In The Blue Corner, Jacob, Son Of Isaac

305px-Figures_Jacob_Wrestles_AngelI’ve never really understood the wrestling match Jacob had with God on his way back to his homeland. He’d sent word to his twin brother, Esau, who he’d run from, that he was returning. His servant-messengers brought word that Esau was coming to meet him . . . with four hundred men.

First Jacob panicked. He scrambled around dividing everything and everyone into two groups. If Esau went after Group A, he figured, at least Group B would survive.

Then he prayed. It’s a beautiful prayer, and honestly I’d completely forgotten it. If you’d asked me if the Bible recorded any prayer by Jacob, I would have smirked. That deceiver? No-o-o. But I’d have been dead wrong. Here’s his prayer:

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”

It’s a great prayer. First he acknowledges who God is and what He’d told Jacob to do. Then he confesses his own standing before God—one who is unworthy, God’s servant, a recipient of His provision. Only then does he finally petition God for deliverance. He admits he’s afraid for himself and for his family, but ultimately he trusts in God’s word to him—the covenant which He’d passed on to Jacob twenty years earlier.

After he prayed, he didn’t “let go and let God,” though. I wonder if he should have. Probably not. Because next he sent herds and herds of his animals—we’re talking hundreds of goats and rams, cows and donkeys and camels—as gifts to his brother. My take is that this was Jacob’s way of saying he was sorry, and honestly, it was right for him to make restitution for the wrong he had done.

But that still doesn’t get us to the wrestling match. If Jacob and Esau had faced off against each other, I would have understood it more. But as it happened, Jacob sent everyone ahead of him, across the stream, and he stayed back.

Without prologue, Scripture says

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

What? A man? Why? Who? In the next verses, some of this becomes clear:

He [the man] said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.

So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (vv 28-30)

The best answer for “who” would seem to be that the man was the pre-incarnate Christ. But where did He come from and why?

Was this match one to determine Jacob’s future, and he prevailed? But how could he prevail over God? There’s this other little incident tucked in here—his opponent “touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.” End of fight, except Jacob apparently had a vise-like grip on Him and wouldn’t let go until He blessed him.

That’s when he received his new name.

All this seems sort of to lead nowhere, except Jacob was changed. Now, he limped to the head of his clan and faced Esau himself, not hiding behind his wives and his children as it appeared he had intended to do.

And when he met Esau, he bowed before him, pledged himself as his servant, and insisted he accept the gifts he’d sent.

So what was that wrestling match all about? Was it an actual, physical confrontation? Was it symbolizing the spiritual battle going on in Jacob’s life? I’d think so, but then I’d expect God to prevail, not Jacob.

Mostly the Christian life is about surrender—denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following Jesus. It’s about giving God the control in our lives, not controlling Him so we can get what we want.

So is Jacob’s wrestling with God, which seemed to end with God’s blessing him—which He’d already done—a contradiction? Is it an illustration of how we are to wrestle in prayer with God—sort of holding Him hostage until He gives us what we want?

That doesn’t fit the circumstances—Jacob was asking for a blessing, but He’d already received it, so was he asking for assurance? Was he trying to find out if the blessing had been rescinded?

In addition, as one commentary points out, when God caused Jacob to go lame by merely touching his hip and dislocating it, He demonstrated that Jacob only appeared to be winning the match. At any point, God could use His omnipotence to reduce Jacob to a state of weakness.

In the end, Jacob the manipulator, the deceiver, could not manipulate God. When His opponent asked him his name, he answered truthfully that he was Jacob—as opposed to his answer to his blind father those twenty years ago when he asked, “Who are you, my son?” That time he lied, but now he admits who he is: Jacob, the usurper.

For some reason, the pre-incarnate God said Jacob had prevailed, but I’m not sure how. He left limping, in a humbled state, and we have no other recorded instant of him deceiving or manipulating others. (In fact, years later he bore the brunt of His sons’ deception). In so many ways, it seems as if God won, or at least had His own way, which He is wont to do.

But God Himself said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

The first meaning of the original word is “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach” (Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon). Of course the next is the more commonly understood meaning here: “to prevail, prevail over or against, overcome, be victor.”

In what way was Jacob a victor in his match against God? Only, as far as I can see, in that God declared him the victor.

In that he serves as a type of Christ, the true Victor, who died to win but also as a type of all believers who win only because God declares it.

Published in: on August 6, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Comments Off on In The Blue Corner, Jacob, Son Of Isaac  
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