Genesis 32:24-29 - Jacob - Israel
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, 'Let me go for it is daybreak.' But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me' ... Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.'Genesis 32:24-29
Both names are commonly used in the Bible's history of God's people. But in the progress of revelation the name "Jacob" recedes into the background and the people of God are generally called "Israelites." This continues in the New Testament.
And with a definite purpose!
It really all began with a severely crippled Jacob clinging to the angel with whom he had wrestled all night, and refusing to let go until the angel (the Lord) blessed him.
Then the angel gave him a new name, Israel.
That was Jacob, one of the patriarchs. The other two were Abraham and Isaac. Again and again we read these three important names. With these men God's covenant was established. And the heart of that covenant was God's gracious promises — the promises of salvation in all the love and faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament history sets forth the great truth that the people of God are saved finally and only because of His faithful promises of love and grace. This teaching implies God's election.
Jacob was the youngest of twins. Esau as the older of the twins was entitled to the birth-right blessing. And whoever received the birth-right blessing was the one with whom the covenant would be continued. But the Lord had told Rebekah even before the boys were born that the younger, Jacob, was to receive this great blessing. No doubt Rebekah told Jacob all about this later. This meant, of course, that Jacob should patiently wait to receive it. How and when God would give it to him was in the Lord's hands. Years passed by and nothing happened. Jacob was convinced that things could not go on this way. After all, the Lord had promised this birthright blessing to him and he made the big mistake of taking the Lord's work into his own hands. At the opportune time, when his brother Esau came home from hunting, empty-handed and extremely hungry, he made a "deal." And he bought the birthright blessing "for a mess of pottage." As far as Jacob was concerned, all was now in order.
More time passed by, and again, nothing happened. Jacob again became convinced that things are not going well. Father Isaac was getting older and was already blind. The home was sadly divided, Isaac favoring Esau and mother Rebekah showing her preference for Jacob. Rebekah heard Isaac instruct Esau to get some venison and promise to give him the blessing of the birthright. Jacob then, at his mother's instigation, lied and outwitted his old, blind and failing father to receive the coveted blessing.
While Jacob thought he had gained his end, Esau was furiously angry. Jacob had to flee to his uncle, Laban, who was living in Haran a few hundred miles north east from where they lived. During the twenty years that he stayed with and worked for Uncle Laban he gained two wives, was given many children and amassed large herds of livestock. But these twenty years were not always peaceful. Uncle Laban could match his nephew in scheming and finagling. But Jacob was prospering and it seemed that the Lord was blessing him, in spite of the fact that he had lied, cheated and not waited in faith.
Things could not continue this way. God's wonderful promises are sure, but He permits us to enjoy them only by the way of trusting in Him and godly living. This Jacob must learn. (I don't believe that Jacob up to this time was an unbeliever, but believe that he was a Christian who failed to live by faith as the Lord wanted him to live.)
The time had come for Jacob and his family and all he had to return to his home country. After he had traveled for some time (and traveling with so much livestock and a large family must have been very slow) he faced the most threatening danger of his life. Word reached him that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob realized that there was no way to avoid this encounter. Never before had he been in such straits. At night he could not sleep.
Esau was on his mind.
He got up, awakened all of his family and servants, moved them all across the brook Jabbok, and then returned to the other side.
Suddenly a stranger approached and attacked him. They wrestled all night.
In high school athletic programs wrestling matches last only a few minutes, with breaks at intervals. This was an all night affair. And it appeared that Jacob was going to win. In this incident we are given to understand that the Lord confronted Jacob in the form of a man, but Jacob did not realize that it was God with whom he was "dealing." That had been the case earlier in his life when he bought the birthright blessing and when he deceived his blind father. Also there he was really dealing with God, while he thought he was dealing with men. And as it had seemed earlier that he was "winning," so here it appeared at first that he was winning the wrestling "match." Then the Lord showed Jacob with whom he was really wrestling. The angel only touched Jacob's hip. What does a mere touch mean when people are wrestling, pulling, pushing, and straining to bring down the opponent? Suddenly Jacob realized what he had really been doing all this time, trying to obtain the covenant promises of God's love and mercy in his own strength by his own scheming. How futile and foolish his actions and thoughts had been! How clear this became to him as he was about to meet Esau. Now he was really in a bind and all his own ingenuity was of no avail. He realized his own helplessness. That was the first lesson this patriarch had to learn. This is a lesson which we must all learn. All God's people are the objects of His great and precious promises, but who of them does not make the mistake of Jacob?
When facing obstacles and barriers we try to work things out and take matters in our own hands instead of trusting only in the God of promises.
Because we "respond" in this way our gracious Father also may bring us into positions in which we are helpless. Sometimes He adds afflictions to afflictions until we are hopeless.
We may feel like singing:
O that I had wings like a dove, for then I would fly far away (from our problems). And seek for the rest that I love, where trouble could no more dismay.
We must all come to acknowledge our inability and need.
Jacob learned his lesson and he learned it well. How strange to be wrestling with an opponent all night and "hang on," refusing to let go until he blesses you! This Jacob did. He learned to put his trust in God alone, and in that way receive the covenant promises. His name was changed to Israel. In this name we see the two letters, EL. In the Hebrew this prefix stands for God's might. Names of God like Eljon, Elshaddai, Elohim all speak of His unlimited power. Jacob a cripple, but trusting in God, would be called Israel ("ruling with God"). And in so doing He would have power with God. The Lord fulfills His promises and gives incredible spiritual strength in and to those who completely trust in Him.
From those helpless people, His people, our heavenly Father wants complete submission, total surrender and whole-hearted yielding to His promises given in the Word. Again and again and again the Scriptures speak of God's people being called to exercise such faith and confidence in His faithful promises.
Andrew Murray in his little booklet, Absolute Surrender, puts it this way:
The cause of the weakness of your Christian life is that you want to work it out partly, and to let God help you. But that cannot be. You must come to be utterly helpless, to let God and God's will work gloriously. It is this we need if we are indeed to be workers for God. I could go through Scripture and prove to you how Moses, when he led Israel out of Egypt; how Joshua, when he brought them into the land of Canaan, how all God's servants in the Old Testament counted upon the omnipotence of God doing impossibilities. And this God lives today and this God is the God of every child of his. And yet we are some of us wanting God to give us a little help while we do our best, instead of coming to understand what God wants, and to say, "I can do nothing, God must and will do it all!" Have you said, 'In worship, in work, in sanctification, in obedience to God, I can do nothing of myself and so my place is to worship the omnipotent God and to believe that He will work in me every moment?'
That, Christian friend, is the lesson we all have to learn. And perhaps learn it often. Why some Christians are brought into greater difficulties than others we do not know. But the Scriptures do teach that we all have to learn this lesson, and that in learning it we receive great blessings. Perhaps we have to learn those lessons in tears. If so, remember you are not alone. Hosea tells us that Jacob in clinging to the angel did so with tears and supplications.
Throughout the Scriptures there is nothing that is emphasized more than the need of this kind of faith and trust.
From now on Jacob was a cripple. He was never able to walk "normally" again. But he was the crippled Israel. And the people of God are named not Jacob, but Israel. They must be the people that live in trust in His promises of love and faithfulness. And as a result, walk in loving obedience.
It may be that some of Gods children face lifelong troubles. But by His grace they learn to live by the promises of God's Word, knowing that He is faithful.
Doing so, they receive blessings of the Holy Spirit and find peace of mind and soul. They live in hope. They understand the words, "Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God" (Psalm 146:5). They are not called "Jacobites" but spiritual "Israelites."