Sometimes we need some outside motivation to change our lives. We need an experience to get our attention if some pattern in our life will truly change. The main character in today’s message needed a radical change and it took a radical experience for it to happen.
Jacob was grandson of Abraham, the Father of the Jewish nation. He had a twin brother named Esau. Jacob was born holding his brother’s heel, and his name meant “heel-catcher” and “deceiver.” Their mom, Rebekah, favored Jacob. There was sibling rivalry from the beginning.
Esau came in from hunting on one occasion and was famished and found Jacob cooking supper. Starved, Esau asked for some of the food right away. Jacob told his half-starved brother, “Give me the birthright and I’ll give you some soup.” A birthright was something reserved for the eldest son. It meant double inheritance and leadership of the family when the father died. Esau may not have realized what he was doing when he flippantly agreed. He’d been scammed for a bowl of soup.
Later when Jacob and Esau’s dad thought he was about to die he knew it was time to bless his sons, Rebekah and Jacob concocted a plan to trick the father, Isaac, into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. The scam worked. When Esau heard about it, he was angry, and vowed to kill Jacob at the first opportunity. Jacob fled for his life and went to live with his mother’s brother, his Uncle Laban. While living there he got a taste of his own medicine. You know, we reap what we sow. (Galatians 6:7)
Jacob fell in love with Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel. He promised to work for seven years for Laban for her hand in marriage. However, Laban had another daughter, an older daughter, that we’ll say, “he needed to unload.” He needed to make sure she got married and would be taken care of, so Laban tricked Jacob on their wedding night, somehow substituting Leah for Rachel.
So, Jacob had to work another seven years to get the wife he wanted. Long story short, he wound up with two wives, (a conversation for another day) but he got the girl he wanted in the end. After all, he always got what he wanted. He became rich and prosperous and in Genesis 31:3, God told Jacob to go back to his homeland. He was promised by God, “I will be with you.”
Back to his homeland, where his brother lived? Jacob was scared to go home and face him. The promise that God would be with him wasn’t enough, so he went into self-help mode and devised a plan. He sent his servants ahead of him telling them to let Esau know that he was coming and that he was rich! He was going to try to smooth things over with a bribe. His servants came back and said, “Your brother and his 400 closest friends are on their way to meet you.” Jacob was terrified. He wasn’t thinking “God is with me.” He was thinking, “I need a plan, or I am going to die,” and he divided his family and animals into two groups. If Esau attacked one group, there was a chance that the other group will escape, so he wouldn’t lose everything.
After he created his plan, only then did Jacob pray to ask for God’s help. Have you ever done that? You do everything you think you can to control the situation, getting all your ducks in a row, anticipating what might happen, planning for the “what if’s” and then you call on God and ask Him to bless your efforts? Do you see the duality in Jacob’s life and approach? Call on God but rely on self?
He had created his plan, had prayed and moved his family into safety in Genesis 32:22, and now, he was alone. Sometimes, God has to isolate us to get our attention. Even though Jacob thought he was in control, God was on the scene to put him into a vulnerable state where he had no resources, no servants to help him, no family support, not even shelter. In the larger plan of God, Jacob was being set up for God to transform him.
Genesis 32:24ff says: 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
What I want to tell you this morning is that Jacob was transformed in a wrestling match with God. That sounds messed up unless you have gone through something similar. Unless you’ve encountered God when you were trying to do your own thing and He stepped in to rescue you from your stupidity, you may not understand. Even if it creates some painful moments, when you look back, you have been so thankful that God got your attention, no matter what it took.
I see at least three reasons why the transformation came. HE WAS TRANSFORMED BECAUSE HE DIDN’T GIVE UP. Jacob had spent most of his adult life wrestling with people in relationships. He was a fighter, determined to get what he wanted. So, God came to him as a fighter. He met Jacob where he was. Verse 24 says Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak. In other words, Jacob stayed committed through the struggle.
He had already worked through part of the night to move his family and possessions to safety. He had to be exhausted, and yet he wrestled with the man all night.
Now the text says that the “man” wrestling with him, who was God himself, could not overpower him. We know God has all power, so what could this phrase mean that the “man” could not overpower Jacob? By crossing the Jabbok, Jacob would be entering into the land that God has sworn to give to Abraham’s descendants — the Promised Land. God wasn’t about to allow Jacob to enter the Promised Land, the land of His blessing or favor, on his own terms or in his own strength.
It was as if God allowed Jacob to give Him his best shot, and then God showed his complete superiority with a single touch. It reminds me of watching Thom wrestle with our son when he was little. There was no way Joshua was going to be able to take Thom down, but Thom would let him try. Thom would “put up a pretend fight.” He would let Josh flail around and jump on his back until he decided it was time to put an end to the silliness, and he would pin him to the floor showing Josh who had really been in control all along. That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things his way.
I believe the length of the wrestling match points to Jacob’s stubborn nature or more nicely put, his “determination.” He wasn’t going to give up. I also believe it points to God’s long-suffering nature. God could have wiped Jacob out, but he put up with him, letting him wrestle until he would grasp Who it was that he was dealing with. God was revealing Himself to Jacob in the struggle.
Not only was he committed to the struggle, but as he was injured, he realized Who he was dealing with and he decided to cling to God, saying “I won’t let go of you until you bless me.” This was Jacob’s seventh recorded prayer, but it was the first one that showed any humility. By crying out for a blessing, Jacob was acknowledging that God was greater than himself. By seeking God’s blessing, he was humbling himself and exalting God. He realized that only God could provide the blessing he so desperately needed.
There was something about the daybreak, the light of morning that brought a realization to Jacob that this thing was far more than physical. Something spiritual was at stake. Something spiritual needed to happen, and he held on resolutely as he pleaded for a blessing.
Not only was he transformed because he didn’t give up, but HE WAS TRANSFORMED BY SEEING WHO HE REALLY WAS AND BY ALLOWING GOD TO CHANGE HIM
Jacob not only saw God in his struggle, but he also saw himself. Jacob asked for a blessing and the man asked Jacob a question. “What is your name?” As far as the Genesis record is concerned, the last time Jacob was asked that question, he told a lie! His father asked, “Who are you, my son?” and Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn” (27:18-19, NKJV).
The Lord didn’t ask the question to get information because He certainly knew Jacob’s name and that Jacob had the reputation of being a schemer and a deceiver. “What is your name?” meant, “Are you going to continue living up to your name, deceiving yourself and others; or will you admit what you are and let Me change you?”
You see, the struggle is often the process that we have to go through whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial or a combination of all of the above-which enables us to see who and what we really are. It is often in the struggle that we are able to see and confess who we really are and are put in the position to receive the transformation that is needed for us to receive the blessing that God has for us.
What is your name? The question had more than a simple one-word answer. In the Old Testament a person’s name was linked to their nature. God wasn’t saying, “Are you willing to admit that I have you beat in this wrestling match?” He was saying, “Are you ready to be done with the scheming, manipulating and planning of your life?” “Are you ready to be completely changed so that I can use you?” Before Jacob could be blessed, he had to confess who and what he was because the blessing required a change in his nature.
A lot of people pray, “God bless me,” but what they are saying is, “God do what I want you to do. Give me what I want you to give me.” They don’t want to have to change or alter their plans. They want to be in the driver’s seat and just want God to give them the gas to get them to where they have decided they are going.
Listen, God blesses those whose desire is His will, His way. Period. Author Henry Blackaby says, “You can’t stay where you are and go with God.” I would add, You can’t stay the way you are and go with God. Jacob’s blessing wasn’t just for himself. It was for the whole nation of Israel. God’s kind of blessing isn’t just for you. It is for everyone around you as well. God’s blessing is to flow through you to impact others for His purposes, and He can’t flow through a channel that is clogged with selfish plans and desires. The “heel-catcher” had been caught and had to come clean about the dualistic way he had been trying to live.
The change in his nature started with a wound. His hip was injured in the struggle. Sometimes a wound is a very special act of God’s grace. It was the wound that began the process of Jacob recognizing who he was wrestling with. It was the wound that led him to cling to God in the struggle. When you are clinging to someone, you are in the place of submission. It was because of the wound that Jacob submitted to God. He let the wound cause him to cling to God. When you realize that, you see that the wounding was a gracious gift that God gave to Jacob.
God-wounds are necessary because of the tendency of human nature to be proud, because of our tendency to rely on our own power and strength. The Apostle Paul finally reached the point in his struggle over the “thorn” in his flesh where he understood God’s purpose of the thorn. He wrote later that God sent it to “keep him from being conceited” (2 Cor. 12:7). In that struggle Paul received and was thankful for what he called “God’s sufficient grace.” God gave Paul a “thorn in his flesh,” but God gave him grace to deal with it at the same time.
The God who wounded Jacob, Job, Paul, and His own Son, will wound his servants precisely where they need it the most. Why? In order to destroy us? Never! If God wounds, He wounds us in order to teach and transform us. Even though he was wounded in the struggle, Jacob was never stronger because for the first time, he was strong in the Lord.
The transformation in Jacob’s life began with the wound. If Jacob was going to be blessed this time, it wasn’t going to be because he made a back-alley deal or schemed to get his way. It was going to be because he was holding on to the only One who could bless him.
The change continued with a new name. In the Bible, receiving a new name signifies making a new beginning (17:4-5, 15; Num. 13:16; John 1:40-42), and this was Jacob’s opportunity to make a fresh start in life. The new name God gave him was “Israel,” which means prince of God or one who wrestles with God. The text goes on to say he had wrestled with God and have Overcome! Not only was his name Israel, but it was overcomer! The explanation in Genesis 32:28 is that Jacob had gained power because he prevailed. He lost the battle but won the victory! By seeking God’s blessing and finally being weakened and forced to yield, he had become an overcomer. He learned that you become an overcomer by surrendering fully to God!
When God rules our lives, then He can trust us with His power. While at home, Jacob had served himself and created problems; and for twenty years he served Laban and created further problems, but now he could serve God and become a part of the answer.
HE WAS TRANSFORMED BECAUSE HE WANTED THE RIGHT THING, GOD’S BLESSING-Jacob had already been blessed physically with a large family and great wealth, so when he asked the wrestler to bless him, he wasn’t asking for more stuff. He was asking for something he didn’t already possess. When he asked for a blessing, he was asking for a transformation.
Ever since he had stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing, he had been a man on the run. He had run from his brother to another city. Later, he had to run from his Uncle Laban. He had lived outside of the land that God had promised to him. Listen, if you are depending on your own cunning, your own business savvy, your own shrewd way of relating to people and planning and plotting, you will always live outside of God’s best for your life and without His enabling blessing. And because of that you will always be a man or woman on the run, chasing this fix or that high or this status or that award.
Jacob’s conniving way of living and running wasn’t working any more. He needed a new way of living. He needed a change of heart. We must desire a change of heart the way David did when he prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Like Jacob we must come to God with a genuine desire to be transformed.
A Jacob wholly dependent on God can become an Israel. What can you become if you let each wound draw you closer to the Lord and make you more dependent on Him?
What was Jacob turned Israel enabled to do? He was enabled to be reunited with his brother without fear. He was enabled to receive a change in his character. He was enabled to fully rely on God rather than himself. He was enabled to live in the land God told him to and enjoy the fruit of his hard-earned labor. And most of all, he raised the family that eventually brought about the only Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
Y’all, Jacob did not initiate this wrestling match. God approached him. By all indications, the Lord was the one who started it! He provoked the struggle! We should know that God wants to be actively engaged in our lives. The wrestling match was not only something that God wanted, but it was something that Jacob needed.
Does God need to wrestle with you about something in your life? If it concerns something God wants you to do, you better get to the place of submission! Is there something you need to wrestle with God over? Is there a blessing you need? An answer? Reassurance? God’s presence? God’s power? Grab hold of God and don’t let go!
What’s your name today? Is it Anger? It can be peace. Is it hate? It can be love. Is it pain? It can be delight. Is it Disobedience? It can be “Happy to Serve.” Is it ought against my neighbor? It can be friend to all. Is it Deceiver? It can be Prince with God. The truth is until we encounter God and his grace and mercy it is “Sinner.” We have all sinned. We all need a new name, that of Christ.
Is it possible that you have been on the run? Are you running your own life? Are you trying to scheme and connive and plan to make things happen? Have you been praying, “God bless my plans?” Are you so busy that you couldn’t hear God speak a blessing over you even if that’s what you wanted? Sometimes we resist allowing God to do the very thing we actually want and need Him to do.
Jacob probably thought all of his adult life that his problem was with Esau. It wasn’t. He learned through this wrestling match that the problem was with God. He had kicked against God’s will and God’s design and God’s Word and God’s plan all of his life. The wrestling match with God was a crippling experience for Jacob, but from that point, he was crowned Prince of God and overcomer. When his family saw him limping into the Promised Land they might have said, “Jacob, why are you limping?” to which he might have straightened up and said, “Don’t call me Jacob. Call me Israel. I met God last night, and I’ll never walk the same again. I’ve been wounded, but in the process, I’ve been transformed and have never been better.”