“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” (Genesis 32:24).
The life of Jacob is most interesting and instructive. His pathway, amidst the providences of his God, was a succession of changing scenes, wherein he proved the faithfulness and compassion of the Lord. The future scenes of our lives are hidden from our view. We know not if the dark or bright shall be our lot; if that wherein our soul’s delight be best or not. Today our portion may be in paths of pleasantness; tomorrow the storm may overwhelm us. Says Job, “I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came,” (Job 3:26). This was God-sent trouble, else it never could have touched Job.
All the vicissitudes of our lives are in the hands of our God, who apportions to each one according to the good pleasure of His will.
This chapter from which our subject is taken gives us a glimpse of some of the varied scenes which God’s providence accomplished in the life of Jacob. Having parted with Laban, his father in law, “Jacob went on, his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of the place Mahanain”.
This day had a gladsome beginning for Jacob. God’s host escorting him on his way. “Are not the angels all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them.”
Jacob forthwith sends messengers before him unto Esau, his brother, to acquaint him of his coming. “And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.”
The day dawned with every encouraging prospect, and now dense clouds are gathering, and before the night enfolds the earth in its dark mantle Jacob is in trouble indeed. He exhausts all his wits contriving for the safety of his family, but in all his troubles he is graciously helped to pour forth his distresses unto the Lord.
And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saith unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And thou saith, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”
“Jacob was left alone.” His family and all that he has have passed over the brook Jabbok, and now in the darkness of the night there remains the solitary one.
I suppose he felt he could not pass over with the rest of the company, he could not lodge with them that night. In the deep distresses of his soul he chose to be separate from all earthly intercourse.
It is not uncommon to those who fear the Lord today to feel that their peculiar case separates them from their former companions, and beneath the chasentings of the Almighty the child of God “sitteth alone, and keepeth silence,” (Lam 3:28). He feels unfit to associate with the family of God.
Isolated by temptations, distresses or guilt from all the kindred, he spends the night in pensive disquietude, “I am like a pelican of the wilderness, I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.”
“Jacob was left alone.” There was no friendly one to whom he could appeal for help, and like David when in the cave Adullum he could say, “I looked on my right hand and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.”
Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed, his cogitations troubled him. How tossed to and fro was his soul! What will the morning bring forth? Truly, we know not what shall be on the morrow. Will it be dark or bright?
All now looks dark: Esau and four hundred men are coming to meet him. He remembers his brother’s threats to kill him (Gen. 27:41). He remembers how because of Esau’s anger he fled from him to Padan Aram. His conscience accuses him of his guiltiness in supplanting his brother, the deception he practiced upon his father Isaac, and now he cries out, “Deliver me I pray thee from the hand of my brother Esau: for I fear him. It was night.
“‘Twas in the night when troubles came
I sought my God for Thee,
But found no refuge in that name
That once supported me.”
There was darkness without, of that Jacob was not afraid, for oftentimes in the darkness of the night he had kept watch over his flocks; and sleep departed from his eyes (Gen 31:40). But there was a night felt within. His soul was laid in darkness in the deeps. His fears and unbelief, the remembrance of his sins, the accusations of Satan all combined to make this night the hour of darkness to Jacob left alone.
“Alas! that day is great; so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it,” (Jer. 30:7). Was Jacob also, for a little while, left alone by the Lord? Did God hide his face from him? “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: but with ever lasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” (Isa 54:7-8).
Jacob was left alone, but not for long. In the shades of the night there cometh one that layeth his hands on the distressed solitary one, and or ever he is aware, Jacob is in his grasp, and this one begins to wrestle with him.
“There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Is it Esau that has stealthily approached in the darkness, that now has Jacob in his grasp? Once he struggled with his brother (Gen. 25:22-23), and Jacob was the stronger. No, it is not Esau, it is the angel of the Lord in human appearance (Hosea 12:4).
This was not as some have erroneously taught the pre-existing manhood of Christ, the Son of God. For the manhood of Christ was of the seed of the woman, of the seed of Abraham, which when the fullness of the time was come (Gal. 4:4) was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and she by the power of the Highest overshadowing her was the mother of the man hood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is far better to abide by the clear testimony of the Bible concerning the manhood of Christ than by a perversion of the Scriptures to build up a fanciful theory of an everlasting pre-existing manhood. The angel said unto Mary, “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus.” The Virgin Mary was Christ’s mother according to the flesh. “He sucked the breasts of his mother,” (Psalm 22:9-10). When the fullness of the time was come God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, and this time was, “In those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed; and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,” (Luke 2:1-2). How explicitly stated.
But let us return to the wrestlers. The man took hold of Jacob, then Jacob took hold of him.
We never take hold of God, we never wrestle with the Lord until he takes hold and wrestles with us. We never come to the Lord except he draws us (John 6:44). We love him, but it is because he first loved us (John 4:19). We are apprehended of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12). Then we reach forth to apprehend the things which are eternal. We are arrested by the reigning grace of God, and the result of this grace working in us is that we lay hold on God, on Christ, on eternal life, and by a divine power we wrestle by faith and love, with prayers and tears until the blessedness of Christ is imparted to us
The Lord wrestles with his people to bring them down in the dust. He overthrows Jacob, and raises him up Israel. He is humbled in the dust, a poor, sinful, unworthy worm, but is so marvelously strengthened by the blessing of God who wrestled with him, that he arises strong in the Lord and the power of his might as “a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth, to thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and to make the hills as chaff.” “I was brought low and he helped me.”
There are times when the Lord has a controversy with his people (Hosea 12:2). There are seasons for trial of our faith; he pleads with his people (Micah 6:1-2). Yes, in various ways the Lord wrestles with his people; by his providence they find themselves in straits, in afflictions and temptations.
The Scriptures afford us records of such wrestlings. Paul had such a wrestling (II Cor. 12:1-10). Moses also. What a wrestler he was for the tribes of Israel (Exod. 32).
The Lord wrestled with Job, and as he approached him said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.” And when Job was abased, and cast to the earth he answered the Lord, “Behold, I am vile: what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Again the Lord challenged him, and took hold of him (Job 40:3-7). And again, Job is prostrated, and he answered the Lord and said, “I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and de clare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
As the Lord wrestles with his people, and bringeth them low, they are enabled to lay hold upon his promises, to plead with the Lord his own immutability, and the honor of his name. This is a divine miracle that a sinful creature should wrestle with the Lord. A miracle of God’s own invincible grace in the heart of a poor sinner.
Draw near and look with sacred eyes at Jeremiah wrestling in prayer with God, “Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Hath thy soul loathed Zion? Why hast thou smitten us, and there is no healing for us? We look for peace, and there is no good; and for a time of healing, and behold trouble! We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against thee. Do not abhor us, for thy name’s sake, do not disgrace the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us,” (Jer. 14:19-21).
When the Syro-phenecian woman came to Christ in behalf of her daughter, he wrestled with her, and she wrestled with him. First, he answered her not a word, then again he answered, I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But she still clings yet the more to him, and worshipped him, saying “Lord help me.” But Jesus replied, “It is not meant to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs”. Is she not now cast from him, overthrown, a dog in the dust? But like Jacob she wrestles still, she clings to Jesus still, and her faith is saying, I will not let thee go except thou bless me, and she said, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the Master’s table.” She prevailed, and Jesus blessed her there, and said unto her, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt, and her daughter was made whole from that very hour,” (Matt. 15:22).
“Wrestling prayer can wonders do,
Bring relief in deepest straits;
Prayer can force a passage through
Iion bars and grazen gates.”
The night is far spent, and the angel and Jacob continue their wrestling. But the Lord will not contend forever, he will bring his dealings with his people to a gracious conclusion.
Our heavenly Father ever has our welfare in view, no matter how severe the discipline. Though he casts us down, and we are laid in the deeps, he will bring us up again from the depths of the seas, and exalt us in due time at his own right hand in heavenly places.
Thus, when the angel of the Lord 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. Thus as the ascension of the morning was approaching, by a mysterious, divine touch Jacob’s thigh is put out of joint. This was a master stoke. Jacob can no longer stand upon his feet, he sinks, he falls in his anguish to the ground.
Did Jacob loosen his hold of the man as he sank prostrate to the earth? No; the man that wrestled with him all night is down with him too, held fast in his embrace.
When we in our troubles could hold up no longer, did we yield to despair? Did not our hearts rather cry out, “Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on thee.”
When Jacob was lowest, then he was uppermost; when he was weakest, then he was strongest. Out of weakness he was made strong. This is a divine paradox so often verified in the experience of the saints. There can be no mistake in affirming that a divine power was imparted to Jacob, a poor,sinful creature to wrestle with the man. But surely Jacob is done for, vanquished, he will slacken his hold, for he can rise no more. Will he not now cry out, Enough, I yield, thou hast gained the mastery? Not so.
Shall I say that amidst his agonies the poor, prostrate cripple tightened his grip? What a scene is this just before the break of day; wrestling still, though no longer able to stand upon his feet. What tossings to and fro have also been going on in the heart of Jacob.
Before the man began to wrestle with him he was greatly agitated, and his conflicts then taxed all his energies. So Jacob now is engaged in a two-fold conflict. This enquiry also exercises his soul, “Who is this that wrestles with me? The darkness of the night is upon me, and I can not see his face.” So the child of God often inquires, “These sharp temptations, adversities and trials that I wrestle with, are they friends or foes?
The day breaketh. Draw nearer with me, fellow witnesses of this scene. See, one of the wrestlers weepeth. There course the tears down his cheeks. Listen he maketh supplications. Which one is it that weepeth and is the suppliant? The weeping wrestler is the one, the hollow of whose thigh is out of joint (Hosea 12:4).
Jacob wept and made supplication. The day breaketh. It was then Jacob obtained his first glimpses of the face of the mighty wrestler, and such glimpses did he have of the one bending over him, that his heart was wholly persuaded it was not a foe, but one whose look was tender mercy toward the fallen one.
When the Lord has brought you low, has it been revealed to thee, as the day breaketh, that he who has afflicted thee, whose providences have prostrated you, is thy gracious Friend, full of tender pity? Jacob wept and made supplication unto him.
All the dear family of God have their times of weeping. Indeed, to some much of life’s pilgrimage is in the vale of tears. A tearless religion is not the religion of Christ, for the Spirit of God so teaches. The elect that in a heart feeling way they are made to feel their estrangement from the Holy One of Israel, and they mourn every one for his iniquity (Ezek. 7:16).
The causes of the tears of the saints are manifold. They weep when in captivity to the enemy (Psalm 137). And when they tread the homeward pathway they come with weeping and supplications (Jer. 31:9). Contrite souls, even in our own day, water their couch with their tears (Psalm 6:6). Peter wept bitterly. Hezekiah wept sore. There are seasons when the daughter of Zion weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks (Lam. 1:2). Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Then she sings, and her face is radiant with smiles,for the Lord has for given all her sins, he hath scattered her foes, he has lifted up the light of his countenance upon her.
“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” Jacob might say, Shall I let thee go, and wilt thou leave me, a poor, disabled cripple, in the dust?
“Lord, I can not let Thee go,
‘Till a blessing Thou bestow;
Do not turn away Thy face,
Mine’s an urgent, pressing case.
No, I must maintain my hold,
‘Tis Thy goodness makes me bold;
I can no denial take,
When I plead for Jesus’ sake.”
“Except thou bless me.” Thy blessing shall dry my tears, heal my woes, and strengthen me. With thy blessing I will fear no evil, I can face Esau and his four hundred men, “Let them curse, but bless thou,” (Psalm 109:28). Leave me not, neither forsake me, give me first thy benediction. Thou camest as an adversary, and hast brought me in anguish into the dust of the earth, now, only as a Friend can I let thee go. Thou camest with a frown, now leave thy smile with me. Thou wast angry with me, let thine anger be turned away, and comfort me with thy blessing.
O, dear reader, whatever thou hast, if thou lackest the blessing of the Lord, how destitute thou art.
“And he said unto him, What is thy name? and he said Jacob.” This inquiry and Jacob’s answer is full of meaning. There was signified in it Jacob’s unbrotherly conduct.
Esau in his exceeding bitter cry exclaimed, “Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and be hold, now he bath taken away my blessing,” (Gen. 27:36).
The Lord is constantly drawing forth from his people the confession of their low estate, and it is not with a trifling tongue they answer the Lord’s searching inquiry, but in lowliness of heart they bow at his feet, confessing their name to be Jacob. A worm (Isaiah 41:14), the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15), ready to perish (Deut. 28:5), dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27).
When Jacob had acknowledged his name, did the angel say, Thou art too unworthy, thou hast been too contemptibly mean to have my blessing? O no! In such exceeding riches of grace the Lord deals with the vessels of mercy afore prepared unto glory, for on them he will make known the riches of his glory, and Jacob was one of such vessels of mercy.” I have loved you,” saith the Lord: yet ye say, “Wherein hast thou loved us?”
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: “Yet I loved Jacob, I hated Esau.” Here we have displayed the holy and glorious sovereignty of Jehovah’s love.
“And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed.” O, this in truth is raising up the poor out of the dust, and lifting up the beggar from the dunghill, to set him among princes, and to make him inherit the throne of glory (I Sam. 2:8.) As he spake these words methinks I see the man and Israel arising from the dust. Yes, when the man arose Israel was with him. The everlasting arms lifted up the lame man, and in tender compassion put his thigh in joint again. (Although he ever after had a remembrance of this in the sinew that shrank.)
The Lord bringeth low and lifted up. How often are believers brought low through oppression, affliction and sorrow; our pride and self-sufficiency have to be so often brought to naught. He brings down our heart with labor, we fall down, and there is none to help. “I was brought low and he helped me.” This is ever the ex perience of the household of God.
“Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel.” The Lord gives his people another name, a new name (Isaiah 62:2). The first name is significant of what we are in our fallen estate, base and sinful, earthy, a name declaring our dishonor, a name upon which reproach and condemnation rest, a name in which we are ashamed and weep before God.
“But thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married,” (Isaiah 62:4). “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” (Ephes. 2:19). “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ,” (Gal. 4:7).
The Lord pronounced Jacob a prince. This honor have all the saints, for our mighty Savior who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father. “As a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed.” This was God-given power. Glorious illustrations of this are given in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. “Through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:33-34).
The people of God, according to their day, the circumstances they are in, and the work to be performed, are endued with power from on high. Even the wonderful privilege of having power with God flows from the gracious power of God. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and this spirit of supplication the Lord pours down upon his suppliants (Zech. 12:10).
Our power with God in prayer at his footstool ever proceeds from the glorious and precious fact that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Through him, through the sacrifice and blood, his obedience and eternal excellency we have access, acceptance, favor and power with God, and in triumphant faith we sometimes sing, “We shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us.”
“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.”
“Thy name.” In what relationship do we stand to each other? How shalt I think of thee when thou art absent, removed from my sight? From the very dawn of the Lord’s dealings with his own they begin to ask after his name. How hallowed is his name! and as the name of the Lord is unfolded to them by the Holy Spirit they reverently, affectionately and prayfully think upon his name; and his wondrous works in creation, his providences, and the gospel of Christ declare to them, how near is his name (Psalm 75:1).
“Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?” Ah, Lord, thou thyself knowest. So poor, weak and sinful am I. Is thy name Jesus, art thou my Savior? Is it Redeemer, and hast thou ransomed me from hell? Is thy name Shepherd, Husband, Friend, the Lord our Righteousness, Emmanuel, Incarnate Love? Art thou all this to a poor sinner like me?
And he blessed him there on the field of conflict. He anointed him with it. The dark bitter night is over, and the morning finds Jacob no longer “greatly afraid and distressed,” but there he stands in princely majesty, for his name is Israel.
Now he can meet Esau. “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Gen. 32:30).
“And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him and he halted upon his thigh. 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” (Gen. 32:31-32).
Raleigh, N. C.,
FREDERICK W. KEENE
The Lone Pilgrim, March 1926