Think about who Jacob had been
We saw in Genesis 25 how Jacob had cheated his older brother Esau out of his birthright of the family name, and the special blessing for the oldest, and the double portion of the inheritance which goes with that.
Genesis 25 29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’ (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’
32 ‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’
33 But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Then we saw in Genesis 27 how Jacob impersonated his brother Esau by dressing up in goatskins and then lied to his father Isaac to obtain that special blessing.
19 Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’
20 Isaac asked his son, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’
‘The LORD your God gave me success,’ he replied.
21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.’
22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.’ 23 He did not recognise him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ he asked.
‘I am,’ he replied.
25 Then he said, ‘My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.’
Disguise, lies, even breaking the yet to be revealed Third Commandment and misusing the Name of the LORD.
Who Jacob would become.
We saw the start of the change in Jacob’s life came when God revealed himself to him in a dream of a stairway leading to heaven.
Genesis 28 11 When (Jacob) reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
Despite all Jacob’s sins, God had promised that he would still bless him in the ways he had promised to his grandfather Abraham, the friend of God, who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.
13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
There at that certain place Jacob began to recognise that the Lord, the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac was also his God.
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ 17 He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’
So Jacob committed his life to God at Bethel. We saw evidence that Jacob the cheating scumbag was beginning to change in the way he worked for Laban for fourteen years, between the ages of 77 and 91, to be allowed to marry Rachel, the love of his life. Signs of devotion and integrity we would never have expected from the younger Jacob. Two weeks ago we saw how Jacob recognised that God’s activity was interweaved into his live over all those years. The God of Abraham and Isaac had indeed become the God of Jacob. God revealed himself to Jacob again at different times in the years to follow.
And Jacob would come to call on God in prayer for help. In today’s story in Genesis 32, Jacob was on his way back to the home of his father Isaac with his wives and his 12 sons and one daughter and with all his flocks. But he knew his brother Esau had sworn to kill him when he saw him again. Jacob was understandably afraid to go back. So he prayed.
Genesis 32 9 Then Jacob prayed, ‘O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, “Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,” 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.” ’
We can tell how scared Jacob was because, as well as praying, he also prepared a very generous gift to give to Esau. Very generous.
14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.
That’s one way to try to bury the hatchet. But it is a significant sign that Jacob had changed that he even cared about making peace with his estranged brother.
And it was that night before Jacob met Esau that God revealed himself to Jacob once again. Everything that God had been doing in Jacob’s life so far had been preparing him for a life-changing encounter which had an importance far beyond Jacob’s life in God’s masterplan of salvation.
Genesis 32 22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
Jacob wrestled with God. Everywhere in Genesis, when God meets with people in a dream we are told that it is in a dream. This was not a dream. Jacob met with God and wrestled with God who appeared to him in human form.
Jacob wrestled with God and would not let go of God until he blessed him! And God did indeed bless Jacob more wonderfully than he could possibly imagine.
26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Jacob,’ he answered.
28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
The name of Israel probably means “he who struggles with God”. God blesses Jacob with a new name, the name which would belong to the people of God throughout the generations. They would be the children of Israel. Jacob’s sons would give their names to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. From now on, he would no longer be Jacob the cheat, the scumbag. Instead he would be Jacob the Patriarch, Jacob renamed Israel. Not only a new name but a new nature! A new personality. For Jacob the blessings were definitely worth the struggle!
29 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’
Jacob met with God face to face! This encounter with God was historically unique. Jacob is the only person in the Bible who wrestled with God in human form. That event has a unique place in the God’s masterplan of salvation and the history of God’s chosen people Israel.
But at the same time Jacob’s encounter with God has similarities to the experience of every Christian. Whatever the starting point, everybody who God has drawn to himself has gone through a process of being drawn closer and close to God, sometimes over years or decades. And even if we cannot put a date or a time on the event, we have all had a point in our lives when we have met with God in a very personal way. Maybe we have even been wrestling with God in our hearts and minds. And then God has blessed us. He has given us a new name so that we can call ourselves Christians, believers, disciples of Jesus. And from that point we have enjoyed all the blessings of salvation, the new life which God gives to all who put our trust in Jesus.
Jacob wrestled with God, and God blessed him. And sometimes if we want God to bless us, we will have some wrestling to do. Wrestling in prayer. Clinging on to God’s promises until they are fulfilled in our lives.
In the Bible there are other people who struggled with God for his blessing.
In our Tuesday morning Bible study we have read Paul’s testimony in Colossians 1.
Colossians 1 28 (Christ) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Paul was strenuously contending – not least in prayer. Later in Colossians Paul talks about Epaphras who was in prison with Paul for his faith.
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras , who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
If we want God to answer our prayers – if we want God to bless us and our families and our church and our community – we need be ready to wrestle with God.
Daniel wrestled in prayer with God for THREE WEEKS. Abraham prayed like that interceding with God for Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses prayed like that. So did David. So did Ezra and Nehemiah. The Early Church prayed like that when they experienced persecution, and God filled them afresh with the Holy Spirit. They prayed when Peter was imprisoned, and God worked miracles so that Peter would be released and continue to preach the gospel. We need to learn to wrestle with God in prayer for his blessings.
The trouble is we live in an age of instant everything. Instant food. Instant information. We are used to picking up our phone or going online and having anything we can imagine delivered to our door. And we expect instant blessings. Some people think that all Christians need to do is go to church, or say a quick prayer, and God’s blessings will come to us without us needing to do anything else.
In this age of instant everything, many people have forgotten what it is to work for things. To take time to make things with our hands. To take years to understand deep and complicated issues – everything is oversimplified. We have forgotten that truly understanding the Bible will take us a lifetime. And equally we are not prepared for the fact that prayer can be hard work!
We need to learn to persevere! It is said that Beethoven rewrote each bar of his music at least a dozen times. No wonder it’s so good! Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment,” is one of the greatest paintings ever. That’s because not just because he was talented, but because he produced more than 2,000 sketches during the eight years it took him to complete that masterpiece.
Today’s world expects instant blessings! The reality is that if we want God to bless us, we have to fight for it. We have to really want it and be prepared to work for it! As Jacob did wrestling with God.
Jeremiah 29:12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
There is the challenge! To seek God with ALL our hearts. To wrestle with God in prayer until He gives His blessing. To wrestle with God until those we love are saved and healed. To wrestle with God until He changes us like he changed Jacob into people He can use for His glory. To wrestle with God in prayer until His blessing floods down on us, and on this church, and on our town, and on our nation. Jacob wrestled with God and God blessed Him. And God is longing to bless us too!