PEACE CAN BE FLEETING UNTIL WE ARE WILLING TO WRESTLE OUT OUR PROBLEMS WITH GOD
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
19 DECEMBER 1993
By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Every one of us has had struggles in our life, and many of us still do. Many of our struggles may have been caused by us, as were Jacob's.
Do you remember that he acquired his name because at birth he came forth grasping the heel of his brother Esau, as if to supplant him as the firstborn?
Then later in life, he took Esau’s birthright by holding back offering his brother some food until he sold him his birthright.
And then at the encouragement of his mother he deceived Isaac, his father, into giving him the blessing he intended to give to Esau.
Thus Jacob had to flee his brother's presence and went to the home of his uncle Laban, with whom he also had problems.
We, likewise, have developed problems in our relationships with family members; and more importantly, we have problems in our relationship with God.
As we look at our Scripture passage for today, Genesis 32:22-32, we find Jacob with his family and possessions on the bank of Jabbok on his journey home, having fled from his uncle Laban and in fear of his pending encounter with his brother Esau.
22. Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children [more correctly his eleven sons, for his daughter Dinah was with them too], and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
23. And he took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.
24. Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
Who is this man?
And if Jacob was left alone, where did he come from?
Also, why did Jacob remain behind?
Keep these questions in mind as we go on; for as we will see, the answers will be glorious.
25. And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.
What kind of man could simply touch Jacob's hip-thigh joint and dislocate it, and yet not be able to prevail against him?
And why would he do it?
Consider these questions, also, as we go on.
26. Then he [the man] said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he [Jacob] said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Why would Jacob insist on receiving a blessing from a mere man, let alone one who has just put his hip out of joint?
27. So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob."
28. And he said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."
And here with this name change, we begin to find the answers to some of our questions.
As we said, the name Jacob means: “one who supplants or deceives.”
The name Israel means: "one who strives or wrestles with God."
This was no ordinary man with whom Jacob wrestled; he was either an angel, or perhaps God Himself manifesting Himself in the form of a man.
This only serves to bring up another question: Why would God even consider wrestling with Jacob or, for that matter, even with one of us, let alone actually doing it?
The answer to this last question, and to why Jacob remained behind, is because we have a loving and caring God who reaches out to every one of us, over and over again, until we finally come to realize who God is and how much he desires a truly personal relationship with each and every one of us and, in turn, for us to submit our will to His.
And God's greatest outreach to us is in Jesus Christ, so that all would come and be saved from the wrath to come.
But not everyone is willing to humble themselves enough to partake of this free gift.
Some very sensitive and compassionate people have felt rejected by the hardness of heart they've encountered in the church, particularly when it comes to animal issues, and they have blamed God for the sins of other people.
Others have lost a loved one in some tragedy, or to illness, and are angry with God
Many people are still going through the same inner struggles that Jacob did, even when we are offered the solution and great inner peace.
As we saw with the answer that Jacob received with his name change, "…you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed," we must understand that he prevailed with his own will.
God took the time to personally wrestle with Jacob, so that Jacob would freely submit his will to God, but he stubbornly refused; thus, He touched him on the hollow of his thigh and dislocated the joint, so that Jacob would remember that the encounter was real and not a dream, and that he would remember with whom he had wrestled.
29. Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there.
By this time, Jacob probably realized he wasn't wrestling with some mere man, but with God or with one of the angels he had encountered previously, and he wanted a confirmation.
But this man wouldn't tell him, but simply turned the question around to try to get Jacob to admit that he really knew with whom he was wrestling and, as before, Jacob didn't respond.
So the man blessed Jacob as he requested, more than likely by reconfirming the blessing that was given to Abraham and Isaac: about making a great nation of his descendants.
Though while not submitting during the wrestling match, or admitting with whom he was wrestling, he does confirm it afterwards.
30. So Jacob named the place Peniel [or The Face of God], for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."
This is so typical of many of us, too; for like Jacob, we are fearful of submitting our will to God or of acknowledging Him in our lives; but we will build beautiful churches to His name.
God doesn't care about our naming a place after Him; He wants us to implant Him and His name within ourselves, so that our very lives will reflect His name and the lifestyle He desires from all of us.
Jacob stayed behind because he needed some time to be alone with the Lord to wrestle out his fears of his pending encounter with Esau.
He probably wanted God's protection from Esau, or he wanted the Lord to persuade Esau to accept the gifts he was offering and to not harm him.
This isn't what God wanted from Jacob, and it's not the way God wants us to approach Him when trying to solve the problems we ourselves have caused.
God wanted Jacob to come forth with a humble heart seeking forgiveness not only from Esau, but from Him; for all our sins against each other are really against God, too.
So God lovingly tried to wrestle out of Jacob his stubbornness – to once and for all give Jacob true peace in his life; but Jacob's will still prevailed.
But there were some serious cracks beginning to form in Jacob's hardness of heart.
31. Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.
Jacob is facing a new day after his encounter with God, and as he goes on, the pain or difficulty of each step is there to remind him with whom he has wrestled and of the significance of such an encounter.
Jacob's life will never be the same again, and neither will our lives be the same after we have wrestled with God in prayer, holding on, not letting go until we, too, get our blessings.
But hopefully, we will have learned from this story about Jacob; so that
before our wrestling with God comes to an end, we will have submitted our will
The people of Israel also learned from this encounter of Jacob’s, and they also seem to have realized how easily they forget about their relationship with God; thus they set a lasting reminder for themselves.
32. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip.
This tradition is still practiced by Orthodox Jewish people, even in our present day. Such meat is not considered kosher.
And in reality, if you consider the horrible way animals are raised and slaughtered, no animal product is kosher, because it is the product the evil acts of human beings.
Humans have also done many evil things to our fellow human beings, all of which is against the will of God, and shows our unwillingness to submit to the will of God, which is the heart of this story about Jacob.
But this story of Jacob doesn't end here; and as we said, there were some serious cracks beginning to form in Jacob's stubbornness, in his fears, and in his lack of trust in God.
Note what we are told in verse 33:3-4.
3. But he himself [Jacob] passed on ahead of them [his family] and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
As we can see, Jacob is still fearful, for he is still trying to appease Esau with his form of humbleness. But notice how Esau responds:
4. Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
It is obvious that Esau had already forgiven Jacob, probably many years before.
From the joy and excitement of his encounter, we can see that Esau really missed Jacob.
And Jacob had allowed himself to suffer needlessly in fear of his brother all this time. Such fears take away our love and joy and peace.
Esau may have been angry with Jacob, and he had every right to be; but he also still loved Jacob.
Jacob never showed any sign of a true understanding of love, but only of his desires.
But here, Jacob encounters true love, and it causes him to weep along with Esau.
Jacob was beginning to find peace in his heart.
Each of us needs to go forth today, remembering this encounter and the relationships we each have with others, with our family members and, most of all, with God and the rest of His creation.
Do not fear any relationships, particularly ours with God; for our fears indicate a lack of love within us.
Many people fear love, and thus fear many other things, too, and have no real and lasting peace.
If we truly allow ourselves to love, unconditionally, we will likewise see our fears leaving and peace returning.
We need to realize that we can trust God with any matter in our lives, and that He is willing to lovingly wrestle with us in prayer over any problem, no matter how large or small, until it is solved in love.
If we learn to submit to such loving encounters, our journey afterwards will lead us to heaven forever and ever.
And we will have a peace that surpasses all understanding.
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