Jacob had an interesting relationship with God.
You may remember the story: Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins. From the beginning, they were polar opposites:
- Esau was a rough outdoorsman. He loved to go hunting.
- Jacob preferred to stick close to home.
- Esau was big and burly and hairy.
- Jacob was smaller and smooth-skinned.
Because Esau had been the first of the twins to reach outside the womb, he was Isaac’s firstborn and in line to inherit the promise of God’s covenant with Abraham. It was in regard to the covenant promise that the most significant difference between Jacob and Esau comes to light. You see,
- As a young man, Esau wasn’t really interested in spiritual things. He didn’t consider the covenant with God to be a high priority. He was more concerned about his hunting and satisfying his empty stomach than pursuing the covenant promise of God. And so, coming home from a long hunt hungry and tired, he traded his birthright to Jacob for a hot meal.
- Jacob, on the other hand, was willing to do anything to obtain the covenant promise – even deceive his aging father Isaac into thinking he was Esau in order to steal the covenant blessing from his brother.
And so, having stolen the blessing, Jacob ran in fear of his life and spent the next twenty years with his mother’s relatives, working as a shepherd for his Uncle Laban. When we pick up the story, Jacob is finally on his way back home.
Then Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother, Esau, who was living in the region of Seir in the land of Edom. He told them, “Give this message to my master Esau: ‘Humble greetings from your servant Jacob. Until now I have been living with Uncle Laban, and now I own cattle, donkeys, flocks of sheep and goats, and many servants, both men and women. I have sent these messengers to inform my lord of my coming, hoping that you will be friendly to me.’”
After delivering the message, the messengers returned to Jacob and reported, “We met your brother, Esau, and he is already on his way to meet you—with an army of 400 men!” Jacob was terrified at the news. He divided his household, along with the flocks and herds and camels, into two groups. He thought, “If Esau meets one group and attacks it, perhaps the other group can escape.” (Gen. 32:3-8 NLT)
Growing up, Jacob had always been the one who wanted the blessing his brother had. I picture him like a little street urchin standing out in the cold looking longingly through a shop window at his heart’s desire – just inside and out of reach.
Years before when he had left home, he left as a thief running for his life. Now he was returning as a different man, humbled by the blessings of God, yet feeling once again the fear of his unresolved crime against his brother.
And so, Jacob prays.
“O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O LORD, you told me, ‘Return to your own land and to your relatives.’ And you promised me, ‘I will treat you kindly.’ I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant. When I left home and crossed the Jordan River, I owned nothing except a walking stick. Now my household fills two large camps! O LORD, please rescue me from the hand of my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to attack me, along with my wives and children. But you promised me, ‘I will surely treat you kindly, and I will multiply your descendants until they become as numerous as the sands along the seashore—too many to count.’” (Gen. 32:9-12 NLT)
As Jacob prays, he recounts the blessings God has provided. He reminds God of his promises and praises his unfailing love and faithfulness. He very plainly states his fear and pleads for God to rescue him. As I read Jacob’s prayer, I hear the words of a man who has developed the habit of speaking with honesty and openness to God.
As the story continues, Jacob carefully chooses gifts for his brother from among his possessions and sends them ahead. He divides up his family hoping that if some are attacked, at least some will survive. And then, unexpectedly, he meets God face to face.
So the gifts were sent on ahead, while Jacob himself spent that night in the camp.
During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.
This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
“What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.”
“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
“Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.
“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” (Gen. 32:21-30 NLT)
It’s a curious story, don’t you think? Whether the man was an angel or whether he was the second person of the Trinity, we don’t know for sure. Jacob believed he was wrestling with God.
Whoever he was, the man apparently just walked up and began to wrestle with Jacob. What an odd thing to do. Or was it? Surely God knew that Jacob was already wrestling in his mind and in his heart. Jacob prayed and God showed up – although almost certainly not in the way Jacob expected. But God knows what we need. Perhaps the action of wrestling was exactly what Jacob required to quell the fear and resolve the conflict in his heart.
I believe Jacob’s experience can teach us something about prayer. Once Jacob began to wrestle with God, he refused to give up. He refused to let go, even when his hip was wrenched out of joint. He refused to let go until he received God’s blessing.
Have you ever pursued the presence of God with the passion of Jacob?
Have you ever desired God’s blessing on your life so much that you were willing to risk everything to obtain it?
Have you ever wrestled with God in prayer and refused to give up until He answered you?
I wonder how often we sit back and idly wait for God to act rather than taking hold of the promises of God and refusing to let go until we receive His blessing.
Lord, teach us to pursue your blessings upon us with the tenacity and passion of Jacob!