in his youth, the most tender father, but as an elevated, majestic man of faith, who believed in high things, who valued them, and who left on record such words of lowliness and penitence for his faults, in such genuine tones, that the purest and most repentant hearts take them up from age to age and repeat them as their own: "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant"; "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been," &c. Nay, I see him sometimes as so purely an inspired Hebrew, that he seems the father of the visions of Hebrew prophets, the father of the Psalms, and the father of the deepest spiritual insights of the Bible. How wonderful! The shame and sorrow and shock of such contradictions is a common tale. Alas, that we, who are linked in some qualities, at some moments, with the highest, purest, in the fellowship of Christ, should so blaspheme ourselves, should descend from angels' food to prey on garbage — that heavenly-fashioned hearts should go into business and society and do mean things, and be worldly Jacobs, and forget, and live our low lives, while we have in solemn moments our visions and wrestlings! This is not merely for reproach, but for hope. Awful contradiction as man is, Christ believed in the power of the better part.
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