Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 23 -- 30 days of prayer in the home

Touched by an Angel...

Consider the time that Jacob wrestled all night with someone. The stranger never reveals his name, but Jacob associated him with having seen the face of God. So, we assume that he was, at the very least, a messenger from the Lord. Here's what the scriptures tell us:

"Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks." 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." 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." 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. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved."" Genesis 32:24-30

There's a lot to think about in this incident from Jacob's life. I leave it to others who are more qualified than I to write a lesson on this passage. I just want to consider one small thing that this might teach us: to be persistent and faithful in prayer.

On the night that Jacob wrestled with the stranger, he was returning home from a distant land, where he had worked for his uncle. The reason he had fled to his uncle's land was that he had angered his brother Esau, and his brother had threatened him. Jacob had induced his Esau to sell him his birthright as the firstborn in exchange for a pot of lentils, and, with this mother's guidance, he had deceived his father into thinking that he was Esau, thus receiving from Isaac the blessing usually reserved for the firstborn son.

It's odd that Jacob and his mother used trickery and manipulation to obtain the birthright and the blessing. When Rebekkah had been pregnant with the twin boys, the twins had wrestled in her womb. She inquired of God what this might mean. He replied that within her womb were two nations. He declared that the nations that came through the lineage of Esau, the older one, would serve the nation that sprang from Jacob's lineage.

It was clear that God meant to bless Jacob. He chose to work through Jacob to continue his promises to Abraham and his seed, through whom all nations would one day be blessed. Jacob and Rebekkah probably did not understand the big picture of what God was doing through Abraham's family as we do who live after Christ came to be our Savior. However, they did know that God had chosen Jacob for a special purpose. Still, they resorted to tricks to obtain what God had already promised them.

Jacob's name means supplanter, trickster, or one who grabs by the heel. In truth, Jacob did come out of the womb grabbing at Esau's heel, who was born just a few moment before him. When the two were grown, Jacob, with the help of his mother, did manipulate things so that Jacob received the blessings normally reserved for the first born.

Esau was by no means innocent in this matter. He despised his own birthright. He treated it as something cheap -- worth the same as a bowl of porridge. In a fit of physical, temporal hunger, he traded the blessing meant to last for a lifetime in exchange for lentil stew. He, like many people, could not see past his immediate desires to the longterm consequences of his actions. Thus, he threw away the greater for the lesser. In the book of Hebrews, Esau is used as a warning not to throw away our faith in exchange for worldly approval and comfort. Yet, when Esau faces the consequences of his actions, he focuses on Jacob's sin and not on his own need for repentance. He is angry with his younger brother.

So, Jacob flees. We know that God appeared at least two times to Jacob during his journey and sojourn, promising to bless him, to be with him, and to make of him a great nation. In fact, God appeared to Jacob in his uncle's land and told him to go home and promised him that he would be with him.

Still, Jacob feared seeing his older brother. He sent his family on ahead and stayed alone for a night. Was he thinking over past events? Praying? Scheming according to his old nature? We don't know.

A stranger comes to Jacob and wrestles with him. Note that it is the stranger who initiates the wrestling match. Jacob somehow recognizes that he is wrestling with no ordinary person. He cries out that he will not let the stranger go until he blesses him.

The stranger asks Jacob what his name is. Why did he do that when a messenger from the Lord or the Lord Himself would know who Jacob was? We don't know. God often asks questions not for information, but to make us think. (An interesting study is to examine all of the questions Jesus asks people in the book of John.) Once, when Jacob was asked this question by his earthly father, he lied and said he was Esau. Perhaps, the stranger wanted Jacob to face up to the meaning of his name, and also to take a good inward look at his character. Perhaps, he wanted to underscore the fact that he was giving Jacob a new name -- Israel.

Why did the stranger initiate the struggle? Again, we don't know for certain. Perhaps, the stranger wanted to take Jacob to new levels of faith and repentance. Perhaps, he wanted Jacob to literally come to grips with the God in whom he trusted. Perhaps, he wanted Jacob to get to the point of exhaustion and surrender so that he would come to the end of his own powers and look to God. Perhaps, he was testing Jacob to see if he would persist in his struggle or give up. Perhaps, he wanted Jacob to wrestle to a point of deeper faith and humility. Perhaps, he wanted Jacob to see that it was not the circumstances of his life that he needed to wrestle with, but that he should seek a relationship with the Lord above all else.

Jacob held onto the stranger until he did receive a blessing. However, the stranger put his mark on Jacob and forever after this incident, Jacob was lame. To be lame is a humbling thing. It must have been doubly so in Jacob's case, for it was a constant reminder to him of his stunning encounter with God.

God had already promised to bless Jacob. In one sense, Jacob did not need to wrestle for a blessing. Yet, the stranger was pleased with Jacob's persistence. He commended Jacob for having struggled with God and mean and having prevailed.

How did Jacob prevail? It was obvious that the stranger had supernatural means by which he could have fully subdued Jacob. Yet, he wrestled Jacob on Jacob's level. I assume that the stranger let Jacob prevail, much as we might let a little child win a game of checkers. Perhaps, the way in which Jacob prevailed was simply that he did not give up.

I personally think that God used this wrestling match to transform Jacob from being the "supplanter" to being Israel. Perhaps, in the encounter, Jacob not only wrestled with the man, but he also wrestled with himself, his fear, and his faith.

Whatever his weaknesses were, Jacob understood the value of the blessing God had promised. Maybe, he sought it by the wrong means, and received correction from God. Still, he would not let go until he had obtained what the Lord had promised to him. Unlike Esau, Jacob did not count the blessing casually. Instead, he earnestly sought it and tenaciously held on to it. It can equally be said that the stranger did not let go of Jacob, but wrestled with him until what needed to be accomplished was accomplished.

What about us? God has given us the greatest blessing: Jesus Christ. He has given us great and precious promises, especially concerning eternal life with Him. Do we treat these promises lightly? Do we treat the presence of God in our lives lightly? What do we do when God calls us to attention, as the stranger did Jacob?

One occasion when we might be called to wrestle could be when we don't understand what God is doing in a particular circumstance and we need to get to the point of trust and surrender. Similar times might be whenever our faith flags, when the answers to prayer seem a long time coming, whenever we are tempted to place our feelings and desires above God's word, whenever tragedy strikes, or even when things have been going well and we begin to forget how desperately we need God.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, Jesus told the parable about the unjust judge to teach us to pray and never give up. Jesus connects this persistence in prayer to faith. There may be times in our life when we were tempted to quit praying with heart or even to quit praying all together. If we, like Jacob, value the blessing of God's presence in our lives above all things, we will persist in prayer. We will pray without giving up. We will pray until the Lord transforms our hearts. We will gladly bear his mark -- the mark of the cross -- upon us. When he comes again, we will have hope that the Lord will find faith in our hearts.



Carry said...

Nice blog, really informative, keep it up.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Carry,