Saturday, February 09, 2008

Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord


Genesis 32
24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peni'el for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

31 And as he passed over Penu'el the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day; because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.



In this passage we find Jacob wrestling with a man who he comes to find is God in angelic form (Hosea calls him 'the angel').

Some commentators suggest that this story represents Jacob wrestling with God through prayer. While this seems an edifying thought and Jacob does pray in this passage, the career of Jacob can in no way be characterised by fervent prayer. We find rather that he was characterised by a severe lack of faith in God's provision and his habit was to trust in his own cunning.

It rather seems that the struggle with the angel represents the struggle of his sinful flesh against God. Every believer has two natures; a new nature that is created in Christ to be submitted to God and the old fleshly nature that wars and strives against the Spirit of God. The old nature cannot be in submission to God's ways. In the story of Jacob this conflict between flesh and Spirit is especially apparent.

In Galatians 5 we see the different results of these two natures:

16 ¶ This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.



Too often as believers we resist God and try to live the life we want to lead in the flesh.

Yet God has ways of bringing us to see the weakness of the flesh. The angel of the Lord wounded Jacob. Likewise the Paul was given his thorn in the flesh.

We read in Hebrews 12:

6 for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,
and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.


7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

9 Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.


Too often when preachers give sermons on this passage they give comfort to Christians in their suffering without making a clear connection between chastening and sin. Not all suffering is due to sin. Sometimes we go through many trials without understanding why. However, when we suffer in the flesh, we must be willing to ask the question "Is this the Lord's discipline?"

We must not miss the amazing fact about this passage that God in angelic form allowed Himself to be overcome by Jacob. The God of the universe entered a struggle with a mere man and allowed him to prevail. The Lord might have obliterated Jacob, but he did not.

This is the wonderful truth of free-will that is resisted by so many theologians. So often the rallying call from Reformed theology is the Sovereignty of God. Yet this so easily minimizes the truth that God has allowed man to determine his course. God has delegated sovereignty to man to go in the direction he chooses. God has entered a two-way relationship with mankind and given men and women the power to reject Him.

Only a petty dictator needs to dominate all things to be in control. God has and will to continue to establish His sovereignty by giving men and women the freedom to determine their own plan. No matter what power is assailed against Him, God will prevail. The victory belongs to the Lord.

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