Jacob Wrestles with God
Issac had twin sons – Esau and Jacob. As the oldest son, Esau had the generational birthright – this was a sacred thing. The oldest son received a double inheritance, a special blessing from the father, and the judicial authority of the father – the birthright was a hugh deal in that culture. The concept of birthright was part of the very fabric of society. In fact, if we look in the book of Deuteronomy (ch 21) we see that the rules for “birthright” are in the law – this was big. The birthright set the oldest son apart as THE family representative. He was to lead the family “line” into the future with authority and honor.
Scripture uses this concept of birthright to give us a vision of Jesus' position.
Colossians 1:18 (NIV)
And he is the head of the body, the church (all those who belong to God); he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Here, Jesus has the eternal birthright and sets the pattern for his family – victory over death.
Hebrews 1:4-6 (NIV)
So [Jesus] became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Jesus carries with him the full weight of his father and is worthy of worship.
So this was Esau – the firstborn. Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob. Isaac was a man's man, a hairy hunter guy. Isaac intended the blessing to go to Esau.
Jacob, Esau's younger twin brother, grew up in the shadow of his manipulative mother Rachel. He became a self-sufficient, self-made man, grabbing opportunities as they presented themselves. He was good at following behind someone else's effort and then making their profit his own. His name was a forcast of this – Jacob means “heal-grabber”. At birth Jacob was holding on to the heal of his older brother as if to lay claim to what was Esau's. Jacob was good at using manipulation and deception as the way to get ahead. Twice Jacob took his brother's honor. Once when he barganid Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew and later when he deceived their father, Isaac, into giving him the family blessing that would have gone to Esau. After this Jacob ran for his life because Esau wanted to kill him.
Jacob spent a number of years with his uncle Laban, another greedy deceiver – remember the story? Jacob thought he had worked seven years to marry Laban's daughter Rachel, but when he woke up on the morning after the wedding, Leah, Rachel's older sister, was in bed next to him. As a result Jacob worked another seven years for Laban in order to get Rachel. But, in the end , through trickery, Jacob got the best of Laban and built great wealth for himself at Laban's expense. Jacob was good at thinking about himself. Now Jacob decided to flee from Laban.
So now Jacob, his wives, his children, his servents, and his flocks are on the move back toward to the promised land. When Jacob gets to the river his messangers tell him about a problem in front of him – Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. The Bible tells us that at that point Jacob was scared and out of options. So he did two things:
First – Jacob splits his possetions and servants and livestock into two groups and sends them across the river. He hopes that if Esau is distracted by one group, the other might escape.
Second – Jacob, in desparation, prayed for deliverance.
Genesis 32:9-12 (NIV)
“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. 11 Save me (deliver me), I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
Jacob knew God's promises toward him, but now Jacob was at the end of his own effort. He was about to get what he deserved.
Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV)
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. (It may be that the man would not let him cross the river) 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared (delivered – same as verse 11).” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
Vs 24-26 – God fought with Jacob as a man would fight a man – all night long. We don't know much about what happened in this fight but I think the point here is that Jacob would not surrender. Jacob won his battles. Jacob would figure out a way to gain the advantage. Jacob was the king of his little kingdom. Jacob would not yield. It took a supernatural, crippling blow for Jacob to submit. Suddenly Jacob understands that his resources are not the answer. God wins the fight – always. Now the most important thing for Jacob was that he received God's blessing.
Vs 27 – Before God blessed Jacob, Jacob needed to come face-to-face with who he really was. Before he was blessed, he had to say his name – he had to confess who he really was – a heal-grabber, a sinful man. In one instant Jacob moved from a self-righteous person to one who needed help.
Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Vs 28 – Jacob now receives a new name. The only One who has the ability to give new names calls him Israel. No longer “heal grabber” - now “one who wrestles with God”
Vs 31-32 – Jacob carried with him a constant reminder of God's saving power over his life. Now crippled physically he became bold in faith – God would provide (just like we saw last week as Abraham trusted God to provide). After this life-changing event Jacob moves to the front of his family and flocks to meet Esau in submission – and Esau embraces Jacob. God must cripple the natural strength of those he rescues so we will trust him.
Scripture is clear that those God rescues have a new name. Abram believed God and he was counted righteous – he was right with God. God changed his name from Abram (“exalted father” – probably looking back to his earthly heratige), to Abraham (“father of a multitude” – looking toward God's victory over sin). Abraham's wife's name was changed from Sarai (“my princess” – probably a name reflecting how her earthly father thought of her), to Sarah (“princess” – looking forward God's promise). Jacob was given a new name when he met God. Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter. Jesus told a great religious leader of the day that even he needed to be born again.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Self-sufficient people WILL NOT enter the Kingdom. Self-sufficient people WILL NOT see God. Before we can be right with God we must be changed
Matthew 19:23-26 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
There are many, like Jacob, who missunderstand blessing. It's easy to think that because we have earthly wealth, health, and success, we must be operating in line with God's vision. This is simply a self-centered way to justify our materialism.
Jacob did not enter the promised land until he came to the end of himself. Until we understand that our rescue, our salvation, our hope is only because God is unimaginably kind, we are still fighting with God – we are taking some amount of credit for God's work – we are insulting God.
Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Here is my question this morning – Have you ever come to Jesus knowing that you have nothing to offer? Have you ever come to Jesus knowing that all you have is ultimatly only due to God's kindness? Have you ever come to Jesus in desperate need?