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The Wrestler Who Lost And Won

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Gen 32:22  And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok.  23  He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24  Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.  25  Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.  26  And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”  But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”  27  So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.”  28  And He said, Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.  29  Then Jacob asked, saying, Tell me Your name, I pray. And He said, Why is it that you ask about My name?  And He blessed him there.  30  And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.  31  Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.


Introduction:  As a child we all have found ourselves in wrestling matches.  Most of the time our wrestling matches was just for fun.  The object was to get your opponent down and hold them.  Jacob was a wrestler who had been so even before he was born.  You see Esau and Jacob were twins and while they were still in the their mother’s womb, Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as if to pull him back so that he might be born first (Gen 25:26).  There was great value attached to the oldest son and he was given special privileges and responsibilities.

This birth right was so important to Jacob that he talked his brother Esau into selling him his birth right for a bowl of stew.  Jacob tricked his father so that he would bless him instead of Esau.  He also deceived his father-in-law and took his flocks and herds. 

When Esau learned about the stealing of blessing, he made plans to kill Jacob.  When Rebekah the twins mother, heard what Esau planned to do, she sent Jacob away to her brother Laban.  Now after many years had passed Jacob was returning and he was afraid that his brother might still try to kill him.

Jacob had come to the Jabbok River and crossing it meant crossing into Esau’s territory.  Jacob decided that he would try to please his brother so that he wouldn’t kill him, so he sent gifts across the river before him.  He sent his servants ahead of him with a gift for Esau of 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows, 10 bulls, and 30 donkeys.  As Jacob was making these preparations he said to himself, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me” (Gen 32:20).  Later that evening he sent his wives and sons across the river and finally he sent the rest of his servants with the rest of his possessions across.

That night Jacob was left all by himself on the banks of the Jabbok.  That night the most famous and perhaps the most fantastic wrestling match in all of history took place.  That night an unknown, unnamed man appeared and wrestled with Jacob all through the night.  

You see Jacob was at the bank of Jabbok River which means “empty.”  He had wives, he had servants and he had possessions, but he was at the bank of “empty.”  He had his father’s blessing, but he was at the bank of “empty.”  One Webster’s definition of “Empty” is “containing nothing.”  This man had wrestled for everything from the time of his birth and yet he was at the bank of “empty.”  You see what Jacob needed more of he had less of.  In other words Jacob needed God more than he needed things.  That night Jacob wrestled with God.

All of us have wrestled with God at times as we struggle to do our things in our way.  We have wrestled with God as we tried to understand why terrible things happen to good people.  We have wrestled with God and His call on our lives.  We have wrestled with God over the things He has asked us to give up or do.  We have all wrestled with God and so we can all learn some important lessons from Jacob, the Wounded Wrestler.

By crossing Jabbok, Jacob was going to be entering into Esau’s territory, but God saw something even more important than that.  By crossing Jabbok, Jacob would be entering into the land that God had sworn to give to Abraham’s descendants…the Promised Land.  God wasn’t about to allow Jacob to enter the Promised Land…the land of His blessing or favor…on his own terms or in his own strength.  So God appears in the form of a man and wrestles with Jacob, not for sport, but to teach him some key truths.  The God-man said to Jacob, “for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed” (v. 28).  As we read the text it is clear that Jacob didn’t “overcome” in the wrestling match in the sense of defeating God.  They wrestled all through the night and it appeared that it was going to be a draw until God dislocated Jacob’s hip with a simple touch.  It was as if God allowed Jacob to give Him his best shot and then God showed His complete power with a single touch.  

You see that’s all it really takes is God’s touch.  Often times we think that God needs to do something out of this world, when all we need is His touch.  He can touch a broken heart and mend it.  He can touch your money and you can’t figure out how it lasted until the end of the month.  He can touch your family and put them back together again.  He can touch your enemy and make them your friend.  All it takes is a touch from God.  Jacob couldn’t go to the other side as a trickster…Selah (think about it).

That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things his way.  That is why the Bible says, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25).  He found out that his way of entering the Promised Land wasn’t going to work because God wouldn’t let it work.  That is why the Bible also says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).  If we try to accomplish things in our own way and in our own strength we won’t be successful.  We will never be successful because our way simply doesn’t work.

Is there anything that you have been trying to do in your own strength?  Have you been trying to build a bridge in order to get to God?  Have you been trying to manufacture a holy life?  Or, maybe you are trying to give up a bad habit by pure will power.  Whatever it is, it is time to admit that you can’t do it.  It is time for you to admit that your way doesn’t work.  It is time to stop doing things your way and start doing them God’s way.  It is only by God’s grace that we are able to establish a relationship with Him and empowered to live a holy life.  And it is only through His deliverance that we can be set free from our sinful habits. Our way doesn’t work.

God proved to Jacob that his way wasn’t going to work when He stopped Jacob with a single touch that dislocated his hip.  With his hip dislocated Jacob, realized the greatness of the One with whom he wrestled.  We know that Jacob realized that it was really God he was wrestling because he said, “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”  With his hip dislocated all Jacob could do was hold on and cry for a blessing from this God.  The Bible teaches us some interesting things about being blessed.  Hebrews 7:7 says, “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.”  So by crying out for a blessing Jacob was acknowledging that God was greater.  By seeking God’s blessing he was humbling himself and exalting God.  

He realized that only God could provide the blessing he so desperately needed and he believed that God was sufficient.  God said to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  In his weakened condition, Jacob was able to believe in God and so God’s power was made perfect through his weakness.  But so many times we find it so difficult to do something as simple as believing in God.

How easy it is for us to believe in God’s sufficiency in Church on Sunday morning or in a Bible study.  But in the real world where our lives are on the line, too many of us demonstrate that our belief is only theory.  We need to realize that we have no one else to turn to besides God.  We need to trust in God to provide for our needs instead of trusting in ourselves.  We need a faith that works in the real world, with real problems and not just in the pew on Sunday morning.  God is sufficient, believe it.

Jacob demonstrated his belief in the sufficiency of God by asking Him for a blessing. However, God first insisted that Jacob tell Him his name.  Why?  Didn’t God already know his name was Jacob?  Yes He did!  The name Jacob means “supplanter” which means to attack at the heel, to hold back.  That is exactly what Jacob did by tricking his brother out of his birthright and stealing his blessing.  So by speaking his name Jacob was confessing his true nature to God.  By speaking his name he was confessing to God that he had sinned against his brother.  We must understand that God will not bless a person unless they first confess their sin.  John taught this truth when he wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  And the Psalmist experienced this truth when he said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.  I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, And You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).  The greatest blessing that God can bestow on a man or woman is the forgiveness and cleansing from sin and that blessing can only be received when we first confess our sin to Him.

As soon as Jacob spoke his name and in that way confessed his sin, God changed his name. For the Hebrews, your name spoke of your character or nature.  As we have seen with Jacob, his name surely reflected his nature and the state of his heart.  By changing Jacob’s name, God was showing that He had changed Jacob’s heart.  His new name was changed to Israel, because he had struggled with God and with men and had overcome.  This overcoming came only when he confessed his sin and had his heart transformed.  It wasn’t that Jacob overcame God in the wrestling match; it was that he overcame his sin by confessing it and desiring to be changed.  In the book of Ezekiel God promised to change our hearts when He said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).  We must desire a change of heart the way David did when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  Like Jacob we must come to God with a genuine desire to be transformed.

A German proverb says, “To change and to improve are two different things.”





Now humbled and weakened in himself, Jacob could enter the Promised Land because he was strong in faith.  

In this passage Jacob began in the darkness of night which was symbolic of his spiritual condition, but after his encounter with God, the sun rose and he had literally passed from darkness to light.  1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  In Colossians 1:13 we read, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”  We, like Jacob, can pass from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light because the grace of God has opened to us the entrance into the Promised Land of forgiveness and cleansing.  Will you go in today?

You can’t enter your way.  You can’t enter in your power.  You can’t enter in your condition.

You can only enter if you are willing to be changed.  Your way doesn’t work.  Admit it.  God is sufficient.  Believe it.  You need a change of heart.  Desire it.  The Promised Land is opened.  Enter it through Jesus Christ who is Lord.









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