Sermon #23 Series: Pictures of Grace in Genesis
Title: Jacob At Peniel - A Picture of Grace
Text: Genesis 32:24-32
Subject: The subduing of the flesh
Date: Tuesday Evening - December 31, 1991
My subject tonight is Jacob At Peniel - A Picture of Grace. Though this passage of Scripture is often used as a picture of conversion, this was not Jacob’s conversion experience. It teaches us many things about conversion, as we shall see. And we know that conversion to Christ is a life-long experience. We are continually coming to Christ (1 Pet. 2:4). Yet, this was not the point in Jacob’s history when he first came to know the Savior. Christ had been revealed to him twenty years earlier at Bethel as the only ladder by which God could come down to man and upon which man must ascend up to God. At Bethel, Jacob met Christ the Mediator and learned to worship him (Gen. 28:10-22). This is the Mediator who was typified in all those blood sacrifices he had seen.
Frequently, this passage is used as a picture of a man wrestling with God in fervent prayer. But that too is a mistake. In our text, it is not Jacob who wrestles with God, but God who wrestles with Jacob.
This passage of Scripture sets before us a picture of the Lord God subduing the proud, sinful flesh of his believing people by his almighty grace.
Read the text with me - Genesis 32:24-32.
I. “And Jacob was left alone” (v. 24).
Was there ever a man more alone than Jacob? His whole life had been filled with trouble and disappointment. Now, as he was returning home, he feared for his life. When he heard that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men, he was confused, and frightened, and alone.
A. Jacob’s life had been a life of trouble and confusion.
1. All his life long he had played second fiddle to his brother Esau.
· He was born second to Esau.
· He was, by all measures, an inferior man to Esau.
· His father Isaac preferred Esau, and Jacob knew it.
2. Instigated by his mother, Jacob deceived his father on his deathbed and stole the birthright. He had lived with the guilt of his deeds in exile for twenty years.
3. When Esau threatened to kill him, Jacob fled into exile.
4. As he fled from Esau, God met him at Bethel, promised his covenant blessings to him, and confirmed what I am sure his mother had told him from his youth (Gen. 25:22-23; Rom. 9:10-13).
· He was loved and chosen of God.
· God was determined to save him.
· He was to be greatly blessed of the Lord.
5. As he had deceived his father Isaac, so he had been deceived by his uncle Laban and tricked into marrying a woman he did not want (Gen. 29:16-26).
6. Then, the Lord God appeared to him and told him to return home with this promise: “I will be with thee” (Gen. 31:3).
7. No sooner did he start home in obedience to God’s command than he discovered that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men (Gen. 32:6-8).
Earlier in the day, he kissed his wives and his children good-bye, took them across the brook Jabbok out of harm’s way and waited to die by the hand of his angry brother. Now, we read, “And Jacob was left alone.” More alone than ever!
Alone, confused, helpless, and afraid Jacob sat down and waited for death. His plotting, scheming, and manipulating was over. He is shut up to the sovereign power and will of God. Like Israel at the Red Sea and Jonah in the whale’s belly, Jacob was totally dependent upon God to deliver him, and he now knew it (Ex. 14:13; Jon. 2:9).
NOTE: Those whom God is pleased to save, to whom he will reveal his mercy and grace in Christ must be brought down and be made to know their utter helplessness and inability. God’s grace and God’s work leaves no room for boasting and glorying in the flesh (Psa. 107:1-6; 11-13; 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
“Jacob was left alone.” He seemed to be in a miserable condition, helpless and alone; but he was truly in a most blessed condition.
“To be left alone with God is the only true way of arriving at a just knowledge of ourselves and our ways. We can never get a true estimate of nature and all its actings until we have weighed them in the balances of the sanctuary, and there we may ascertain their real worth. No matter what we may think about ourselves, nor yet what man may think about us, the great question is, what does God think about us? And the answer to this question can only be learned when we are ‘left alone’. Away from the world, away from self, away from the thoughts, reasonings, imaginings, and emotions of mere nature, and ‘alone with God,’ - thus and thus alone, can we get a correct judgment about ourselves” (C. H. MacIntosh).
Isolation is always the forerunner of revelation, grace, salvation, and blessing. Before God saves, he separates.
· Gomer (Hos. 2:14).
· The adulterous woman (John 8:9).
· Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-8).
II. “And there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (v. 24).
About the time the sun went down, suddenly a man appeared out of nowhere, laid hold of Jacob, and wrestled with him until the morning sun began to rise. This was not a vision, or a dream, but a real struggle, both physical and spiritual. It was not a brief encounter, but one that lasted all night long.
A. Who was this man?
There is no question at all about the fact that this man was also God (v. 30). This man who wrestled with Jacob was the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, the angel of the covenant (Hos. 12:4), through whom all the blessings of covenant grace come to God’s elect.
NOTE: Christ frequently appeared to the saints of the Old Testament in human form. These pre-incarnate appearances were tokens and pledges of his incarnation.
B. This man, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, wrestled with Jacob.
We are not told that Jacob wrestled with the man, but rather, “there wrestled a man with him.”
Those who use this story as an example of importunate prayer miss the mark. Jacob was not wrestling with this man to obtain the blessing. This man was wrestling with Jacob to give the blessing.
It is the object of a wrestler to bring his opponent down, to pin him to the ground, to render him helpless; and that is the object of our Lord in this passage. He wrestled with Jacob to pin him down, to conquer his spirit, to subdue his flesh, to render him helpless.
The Lord wrestled with Jacob to reduce him to a sense of his nothingness, to make him see what a poor, helpless, worthless creature he was. You see, God’s purpose in all our trials is to make us strong in grace and strong in faith; and the way he makes us strong is to make us to know and recognize our weakness - “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
C. This man wrestled with Jacob “until the breaking of the day.”
There were issues involved that had to be resolved. They had to be resolved in Jacob’s heart. They had to be resolved permanently. And they had to be resolved now.
This was not a brief, passing encounter. It was not an indifferent decision made on the spur of the moment at the front of the church. Great issues were at stake. Eternal matters had to be settled. What were the issues?
1. Jacob had to acknowledge Christ as his Lord (Rom. 10:9-10).
2. Jacob had to bow to the will of God.
3. Jacob had to lose his life to Christ. He had to surrender to Christ in all things, in his heart, willingly (Psa. 110:3).
God was determined to bless and use Jacob. His purpose could not be defeated. But he would not grant his blessing and he would not use him until Jacob was conquered, broken, subdued, and surrendered.
NOTE: This conquering of the flesh, this breaking and subduing is not a once for all experience. It is a life-long battle. It continues throughout the night of our sojourn upon this earth.
· It is a warfare in our hearts (Rom. 7:14; Gal. 5:17).
· Christ will prevail (Rom. 7:25). If we are his, our Lord will conquer us; and he will make us willing to be conquered.
III. “AND WHEN HE 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” (v. 25).
Without question, God could have easily subdued Jacob. This conflict was ordered and instigated by God. The outcome was never in doubt; but God’s people are not puppets or robots. We must be made to see, feel, and experience the frailty of our flesh, the emptiness of this world, and the glory of God in Christ, so that we desire his presence and his salvation above all things. “Thy people shall be willing!” Grace makes us willing in the day of his power!
· This is the purpose of all that God reveals to us.
· This is the purpose of all the trials we endure.
· This is the purpose of all God’s dealings with us.
· Thank God for the sharp, painful blows of providence and grace that bring us down before him!
At last, Jacob was brought to the end of his own resources. One swift stroke from the hand of God rendered him utterly powerless.
“This is the purpose God has before him in his dealings with us. One of the principal designs of our gracious heavenly Father in the ordering of our path, in the appointing of our testings and trials, in the discipline of his love, is to bring us to the end of ourselves, to show us our own powerlessness, to teach us to have no confidence in the flesh, that his strength may be made perfect in our conscious and realized weakness” (A. W. Pink).
IV. “AND HE SAID, LET ME GO, FOR THE DAY BREAKETH. AND HE SAID, I WILL NOT LET THE GO, EXCEPT THOU BLESS ME” (v. 26).
Now, the Lord had accomplished his goal. Jacob was helpless. He could no longer wrestle with his leg out of joint. All he could do was cling to his Master. Until now, Jacob had tried to order his own life, planning, scheming, devising, and deceiving to get what he wanted. Now, he is rendered helpless. All his strength was taken away; and he clings to Christ, saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
“Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee!”
Not only did he say, “I will not let thee go;” he said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
“The battle is not over for Jacob until he is assured of the Lord’s permanent blessing upon him and his peace within him. This was a life or death struggle for Jacob, a battle that would not be fought again. He had heard the promises of God’s blessings. Now, he wanted them in truth. He was still Jacob, his past clouded with sin. He was a wanderer in a strange country and must still face Esau, his angry brother. He knew he was no better off for this experience unless the Lord gave him his approval, acceptance, and presence.” - (Henry Mahan)
The one great blessing Jacob sought from Christ was the assurance of God’s favor!
“Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find!”
V. “AND HE SAID UNTO HIM, WHAT IS THY NAME? AND HE SAID, JACOB. AND HE SAID, THY NAME SHALL BE CALLED NO MORE JACOB, BUT ISRAEL: FOR AS A PRINCE THOU HAST POWER WITH GOD AND WITH MEN, AND HAST PREVAILED” (vv. 27-28).
Now notice three things in these two verses:
A. Jacob was made to confess his name.
When the Lord said, “What is thy name?” it was not for his information, but for Jacob’s humiliation and instruction. God forced Jacob to acknowledge who and what he was.
“My name is Jacob.” I am a cheat, a supplanter, a deceiver. I hold the birthright by my own efforts. And all my efforts are sin. I am Jacob, the sinner.
B. God gave him a new name - “Israel”.
This name, Israel, implies royalty, sonship, acceptance, and favor with God. It means, “Prince with God.” Israel is one who has power with God, because he has favor with God. This was not the result of Jacob’s will, his works, or his worth. It was the gift of God’s free grace (John 1:11-13; Rom. 9:15-16; Eph. 1:3-7).
The name Israel also means, “God commands.” Israel is one whose life is commanded and ruled not by self, or by satan, or by the world, or by circumstances, but by God.
C. As a prince, Jacob had power with God and with men, and prevailed.
His new name, Israel, was a constant reminder to Jacob that his success, his strength, his blessings, indeed, all that he had and experienced which made him to differ with and prevail over men was the gift of God’s grace, the result of God’s command, not the result of his own excellence (1 Cor. 4:7).
VI. “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” (v. 29).
Jacob was a subdued man; but his flesh was not yet destroyed. In curiosity, he asked and tried to pry into that which was not yet revealed. Pride dared to seek familiarity with the Almighty. God refused to tell him his name. Jacob must believe God within the scope of his revelation. Faith demands no more than God reveals!
Yet, in spite of this sinful curiosity, the Lord confirmed his blessing to Jacob - The blessings of grace are unconditional and free!
VII. “AND JACOB CALLED THE NAME OF THE PLACE PENIEL: FOR I HAVE SEEN GOD FACE TO FACE,A ND MY LIFE IS PRESERVED” (v. 30).
This was much more than a mere emotional experience. Jacob had met the living God. The hand of God had touched him. He had personally encountered his Redeemer. And God, who might have justly killed him, blessed him with life (Rom. 8:33-34). What a small thing it would be for him now to meet Esau! He who has met God and lived has no need to fear anything or anyone!
VIII. “AND AS HE PASSED OVER PENUEL THE SUN ROSE UPON HIM, AND HE HALTED UPON HIS THIGH” (v. 31).
Let me show you three things as I bring this message to its conclusion.
A. As Jacob left Penuel “the sun rose upon him.”
This was a token of God’s favor.
· “The Sun of Righteousness” rises and shines upon those who are blessed of God (Mal. 4:2).
· “The path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
B. While Jacob walked with God, he “halted upon his thigh.”
The sinew of his thigh “shrank”, but it was not removed. And though God, by his grace, subdues our flesh, he does not remove it while we live in this world. We will go halting through this world, forcing us to lean upon Christ. God will not allow us to trust ourselves!
C. Religious men and women who never experience God’s grace will always substitute idolatrous superstition and works for the knowledge of Christ and his grace (v. 32).
John Gill says that the Jews have an entire chapter in the Misnah giving rules concerning the eating of the sinew of any animal which is upon the hollow of the thigh, telling men how to cut it out, and demanding that any who eat a piece, even the size of an olive, are to be beaten with forty stripes!