TEXT : Genesis 32 : 22- 32
TITLE : “ Winning by failing “
DATE PREACHED : 21/11/2010
25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Today we shall consider a spiritual principle which might sound strange to some : “ Winning by failing”!
The story of Jacob is the story of God crippling a man in order that He might bless him even more . Does that sound logical ?
Biblical logic often confounds people . Our sense of logic often finds it very difficult to accept or agree with God’s logic . We think that our lives and our future lie along a certain path , only to find out that God has another way ( Prov 16:1,9). And, is it not true, that a whole new world opens up to us when we learn to see events and incidents in our lives from God’s perspective , and not just from a ‘fate’ or ‘ bad luck/ good luck ‘ perspective ?
Is it not true that a whole new world of understanding opens up when we see God as the FIRST CAUSE of all things ? When we learn that for those who love God, ALL THINGS work together for good ( Rom 8:28) , then we have made a major discovery which will save us from much sorrow – particularly when the “ALL THINGS” are painful , for then we shall know that our lives are ultimately in the hands of a good God , and not of fate or worse still – the devil . True , the devil may sift you like wheat , but not without Jesus’ permission and not without Jesus’ prayer that your faith may not fail ( Lk 22:31)
Please note that the text quoted from Rom 8:28 says that all things work together for good . Yes ! That means that even what happens to us in terms of evil is worked out for our own good through God’s sovereign power , so that our loss will actually be our gain at the end . Our human logic always tells us that bad things cannot come from a good God.
That is absolutely not true ! The most profound illustration of this fact is the cross . What men meant for evil by crucifying the Lord of glory has become a glorious victory for God’s people ! The Lord Jesus won by loosing His life !
The story of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel of God is also such a story. It took Jacob a long time before he had understood that this wrestling match - resisting this perceived man with all his might throughout the darkness of the night – was actually to become a source of blessing and spiritual growth for him .
We had made the observation two weeks ago that so very often we are having battles in our minds with people , when in reality that battle is actually with God . God is in this process to subdue us .
[Try to think of some difficult struggles that you have been in , resisting the matter at hand with all your mind , only to realize at the end that God was in all this] . I know that this was one of my experiences in coming into the pastoral ministry . I struggled for at least 6 months with my work and circumstances before I realized that God was struggling with me to get me to the place where I would submit to that call .
It may take us a while to see that our circumstances and co-incidences this are really “ God-sidences” . God in His sovereign wisdom allows us to wrestle with Him to the point of exhaustion, because we need to learn the lesson .
The outcome is clear . Though this wrestling match may continue for a long time , yet when the end comes it comes suddenly and decisively – and with the slightest of touches . Jacob is put out of action by a little touch applied to the hip . In a short moment , Jacob has been transformed from what appears to be a wrestler of equal status into a helpless worm . Instantly his perspective changes . We learn to win by loosing .
But what happens now that he knows that he has been disabled by God , now that he has been robbed of his own strength ? Is God going to leave him now , wounded and disabled ?
No ! We see that Jacob continues to cling to the God- man ( a perfect description of Jesus – by the way !) - clinging to God with all the strength that is left in a desperate man ! And it is a good thing ! Paul learned that through his own immense struggles as an apostle . The outcome of his ministry was that he had learned to cling to God . He learned this lesson : “ When I am weak , then I am strong “ or “ I win by loosing “ .
Let that be a lesson ! When you , dear Christian man or woman have been wounded by God then you must not run away . On the contrary . You must cling to God and say to Him : “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Will God let Jacob go without a blessing ? V. 26. “ Let me go , for the day has broken…” . But Jacob will not let God go . He must have his blessing .
Now remember firstly that God has already purposed to bless him . Remember that the covenantal promises that God made to Abraham and Isaac now belong to Jacob .
That promise was given to him by His father Isaac in Gen 28:4 when he said : “May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”
It was confirmed to Jacob by God Himself once again in that incredible dream in Gen 28:13-15 when God said to Him : “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
But secondly, you and Jacob may presume on God to bless you when you shall seek Him with all your heart ( Jer 29:13,14) . This text says : 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Dear Christian bother or sister : when you are emotionally and physically exhausted by a soul and body draining encounter (remember , it may be a man that you think you are wrestling with) you would be typically left without strength and will to continue .
At such a time you need someone to bless you and to sustain you . I would counsel you that in such times of brokenness and weakness you need to cling to God and have Him reassure you of His covenantal love and blessing for you . I say this on purpose , because our human inclination would be to hang on to people more than on to God .
When you have exhausted your own strength and resources then it is time to cling even more desperately to God and pray: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” . The desperation of this prayer is made even more vivid by the prophet Hosea in 12 :3, 4:
3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God.4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor.He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us...
Hosea tells that Jacob clung to God with weeping , asking him to meet him with favour !
Truly this was the hour of Jacob’s inward defeat . He had lost the wrestling match . But all was not lost . He was after all in God’s hands . He has found himself at last in the grip of a power that he cannot manipulate . He was learning who was truly Master of his life .
How we all need that experience ! By nature we are all Jacob’s to greater and lesser degrees . We are all by our fallen nature deceivers- and self serving manipulators. God has a mighty work to do in us . When He does that , it will seem as if we are crushed and all is lost – but wait a minute ! Do one more thing : Hold on to God tightly and do not let Him go until He blesses you once again . Learn the biblical principle that you win by failing .
In this regard I want to say another thing to you . If you are a Christian it is very likely that you have a strong desire to meet with God and have Him bless you . Have you ever prayed such a prayer ? My guess is that if you are a true Christian you would have . It is natural . And it is right .
But do we fully realize what we are asking, when we are asking God to bless us ? James and John did not know what they were asking when they asked Jesus that they might be blessed by sitting next to him in glory . ( Mk 10:35-40) . Jesus said to them “ You do not know what you are asking “ ( Mk 10:38) . The truth is this : To see and to have more of God and more of His blessing means to have less of our old Jacob in us . That is why ultimately Jacob ( deceiver) must receive a new name: Israel ( he strives with God ) ! Jacob’s do not do well in God’s presence .
That means pruning and trimming , BUT , do not despair : God is bringing you further along in your experience of grace . He does all this because He loves you . That is a biblical principle ( Hebr. 12 :5,6) And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
nor be weary when reproved by him.6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
THE INCREDIBLE GRACE OF GOD
See with what incredible grace God now handles Him . He begins by asking a question : What is your name ? This is not for God’s benefit . He knows everything . It is for Jacob’s benefit . In Hebrew days the name of a man was considered to be expressive of a person’s character .
“Who are you ? “
“I am Jacob the heel catcher , the deceiver , the manipulator…”
“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob , but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men , and have prevailed.”
Jacob is made to face his past , but this is not where he gets stuck . Jacob is now helped to see that his real character is not rooted in the past , but in the present work of God . He is now “Israel “. The name “ Israel means” ‘ he strives with God ‘ (the ‘ el’ ending denotes the Hebrew name for God) . This is the experience in which Jacob was led to a deeper walk with God . Please note that the name ‘Jacob’ does not fall away entirely . It keeps on appearing in the rest of OT Scripture , and this is true for our fallen natures . We never get quite rid of our old man until Jesus comes and delivers us finally from the presence and power of sin .
But ( and this is what matters) – this it is another important step in the progress of sanctification and growth in grace . Sometimes people have felt that this story is the story of Jacob’s conversion . No ! We have seen that if there was any moment of conversion it is probably the 28th chapter ( at Bethel) that did it . Peniel ( 32:30) was a huge step in Jacob’s walk with God and God’s work in him . He is brought into greater conformity with Christ . He gained by loosing !
- Learn to look at life spiritually ; be particularly sensitive to times of spiritual difficulty ; and always ask : “ What is God doing in my circumstances and my life ? “
- Remember that such experiences are necessary in the Christian life . It provides ultimately the best assurance that God loves you . If you can get through this as a weak person , then you know that only the grace of God has brought you this far .
- Expect God therefore to work in you and know that this is for your upliftment and not for your destruction . Remember that God’s method is helping you to win confidence in Him by first making you loose confidence in your own ability . Do not be disturbed if this experience does not agree with modern expression and thoughts . This is a true biblical experience .