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).

 

How can anyone wrestle with God and win? It reminds me of when my son, Daniel, was a little boy. I used to wrestle with him, and he would win every match.

 

This seems to be how God does it with us. He lets us win, but not the way we want to win. After wrestling with God, Jacob was not the same. He became a cripple; from then on he walked with a limp. But he won that night because he admitted who he was—Jacob, meaning schemer and deceiver—and finally let God break him.

 

Once a friend of mine called from overseas, dealing with a situation in which he was trying to work things out with his own planning and scheming, not realizing God was trying to break him.

 

Troubled by a situation in which he was being taken advantage of, my friend, according to the law, could rightfully press charges and bring justice to his situation. When I heard him leaning toward this route, my response was one of shock. “I am surprised that you would even think those thoughts!” I said. “Your safety is not in any of these things. It is in the Lord. Why must you fight for your rights? The Bible says when the Levites’ rights were taken away, their properties were taken away, their houses were taken away, and their lands were taken away, they gave it up gladly and never went after it. That is the way you should be following.”

 

This is a modern-day example of how we can delay the Lord’s work of brokenness in our lives by our own planning and scheming. Thank God my friend saw this to be the correct response and used this situation as an opportunity to walk in humility and let the Lord be his defender.

 

In each of our lives, the Lord brings us Labans and difficult circumstances—either financial setbacks, failures, sickness, and so on—to break us. Through these things, God is continually trying to break us—not to destroy us, but to bless us. Only after the cross comes the resurrection. Only after the cross comes glory.