“Ahhh! Comes the dawn!”
I’ve often used that quip when in deep debates with others. When I or the other person finally “gets it,” the point of the whole discussion, I would declare, “Ahhh! Comes the dawn!”
That’s where we find ourselves in Jacob’s wrestling match with God in Genesis 32:27-31. If you haven’t already read the scripture, I recommend you do so first, then move on.
To speed up with my previous piece, Jacob’s on the way home with his family and flocks from Uncle Laban’s place in Haran after a twenty-year hiatus. At Canaan’s border next to the Jabbock River, Jacob prepares to meet Esau. He’s petrified because he doesn’t know if Esau still wants to kill him over the family birthright and blessing issue. As an insurance policy, Jacob divides his fortune and family into two groups and sends them over the border to wait for him to cross, leaving him “empty” and “alone.” An unknown assailant (God) wrestles Jacob during the night until morning.
Here are some of the things I saw in this episode. The wrestling match:
Brought Jacob face to face with God.
It involved surrendering his will to God.
It revealed Jacob’s persistence of will despite being at the end of his strength, empty and alone.
If you look closely at the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you’ll see three individual, connected links in the chain of God’s plan to restore humanity and the world to His original design and purpose. Through Abraham’s family line, Yehovah would bring forth the central person of His plan, Jesus, who would do what was needed (dying to open the way of salvation) to all who would embrace it. In the End (a new beginning), God will create a new heaven and earth populated with a wholly restored humanity. Eden’s problem solved, Eden restored.
Now think about this. God’s plan could have been snapped at any point along that chain. Abraham could have refused to believe God for a son. Isaac could have refused to follow God as his father had. Jacob could have chosen to follow God’s plan for him but do it his way, finagling things to his advantage to make sure it comes out the way God promised.
Oh, wait! He did.
That’s the problem. God has a plan, but it must be carried out His way, according to His will. The results usually compost when God’s plans are carried out according to our will (see Saul, 1 Samuel 15; Peter, Matthew 16:21-23). Because Jacob finagled the family birthright and blessing his way and not God’s way, Jacob created a mess. If Esau was still seeing red, Jacob might die, and God’s plan stopped.
But our wonderful, Almighty God straightens things out when we mess with His plan. In Jacob’s case, Yehovah had to straighten Jacob’s will so that it was turned toward Him and not Jacob.
The Lord was looking for a person with a persistent will to pursue His desires, His way, and not their way. Jacob may have felt like he was wrestling for God’s promises – the birthright and the blessing – by wrestling it from other people, but Jacob tried to “take it” from God rather than “receive it” from God. It was always Yehovah’s intent to give Jacob both things to keep the plan of worldwide salvation moving forward.
After securing his family’s birthright and Isaac’s blessing and learning who was really in charge of his life, Jacob comes face to face with God. What he needs now to complete the covenant package is the Lord’s blessing.
After the all-night wrestling match, Jacob has finally reached the end of himself. His body is bruised, his hip is dislocated, and all he has left is his grip on God, but his surrendered persistent will is intact. It’s not broken, but it’s finally turned in the right direction, away from himself and directly toward his God. The Lord will now reveal Jacob’s nature as He sees it, not as people have seen it.
“Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go…’ (Genesis 32:26).
What wonderful words! “Lord, I will not let you go.” Despite being exhausted, disabled, and in pain, Jacob uses the only thing he has left – his hands, and he hangs onto the living God tenaciously.
Here are our words for the day: Tenacious – “to hold persistently to something, clinging to another object” and Persistent – “existing for a long or longer than usual time or continuously.”
Even though he’s empty with everything stripped away, Jacob is left holding on tenaciously, clinging desperately to God. “I can’t defeat you, but I won’t let you escape my grasp.” There’s not even a suggestion of surrender in his words! He’s like the rodeo rider who is beaten up, shaken up, but not giving up until the buzzer sounds. It’s just Jacob and Yehovah, mano a God-o, and not even a severely painful dislocation will make Jacob let go!
With a persistent will and a tenacious grip, Jacob demands the blessing God promised to him twenty years earlier at Bethel, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).
Nope. Esau’s not going to get the birthright and the blessing. Jacob has it and doesn’t need to surrender it. Why? Because God already said it belongs to Jacob. Period. But Jacob wants assurance.
“I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). What’s so important about God’s blessing? According to the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “When God is said to bless men (Gen. 1:28; 22:17), God’s blessing is accompanied with that virtue that renders His blessing effectual and which is expressed by it. Because God is eternal and omnipresent, His omniscience and omnipotence cause His blessings to avail in the present life in respect to all things and also in the life to come.”
When God blesses someone, it happens, and what God blesses, people cannot un-bless. In other words, Jacob will not let God go until He seals his birthright and blessing for good! So that’s what the Lord does, and he blesses Jacob by changing his name. Let me explain.
As I love to share, a name reflects a thing’s nature or function/purpose/calling in biblical terms. Hence, God named creation’s components, showing their nature and how they were to function (Genesis 1).
Jacob has pursued God’s blessing his whole life, and he now realizes that it doesn’t come from his own efforts but from God alone. That’s a blessing by itself. But even more, it was God’s blessing to let Jacob see who he really was and who he was meant to be.
When God asked, “What is your name?” it wasn’t because God had no clue. It was because He wanted Jacob to get a clue. God was saying, “See for yourself who you really are!”
Jacob’s name comes from the Hebrew word, eikev, which means “heel” and implies “taking someone by the heel or foot.” Jacob was born grasping Esau’s heel as if symbolically pulling him back to get ahead. Jacob, the “Puller-Backer, Tripper-Upper to get ahead,” met his wrestling match with Laban. Had it not been for God, Laban would have kept Jacob “under his heel.” And if Jacob thought he was over his head with Laban, that was nothing compared to the God he faced.
There’s no tripping up or pulling God back in THIS wrestling match. When Jacob came face to face with God, God showed Jacob to Jacob. When Yehovah asked him, “What is your name?” He wanted Jacob to honestly admit, “Lord, this is who I am,” and he did. Jacob probably dropped his eyes and quietly replied, “I’m Supplanter. I trip people up so I can win.” God’s man finally came to grips with himself.
But God is in the “making things right” business. He changes Jacob’s name from “Supplanter, Tripper-Upper” (One who finagles his way to get what’s his) to “God contends” or “One who struggles with God.” People may know Jacob as a “heel” or a cheater, but to Yehovah, Jacob earns the award as one who wrestles God Himself and doesn’t let go!
Naming something can also indicate mastery or authority over a thing or person. Jacob had wonderful God-given traits, and his persistence and tenacity were from God. Still, Jacob had to submit them to the Lord, or these same traits would eventually trip up and destroy Jacob.
Ahhh! Comes the dawn!
God took Jacob's raw material and wrestled with him until he shaped Jacob into the man who would carry out the Lord’s plan of establishing a family and a nation that refused to let go of God until He blessed them as He promised. And part of that blessing is to be a blessing to all the people of the world (Genesis 12:3).
God’s promises will not be grasped through human manipulation or human strength, and God’s plan will only go forward once Jacob has mastered himself and is himself mastered by God. With that finally settled, Israel was now ready to meet Esau.
“The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:31). Israel was a changed man in more ways than one. Although the wrestling match was a draw, Israel won his place with God, and for the rest of his life, Israel carried around his trophy – a limp. His limp would always remind Israel of Yehovah’s work in him. It’s a fitting reminder because the one who used “tripping” to get his way must endure a walking disability throughout his life, showing his new “walk” with God. The limp was his forever “and don’t you forget it” reminder.
How often have you tried to wrestle your life out of God’s hands? It didn’t work, did it? Are you still trying to accomplish God’s promises according to your will, the way you want, rather than submitting to Almighty God with “Your will be done!”
Have you felt empty and alone in your situation, knowing God has promised much, but the fulfillment is nowhere in sight? Are you willing to wrestle the Lord about it until He blesses you?
Are you willing to go to the mat with the Lord knowing you won’t prevail over Him, but by His grace, He will bring you to and through the breaking point? How persistent and tenacious are you prepared to be to see His plan accomplished in you or a loved one’s life?
Are you ready for that “Ahhh! Comes the dawn” moment when you see yourself for who you really are and don’t like what you see? And are you prepared to receive the revelation of how God takes precisely who you are and transforms you into what He created you to be all along?
Your wrestling match time is a tough “come to Jesus” moment, but it’s a blessing from Father. He doesn’t want us to stay deceived or unaware. He doesn’t want us hurting ourselves and those around us because we’re clueless. It’s a blessing when He shows us, “I’m not as cool as I thought I was, as strong as I thought I was, as godly as I thought I was. I’m a pitiful, poor, wretched, blind, naked sinner.” When He asks, “What’s your name and Who’s in control here?” our response should be “Not me. You are, Lord.”
The worst part of wrestling with God in that harsh, painful place is that you think you will die. But if we hold onto the Lord, we come to the other side of the dawn! We made it through persistently and tenaciously gripping the Lord who is gripping us!
In truth, wrestling with God is a holy time.
And no matter how bad our limp is afterward, it is a reminder of God’s grace and how He refuses to leave us as we are. We will all get that new name after we wrestle with the Lord, “To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).
And it only happens when we get a grip on God and hold fast.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts