TEXT : Genesis 32 : 22- 32
TITLE : Wrestling with God
DATE PREACHED : 24 /10/2010
Last time we covered the first 21 verses of chapter 32 . We saw that:
(i) Jacob , after he has served his uncle Laban for 20 years in self imposed exile (motivated by fear for his brother , Esau) is now on his way back to the land that God had promised him and his descendants on oath .
(ii) Just as the angels ministered to him as he left ( Gen 28:10-22) , they meet him as he prepares to come back .
(iii) On the human front , we have seen that Jacob wavers between faith and fear as he prepares to meet with Esau .
The circumstances of the story of Jacob are largely dictated by two factors :
(i) The election of God . God had chosen Jacob to be the chosen line for his people Israel , out of which , eventually the Messiah – Jesus would come .
(ii) The sinfulness of Jacob – particularly in the deception of Esau . His sinful deviousness is the reason why he spends 20 years in a land of no promise and under the yoke of his uncle Laban who is more than a match for him when it comes to being deceitful .
Man may be seemingly capable of undoing God’s work in the world ,and sometimes it seems that the evil schemes of men may come close to undoing the work of God . The supreme illustration of this is Satan and his demonic and human agents who thought that they had Jesus killed on the cross. For all intents and purposes Jesus was dead . But they forgot the power of God that raises the dead!  They come close but they never succeed.
We see then that even though God allows human sinfulness to take its course and its toll , it cannot ultimately undo the plan and purpose of God.
We must always remember that God is sovereign and not man. God’s will be done – not man’s.
Jacob is now on his way back to where God wants him to be. We have seen that in that process he wavers between fear and faith . More work lies to be done in Jacob . Jacob needs to be conquered .
How God conquers Jacob
The story begins with the crossing of the river Jabbok (which means “wrestler“ in Hebrew : Lenski :p 874) . At a ford (a shallow crossing) he sends everyone ahead , “and Jacob was left alone…” .This proved to be a VERY significant time in Jacob’s life , for it is here that we are told that a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day . This is all very symbolic . Jacob wrestles (Hebr. ‘abhaq’) at the river Jabbok (the “wrestling river”). The outstanding feature of this encounter is that he was left alone None of his companions were with him on this occasion. There are times when we must face ourselves and our God alone . There are times when nobody can be with us , because God has work to complete in us! He is committed to complete the good work that He has begun in us (Phil 1:6) .Before Jacob could enter the land , he needed to be thoroughly humbled and made more useful for God’s purposes . Jacob needed to be alone. For 20 years , having escaped the clutches of his brother Esau he was in a sense able to suppress the thoughts of his sinful past.
Many Christian people can relate to this . Perhaps you have run away from a situation , and you find yourself not at peace with God , your fellowman or your self. You had said to yourself : “ if only I can escape from this or that situation or this place of oppression (town/city/country) I can start again elsewhere.“ By escaping from such a situation we think that we may forget our unfortunate situation or our broken relationships , and we think that by running away we have escaped the situation.
For a while we may succeed.
Then suddenly, something unexpected happens . The memory is stirred , our sin is resurrected , and our sin stares us in the face once more .
Douglas Mc Millan helpfully reminds us that there is only one place from which sin cannot be resurrected , and that is the grave to which the Saviour took it , when he paid its price upon the cross.”
We have to learn this lesson well : sin that is not dealt with “in Christ” is never buried. It remains there below the surface in a place called the conscience . King Herod, had John the Baptist killed , and was never able to forget that he had that righteous man executed . His conscience troubled him . At one time he even thought that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected ! (Matt 14:2)
Have your sins and your guilt been buried with Christ? The gospel says that when God forgives our sins in Christ then He forgets them (Hebr. 8:12)
Here on the border of the land to which Jacob was returning, his memory and his conscience were awakened, “…and Jacob was left alone.” He was between God and his undealt sinful past . It is a very hard thing to face loneliness . I don’t know whether you have been there. I know I have. There is a sense of isolation which comes into your life when you struggle between the rule of God and your own human will . I believe that this is the place where Jacob had now found himself. He was somewhere between God’s will and his own will, and by divine providence he now had no friend to help him or to counsel him. God needed to break his will.
Isn’t it significant that some of the most profound experiences in life are times when we are all alone ? We are alone in birth ; we are alone in death ; we are alone in all the great crisis experiences of our life. Remember too that you must one day stand alone before the great judgement seat of Christ, where according to Romans 14:12 , “ each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” !
When your sins catch up with you , you can feel very alone . You may even have this sense of loneliness here today as you sit in this congregation. You know that you have to face reality. You must face the sin of the past , and at this point no one will understand what you are going through.The place of wrestling (the river Jabbok) is a lonely place for Jacob. No one knows this - except God !
Thank God ! He is there. We are not alone after all. Let the wrestling begin!
Wrestling with God :
As we consider the wrestling we must consider the fact that for the Christian man / woman this too is part of God’s grace in our lives. Our lonely experiences in the dark night of the soul are not destitute of God’s grace .
Once again , I am indebted to Douglas Mc Millan for this insight . He speaks about the ‘ isolation of grace’ . What does that mean?
It means that in the dark of the night, in the loneliness of your soul God is there . He is actually the cause of that isolation. He has brought you to that place because He has to wrestle with you. He cannot leave you as you are. He is the God that loves you. He is the God that will sanctify you through and through ( 1 Thess 5:23). He disciplines those whom he loves ( Hebr 12:6) . Therefore He will bring you to the place where He can have your undivided attention!
In a sense this isolating grace had been operative in Jacob in a mighty , sovereign , divine way even before birth. (Rom. 9:18) . Like Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) and Paul (Gal 1:15) , and like every true believer (Eph 1:4) Jacob was set apart from birth for God’s purposes. He was isolated by God’s grace for God’s purposes .
And so, on this night Jacob had found himself alone at the river Jabbok - and yet he was not alone . He was alone with the God who had isolated him for a purpose. This is how the Scripture puts it in Gen 32:24 : ….” And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day .”
From Hosea 12:4 we know that the man here was not just any man , but the angel of the Lord. Hosea uses this incident of Jacob’s life to describe contemporary Israel’s deceitfulness against God. There we read:
The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us…”
We know that the wrestling with the angel was in the form of prayer: “… he wept and sought his favour…”
Please do not come to the conclusion that this was a wrestling match in which the outcome was 50/50 , and where poor God was at times close to loosing the wrestling match .
No! This is figurative language , and this is what happened :
The angel of the LORD came to Jacob. He dominates the scene; he dictates the pace; he directs this encounter until the breaking of day . Understand what is happening here! Jacob’s stubborn persistence needed to be broken , and God allowed him to wrestle himself to the point of exhaustion .
Horses , I understand need to be worked with to the point of exhaustion – and when they are broken in , they become useful for service.
Isn’t that true for us Christians as well ? Is not a part of the problem of the lukewarmness of the church just this - that we have dwelt too long in the country of Laban . We have many possessions , we have families , but our hearts are not at home . We need to be broken in ! Our lives are not lived in conformity to God’s Word and will . We live as if we had no king over us (Judges 17:6;21:25)
May God bring us in these days to the wrestling river and break our sinful , obstinate stubbornness! The health of His church and our future in Christ depend on this . Thank God that he is committed to changing us!
Next time I would like to consider the touch of God which broke Jacob and at the same time healed him .