In the womb he grasped his brother's heel, and in his vigor he wrestled with God.
Hosea 12:3 (last clause)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.
— 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.
And by his strength he had power with God.
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.)
(Beaver H. Blacker, M. A.)
(Rowland Williams, D. D.)
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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