Introduction: In this week’s readings, we see Jacob’s name changed by the angel to ‘Israel,’ meaning, “he who wrestles with God.” (Genesis 32:28) Just as God tested Jacob for twenty years of service under Laban’s harsh hand; just as He tests Jacob with the coming of his enemy Esau, so now God tests Jacob inwardly and personally by wrestling with him in prayer. We must learn that God’s Fatherly Plan for our lives includes testing in every area and at any time. As James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Monday: read Genesis 32:6-8 & 22-24. If we were in Jacob’s shoes awaiting the trial of his life in the approach of his estranged brother Esau, we may well have asked God: “Why must I go through this now? Can’t I first arrive safely at my father’s home?” (That doesn’t happen until Gen. 35:27.) “Then I could negotiate a truce instead of facing his opposition head-on! Then I could apologize at a polite distance from Esau’s hostility! Why, Lord, this face-to-face confrontation at my greatest moment of weakness?” The answer surely must be that, for Jacob and for us, the path of obedience always begins with reconciliation. Before Jacob could meet God at Bethel (Gen. 35:1) and enjoy the blessings of his inheritance (Gen. 35:27), he had to have this broken relationship within his family healed. Jacob’s profession of faith in the Lord requires this.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that He takes sin seriously, removing Jacob’s offense against his brother as a matter of first importance once Jacob returns to the Promised Land. Thank Him even more that, ‘at just the right time,’ Jesus died to reconcile us to God by removing our offense and appeasing His wrath against us. What a joy that we can now write the story of our lives, beginning every morning with these words: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Tuesday: read Genesis 32:24 and Hosea 12:3-5. We may well ask, “Who is this man with whom Jacob wrestles?” Hosea tells us that Jacob struggled with the Angel whose name was “The Lord God Almighty.” He struggled with God who appeared to him in the form of a man. Jacob himself confesses this to be true after his wrestling match when he declares in Gen. 32:30, “I saw God face-to-face and yet my life was spared.” This heaven-sent wrestler was no man but God in human form! Who does that make you think of? Surely we can agree with scholars who say that this appearance of the Lord as man anticipates the Incarnation, when God’s Son sent to earth would appear to wrestle with our sinful, desperate condition even as this Angel wrestles with Jacob!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His Son’s willingness to come down to our level; to roll up His sleeves and get dirty in a tearful confrontation with our sin and weakness. Thank Jesus that His solution to our sin problem, and to the many relationships broken by our guilty past, is not a superficial one. He is committed to healing the breaches and removing the guilt of our lives by wrestling in our weakness and helplessness, even as # 239 in our Trinity hymnal celebrates:
“Who is this so weak and helpless, child of lowly Hebrew maid, rudely in a stable sheltered, coldly in a manger laid? ‘Tis the Lord of all creation, who this wondrous path has trod; he is God from everlasting, and to everlasting God.”
“Who is this, a Man of Sorrows, walking sadly life’s hard way, homeless, weary, sighing, weeping over sin and Satan’s sway? ‘Tis our God, our glorious Savior, who above the starry sky is for us a place preparing, where no tear can dim the eye.”
Wednesday: read Genesis 32:24-25 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Like a mechanic or auto-body technician dealing with a damaged car, stripping it down to the bare frame in order to build it again properly, so the Son of God comes down in human form to wrestle Jacob down to a place of total dependence: limping hip and all! By this deep and permanent injury, Jacob learns the nature of real faith as he clings to the Lord for each breath of life and every blessing needed.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that, for Jacob, Paul and for us, “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Thank Him especially that, at our weakest point, faith finds victory and hope. As Prof Ed Clowney says about Jacob’s victorious weakness, “Lame as he was, blinded by tears, he clung the more fiercely to his awesome adversary. If he could not win by strength, he would prevail in weakness.”
Thursday: read Genesis 32:25-28. We speak about Jacob’s limp and can understand his struggle from our shared experience of human weakness. But what about the apparent weakness of the Heaven-sent ‘Man’ in verse 25? That verse begins: “When the man,” (we know that this ‘Man’ is none other than the One whose Face Jacob calls “The Face of God” in verse 30) “saw that he could not overpower Jacob, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip… .” How in the world can God in human form wrestling with Jacob be described as “unable to overpower him?” Or in terms of verse 26, how can this same mighty Angel of the Lord plead with Jacob to let him go, so that in the end Jacob is proclaimed as the one who “overcomes God” in verse 28? These are deep and mysterious events. Only when we consider the Son of God’s willingness to become the ‘Man of Sorrows’ who died in weakness on the cross can we understand His willingness to ‘become weak’ against Jacob as a way of foreshadowing the ‘weakness’ of the Incarnation! He took the form of a ‘Man’ of weakness with Jacob as a sign that one day He would indeed become Man in the most humble and lowly of form.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the Son’s willingness to let men lay hold of Him by faith. Worship Jesus for this fact today: All through the Gospels, and to the point of exhaustion, Jesus allowed all sorts of people to lay hold of Him: lepers; prostitutes; tax collectors; beggars; blind and lame. Even the demon-possessed came to lay hold of Jesus’ feet, pleading with God-given faith for Christ to heal them. And every time their God-given faith was victorious, compelling Jesus’ compassion and power to bless them even as He blessed Jacob. Let us love Jesus for His willingness to be claimed by faith, and thank Him that even the weakest widow could lay a hand upon Him and claim blessing!
Friday: read Genesis 32:28-32, John 14:8-9, 1 John 3:1-3. As we see Jacob limp away from this awesome encounter with nothing less than the very ‘Face of God,’ we marvel with him that he was indeed able to see that Face and yet be spared. Only because the Son of God veils the white-hot glory of His Father’s Face by taking the form of a man is it possible for sinful men and women like Jacob and ourselves to behold God face-to-face. But nothing less than this is promised to each of us who by faith are joined to Christ. As Jesus declares to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” John then promises us in his first letter that we will also “see Him as He is” and by that vision be transformed into His very likeness. This indeed will be heaven for us: to continuously marvel at the beauty of God in the Face of Jesus Christ.
Use Hymn # 546 (vv. 3-4) in our Trinity Hymnal to thank God for the wonderful prospect of seeing His Face in heaven:
“O Christ, he is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love! The streams on earth I’ve tasted more deep I’ll drink above; there to an ocean fullness his mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land.”
“The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bride-groom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown he gifteth, but on his pierced hand; the Lamb is all the glory of Emmanuel’s land.”