This is another big day, but it will be worth it, I promise! We'll use a fair amount of commentary, because it's so insightful and this passage is so rich in meaning for us today. I have edited slightly for clarity. And remember, after Genesis, these entries will not generally be so long. But Genesis is too important to neglect!
32:24-25 Commentary: A Man wrestles with Jacob. Jacob didn't wrestle with the Man; instead, a Man wrestled with him. Jacob didn't start out wanting anything from God. God wanted something from him. God wanted all of Jacob's proud self-reliance and fleshly scheming and had come to take it, by force if necessary.
As the verses show, this was no mere man. This is another "special appearance" of Jesus before His incarnation in Bethlehem. This is God in human form. We can only imagine what this scene looked like. Perhaps sometimes it looked like a bar room brawl, and perhaps at other times it looked like an intense wrestling match. How did Jacob ever manage to keep up his struggle throughout the entire night? I do not know. But I do know that his determination to hang in there was no greater than our frequent determination to have our own way and eventually win out over God." (Boice)
As the fight progressed, it seemed Jacob was pretty evenly matched, but the match was only even in appearance; the Man could have won easily at any time, using supernatural power. Sometimes we may feel we really can contend with God. A man or woman in rebellion against God might seem to be doing pretty well. But the "match" is even in appearance only. God can turn the tide at any moment, and is only allowing the "match" to go on to accomplish a greater purpose in our lives.
It isn't hard to imagine Jacob working so hard and feeling he is getting the best of his "opponent," until he is suddenly defeated in an instant. How defeated Jacob must have felt!
32:26 Jacob's plea to the Man. The Man lets Jacob know this can't go on indefinitely. Even though Jacob is clinging to him desperately, Jacob has lost. A better, greater Man has defeated Jacob. This is an invaluable place for everyone to come to: where God conquers us. There is something to be said for every man doing his "wrestling" with God, and then acknowledging God's greatness after having been defeated. We must know we serve a God who is greater than us, and we cannot conquer much of anything until He conquers us.
How do we know God has conquered Jacob? How do we know he isn't just dictating another command to God when he says, "I will not let You go unless You bless me?" Hosea 12:3-5 makes it clear: "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us; that is, the Lord God of hosts. The Lord is His memorable name."
Jacob sought this blessing with weeping. He knew he was defeated, yet desperately wanted a blessing from this Greater One. According to his past, Jacob was always clever and sneaky enough so he never felt the need to trust in God alone. Now he can only rely on the blessing of God. Jacob has been reduced to the place where all he can do is hold on to the Lord with everything he has. Jacob can't fight anymore, but he can hold on. Not a bad place to be.
Here, God is answering Jacob's prayer in Genesis 32:9-12. But before Jacob could be delivered from the hand of his brother, he had to be delivered from his own self-will and self-reliance. Jacob thought the real enemy was outside of him, being Esau. The real enemy was his own carnal, fleshly nature, which had not been conquered by God (Julie adds: so TRUE!).
32:27-29 Jacob's name is changed, and he is a blessed man. Jacob must have felt a sense of shame, admitting his name was "Jacob," meaning "con-man, sneaky, cheater." Yet, this was who he was, and Jacob had no choice but to admit to it. It's human nature to want to name ourselves favorably (put on a good front), but God wouldn't allow Jacob to cover up his name or his character. But after this encounter with God, something has changed in Jacob, and God changes his name to reflect that inner change. Israel is a compound of two words: sarah (meaning, "fight," "struggle," or "rule") and el (meaning, "God"). Some have taken the name Israel to mean, "He who struggles with God" or "He who rules with God." But in Hebrew names, sometimes God is not the object of the verb, but the subject. Daniel means "God judges," not "he judges God." So this principle shows us Israel means, "God rules."
From this point on, he will be called Jacob twice as often as he is called Israel. Apparently, there was still plenty of the "old man" left in Jacob. In what sense had Jacob prevailed? In the sense he had endured through his struggle until God had thoroughly conquered him. When you battle with God, you only win by losing and by not giving up until you know you have lost. This is how Jacob prevailed. What was the blessing the Man gave to Jacob? Surely, it was the blessing of being defeated by God. It was the blessing of the passing of the old (Jacob) life, and the coming of a new (Israel) life. It may also have had to do with the great idea of the blessing of Abraham, and meeting Jacob's immediate needs for security in the midst of fear. Whatever Jacob needed, God's blessing provided at the moment.
A little testimony moment: I have been Jacob and experienced my epic wrestling night with God in 1998. Luckily, I did not get a dislocated hip, but I did experience an unprecedented breakthrough in my trust and intimacy with God from that moment until this day. It happened when I was single after divorce. I had always tried to fill the emptiness in my life with pursuing attention from men, instead of pursuing God. My life was shattered from living in this self-made way. My marriage to a man of my own choosing had turned to ashes and then come to a brutal end. Along with that, I had committed great sins trying to look for relief from my pain and emptiness. I had absolutely nothing to show for trying to fix all my own problems.
At this time (in 1998), I was at a pivotal place where I had to choose. I had to choose to continue to live by my old identity and character, or I had to choose to live by a new identity in obedience and submission to God. The old ways of my own will had led to such emptiness, but I was so afraid to trust God to lead me to a new place where He promised blessing and peace. I didn't quite trust Him that much yet, and all I knew was my old ways. I knew nothing of this new life He held out, so it was terrifying to me to give up "the known" for "the unknown." I had to wrestle it out with God until He finally conquered me. It was truly so similar to this story. And the rest is His-story! My life has been unbelievably blessed in so many ways since then. I wish I could tell you more, but that's all we have time for. If you are struggling against God, I urge you to let Him conquer you.
One more beautiful thing. Someday Jesus will give us each a new name that will reflect our new identity in Him. "And I will write my God's name on them, and they will be citizens in the city of my God - the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And they will have my new name inscribed upon them (Revelation 2:12)."
11:13 For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. Have we not begun to see this, as early as Genesis? We will discover together throughout our readings this year, every single book of the Bible testifies to the coming Messiah! It is so amazing, like a carefully scripted 3-Act play. Act I: Man's need for a Messiah (Savior) is established. Act II: Messiah comes to make peace between man and God. Act III: Messiah reigns with His people forever. You could also make that shorter. Act I: Birth (of man). Act II: Death (of Jesus). Act III: New Life (Eternity). Keep in mind, the Old Testament was written long before Jesus made His appearance on stage. Also remember that Jesus often referred back to the Old Testament, trying to show people how the pieces were fitting together to reveal Him as the One whom they waited for.
11:14 Commentary: John came in partial fulfillment of Malachi 4:5. He was not actually Elijah, but he ministers in the same in spirit and power of Elijah, thus fulfilling his "office" (Luke 1:17). Elijah did come in fact during Jesus' ministry, during the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). But he will come again before the Second Coming of Jesus, likely as one of the two prophets of Revelation 11:3-12.
A great conversation starter with an atheist...
Christian: Hey, buddy. Did you know the Bible says, "There is no God?"
Atheist: Really? The Bible says that? It's about time those Christians got with the program!
Christian: Yep, it's right here in Psalm 14:1: Only fools say in their hearts, "There is no God."
Gotta love it!
Questions for personal reflection:
Have you ever thought about wrestling out your area of distrust/disobedience/habit sin with God? Next time you are tempted to head into a habit sin or area of rebellion, why don't you give it a try?
Have you ever thought about the fact that your real enemies are not those outside, but the one on the inside who sabotages many good things God has for you before they ever see the light of day?
What is a habit (cherished) sin that you cling to for dear life? What benefits has this sin brought into your life? What harm? In what ways has it held back your dreams? What are you afraid of in submitting this area to God?