Hosea 12:3
Hosea 12:3 (last clause)
It is no small thing to have a godly parentage. To be born to the heritage of a good name and of religious influences brings heavy responsibility and noble privilege. The man who turns t rein the path in which his godly ancestors walked commits a greater sin, in the judgment of God, than the godless who have never known the advantages of a religious home. Among the nations, "Israel" had this peculiar responsibility. The name of the people was a reminder of the prayer in which their great ancestor obtained self-conquest, knowledge of God, and grace to keep justice and do mercy. Hence they are reminded by Hosea of what their father was, that they might know what was still possible to themselves. The prophet refers here to Jacob's agonizing prayer at Jabbok, and speaks of a "strength" which was in him, which consisted not in holiness or merit, but (as the next verse suggests) in "supplication and tears." God could not overthrow his faith and constancy. He could not, because he would not. The touch which shriveled Jacob's thigh showed what he could do. The delay and struggle were only imposed on the suppliant (as by Jesus on the woman of Syro-phoenicia) in order to prepare him to receive a loftier blessing than he began at first to seek. The incident is related in a highly poetic form, and to Jacob the conflict was so terrible that it seemed an actual struggle with a living man. The voice and the presence were not material, but they were nonetheless real. We do not attempt to distinguish between the subjective and objective in this great conflict, yet we believe that Hosea's words respecting it are true, "There God spake with us," and that we are called upon to incline our hearts to the inference in the sixth verse, "Therefore turn thou to thy God," etc.

I. THE PREPARATION FOR WRESTLING WITH GOD, as exemplified in the experience of Jacob. Most men are so surrounded by what is material that they want the help of circumstances to enforce upon their thoughts the deeper necessities of their nature and the nearness of their God. Refer to Jacob's circumstances, and show how they constituted such a crisis in his life. Examine his mental condition, and see in it:

1. Remembrance of sin. Twenty years had gone by since that crime was committed which deceived his father, destroyed the peace of the home, and made Jacob an exile. Yet changes of scene, cares of business, the vexations caused by an exacting employer, etc., had not prevented the rising again of that dreadful memory. Bury sin as you may beneath cares and pleasures, it will reappear before you. Men have left the scene of guilt, formed new associations, hushed conscience to silence successfully for years, and then a chance word, or an unexpected event, has raised the specter of the past sin. Such a one, like Jacob, would give anything to begin life again; but all in vain. We walk on through life like one upon a path in the cliffs which crumbles away behind him, so that he cannot go back to gather the flowers he neglected, or to take the turn that would have given pleasure instead of peril. What else can we do, when the remembrance of sin is overwhelming, but "weep and make supplication unto God"?

2. Realization of peril. Jacob cared not so much for himself; but he could not bear to think that these innocent, dear ones around him might suffer death or captivity because of his wrongdoing. When he committed the sin he had neither wife nor child, and little thought how far-reaching and disastrous its results would be. So the sins of youth full often are the seed whence springs a harvest of sorrow to others as well as to ourselves. Darwin would teach as plainly as David that the sins of the father are visited upon the children; as Jacob's children were in peril because of a sin their father committed before they were born. No wonder Jacob turned to God with tears and supplications, and "there God spake with us," saying, "Turn thou to thy God."

3. Consciousness of solitude. Jacob was left alone. Most of the crises of life must be faced in solitude. Hence our Lord said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet," etc He himself went up into a mountain alone, and when every man departed to his own house, he went to the Mount of Olives. Moses was alone on Sinai, John in Patmos, etc. It is well for us sometimes to shut the world out, to think over the past and to prepare for the future by waiting upon God. "Therefore turn thou to thy God," etc.

II. THE MEANING OF WRESTLING WITH GOD. In his spiritual struggle Jacob had:

1. An apprehension of a personal God. The expressions "man" and "angel" are used to show that God was as real to him as a man would have been; that Jacob found him to be One with whom he could plead, who could speak, who noticed his tears, and was able to bless him there. Those who know something of the intensity of prayer are not satisfied with vague ideas of God. To them he is not an abstract notion of the mind, projected upon nothingness; nor is he the sum of natural forces. He is the living and true God, who has a personal interest in them, and listens to the cry of their hearts, nothing less than that satisfies the soul. Idolatry is but a blind attempt to create some objective personality, nothing less than which men can worship. But what we want is given to us in Christ, who was "the image of the invisible God." Men may be satisfied with less than him in their lower life, but when the want of the soul is really pressing, when the hunger of the heart is fairly roused, prayer becomes an agony, in which they can say, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God!"

2. Consciousness of spiritual struggle. "Struggle" does not correctly describe all fellowship with God, as we may see from Jacob's own experience. When he first left home he saw the heavenly ladder at Bethel, and had a sweet assurance of God's love and protection; but now twenty years have elapsed he goes through this scene of darkness and struggle and weeping. This is not what many would have expected. They demand that religious experience should always begin with agony over sin. But it does not. Children may know nothing of the agony of soul, yet they may know the reality of prayer. By the foolish expectations of some Christians, they are tempted to persuade themselves that they have known what they never did know, or else to regard the devotion of their childhood as sentimental and unreal. Why should they not heed the angels of Bethel first, and have the agony of Jabbok twenty years after, as Jacob did? But, sooner or later, most devout men know something of struggle, when the darker problems of life and its more terrible issues face them; yet, although in their later years they have to fight with doubts which did not trouble them once, they have no reason on that account to suspect the reality of their earlier religious life. It was not Bethel's pleasant dream, but Jabbok's dreadful struggle, that transformed Jacob into a prince.

3. Victory through the Divine goodness. Observe the change in the attitude of Jacob. At first the angels "met him" as if coming out of Seir, to remind and rebuke him of sin. He began with struggle, but ended in supplication. The end of all wrestling with God is not to conquer him, but to conquer self; e.g. one assailed by intellectual doubts finds rest, not in the solution of the difficulty, but in trust in him whose "greatness is unsearchable;" another troubled by the conviction of sin wins peace by confessing sin, not by disproving the charges of conscience. The consciousness and acknowledgment of weakness is our power, "weeping" is our eloquence; and they who come with the supplication, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," by their strength have power with God.

III. THE ISSUES OF WRESTLING WITH GOD. See what Jacob won. 1. Knowledge of God. He knew him as "the Lord of hosts," with power to rule Esau and others, and as "Jehovah," who would fulfill his covenant promise. He was nearer to God now than ever. Before this he had been at Beth-el, "the house of God ;" but now he was at Peniel he saw "the face of God."

2. Change in character. No longer Jacob (supplanter), but Israel (prince). Before this he sought Divine ends by human means, but never after. In the presence of things eternal, things temporal faded away; and in the light of God's countenance he became sincere and transparent. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image," etc.

3. Delight in prayer. When an old man he blessed his sons, having faith to foresee their future, and power in prayer to win their blessings. The priesthood of Christians on earth has yet to be realized in the fullness of its power. If only the Church had the spirit of supplication which Jacob had when he cried, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," there would come a wave of spiritual influence over the world which would cover the bare rocks of skepticism, and sing a paean of victory over the dreary wastes of sin. "By his strength" may the Church have "power with God"! - A.R.







And by his strength he had power with God.
This story has a strange fascination for most Bible readers, due, in part, to the vividness with which it is told; in part, to the deep spiritual truth which it half reveals and half conceals. Jacob recalls in his prayer the time when he passed this very place twenty years before as he fled from the wrath of Esau. God has been with him, and prospered him. Let us picture again that weird night scene. The almost oppressive silence was only broken by the roar of the shallow Jabbok, which writhed and struggled between obstructing rocks as it plunged and tumbled to the Jordan valley two miles below. We can see the rough waters gleam under the torches as drove after drove of animals splashed and ploughed their way through, — the goats and the sheep, the camels and the cattle, the asses and their foals are carefully arranged in successive relays, to appease the wrath of Esau. Then, in two companies, his frightened household followed, and the sounds died away again until nothing was left but the deepened roar of the turbulent stream beside him, which seemed to intensify the dead silence all around. Jacob was left alone. He was anxious, and apprehensive of what might happen. He was a greedy man, and he stood to lose, at one stroke, the wealth which represented the struggles of twenty years. He was an intensely affectionate man, and it seemed as if wives and children might be snatched away from him at one fell swoop: "I fear lest Esau come and smite me, the mother and the children." Then, through the long night there wrestled with him man till daybreak — till the reach of the Jabbok flashed again in the sudden Syrian sunrise. As he lay there in the growing light, thrown, exhausted, he knew it was no man who had striven with him. In the sunrise he had seen God face to face. So he called the place Peniel — God's face. But that is only the outside of the story, the body of this experience. What is its inner meaning? An instinct tells us that this is the record of a moral and spiritual struggle, which doubtless has its counterpart in the human life of these breathless days. That shrivelled tendon was the mark left in Jacob's body of a moral and spiritual struggle — the crisis of his history. We know the long night ended in tearful and penitent prayer. What makes me feel certain that this is the record of a moral and spiritual struggle is the undoubted fact that from that day a great moral change came over Jacob — a change represented by his new name. He was no longer Jacob — sly, subtle, crafty, tricky Jacob, he was an Israelite, indeed, in whom there was no guile. He was Israel, God's prince, for he had prevailed. He not only had a new name, but a new nature. The blessing which came with the dawn was the highest blessing which can ever come to any man — the assurance that his better self would become increasingly his truest self. He was a prince of God. It is not difficult to see that Jacob's whole life had been one long wrestle, a tough, hard struggle with others. He had wrestled for bread, for love, for justice. Yes; and he had prevailed. He had succeeded, he had reaped the fruit of struggle — strength. He had gained what comes with victory — self-confidence. He had outwitted the crafty Laban. He went to his uncle a penniless tramp; he left him a wealthy man. And now he comes back to the land which was promised him. And here, on the very border and frontier of it, just as he is about to grasp what seems to be already his, he is brought up suddenly face to face with an old sin; and, as old sins are wont to do, it unnerved him. Do you know men who sinned — twenty years ago? They have been successful in spite of their sin — nay, by means of it, and God has given no sign. Then, after twenty years, they are brought face to face with the consequences. They do not ask now: What will it mean to me? There is a question which cuts deeper than that: What will it mean to wife and children? If no one else were involved, if the man knew definitely what it would mean and how it would end he could face it. Though it brought ruin and exposure and shame, he could meet it like a man, But when the vague dread of it hangs over his life, and he lies awake at night and goes over all the possibilities and chances of what may happen, and wonders if any contingency has been left unprovided for, till the heart is sick with a nameless dread — then suspense becomes anguish. Now, that was Jacob's case. He had done all that foresight and long experience could devise. He had sent messages, intended to convey to Esau the impression that he was a man of some consequence — obsequious messages, toe, to "my lord Esau." And "my lord" sent back a soldier's answer: "Esau cometh to meet thee with four hundred men." With great astuteness Jacob divides his household into two companies, so that if Esau falls on one, the other may perhaps escape. His trouble drives him to his knees, for with all his subtlety and shrewdness Jacob was a praying man. He appeals, in his extremity — like many a trickster since — to his father's God. And yet, apprehension of his loss breaks through his very prayer. He is a rich man now, and has much to lose "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies which Thou hast shewed unto Thy servant,... deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother." In the very act of prayer his subtle brain is scheming how he will send presents to Esau — not in a lump, but first one, then another, drove after drove. He knew very well how to appeal to the frank, generous heart of the rough twin-brother. What a mixture the man is! — craft and prayer, cunning and faith, daring and dread!... "Then Jacob was greatly afraid, and was distressed." Does all this let any light on some past experience of your own? You were walking, as you thought, in the way of God's leading — in obedience to His call — to some land of promise, and on the very border of it you are suddenly brought face to face with some past wrong. The power in which you trusted — the result of long experience — fails you. Your self-confidence is rudely shaken. You betake yourself to prayer, and yet you will not trust wholly in that either; you do all that foresight can suggest — and stretch a point in doing it — to make quite sure that the blessing shall be yours. You try to deal with God as you have dealt with men. Is that the meaning of Jacob's wrestling? You come to the very border of your land of promise. It is almost your own. And you will make quite sure of it by human means, — as if God could be tricked and managed, as if the blessing must be wrested from unwilling hands. Then you find that you have more than Esau to deal with. There is another Antagonist — unknown, mysterious, persistent. So you struggle on through the darkness, unwilling to cast aside the powers which have never failed when dealing with your fellows. Does not your own experience interpret this story for you? Then, at daybreak, with one touch the nameless wrestler shrivels the strongest muscle in Jacob's body, and shows what He might have done at any moment. The strong man falls back spent and thrown. His self-confidence is broken, he has met more than this match.

Nay, but I yield, I yield;

I can hold out no more!Is that the end, then? It would have been with some men, but Jacob clings with all his remaining strength to his great antagonist, until he wrings a blessing from the struggle. It was after his defeat, you observe, after he was worsted and thrown, that he prevailed. Look at the text again (R.V. margin), "In his strength he strove with God; yea, he strove with the angel, and prevailed." But how? In this way: "He wept, and made supplication unto Him." He supplicates the possession he cannot win. The blessing he sought to wring from God was his in a free and gracious gift. The sun rose on a changed and chastened life. But the long struggle had left its mark on him. He halted on his thigh. He lost the proud, self-confident swing in his gait. He was a humbler and a better man. Is that an old story I have been telling you? Is it not your story? Yours and mine? Do you remember that dark and troubled day when the Unseen asserted its rights — when you wrestled, but not with flesh and blood? And you found that the tricks and quirks which avail in that warfare were no use, for you were dealing with God. Is that the explanation of some struggle in the darkness which is going on here and now? Have we never heard of the striving of the Spirit? Is that the meaning of some bitter disappointment which comes unexpectedly into the life of some self-confident man who has hitherto never known what failure means? The power which wrestles with you is. a power which longs to bless. If you will cling with all your strength, it may be you will come out of that struggle crowned and with a new name, because in the struggle you have learned His name, and in defeat you have learned to pray.

(A. Moorhouse, M. A.)

— The strength that God puts into us, though it be God's own, yet when we have it, and work by it, God accounts it as ours; it is called Jacob's strength, though the truth is, it was God's strength. It is a great honour to manifest much strength in wrestling with God in prayer. In this was the honour of Jacob, with his strength he prevailed with God. We should not come with weak and empty prayers, but we should put forth strength; if a Christian has any strength in the world for anything, he should have it in prayer. According to the strength of the fire, the bullet, ascends; so according to what strength we put forth in prayer, so is our prevalence. This strength of Jacob was a type of the spiritual strength which God gives His saints when they have to deal with Him. See Ephesians 3:16. Surely the strength is great that is by the Spirit of God, but such strength shall manifest the glory of the Spirit of God. This is the strength attainable for Christians, even here in this world. Let us not be satisfied with faint desires and wishes, when Jesus Christ is tendered to us as the fountain of strength. But do you walk so that your strength manifests that such riches of the glory of God dwell in you? Christians should seek to be strengthened with all might, according to the glorious power of God. The way to prevail with men is to prevail with God.

(Jeremiah Burroughs.)

The prophet takes the opportunity of showing the difference between their conduct and that of Jacob, after whom they were called. His design in doing so was to make them know that, if they expected to be saved, it was not by proving their descent from Jacob, but by acting as did that pious patriarch when he was in danger and was suffering from the effects of his former misconduct. Reference is to the scene of wrestling with the angel. We use it as an example of the mode and nature of faithful and successful prayer. All must pray, and to be heard must pray aright, in the same persevering manner as Jacob, and in the same holy temper. We are taught, in other parts of Scripture, to address our God with penitence, holiness, faith, and perseverance; and all these essentials of acceptable devotion are illustrated in this narrative.

(Beaver H. Blacker, M. A.)

Alas! a nearer view of Judah shows that all the descendants of Jacob, in Zion as in Samaria, provoke judgment. How unlike the early devotion and fervent faith of the pilgrim-patriarch their father! From the strong prayer amidst the stones at Bethel, where the eternal pathway between heaven and earth was opened in vision, and from the wrestling of supplication at Peniel, what moral degeneracy a idst the wealthy traffic adopted in Canaan! And what a cry to God may not the prophet raise for a restoration of the old simple tent-life, when it seemed natural to men that God should raise up speakers of His will, and quicken their spiritual life by fervent preachers! In those days of prophets Israel dwelt safely: under her kings she sins and suffers. God spared the ten tribes, notwithstanding that Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, made them sin. Now, since idolatry multiplies, since Baal is worshipped, and perhaps even human bloodshed, either to Moloch, or through contagion of Moloch worship, notwithstanding Abraham's purer faith had sought better propitiations, the nation drifts like chaff, stubble, smoke. All God's appeals are in vain. Stolid and obstinate, the nation which God called to for a new birth of a pious generation, and for new thoughts and hope, stands gazing on its idols. God would have saved them from the Assyrian sword, and would have foiled the besieger, and bidden death and the grave stay their devouring. But since sinners do not repent, God cannot relent.

(Rowland Williams, D. D.)

The house of God and the face of God. God is here. God is mine.

I. JACOB'S FIRST CONVERSION. At Bethel Jacob cannot be called a "religious man." He had come into no personal relations with God. He acknowledged, but did not know, his father's God. His character had, as yet, received no shakings, so it had thrown down no personal and independent rootings; there were no signs of the sway of any central and unifying principles. He could still be described as "without God in the world." But out of the very consequences of his wrongdoings come the beginnings of nobler things. The vision gives us the time when Jacob first entered into personal relations with God. It may help us to understand in what our conversion to God essentially consists — a revelation of the personal God to the soul; and the acceptance, by the soul, of the responsibilities of that revelation. Jacob's new life begins with a personal revelation of God. This is the Divine arrest of the man in the very midst of his wilfulness and selfishness. God guides him with the hand of His Providence, and sets him just where He can best reveal to him Himself. We have no record of Jacob's struggling after the light, and at last reaching, after long efforts, to the light of God. In his case there is no growing of knowledge into the wisdom of God, no unfolding of moral feeling into spiritual life; but upon him, while actually in his heedlessness, the revelation of God comes: a new fact of his existence is impressively disclosed to him: this fact, that God, his father's God, Abraham's God, was with him. That fact at once, and altogether, changes the principle and spirit of his life. Religion is not a development; it is not an education; it is not something which man can himself start and nourish. It is the effect of a Divine salvation; an intervention of God; a gracious mode of bringing man into conscious and happy relations with God. It was a vision of God, and an assurance of the Divine nearness to him, and care of him, that bowed Jacob down with the profoundest awe and humiliation. The ungodly soul felt that God was about him, close to him. The vision opened Jacob's eyes —

1. To see God's relation to his life. The vision showed God caring for sinful, wandering Jacob, watching over his slumbers, peopling the desert for him with ministering angels, and assuring him of unfailing guardianship. He could never be the same man again when this fact had been brought home to his very heart.

2. To feel a conviction of the Divine claims of God is here, I must wait, listen, obey.

3. To realise the Divine love, the sovereign fulness and freeness of Divine grace, Jacob woke in the morning to feel — God loves me, even me.

II. JACOB'S SECOND CONVERSION. The wrestling represents the highest point in the spiritual history of Jacob. It was the time in which Jacob learned the mystery and the joy of trusting wholly, committing himself entirely to the Divine love and lead. The wrestling at Jabbok is the close of a scene of which each part requires careful attention. Anxious and scheming as he came within sight of Canaan, he had the vision of the guarding angels to recall him from his schemings to trust. He had hitherto only seen his helpless company and the approaching peril, and like the prophet's servant in later times, God opened his eyes to see, closer than any danger, the two angel-bands of watchers. Recalled thus to the thought of God's nearness, Jacob feels that he must blend prudent schemes with prayer, and the prayer he offers is full of humility, thankfulness, and pleading, that makes it in many ways a model of prayer. But it is easily overestimated. It is the prayer of one who is still rough too self-conscious, of one who has not yet quite given up his guileful ways: there is still something of Jacob's old mistake of "making terms with God." He is evidently learning his great life-lesson, but the prayer shows that he has not fully learned it yet. It was a kind of drama of his life which was acted through that night. It was a gracious way of shewing Jacob what had been the mistake of his whole career. He had always been wrestling. Now in his heart he was even wrestling with God. But He will find that a very different thing. If it does seem that a man's wrestling brings mastery, it is only because God does not put forth His strength in the conflict. When He does and Simply touches Jacob, the confident wrestler, is prostrate and utterly helpless; he can wrestle no more, he can only cling, he can only say, "Give me the blessing"; he gives up at last all self-efforts to win the blessing.

(Robert Tuck, B. A.)

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