In Genesis 25:23, God gives the promise concerning Jacob and his older brother, Esau, before they were even born: “The older shall serve the younger.” God’s promise was there from the beginning.

 

But despite that fact, Jacob lived his life trying to fulfill the promise through his own scheming and clever plans. What a man he was! He was bold enough and clever enough to steal his brother’s birthright and trick his father into blessing him instead of Esau.

 

Because of the tension now between him and his brother, Jacob fled to his uncle Laban’s house for safety. While en route, he had a dream in which he saw the angels ascending and descending. God promised to make Jacob’s descendants great and to bless him and bring him back to his homeland.

 

But still, Jacob wanted to do things his own way. He bargained with God, saying, “If you’ll let me just continue in the way I am going and keep me safe and feed me, then when I come back I will build a temple for You. I will give tithes” (paraphrase, see Genesis 28:20–22).

 

He still would not give up his own ways. He still would not break. When he finally reached his uncle Laban’s house, he soon discovered he was a man twice as conniving as himself. The medicine Jacob had dished out to his brother and his father was now returned to him a hundredfold. For 14 years he labored under his uncle, still scheming and planning to increase his wealth in his own way. God was trying to use Laban to break Jacob, but still he resisted.

 

Sick and tired of living with Laban, Jacob decided it was time to leave. So with all his livestock, his wife and children, he ran from his uncle, planning to return home. While on his way, he heard that Esau was coming out to meet them. Afraid of what Esau’s reaction might be, Jacob, still scheming and relying on his own ways, sent his servants, livestock, wives and children ahead of himself to meet Esau. He reasoned that if they got killed, at least he would still be safe. He was still looking after his own interests.

 

He was still unwilling to give everything to God and let Him work it out. He still would not surrender.

 

Wrestling with God

 

Finally, after 20 years of running in his own strength, in his own cleverness, in his own scheming and planning and plotting, all by himself and out in the desert, he met God.

 

Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said,

 

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:24–28).