"Jacob and the Angel at Peniel"
by William Brassey Hole
TO CHEW ON: "And He said, 'Let Me go, for the day breaks.' But he said, 'I will not let You go unless You bless me.'" Genesis 32:26
The mysterious story of Jacob wrestling with a Man (God) needs a little context.
Jacob and his family had finally broken free of Laban. Jacob's entourage of flocks, servants, wives, and children were making their way back to the home of Jacob's youth. Their trek took them into Esau's territory. Why Jacob dreaded meeting the brother he had cheated, and because of whose death threats he had left home, is obvious.
As he neared the land of Seir, he sent messengers ahead to tell Esau of his approach. The messengers returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet them — with four hundred men! (Fighting men?!)
Jacob in a desperate attempt to placate his brother sent ahead a lavish gift (Genesis 32:13-15). In today's reading we see how he separated his troupe, putting his family on the safe side of a body of water, and then went out alone to face his fears.
I wonder what was going on in Jacob's mind. No doubt he was reliving his treatment of Esau and their last interactions. Was he feeling undeserving of the blessings God had showered on him, knowing that deception had characterized his life? Did he fear that the day of reckoning was here and Esau would get his revenge?
Sometime during the night a mysterious Man appeared. He and Jacob wrestled and Jacob, sinewy creature that he was, managed to hold his own. As dawn paled the horizon, the Man asked to be released but Jacob wouldn't let Him go until He gave him His blessing.
The Man asked Jacob his name, made him say it: "Jacob" = supplanter, deceiver. Then He gave Jacob a new name/identity: Israel = prince with God, "...for you have struggled with God and with man and have prevailed." But the altercation left Jacob with a limp.
Some things this story says to me:
1. Unresolved issues from the past have a way of reappearing.
2. The best way to deal with any troubling issue is to wrestle it out before God in prayer. When we do this, we show that we're at the end of our own devices. We don't know what effect Jacob's night of prayer had. Maybe Esau was coming with bad intentions. Maybe Jacob's night of contending changed more than just him.
3. Whatever flaws he had, Jacob was a fighter. The Man commended him for his determination. This story of Jacob wrestling with God became part of Israel's legacy. Hosea refers to it as an example of how his contemporaries should prevail with God: "...he struggled with the Angel...He wept and sought favor... So you by the help of your God return / Observe mercy and justice / and wait on your God continually" Hosea 12:2-6.
4. The incident left Jacob permanently changed. He received a new identity, along with a new humiliation. I love how my Bible's footnote explains "He limped: This symbolizes that character transformation costs God's people in terms of ego death" -R. Russell Bixler, commentary on Genesis, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 49.
Let's let Jacob's example mentor us in how to handle our issues from the past, how we need to bring them to God, wrestle with them before Him, and accept the changes that He instigates - especially within us - in the process.
PRAYER: Dear God help me to deal with unresolved issues by working them out with You in prayer. Please help me to be teachable and learn the lessons You have for me. Amen.
MORE: Battles of the Secret Place
"The battle is lost or won in the secret places of the will before God, never first in the external world. The Spirit of God apprehends me and I am obliged to get alone with God and fight the battle out before Him. Until this is done, I lose every time. The battle may take one minute or a year, that will depend on me, not on God; but it must be wrestled out alone before God, and I must resolutely go through the hell of a renunciation before God. Nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there" - Oswald Chambers - My Utmost For His Highest, December 27th reading.********
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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.