He Struggles With God and Man
Introduction: Normally I type a sermon and then later type the introduction, making it longer or shorter, as necessary in order to reflect what we will talk about, how it may apply to us, what may be hinted at in the coming verses, or whatever.
I also do this so that the introduction will bring us to a sermon consistent in length to other sermons. Today though I first typed this introduction because I didn’t care how long or short the sermon turned out to be. I’ve waited for 80 sermons to get to where we are.
And before I started typing, I must have said “Thank You Lord” out loud 20 times. I take sermon typing seriously and it is the most important part of my week, not giving the sermon, but typing it. I am preparing an analysis of God’s word. Before typing this one, I actually cried. Oh God, how could you allow me to present your word to others?
Today’s passage is, regardless of how the rest of the sermon actually comes out, one of the most important passages in the entire Bible to me. Though we have seen Jacob grow into a family, today is the true establishment of Israel. It is a story which will continue on in joy, beauty, kingship, amazement, and glory for a people who strive with God.
It will also continue on in disobedience, punishment, woe, wrath, consuming anger, and unbelievable carnage for a people who in a different way strive with God. When we hear the name Israel, we are hearing a name which is closer than any other to the mystery of the apple of God’s eye, the joy of His heart, and the focus of His eternal covenant.
Text Verse: שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד. – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4, 5
When asked what was the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus turned to this verse and repeated it to the people of Israel. This is your command and this is your warning. You can strive with this God and be in His favor or you can strive with this God and be the object of His wrath.
The meaning of the name Israel is a double entendre. He strives with God – either on His behalf or against His will, but either way Israel strives with God. This people, beloved of God and with whom continues the everlasting covenant promises, are the people who ushered in the Messiah, and to whom this Messiah will return again someday when they call on Him as Lord.
This is the people Israel and today we will see the renaming of Jacob to reflect the coming struggles with God. And so… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Alone in a Struggle With God
22 And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok.
The context here demands that we remember who these people picture. There are two wives – Rachel and Leah. Leah pictures the law, Rachel pictures grace. The two female servants are Bilhah and Zilpah who picture the two exiles of the people of Israel.
The children picture the people of Israel as a collective whole. Jacob is taking all of them in the night and preparing them for what lay ahead by having them cross over the ford of the river Jabbok. Jabbok means “pouring out.”
Jabbok is named here because it shows what will come to this group of people. And it will be just like the name Israel, a double entendre. There will be pouring out of God’s favor upon them – love, grace, mercy and the like – even the Holy Spirit. But there will also be a pouring out of God’s wrath upon them.
In the years ahead for this group of people, God will deal with them in a singular and unique way. It will be a relationship distinct from all other peoples on earth and it will show to the world God’s immense love and His covenant keeping faithfulness.
23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had.
The Hebrew here says he caused them to pass over. In other words, he is sending the family across the Jabbok while he will remain on this side alone. He is preparing himself for what may be the
greatest struggle of his life and he will do it in a way which will allow him to seek God’s face uninterrupted by others.
24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.
Alone on the north bank of the river, a Man is suddenly introduced into the story without an introduction of the Man. Jacob is going to be given a new experience, one which will prefigure the nation who comes from him – Israel. It will also show us about our relationship with God as well.
In order to bring about such an event in any of us, God will begin with our senses. We are physical beings and so He will use our physical experiences. But we are also rational beings and so He will come to us through our memories, our reason, our logic.
And finally we are spiritual beings and so He will come to us by communing with us on a spiritual level. This is how He meets with Jacob; this is how He deals with Israel; and this is how He deals with us. So who is this Man? There can only be one answer. We will see that He is God, and if God be a Man then the Man is Jesus.
Regardless of how you perceive Him at this point in human history, it is none-the-less Jesus. He walked with Adam in the Garden. He closed the door of Noah’s Ark. He walked up to Abraham with two angels and had a meal with him. All these were given the title of Jehovah. If Jehovah be a man, then He is Jesus.
He appeared inside Lot’s house before the destruction of Sodom and took him by the hand as it began. Time and time again, He has appeared visibly and physically to His chosen line. Entering His own history and shaping it so that it will lead directly to Him. I am unashamedly of the opinion that the term “pre-incarnate Christ” is a logical contradiction.
Either it is Christ Jesus or it isn’t. And so, as I speak to you, I assert the unusual belief that this is the risen and eternal Christ who had already gone to Calvary’s cross and who ascended as the Master of time and space. How… how He can appear in His own genealogy is a mystery, but that He did is a truth I can’t deny.
Now He meets Jacob. Jacob has been a man of self-determination. He bartered with his brother – the birthright for a bowl of soup, and he conspired with his mother to obtain his blessing. He set up a pillar and made a vow to God before leaving Canaan and then obtained two wives, a family, and wealth from his father-in-law.
Now on his return, he has taken wise measures to ensure his brother will receive him favorably. All the time God has been with him, but he hasn’t been fully dependent on Him in the truest sense.
In wrestling with this Man, Jacob will learn what it means to be reliant and dependent on God in a new way. Again, and don’t forget this fact, this struggle of Jacob is reflected in Israel’s struggle with God, and it also reflects our struggle with Him too.
If we lose sight of this, then the story becomes a mere curiosity in a book of much curiosity. This cosmic wrestling match which occurred a bit less than 4000 years ago was remembered by Hosea when he reminded Israel of their responsibilities to God –
“The Lord also brings a charge against Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; According to his deeds He will recompense him. 3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, And in his strength he struggled with God. 4 Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, And there He spoke to us—5 That is, the Lord God of hosts. The Lord is His memorable name. 6 So you, by the help of your God, return; Observe mercy and justice, And wait on your God continually. Hosea 12
The struggle at night is a struggle all of us need to remember and reflect on all our days as we live in God’s presence.
25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him,
The match continues throughout the night and it is a well balanced match; neither getting the upper hand upon the other. One would wonder why, if this is the Lord, He couldn’t defeat Jacob. Well, Jacob was a man of strength even before his birth. In the womb, Genesis 25:22 tells us he struggled with his brother.
And he had been struggling with man and nature ever since. His life was one of meeting and defeating adversaries. Whether they be an antagonistic brother or a large rock over the mouth of a well. He was exceptionally capable as a physical being.
25(con’t) He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.
The Man – Jehovah, the LORD – seeing he can’t prevail over Jacob, uses His knowledge of the human form, which He created, to complete His spiritual development of Jacob through a physical reality. He touches him right at the socket of his hip in order to reduce him to a state of complete dependence.
Interestingly, and something that would be a mistake to miss, is a connection between the name of the river Jabbok, in Hebrew Yabbok, and the act of wrestling which has been mentioned twice. The word for “wrestle” in Hebrew is abaq. The placement of the match and the match itself are being tied together.
The term abaq is one which indicates dust. The idea is that when one wrestles, dust is raised into the air. Everything is being tied together in this struggle to show us the work of Christ which results from the struggles of Israel from whom Christ came.
There is a struggle in each person which is reflected right here. There is the dust which reflects man. Man was raised from the dust of the earth to become a living being. But man fell. He is still of the dust but lacking true life. Jacob’s struggle are man’s struggles.
The struggle of Jacob and Esau in Rebekah’s womb is the struggle of God and man. Jesus came after Adam, but He prevailed over Adam. This was pictured by Jacob coming out of the womb after Esau, but grabbing his brother by the heel as he came.
Jacob has the birthright and the blessing; Jacob has the promise and the vision; Jacob has the wives who picture the law and grace. He has the sons which each tell a story of the coming Christ. He has the flock picturing the Church. We’ve seen that all of this and so much more is looking to the coming Christ – all of it.
And now Jacob, a man of the dust is struggling with God by a river call the Pouring Out. Suddenly his hip is wrenched. In the Song of Solomon, chapter 5, we read these words describing Solomon –
His legs are pillars of marble Set on bases of fine gold. (15)
The very pillar of man’s strength which are his legs have now lost their ability to hold Jacob up. He can no longer rely on them as he once did. He can no longer prevail in this struggle as a wrestler relying on His own strength. With a single touch by the Man of mystery, he is utterly dependent on Him to stand.
This One has become his only hope. Are any of you seeing Israel in this? Are any of you seeing yourself in this? There is an utter dependence on this Man by the man of the dust. The life of Jacob, the moment in this cosmic wrestling match, the span of Israel, and the span of your own existence turns on this one definitive act of God – a touch in your mortal weak spot.
There is a time when we no longer can rely on ourselves, but must rely wholly on Another. Until that comes, we remain of the dust. But when it is realized, the pouring out, represented by the Jabbok river, changes us from an earthly existence to a heavenly promise.
The name of the river came from the match between these men. In the same way, the pouring forth is a result of the man’s struggle with God and it will come no other way. This pouring forth began in Israel after the resurrection, and it happens often in many individuals each day as their weakness is traded for His strength.
The Geneva Bible says, “For God assails his with the one hand, and upholds them with the other.”
II. The Day Breaks
26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
Jacob wrestled with the Man who created him and he overpowered Him. Now this Man pleads for His leave. “The day is breaking, let Me go.” This is no doubt a picture of the true Israel, Jesus, who went to the grave but received His leave from it as the day broke. And unless the Spirit returns to you, oh man of dust, you will remain in the eternal grave.
The man of the dust, which is His body as it lay in the grave, was to depart from that place. The symbolism of the battle in the dust between Jacob and God is beautifully realized in Jesus’ resurrection. The return of the Spirit into the body of the Man.
It is seen in Jesus as our Lord, it is seen in each of us when we acknowledge that fact, and it will be seen in Israel when they call on Him as a nation. All of this is tied up in this mysterious match. In Zechariah 12, we see the final pouring out on Israel pictured by this struggle between God and man. Something future to us now –
10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. Zechariah 12:10
NOTE THE CHANGE FROM ME TO HIM
This pouring out on Israel hasn’t happened yet, but it is coming. All will be as it should and the heavenly drama will be seen in the people Israel who have struggled with God for so very long.
26 (con’t) But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
It is completely evident to Jacob that this is a divine being. He knows this for a multitude of reasons. God promised to be with him and keep him when he had his vision in Bethel. He saw God’s camp, Mahanaim, next to his camp there by the river.
Even the conduct of the match itself has led him to know that this is a divine being. And so he asks for a blessing because he knows that this is a heavenly messenger. His grasp will remain firm until the blessing is received. In this moment, his disability has revealed the secret… of a new power.
The power of the weak who is totally reliant on God is that God simply will not resist the honest plea of His helpless child. If nothing else is to be taken away from this passage, this is a key you should never forget.
A faithful petition for blessing when you are at your most helpless moment will result in the bestowal of the blessing. The plea has become a prayer of faith in the strength of God, and the strength of God is revealed in answering the prayer – the Pouring Out.
This is truly Jacob’s moment of salvation. He has become a man wholly dependent on God and so he has reached out to Him for His gift. God has met Jacob in the form of a Man and He has come to us in the same form.
In fact, it is this form which we can cling to above all others. Jesus is the One to whom we are totally dependent for our blessing. We have to remember that our sermon two weeks ago dealt solely with Jacob’s prayer for deliverance from his brother Esau.
And we have to remember that Esau pictures man – made from the dust of the earth. This struggle is our struggle. That prayer is our prayer. The answer to the prayer is the wrestling match. Before we come to the Lord as our brother, we need to realize that we have first met Him as an enemy.
Man’s true opponent isn’t other men, it is God Himself. Until we realize this, peace can’t be made with Him. And I’m not just pulling this out of the theological wind. God tells us this in His word –
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:10
We are told this repeatedly in the Bible. We are at war with God, we are children of wrath by nature, we are His enemy because of sin. Only after the battle can we sue for peace. And that battle starts at birth as David tells us in the Psalm 51:5 –
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
27 So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.”
By asking his name, it is an indication that He is granting the request. He already knows the name, but it establishes the basis for the blessing. This is no different than being asked to state your name in court. I assure you, they know your name if you are there, but the basis for the testimony is the stating of the name.
Jacob gives his name – the only one he has ever had – Ya’akov or heel grabber. His name has reflected his life and now his life will take a new direction.
28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
The Man now tells Jacob something amazing, you have struggled with God and men. The Lord above the ladder is the Man who has wrestled in the dark. Jacob struggled with man throughout his life and he prevailed. He now struggles with God and the same is true.
The change in name reflects the change in character. The actual name of Israel isn’t easy to define. Some say Prince of God, some God Persists or God Preserves and some “He Struggles With God.”
Because struggling is tied in to the giving of the name, the last is correct. “You have struggled with God and with men.”
A detailed evaluation of the name Israel by Abarim sounds almost blasphemous at first, but it does reveal what we see in history and in our own salvation and so I will read you their conclusion –
“We can not say with certainty what the name Israel is supposed to mean, although it seems to reflect a certain inability of the Almighty God, namely the not being able to defeat a man like Jacob. We can be sure that God doesn’t lack the physical strength to eradicate any human being, so we must conclude that the destruction of Jacob would go against the very nature of God. Perhaps the name Israel denotes God’s continuous effort to keep Jacob going, even though Jacob continues to fight God.”
Right there is the evident reason for the whole scope of the plan of salvation, as well as for the continuation of both the people known as Israel and the continued salvation of sinners such as you and I. It would go against the nature of God to destroy Jacob because Jesus comes through Jacob based on a promise given at the fall of man.
It would go against the nature of God to destroy the people of Israel for the same reason – they have been brought under God’s covenant protection. And it would go against God’s nature to remove a believer’s salvation, even after continuous failings in His presence; because He has sealed us with the Holy Spirit.
I said some sermons ago that Israel is more than a people. Israel is a concept of uniting and restoring God to the people of the world. The faithfulness of God is tied up in Israel. The plan of God is tied up in Israel. The glory of God is tied up in Israel.
When we say nothing is impossible for God, we mean that from a human perspective. God cannot do what is logically impossible, such as make a triangle which is a circle, or make an odd number that is even. God can’t do what is morally wrong either. He cannot violate what makes Himself God, such as being unjust.
And God cannot defeat Himself when He is aligned with you. The struggle of Jacob and this Man has revealed this. When you call on Jesus as Lord, God truly is – once, forever, and completely going to be your Lord, whether you struggle with Him, for Him; or struggle with Him, against Him.
And as a testimony to this, all we need to do is look at the change in names of Abraham and Sarah. Once God changed their names, their old names were never used again. But with Jacob, for the rest of the Bible both names – Jacob and Israel – are used commonly and interchangeably, sometimes even in the same sentence.
Jacob is the flesh and blood man who still walks in a fallen world. Israel is the hope and promise of the life in Messiah. As Albert Banes notes, “both names have a spiritual significance for two different aspects of the child of God, according to the apostle’s paradox.” A paradox which is stated in Philippians 2 –
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (12, 13) EXPLAIN IN RELATION TO JACOB
III. The Face of God
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
Asking for a name is asking for an understanding of the individual. By asking for the name, Jacob is looking to understand the nature of the Man who is God. But the Man returns with a question which is in itself an answer. “Why is it that you ask about my name?”
The answer is that no answer will be given. And the answer is that the nature of the person, which is reflected in the name, should already be understood even if the name isn’t known. In other words, “You don’t need my name, you know already who I am.”
The giving of a name implies ownership of a person or thing. Just as God changed Abraham and Sarah’s name, the Lord changed Jacob’s. The ownership is understood in the act. Following the question, the blessing is given. God has blessed the man because He is pleased when a man dependent on Him requests a blessing.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Peniel means “Face of God” and the explanation is given for the name – ki raiti elohim panim el panim; “For I have seen God face to face.” There is a place where man can see God and not die, which sounds contrary to the very words of Scripture.
The Lord told Moses in Exodus 33:20 that, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” When God united with humanity, He was no less God, but the humanity of Jesus allows for what is otherwise not possible. The eternal Christ wrestled with Jacob in the dust and spoke to him face to face, and Jacob lived.
John did the same – “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—”
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.
Here again is another picture of the coming Christ. What has happened is showing what is coming later in us. The sun is rising on Israel just as he crosses Penuel. Penuel means the same thing as Peniel, but they are spelled differently. They both mean Face of God, but they aren’t at all speaking about the same thing.
In the previous verse, it says he named the place Peniel – the location. This verse with Penuel isn’t speaking of the location, it is speaking about the relationship between him and the God-Man he encountered. Jacob has crossed over the Face of God. He is now, like Abraham, a Hebrew – one who crossed over.
To completely understand this, you’d have to go back to Genesis 14 where the term is used for the first time in the Bible. “Hebrew” is connected to the name of Abraham’s great-great-great-great grandfather Eber. Jacob has now crossed over because of his interaction with the God-Man.
And the fulfillment of this for you and me is seen from Paul’s hand in 2 Corinthians 4:6, 7 –
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (PENUEL). 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
Paul is tying the spiritual light of Christ in to our salvation because of Jesus – our weakness, His power. It is the same spiritual light Jacob is prefiguring by the shining of the sun on him as he passed by the Face of God – Jesus. In Malachi 4, on the last page of the Old Testament, we read these words –
“But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves.”
Jacob had a new relationship with the Lord and the Sun of Righteousness arose upon Him. The inclusion of this verse definitively ties the Man he wrestled with to the coming Redeemer. It is a surety for all who would later call on and revere His name.
Anyone who does becomes a part of the commonwealth of the spiritual blessings of Israel. Jacob’s healing, like ours, may not be so much physical as it is spiritual. In fact, our affliction may become a part of our salvation. One commentator says it this way –
“In the greatest of these spiritual victories which, through faith, any of God’s people obtain, there is always something to humble them.” Paul found this out as have so many since. Christ shines all the more gloriously through our weakness.”
32 Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.
The muscle that shrank is a tendon or sinew, not the meaty part around it. This was obviously a tradition in Israel at the time of the law, because it is mentioned at the time Moses received the Torah. However, the prohibition is a tradition and not something that was later prescribed in the law itself.
The fact that it is recorded means that the intention was to pass the knowledge on, but there is nothing beyond this sentence to say any more about it. Surprisingly, this is where the account and the chapter ends. It is a note of reverence for the power of God over the man who struggled with God.
And it is a note of vindication that the man who was physically defeated in his fight still prevailed. Not in the sense that he defeated God, but in the sense that God could not defeat Himself by destroying the man who continued to struggle against Him.
There is nothing contradictory here. What God proclaims must always come about. What God has ordained is eternal and unchanging. Though Israel fight against God, God will keep Israel going. And though you continue to fight against God, if you are His, He will likewise keep you in His grasp.
The strength of Jacob was reduced to weakness through this tendon and so the people of God, in remembrance of this, removed the tendon from their meals. In a similar acknowledgment, the people of God now have their own remembrance.
The power of God is revealed in the weakness of the human Life bound up in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so in acknowledgment of His work we participate in His spiritual strength through the taking of communion. The work of Christ is a marvelous mystery of God’s interaction with His creatures.
It reveals God’s power and yet it shows us that our uniting with Him is a bond which He Himself will not break because He cannot break it. It is an eternal and inviolable part of His very being. If you have never become a part of this eternal and sacrosanct relationship, please give me just another moment to tell you how you can and why it’s important to you…
Closing Verse: But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. Isaiah 43:1
Next Week: Genesis 33:1-17 (Jacob Meets Esau) (82nd Genesis Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you and He has a good plan and purpose for you. Call on Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.
A Blessing Upon Israel
Jacob arose that night and took his two wives
His two female servants went along also
And his eleven sons, all these precious lives
And over the ford of Jabbok they did go
He took them, over the brook they were sent
And sent over what he had, before the night was spent
Then Jacob was left alone after he sent them away
And a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day
When He saw that He did not prevail against him to this point
He touched the socket of his hip
And the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint
As He wrestled with him, and his mighty grip
And He said let Me go for the day breaks, you see
But he said, “I will not let you go unless You bless me!”
So He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob” – it’s always been the same
And He said, Your name shall no longer
Be called Jacob, but Israel
Struggling with God and with men, you were found stronger
You have prevailed, yes you did excel
Then Jacob asked saying, yes he did proclaim
Tell me Your name, I pray
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about my name
And He blessed him there that day
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel
“For I have seen God face to face
And my life is preserved, I am alive to tell
Of my struggle with God here in this place
Just as he crossed over Penuel, resuming his trip
The sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip
Therefore to this day the children of Israel
Do not eat the muscle that shrank
Which is on the hip socket, the nerve cell
But to God they do thank
Because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip
In the muscle that shrank, during this amazing trip
The struggle of Jacob is our struggle as well
It is one against God until it becomes with Him instead
This is the meaning of the name Israel
We struggle with God, for or against Him until we are dead
But through the marvel of Christ the struggles does end
As God grants us His Spirit when we believe
The enmity is ceased when on Christ we depend
And into our lives, Jesus we receive
Thank You, O God, for our wonderful Lord
And thank You, O God, for Your precious word
Give us wisdom to pursue You alone for all of our days
And fill us with Your glory as we sing to You our praise
Hallelujah and Amen…