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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Genesis 32

 

 

Verse 1

Genesis 32:1; Genesis 32:9

And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim

The ministry of angels

I. THE ANGELS THEMSELVES.

1. Their number is very great.

2. They are swift as the flames of fire.

3. They are strong.

4. They seem to be all young.

5. They are evidently endowed with corresponding moral excellences.

II. THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS HAS THESE CHARACTERISTICS. It is a ministry of--

1. Guardianship.

2. Cheerfulness.

3. Animation.

4. Consolation.

5. Fellowship and convoy through death to life, and from earth to heaven.

III. THE WHOLE SUBJECT SHOWS IN A VERY STRIKING MANNER--

1. The exceeding greatness of the glory of Christ.

2. The value and greatness of salvation. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Angelic ministrations

Every man has two lives--an outward and an inward. The one is that denoted here: “Jacob went on his way,” &c. The other is denoted in Genesis 32:24 : “Jacob was left alone,” &c. In either state God dealt with him.

I. THE ANGELS OF GOD MET HIM, We do not know in what form they appeared, or by what sign Jacob recognized them. In its simplicity the angelic office is a doctrine of revelation. There exists even now a society and a fellowship between the sinless and the fallen. As man goes on his way, the angels of God meet him.

II. ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY RECOGNIZE AND USE THIS SYMPATHY?

1. The angelic office is sometimes discharged in human form. We may entertain angels unawares. Let us count common life a ministry; let us be on the look-out for angels.

2. We must exercise a vigorous self-control lest we harm or tempt. Our Saviour has warned us of the presence of the angels as a reason for not offending His little ones. Their angels He calls them, as though to express the closeness of the tie that binds together the unfallen and the struggling. We may gather from the story two practical lessons.

Meeting with angels

I. The angels of God meet us on THE DUSTY ROAD OF COMMON LIFE.

II. God’s angels meet us PUNCTUALLY at the hour of need.

III. The angels of God come IN THE SHAPE WHICH WE NEED. Jacob’s want was protection; therefore the angels appear in warlike guise, and present before the defenceless man another camp. God’s gifts to us change their character; as the Rabbis fabled that manna tasted to each man what each most desired. In that great fulness each of us may have the thing we need. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Jacob’s visible and invisible world

I. JACOB’S VISIBLE WORLD. He had just escaped the persecutions of his father-in-law, and was now expecting to meet with a fiercer enemy in his brother. All was dread and anxiety.

II. JACOB’S INVISIBLE WORLD. What a different scene is presented to him when his spiritual eye is opened, and God permits him to see those invisible forces which were engaged on his side. We are told that “the angels of God met him.” He was weak to all human appearance; but he was really strong, for God’s host had come to deliver him from any host of men that might oppose. The host of God is described as parting into two bands, as if to protect him behind and before; or to assure him that as he had been delivered from one enemy, so he would be delivered from another enemy, which was coming forth to meet him. Thus Jacob was taught--

1. To whom he owed his late mercies.

2. The true source of his protection.

3. His faith is confirmed. It is justified for the past, and placed upon a firmer basis for the future. (T. H. Leale.)

Hosts of angels

1. God has a multitude of servants, and all these are on the side of believers. “His camp is very great,” and all the hosts in that camp are our allies. Some of these are visible agents, and many more are invisible, but none the less real and powerful.

2. We know that a guard of angels always surrounds every believer. “Omnipotence has servants everywhere.” These servants of the strong God are all filled with power; there is not one that fainteth among them all, they run like mighty men, they prevail as men of war. We know that they “excel in strength,” as they “do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.” Rejoice, O children of God! There are vast armies upon your side, and each one of the warriors is clothed with the strength of God.

3. All these agents work in order, for it is God’s host, and the host is made up of beings which march or fly, according to the order of command. “Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path.” All the forces of nature are loyal to their Lord. They are perfectly happy, because consecrated; full of delight, because completely absorbed in doing the will of the Most High. Oh that we could do His will on earth as that will is done in heaven by all the heavenly ones!

4. Observe that in this great host they were all punctual to the Divine command. Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. The patriarch is no sooner astir than the hosts of God are on the wing. They did not linger till Jacob had crossed the frontier, nor did they keep him waiting when he came to the appointed rendezvous; but they were there to the moment. When God means to deliver you, beloved, in the hour of danger, you will find the appointed force ready for your succour. God’s messengers are neither behind nor before their time; they will meet us to the inch and to the second in the time of need; therefore let us proceed without fear, like Jacob, going on our way even though an Esau with a band of desperadoes should block up the road.

5. Those forces of God, too, were all engaged personally to attend upon Jacob. I like to set forth this thought: “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him”; he did not chance to fall in with them. They did not happen to be on the march, and so crossed the patriarch’s track; no, no; he went on his way, and the angels of God met him with design and purpose. They came on purpose to meet him: they had no other appointment. Squadrons of angels marched to meet that one lone man He was a saint, but by no means a perfect one; we cannot help seeing many flaws in him, even upon a superficial glance at his life, and yet the angels of God met him. All came to wait upon Jacob, on that one man: “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him”; but in this case it was to one man with his family of children that a host was sent. The man himself, the lone man who abode in covenant with God when all the rest of the world was given up to idols, was favoured by this mark of Divine favour. One delights to think that the angels should be willing, and even eager, troops of them, to meet one man. Are ye not well cared for, oh ye sons of the Most High!

6. Those forces, though in themselves invisible to the natural senses, are manifest to faith at certain times. There are times when the child of God is able to cry, like Jacob, “The angels of God have met me.” When do such seasons occur? Our Mahanaims occur at much the same time as that in which Jacob beheld this great sight. Jacob was entering upon a more separated life. He was leaving Laban and the school of all those tricks of bargaining and bartering which belong to the ungodly world. By a desperate stroke he cut himself clear of entanglements; but he must have felt lonely, and as one cast adrift. He missed all the associations of the old house of Mesopotamia, which, despite its annoyances, was his home. The angels come to congratulate him. Their presence said, “You are come to this land to be a stranger and sojourner with God, as all your fathers were. We have, some of us, talked with Abraham, again and again, and we are now coming to smile on you. You recollect how we bade you good-bye that night, when you had a stone for your pillow at Bethel; now you have come back to the reserved inheritance, over which we are set as guardians, and we have come to salute you. Take up the nonconforming life without fear, for we are with you. Welcome I welcome I we are glad to receive you under our special care.” Again, the reason why the angels met Jacob at that time was, doubtless, because he was surrounded with great cares. He had a large family of little children; and great flocks and herds and many servants were with him. Again, the Lord’s host appeared when Jacob felt a great dread. His brother Esau was coming to meet him armed to the teeth, and, as he feared, thirsty for his blood. In times when our danger is greatest, if we are real believers, we shall be specially under the Divine protection, and we shall know that it is so. This shall be our comfort in the hour of distress. And, once again, when you and I, like Jacob, shall be near Jordan, when we shall just be passing into the better land, then is the time when we may expect to come to Mahanaim. The angels of God and the God of angels, both come to meet the spirits of the blessed in the solemn article of death.

7. Thus I have mentioned the time when these invisible forces become visible to faith; and there is no doubt whatever that they are sent for a purpose. Why were they sent to Jacob at this time? Perhaps the purpose was first to revive an ancient memory which had well-nigh slipped from him. I am afraid he had almost forgotten Bethel. Surely it must have brought his vow at Bethel to mind, the vow which he made unto the Lord when he saw the ladder, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Here they were; they had left heaven and come down that they might hold communion with him. Mahanaim was granted to Jacob, not only to refresh his memory, but to lift him out of the ordinary low level of his life. Jacob, you know, the father of all the Jews, was great at huckstering: it was the very nature of him to drive bargains. Jacob had all his wits about him, and rather more than he should have had, well answering to his name of “supplanter.” He would let no one deceive him, and he was ready at all times to take advantage of those with whom he had any dealings. Here the Lord seems to say to him, “O Jacob, My servant, rise out of this miserable way of dealing with Me, and be of a princely mind.” Oh for grace to live according to our true position and character, not as poor dependents upon our own wits or upon the help of man, but as grandly independent of things seen, because our entire reliance is fixed upon the unseen and eternal. Believe as much in the invisible as in the visible, and act upon your faith. This seems to me to be God’s object in giving to any of His servants a clearer view of the powers which are engaged on their behalf. If such a special vision be granted to us, let us keep it in memory. Jacob called the name of that place Mahanaim. I wish we had some way in this western world, in these modern times, of naming places, and children, too, more sensibly. We must needs either borrow some antiquated title, as if we were too short of sense to make one for ourselves, or else our names are sheer nonsense, and mean nothing. Why not choose names which should commemorate our mercies? (C. H.Spurgeon.)

God’s host

I. THE PATH OF COMMON DUTIES IN DAILY LIFE IS THE BEST AND SUREST WAY TO HEAVENLY VISIONS. Jacob’s track lay downward to the deep valley, and through its shadows to the fords of Jordan. So, if our life is led downward, through toil and care and sorrow, heaven may open as freely above it as on the hill-tops. All know how the proof of a soldier is given on the march as much as in battle; and it is so in common life. But in spiritual application there is a difference: the rewards of men are won only on the field; but our Divine Commander observes and honours equally those equally faithful in the daily march, in farm, or shop, or household, or in the shut-in camp of sickness those “faithful in that which is least.”

II. GOD’S CARE OVER THOSE THAT FEAR HIM.

III. GOD’S WAY OF APPEARING FOR MAN’S HELP. (W. H. Randall.)

Lessons

1. Laban’s departure and Jacob’s progress are adjoining. Oppressors retreat and saints advance.

2. God’s servants are careful to move in their own way enjoined by God.

3. In their way commanded, God appoints His angels to meet them Psalms 91:2; Psalms 91:4). God with His angels appears to comfort His, after conflicts with their adversaries (verse 1).

5. God sometimes affords His visible helps unto visible troubles for His saints’ support.

6. God’s angels are God’s mighty host indeed, and that in the judgment of the saints.

7. Not single angels but troops God appoints for the guard of single saints.

8. God’s saints desire to call mercies by their right names. God’s angels are called God’s hosts.

9. It is proper to God’s saved ones, to leave memorials of God’s strength in saving them (verse 2). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Mahanaim

I cannot tell, for Scripture says not, in what form they appeared, or by what sign Jacob recognized them. It is perhaps in the most general view of the passage that its truest comfort lies. It matters not to us what the Patriarchs thought or knew of the ministry of angels, so long as we ourselves recognize the true place of that ministry in the economy of God. In its simplicity, the angelic office is a doctrine of revelation. There are beings beside and (for the present) above man; beings, like him, intelligent, rational, spiritual; beings capable, like him, of knowing, loving, and communing with God; beings, unlike him, pure from the stain of sin--tried once, as all moral natures must be tried, by the alternative of loyalty or self-pleasing--yet faithful among the faithless through that great ordeal, and now for ever secured by the seal of that holiness which they have chosen. Man is not yet, save in one single aspect, the head and the chief of all God’s creation. In the person of the God-Man he has the pledge indeed that one day he shall be so. But as yet, when the eye of faith looks upward through the infinite space, it discerns essences in all things equal to the human, and in their sinlessness superior; it sees those who in heaven’s primeval warfare sided with God and conquered--left not their original estate, nor despised their first habitation. The existence of a nature purer than man’s, more refined in its enjoyments and more elevated in its converse, presents no practical difficulty to the thoughtful. We find nothing but refreshment and nothing but encouragement in the belief that above as well as beneath us are beings performing perfectly the law of their creation; spirits that see God’s face, as well as animals instinctively true to God’s order. Man only mars the sweet accord: higher existences have not fallen, lower existences could not fall. If for man God has provided a redemption, then may there be in the end a restoration of that original perfection in which God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. That contrast which shames shall also comfort. But how much more when we read in the sure word of revelation that there exists even now a society and a fellowship between the sinless and the fallen! As man goes on his way, the angels of God meet him. In all his ways they have charge of him, that he dash not his foot against a stone. That which God has done for man, angels desire to look into. Angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. Angels spend not their immortal age in abject prostration, or in delicious dreamy contemplation: rather do they excel in strength, doing God’s commandments, hearkening (for obedience sake) to the voice of God’s Word. When God spake to man from a material mountain, His holy ones were around Him: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; and the Lord is among them, as in the holy place of Sinai.” Theirs were those wondrous utterances, which Israel took for the voice of the trumpet, sounding long, and waxing louder and louder; theirs those fearful manifestations of blinding smoke and consuming fire, amidst which the Lord descended, while all the people that was in the camp trembled; theirs, it may be, the hewing and the graving of those tables of stone, on which were written, as by God’s finger, the words of His first testimony. The law was ordained by angels; the law was given by the disposition of angels; the word spoken by angels was steadfast. And if even that temporary, that parenthetical dispensation was thus introduced by the ministry of angels; if man’s recovery was dear to them, even in its earlier and more imperfect stages, while he was but learning his lesson of weakness, and heaving his first sighs after forgiveness and sanctification--well can we understand how they might herald a Saviour’s birth, and soothe a Saviour’s sorrows; strengthen Him in His agony, and minister in His tomb; proclaim His resurrection, predict His advent, and greet at the everlasting doors the return of the King of glory. Not even there, nor then, did their ministry terminate. He Himself has told us how in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, there is joy still over each sinner that repenteth; how His little ones below, His weak and tempted disciples, have their angels ever in heaven, beholding the face of His Father; how angels carry dying saints into Abraham’s bosom; and how, in the last great crisis of the world’s harvest, it is they who shall execute the reapers’ office, gather together His elect from the four winds, and gather also out of His kingdom all things that offend. Wheresoever there is a work to be done as between God and man, there is the great ladder still reared, and the angels of God are ascending and descending by it. Ministering spirits are they still; and man’s best wish for himself is that he may at last be enabled to do as well as to suffer God’s will, even as they, the inmates of heaven, have from the beginning borne and done it. Thy will be done, he prays, as in heaven, so on earth. Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. We know not how extensive, and we know not how minute, may be that ministration even in the things that are seen. We know not what angelic workings may be concealed behind the phenomena of nature, or latent in the accidents and the escapes of human life. We know not how, in seasons of mortal weakness or of fiendish temptation, we may be indebted to their instrumentality for the reviving courage or the resisting strength. We dare not say but that even the indwelling Spirit may avail Himself of their ministry to assist or to protect, to invigorate or to reanimate. This we know--for the Word of God has told us--that one portion of that holy communion and fellowship to which the citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem has come, not only in hope, but in present union and incorporation, is an innumerable company of angels. I read not these words as glimpses only of a glorious future, but as expressive of a present trust and a practical help and aid. The sympathy of angels is one of the Christian’s privileges. Are there any special ways in which we may recognize and use this sympathy? As we go on our way, can we in any special manner hope to meet the angels?

1. An apostle speaks of entertaining angels unawares. He says that the duty of hospitality may be exercised in this remembrance--thereby some have entertained angels. It is so still. The angelic office is discharged sometimes in human form. Let us count common life a ministry: let us, in common life, be on the look-out for angels!

2. And more especially, in the exercise of a vigilant self-control, lest we harm or tempt. Our Saviour Himself has warned us of the presence of the angels as a reason for not offending--that is, for not thwarting and not tempting--His little ones. Beware, careless parent! beware, sinful brother! beware, false friend! That child, that boy, that youth, has his angel, and the home of that angel is the heaven of God l (Dean Vaughan.)

God’s host always near

We who live in this matter-of-fact and mechanical age are apt to think that it was a wrapt and wondrous life which the patriarch led in that old time, when he could meet God’s host among the hills, and could see convoys of bright angels like the burning clouds of sunset hovering round him in the solitudes of the mountains. But God’s host is always nearer than we are apt to suppose in the dark hours of trial and conflict. The angels have not yet forsaken the earth, nor have they ceased to protect the homes and journeys of good men. Heaven and earth are nearer each other now than they were when Jacob saw God’s host in the broad day and Abraham entertained the Divine messengers under the shadow of the oak at noon. The spiritual world is all around us, and its living inhabitants are our fellow-servants and companions in all our work for God and for our own salvation. The inhabitants of heaven find more friends and acquaintances on earth now than they did in former times. It is not from any want of interest in the affairs of men that they do not now meet us in the daily walks of life or speak to us in the dreams of the night. If we do not see angels come and take us by the hand and lead us out of danger, as they led Lot out of Sodom, it is not because they have ceased to come, or because they fail to guard us when we need protection. We must not think that God was more interested in the world in ancient times, when He spoke by miracles and prophets and apostles, than He is now when He speaks by His written word and by His holy providence. The heart of the Infinite Father never yearned toward His earthly children with a deeper or more tender compassion than now. There never was a time when God was doing more to govern, to instruct, and to save the world than He is doing now. To those who look for Him the tokens of His presence are manifest everywhere; the voice of His providence is in every wind; every path of life is covered with the overshadowings of His glory. To the devout mind this world, which has been consecrated by the sacrificial blood of the cross, is only the outer court of the everlasting temple in which God sits enthroned, with the worshipping hosts of the blessed around Him. We need only a pure heart to see God as much in the world now as He was when He talked with men face to face. He speaks in all the discoveries of science, in all the inventions of heart, in all the progress of the centuries, in everything which enriches life and enlarges the resources of men. All the great conflicts and agitations of society prove that God is on the field. We need only add the faith of the patriarchs to the science of the philosophers, and we shall find Bethels in the city and in the solitude, Mahanaims in every day’s march in the journey of life (D. March, D. D.)

Angelic ministration

I did not see, early in the morning, the flight of all those birds that filled all the bushes and all the orchard trees, but they were there, though I did not see their coming, and heard their songs afterwards. It does not matter whether you have ministered to you yet those perceptions by which you perceive angelic existence. The fact that we want to bear in mind is, that we are environed by them, that we move in their midst. How, where, what the philosophy is, whether it be spiritual philosophy, no man can tell, and they least that think they know most about it. The fact which we prize and lay hold of is this, that angelic ministration is a part, not of the heavenly state, but of the universal condition of men, and that as soon as we become Christ’s we come not to the home of the living God, but to the “innumerable company of angels.” (H. W.Beecher.)

Angels on the path of life

Though no vision is vouchsafed to our mortal eyes, yet angels of God are with us oftener than we know, and to the pure heart every home is a Bethel, and every path of life a Penuel and a Mahanaim. In the outer world and the inner world, we see and meet continually these messengers of God. Wrestle with them in faith and prayer they are angels with hands full of immortal gifts; to those who neglect or use them ill they are angels with drawn sword and scathing flame.

I. The earliest angel is the angel of youth. Do not think that you can retain him long. Use, as wise stewards, this blessed portion of your lives. Remember that as your faces are setting into the look which they shall wear in later years, so is it with your lives.

II. Next is the angel of innocent pleasure. Trifle not with this angel. Remember that in heathen mythology the Lord of Pleasure is also the God of Death. Guilty pleasure there is; guilty happiness there is not on earth.

III. There are the angels of time and opportunity. They are with us now, and we may unclench from their conquered hands garlands of immortal flowers. Hallow each new day in your morning prayer, for prayer, too, is an angel--an angel who can turn “pollution into purity, sinners into penitents, and penitents into saints.”

IV. There is one angel with whom we must wrestle whether we will or no, and whose power of curse or blessing we cannot alter--the angel of death. (Archdeacon Farrar.)


Verses 1-32

JACOB AT PENIEL

Genesis 32:1-32

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." James 4:10

JACOB had a double reason for wishing to leave Padan-aram. He believed in the promise of God to give him Canaan: and he saw that Laban was a man with whom he could never be on a thoroughly good understanding. He saw plainly that Laban was resolved to make what he could out of his skill at as cheap a rate as possible-the characteristic of a selfish, greedy, ungrateful, and therefore, in the end, ill-served master. Laban and Esau were the two men who had hitherto chiefly influenced Jacob’s life. But they were very different in character. Esau could never see that there was any important difference between himself and Jacob-except that his brother was trickier. Esau was the type of those who honestly think that there is not much in religion, and that saints are but white-washed sinners. Laban, on the contrary, is almost superstitiously impressed by the distinction between God’s people and others. But the chief practical, issue of this impression is, not that he seeks God’s friendship for himself, but that he tries to make a profitable use of God’s friends. He seeks to get God’s blessing, as it were, at secondhand. If men could be related to God indirectly, as if in law and not by blood, that would suit Laban. If God would admit men to his inheritance on any other terms than being sons in the direct line, if there were some relationship once removed, a kind of sons-in-law, so that mere connection with the godly, though not with God, would win His blessing, this would suit Laban.

Laban is the man who appreciates the social value of virtue, truthfulness, fidelity, temperance, godliness, but wishes to enjoy their fruits without the pain of cultivating the qualities themselves. He is scrupulous as to the character of those he takes into his employment, and seeks to connect himself in business with good men. In his domestic life he acts on the idea which his experience has suggested to him, that persons really godly will make his home more peaceful, better regulated, safer than otherwise it might be. If he holds a position of authority, he knows how to make use, for the preservation of order and for the promotion of his own ends, of the voluntary efforts of Christian societies, of the trustworthiness of Christian officials, and of the support of the Christian community. But with all this recognition of the reality and influence of godliness, he never for one moment entertains the idea of himself becoming a godly man. In all ages there are Labans, who clearly recognise the utility and worth of a connection with God, who have been much mixed up with persons in whom that worth was very conspicuous, and who yet, at the last, "depart and return unto their place," like Jacob’s father-in-law, without having themselves entered into any affectionate relations with God.

From Laban, then, Jacob was resolved to escape. And though to escape with large droves of slow-moving sheep and cattle, as well as with many women and children, seemed hopeless, the cleverness of Jacob did not fail him here. He did not get beyond reach of pursuit; he could never have expected to do so. But he stole away to such a distance from Haran as made it much easier for him to come to terms with Laban, and much more difficult for Laban to try any further device for detaining him.

But, delivered as he was from Laban, he had an even more formidable person to deal with, As soon as Laban’s company disappear on the northern horizon, Jacob sends messengers south to sound Esau. His message is so contrived as to beget the idea in Esau’s mind that his younger brother is a person of some importance, and yet is prepared to show greater deference to himself than formerly. But the answer brought back by the messengers is the curt and haughty despatch of the man of war to the man of peace. No notice is taken of Jacob’s vaunted wealth. No proposal of terms as if Esau had an equal to deal with, is carried back. There is only the startling announcement: "Esau cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him." Jacob at once recognises the significance of this armed advance on Esau’s part. Esau has not forgotten the wrong he suffered at Jacob’s hands, and he means to show him that he is entirely in his power.

Therefore was Jacob "greatly afraid and distressed." The joy with which, a few days ago, he had greeted the host of God, was quite overcast by the tidings brought him regarding the host of Esau. Things heavenly do always look so like a mere show; visits of angels seem so delusive and fleeting; the exhibition of the powers of heaven seems so often but as a tournament painted on the sky, and so unavailable for the stern encounters that await us on earth, that one seems, even after the most impressive of such displays, to be left to fight on alone. No wonder Jacob is disturbed. His wives and dependants gather round him in dismay; the children, catching the infectious panic, cower with cries and weeping about their mothers; the whole camp is rudely shaken out of its brief truce by the news of this rough Esau, whose impetuosity and warlike ways they had all heard of and were now to experience. The accounts of the messengers would no doubt grow in alarming descriptive detail as they saw how much importance was attached to their words. Their accounts would also be exaggerated by their own unwarlike nature, and by the indistinctness with which they had made out the temper of Esau’s followers, and the novelty of the equipments of war they had seen in his camp. Could we have been surprised had Jacob turned and fled when thus he was made to picture the troops of Esau sweeping from his grasp all he had so laboriously earned, and snatching the promised inheritance from him when in the very act of entering on possession? But though in fancy he already hears their rude shouts of triumph as they fall upon his defenceless band, and already sees the merciless horde dividing the spoil with shouts of derision and coarse triumph, and though all around him are clamouring to be led into a safe retreat, Jacob sees stretched before him the land that is his, and resolves that, by God’s help, he shall win it. What he does is not the act of a man rendered incompetent through fear, but of one who has recovered from the first shock of alarm and has all his wits about him. He disposes his household and followers in two companies, so that each might advance with the hope that it might be the one which should not meet Esau; and having done all that his circumstances permit, he commends himself to God in prayer.

After Jacob had prayed to God, a happy thought strikes him, which he at once puts in execution. Anticipating the experience of Solomon, that "a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city," he, in the style of a skilled tactician, lays siege to Esau’s wrath, and directs against it train after train of gifts, which, like successive battalions pouring into a breach, might at length quite win his brother. This disposition of his peaceful battering trains having occupied him till sunset, he retires to the short rest of a general on the eve of battle. As soon as he judges that the weaker members of the camp are refreshed enough to begin their eventful march, he rises and goes from tent to tent awaking the sleepers, and quickly forming them into their usual line of march, sends them over the brook in the darkness, and himself is left alone, not with the depression of a man who waits for the inevitable, but with the high spirits of intense activity, and with the return of the old complacent confidence of his own superiority to his powerful but sluggish-minded brother-a confidence regained now by the certainty he felt, at least for the time, that Esau’s rage could not blaze through all the relays of gifts he had sent forward. Having in this spirit seen all his camp across the brook, he himself pauses for a moment; end looks with interest at the stream before him, and at the promised land on its southern bank. This stream, too, has an interest for him as bearing a name like his own-a name that signifies the "struggler," and was given to the mountain torrent from the pain and difficulty with which it seemed to find its way through the hills. Sitting on the bank of the stream, he sees gleaming through the darkness the foam that it churned as it writhed through the obstructing rocks, or heard through the night the roar of its torrent as it leapt downwards, tortuously finding its way towards Jordan; and Jacob says, So will I, opposed though I be, win my way, by the circuitous routes of craft or by the impetuous rush of courage, into the land whither that stream is going. With compressed lips, and step as firm as when, twenty years before, he left the land, he rises to cross the brook and enter the land-he rises, and is seized in a grasp that he at once owns as formidable. But surely this silent close, as of two combatants who at once recognise one another’s strength, this protracted strife, does not look like the act of a depressed man, but of one whose energies have been strung to the highest pitch, and who would have borne down the champion of Esau’s host had he at that hour opposed his entrance into the land which Jacob claimed as his own, and into which, as his glove, pledging himself to follow, he had thrown all that was dear to him in the world. It was no common wrestler that would have been safe to meet him in that mood.

Why, then, was Jacob thus mysteriously held back while his household were quietly moving forward in the darkness? What is the meaning, purpose, and use of this opposition to his entrance? These are obvious from the state of mind Jacob was in. He was going forward to meet Esau under the impression that there was no other reason why he should not inherit the land but only his wrath, and pretty confident that by his superior talent, his mother-wit, he could make a tool of this stupid, generous brother of his. And the danger was, that if Jacob’s device had succeeded, he would have been confirmed in these impressions, and have believed that he had won the land from Esau, with God’s help certainly, but still by his own indomitable pertinacity of purpose and skill in dealing with men. Now, this was not the state of the case at all. Jacob had, by his own deceit. become an exile from the land, had been, in fact, banished for fraud; and though God had confirmed to him the covenant, and promised to him the land, yet Jacob had apparently never come to any such thorough sense of his sin and entire incompetency to win the birthright for himself, as would have made it possible for him to receive simply as God’s gift this land which as God’s gift was alone valuable. Jacob does not yet seem to have taken up the difference between inheriting a thing as God’s gift, and inheriting it as the meed of his own prowess to such a man God cannot give the land; Jacob cannot receive it. He is thinking only of winning it, which is not at all what God means, and which would, in fact, have annulled all the covenant, and lowered Jacob and his people to the level simply of other nations who had to win and keep their territories at their risk, and not as the blessed of God. If Jacob then is to get the land, he must take it as a gift, which he is not prepared to do. During the last twenty years he has got many a lesson which might have taught him to distrust his own management, and he had, to a certain extent, acknowledged God; but his Jacob-nature, his subtle, scheming nature, was not so easily made to stand erect, and still he is for wriggling himself into the promised land. He is coming back to the land under the impression that God needs to be managed; that even though we have His promises it requires dexterity to get them fulfilled; that a man will get into the inheritance all the readier for knowing what to veil from God and what to exhibit; when. to cleave to His word with great profession of most humble and absolute reliance on Him, and when to take matters into one’s own hand. Jacob, in short, was about to enter the land as Jacob, the supplanter, and that would never do; he was going to win the land from Esau by guile, or as he might; and not to receive it from God. And therefore, just as he is going to step into it, there lays hold of him, not an armed emissary of his brother, but a far more formidable antagonist-if Jacob will win the land, if it is to be a mere trial of skill, a wrestling match, it must at least be with the right person. Jacob is met with his own weapons. He has not chosen war, so no armed opposition is made; but with the naked force of his own nature, he is prepared for any man who will hold the land against him; with such tenacity, toughness, quick presence of mind, elasticity, as nature has given him, he is confident he can win and hold his own. So the real proprietor of the land strips himself for the contest, and lets him feel, by the first hold he takes of him, that if the question be one of mere strength he shall never enter the land.

This wrestling therefore was by no means actually or symbolically prayer. Jacob was not aggressive, nor did he stay behind his company to spend the night in praying for them. It was God who came and laid hold on Jacob to prevent him from entering the land in the temper he was in, and as Jacob. He was to be taught that it was not only Esau’s appeased wrath, or his own skilful smoothing down of his brother’s ruffled temper, that gave him entrance; but that a nameless Being, Who came out upon him from the darkness, guarded the land, and that by His passport only could he find entrance. And henceforth, as to every reader of this history so much more to Jacob’s self, the meeting with Esau and the overcoming of his opposition were quite secondary to and eclipsed by his meeting and prevailing with this unknown combatant.

This struggle had, therefore, immense significance for the history of Jacob. It is, in fact, a concrete representation of the attitude he had maintained towards God throughout his previous history; and it constitutes the turning point at which he assumes a new and satisfactory attitude. Year after year Jacob had still retained confidence in himself; he had never been thoroughly humbled, but had always felt himself able to regain the land he had lost by his sin. And in this struggle he shows this same determination and self-confidence. He wrestles on indomitably. As Kurtz, whom I follow in his interpretation of this incident, says, "All along Jacob’s life had been the struggle of a clever and strong, a pertinacious and enduring, a self-confident and self-sufficient person, who was sure of the result only when he helped himself-a contest with God, who wished to break his strength and wisdom, in order to bestow upon him real strength in divine weakness, and real Wisdom in divine folly." All this self-confidence culminates now, and in one final and sensible struggle, his Jacob-nature, his natural propensity to wrest what he desires and win what he aims at, from the most unwilling opponent, does its very utmost and does it in vain. His steady straining, his dexterous feints, his quick gusts of vehement assault, make no impression on this combatant and move him not one foot off his ground. Time after time his crafty nature puts out all its various resources, now letting his grasp relax and feigning defeat, and then with gathered strength hurling himself on the stranger, but all in vain. What Jacob had often surmised during the last twenty years, what had flashed through him like a sudden gleam of light when he found himself-married to Leah, that he was in the hands of one against whom it is quite useless to struggle, he now again begins to suspect. And as the first faint dawn appears, and he begins dimly to make out the face, the quiet breathing of which he had felt on his own during the contest, the man with whom he wrestles touches the strongest sinew in Jacob’s body, and the muscle on which the wrestler most depends shrivels at the touch and reveals to the falling Jacob how utterly futile had been all his skill and obstinacy, and how quickly the stranger might have thrown and mastered him.

All in a moment, as he falls, Jacob sees how it is with him, and Who it is that has met him thus. As the hard, stiff, corded muscle shrivelled, so shrivelled his obdurate, persistent self-confidence. And as he is thrown, yet cleaves with the natural tenacity of a wrestler to his conqueror; so, utterly humbled before this Mighty One whom now he recognises and owns, he yet cleaves to Him and entreats His Blessing. It is at this touch, which discovers the Almighty power of Him with whom he has been contending, that the whole nature of Jacob goes down before God. He sees how foolish and vain has been his obstinate persistence in striving to trick God out of His blessing, or wrest it from Him, and now he owns his utter incapacity to advance one step in this way, he admits to himself that he is stopped, weakened in the way, thrown on his back, and can effect nothing, simply nothing, by what he thought would effect all; and, therefore, he passes from wrestling to praying, and with tears, as Hosea says, sobs out from the broken heart of the strong man, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." In making this transition from the boldness and persistence of self-confidence to the boldness of faith and humility, Jacob becomes Israel-the supplanter, being baffled by his conqueror, rises a Prince. Disarmed of all other weapons, he at last finds and uses the weapons wherewith God is conquered, and with the simplicity and guilelessness now of an Israelite indeed, face to face with God, hanging helpless with his arms around Him, he supplicates the blessing he could not win.

Thus, as Abraham had to become God’s heir in the simplicity of humble dependence on God; as Isaac had to lay himself on God’s altar with absolute resignation, and so become the heir of God, so Jacob enters on the inheritance through the most thorough humbling. Abraham had to give up all possessions and live on God’s promise; Isaac had to give up life itself; Jacob had to yield his very self, and abandon all dependence on his own ability. The new name he receives signalizes and interprets this crisis in his life. He enters his land not as Jacob, but as Israel. The man who crossed the Jabbok was not the same as he who had cheated Esau and outwitted Laban and determinedly striven this morning with the angel He was Israel, God’s prince, entering on the land freely bestowed on him by an authority, none could resist; a man who had learned that in order to receive from God, one must ask.

Very significant to Jacob in his after life must. have been the lameness consequent on this night’s struggle. He, the wrestler, had to go halting all his days. He who had carried all his. weapons in his own person, in his intelligent watchful eye and tough right arm, he who had felt sufficient for all emergencies and a match for all men, had now to limp along as one who had been worsted and baffled and could not hide his shame from men. So it sometimes happens that a man never recovers the severe handling he has received at some turning point in his life. Often there is never again the same elastic step, the same free and confident bearing, the same apparent power, the same appearance to our fellow-men of completeness in our life; but, instead of this, there is a humble decision which, if it does not walk with so free a gait, yet knows better what ground it is treading and by what right. To the end some men bear the marks of the heavy stroke by which God first humbled them. It came in a sudden shock that broke their health, or in a disappointment which nothing now given can ever quite obliterate the trace of, or in circumstances painfully and permanently altered. And the man has to say with Jacob, I shall never now be what I might have been; I was resolved to have my own way, and though God in His mercy did not suffer me to destroy myself, yet to drive me from my purpose He was forced to use a violence, under the effects of which I go halting all my days, saved and whole, yet maimed to the end of time. I am not ashamed of the mark, at least when I think of it as God’s signature I am able to glory in it, but it never fairs to remind me of a perverse wilfulness I am ashamed of. With many men God is forced to such treatment; if any of us are under it, God forbid we should mistake its meaning and lie prostrate and despairing in the darkness instead of clinging to Him Who has smitten and will heal us.

For the treatment which Jacob received at Peniel must not be set aside as singular or exceptional. Sometimes God interposes between us and a greatly-desired possession which we have been counting upon as our right and as the fair and natural consequence of our past efforts and ways. The expectation of this possession has indeed determined our movements and shaped our life for some time past, and it would not only be assigned to us by men as fairly ours, but God also has Himself seemed to encourage us to win it. Yet when it is now within sight, and when we are rising to pass the little stream which seems alone to separate us from it, we are arrested by a strong, an irresistible hand. The reason is, that God wishes us to be in such a state of mind that we shall receive it as His gift, so that it becomes ours by an indefeasible title.

Similarly, when advancing to a spiritual possession, such checks are not without their use. Many men look with longing to what is eternal and spiritual, and they resolve to win this inheritance. And this resolve they often make as if its accomplishment depended solely on their own endurance. They leave almost wholly out of account that the possibility of their entering the state they long for is not decided by their readiness to pass through any ordeal, spiritual or physical, which may be required of them, but by God’s willingness to give it. They act as if by taking advantage of God’s promises, and by passing through certain states of mind and prescribed duties, they could, irrespective of God’s present attitude toward them and constant love, win eternal happiness. In the life of such persons there must therefore come a time when their own spiritual energy seems all to collapse in that painful, utter way in which, when the body is exhausted, the muscles are suddenly found to be cramped and heavy and no longer responsive to the will. They are made to feel that a spiritual dislocation has taken place, and that their eagerness to enter life everlasting no longer stirs the active energies of the soul.

In that hour the man learns the most valuable truth he can learn, that it is God Who is wishing to save him, not he who must wrest a blessing from an unwilling God. Instead of any longer looking on himself as against the world, he takes his place as one who has the whole energy of God’s will at his back, to give him rightful entrance into all blessedness. So long as Jacob was in doubt whether it was not some kind of man that was opposing him, he wrestled on; and our foolish ways of dealing with God terminate, when we recognise that He is not such a one as ourselves. We naturally act as if God had some pleasure in thwarting us-as if we could, and even ought to, maintain a kind of contest with God. We deal with Him as if He were opposed to our best purposes and grudged to advance us in all good, and as if He needed to be propitiated by penitence and cajoled by forced feelings and sanctimonious demeanour. We act as if we could make more way were God not in our way, as if our best prospects began in our own conception and we had to win God over to our views. If God is unwilling, then there is an end: no device nor force will get us past Him. If He is willing, why all this unworthy dealing with Him., as if the whole idea and accomplishment of salvation did not proceed from Him?


Verses 3-9

Genesis 32:3-9

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother.

The alarm

I. We will consider, in the first place, THE PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES WHICH JACOB ADOPTED. In the first instance, as soon as he heard of the evil which apparently awaited him, he immediately divided” the people that were with him into two bands,” in the hope that if one company was suddenly surprised and smitten, the other might in the interim escape.

II. But in the second place, let us notice WHAT WAS JACOB’S CHIEF RESOURCE IN THIS PRESSING EXIGENCY. It was the throne of grace. Prayer is, in fact, the peculiar privilege and the natural habit of a truly pious mind. Prayer also is a very powerful proof of the state of the heart. If we see men, who profess and call themselves Christians, struggling and contending in their own strength, with second causes, as the source of their sorrows, in the hope of overcoming them, and not affectionately, earnestly, spontaneously spreading their case before the Lord, we have reason to doubt the sincerity of their religious profession.

III. But, with these prefatory remarks, let us now examine THE NATURE OF JACOB’S PRAYER. It is a very beautiful example of real prayer. It is simple, full, and energetic. We will glance briefly at its leading topics.

1. There is, first, a simple and vindicatory statement of the circumstances in which Jacob was placed. He had not brought himself thoughtlessly or wilfully into this difficulty. “Thou saidest unto me, return unto thy country and thy kindred.” “I am here, in obedience to Thy command.” There is a very wide distinction between those trials and sufferings into which a man is brought by wilfulness and sin, and those which come upon him independently of his own control, and in respect to which, his mind must necessarily be free from guilt.

2. But, secondly, though in this instance Jacob was free to appeal to the knowledge of God for his acquittal from any wilful trangression in those steps which had led him into danger, yet he did not hesitate, in other respects, to take at once the only ground upon which a human creature can consistently stand before God; and, consequently, we find the justification of his conduct in his present circumstances, immediately followed by an humble acknowledgment of his utter unworthiness before God. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, that Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.” How different is this from the proud feeling of independence with which men generally regard their property in this life I The language of a prosperous man among his fellows, as well as in his heart, is too frequently, “My power, and the might of my hand, have gotten me this wealth.”

3. But, thirdly, in the midst of humiliating confession, Jacob did not forget His mercies. He thankfully records them. He extols the mercy and the faithfulness of God. “With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and lo, I am become two bands.” If we would secure the continuance of our blessings, we should be free to remember them. But once more we notice, that Jacob continues his prayer by an affectionate enunciation of God’s promises. “I fear lest Esau come and smite me, and the mother with the children; and

Thou saidst I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” We are always safe when we can grasp the promises of God, and convert them into prayers. “Thou hast said, a new heart will I give thee, and a new spirit will I put within thee. O Lord, create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.”

4. Lastly, Jacob evidently showed that he placed an unfeigned and implicit confidence in the covenant, the promises, and the mercies of God. All the language of his prayer, tends to call up before him an animating view of the character of Him whom he addressed. This is precisely the spirit in which the Christian is now encouraged to approach the Lord. He has purer light, and greater knowledge. (E. Craig.)

Jacob’s preparation for meeting his angry brother

I. HE TOOK THOSE MEASURES DICTATED BY HUMAN PRUDENCE.

1. He sends messengers of peace.

2. He divides his company into two bands.

3. He sends a present.

II. HE TOOK THOSE MEASURES DICTATED BY RELIGION. Prayer.

1. He appeals to God as the Covenant God and Father (Genesis 32:9).

2. He pleads God’s gracious promise to himself. “The Lord which saidst unto me, “Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee.”

3. He confesses his own unworthiness, and God’s goodness and faithfulness (Genesis 32:10).

4. He presents his special petition expressing his present want (Genesis 32:11). He prays to be delivered from his brother’s anger, the possible consequences of which were fearful to contemplate.

5. He cleaves to God’s word of promise (Genesis 32:12). God had promised to do him good, and to make his seed as the sand of the sea for multitude. And Jacob pleads as if he said, how could this promise be fulfilled if himself and his family were slain? This prayer shows the kind husband, the tender father, the man of faith and piety. (T. H. Leale.)

Jacob’s return from Padan-aram

I. In regard to THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH JACOB WAS PLACED, we may observe that he was surrounded by a numerous family, to whom he was strongly attached, and some of whom were of a very tender age; and that he saw the whole of them, with himself, liable, in the course of a few transitory hours, to be cut off by the sword of an enraged brother.

II. THE CONDUCT WHICH JACOB ADOPTED UPON THIS OCCASION IS FULL OF INTEREST AND INSTRUCTION. It was equally removed from presumption and despair; and presents one of the most edifying examples of sanctified affliction.

1. He did everything in his power to avert his brother’s wrath, and conciliate his favour.

2. He made an arrangement in regard to his family, which was calculated at least to save some of them.

3. He had recourse to earnest prayer.

1. Of the established connection between sin and punishment.

2. The history of Jacob suggests the immense importance of genuine piety.

3. The example of Jacob, on the occasion described in the text, teaches the important lesson, that to obtain from God the blessing we desire, it is our duty to use the requisite means, and at the same time to place an absolute reliance upon His mercy. (T. Jackson.)

Lessons

1. Providence ordereth returns of messages sometimes to be cross to the expectation of His saints.

2. Messages of peace are delivered to wicked men from saints sometimes without answerable return.

3. Faithful messengers will perform their charge whatever the issue be Proverbs 25:13).

4. Wicked men though intreated, may show themselves in their power and terror to the saints (verse 6).

5. Creature-terrors are apt to stir up fears vehemently in the hearts of God’s dearest ones.

6. Fears in saints are not so violent, but that they rationally provide for their safety under them.

7. It is good prudence to save part from ruin when the whole is in danger.

8. Military order in setting troops in place, is not unbeseeming saints (verse Genesis 14:15).

9. God’s armies do not quiet saints sometimes, when sense worketh on outward danger.

10. Smitings of some by enemies are reasonable warnings for others to escape (verse 8). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Lessons

1. Faith in prayer to God is the saints’ immediate help against fear in the hour of temptation.

2. The saints’ providence for themselves is but in order to their refuge in God.

3. God in gracious relations to poor souls is the proper object of prayer.

4. Saints may be bold to fly to God for help in the execution of His commands.

5. God in the promise of grace to His people is the special object of their faith and prayer.

6. Special faith evidencing and applying promises is very necessary to effectual prayer in temptation (Genesis 32:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Jacob at Mahanaim

I. JACOB’S PLAN.

1. How it originated.

2. In what it consisted. In the division of his flocks and herds, &c., into two companies. It must have been a huge company at the first, for him to think, after the message he sent (Genesis 32:4-5), that his brother would imagine the half was all he had. He thought that one half, hearing the attack upon the other, might in the confusion escape while Esau was driving off his plunder.

3. The plan was well contrived. A little of the old Jacob is here planning and scheming.

4. How he wronged his brother by his unjust suspicions.

5. How he wronged God, by not in the first place seeking His guidance and help. His old method of taking the plan into his own hands. Still relying too much on human sagacity.

II. JACOB’S PRAYER.

1. Having made his plans, according to his own wisdom, then he asked God to bless him; and in the end found that his plans were all needless. Prayer at the first would have saved him much perplexity and fear.

2. When he did pray he displayed great humility of soul and dependence upon God.

III. JACOB’S CONDUCT. All being ready, his company divided, the present prepared, Jacob sent the present forward in divisions, each drove with servants, and each servant with a message; one part of the message being that Jacob was himself about to follow the gift. The spirit of the gift conciliatory. Conciliation his avowed purpose (Genesis 32:20). The present was designed to break down every feeling of revenge and anger supposed still to exist in the mind of Esau. Jacob himself would remain that night, which at one time he feared would be his last, with his company. Growing more confident as the night advanced, he arose and sent over his wives and children. Thus committed to the care of God all that he had. Learn:

1. That the fruit of past sins is sure to spring up in our way. Jacob cannot forget the evil he had done; nor return, after this long absence from home, without confronting its results.

2. That, prayer is the best means of meeting great difficulties. Our best plans ineffective without that blessing which prayer secures. Prayer puts the heart into the best condition for enduring trial. (J. C. Gray.)


Verse 9

Genesis 32:1; Genesis 32:9

And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim

The ministry of angels

I. THE ANGELS THEMSELVES.

1. Their number is very great.

2. They are swift as the flames of fire.

3. They are strong.

4. They seem to be all young.

5. They are evidently endowed with corresponding moral excellences.

II. THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS HAS THESE CHARACTERISTICS. It is a ministry of--

1. Guardianship.

2. Cheerfulness.

3. Animation.

4. Consolation.

5. Fellowship and convoy through death to life, and from earth to heaven.

III. THE WHOLE SUBJECT SHOWS IN A VERY STRIKING MANNER--

1. The exceeding greatness of the glory of Christ.

2. The value and greatness of salvation. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Angelic ministrations

Every man has two lives--an outward and an inward. The one is that denoted here: “Jacob went on his way,” &c. The other is denoted in Genesis 32:24 : “Jacob was left alone,” &c. In either state God dealt with him.

I. THE ANGELS OF GOD MET HIM, We do not know in what form they appeared, or by what sign Jacob recognized them. In its simplicity the angelic office is a doctrine of revelation. There exists even now a society and a fellowship between the sinless and the fallen. As man goes on his way, the angels of God meet him.

II. ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY RECOGNIZE AND USE THIS SYMPATHY?

1. The angelic office is sometimes discharged in human form. We may entertain angels unawares. Let us count common life a ministry; let us be on the look-out for angels.

2. We must exercise a vigorous self-control lest we harm or tempt. Our Saviour has warned us of the presence of the angels as a reason for not offending His little ones. Their angels He calls them, as though to express the closeness of the tie that binds together the unfallen and the struggling. We may gather from the story two practical lessons.

Meeting with angels

I. The angels of God meet us on THE DUSTY ROAD OF COMMON LIFE.

II. God’s angels meet us PUNCTUALLY at the hour of need.

III. The angels of God come IN THE SHAPE WHICH WE NEED. Jacob’s want was protection; therefore the angels appear in warlike guise, and present before the defenceless man another camp. God’s gifts to us change their character; as the Rabbis fabled that manna tasted to each man what each most desired. In that great fulness each of us may have the thing we need. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Jacob’s visible and invisible world

I. JACOB’S VISIBLE WORLD. He had just escaped the persecutions of his father-in-law, and was now expecting to meet with a fiercer enemy in his brother. All was dread and anxiety.

II. JACOB’S INVISIBLE WORLD. What a different scene is presented to him when his spiritual eye is opened, and God permits him to see those invisible forces which were engaged on his side. We are told that “the angels of God met him.” He was weak to all human appearance; but he was really strong, for God’s host had come to deliver him from any host of men that might oppose. The host of God is described as parting into two bands, as if to protect him behind and before; or to assure him that as he had been delivered from one enemy, so he would be delivered from another enemy, which was coming forth to meet him. Thus Jacob was taught--

1. To whom he owed his late mercies.

2. The true source of his protection.

3. His faith is confirmed. It is justified for the past, and placed upon a firmer basis for the future. (T. H. Leale.)

Hosts of angels

1. God has a multitude of servants, and all these are on the side of believers. “His camp is very great,” and all the hosts in that camp are our allies. Some of these are visible agents, and many more are invisible, but none the less real and powerful.

2. We know that a guard of angels always surrounds every believer. “Omnipotence has servants everywhere.” These servants of the strong God are all filled with power; there is not one that fainteth among them all, they run like mighty men, they prevail as men of war. We know that they “excel in strength,” as they “do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word.” Rejoice, O children of God! There are vast armies upon your side, and each one of the warriors is clothed with the strength of God.

3. All these agents work in order, for it is God’s host, and the host is made up of beings which march or fly, according to the order of command. “Neither shall one thrust another; they shall walk every one in his path.” All the forces of nature are loyal to their Lord. They are perfectly happy, because consecrated; full of delight, because completely absorbed in doing the will of the Most High. Oh that we could do His will on earth as that will is done in heaven by all the heavenly ones!

4. Observe that in this great host they were all punctual to the Divine command. Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. The patriarch is no sooner astir than the hosts of God are on the wing. They did not linger till Jacob had crossed the frontier, nor did they keep him waiting when he came to the appointed rendezvous; but they were there to the moment. When God means to deliver you, beloved, in the hour of danger, you will find the appointed force ready for your succour. God’s messengers are neither behind nor before their time; they will meet us to the inch and to the second in the time of need; therefore let us proceed without fear, like Jacob, going on our way even though an Esau with a band of desperadoes should block up the road.

5. Those forces of God, too, were all engaged personally to attend upon Jacob. I like to set forth this thought: “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him”; he did not chance to fall in with them. They did not happen to be on the march, and so crossed the patriarch’s track; no, no; he went on his way, and the angels of God met him with design and purpose. They came on purpose to meet him: they had no other appointment. Squadrons of angels marched to meet that one lone man He was a saint, but by no means a perfect one; we cannot help seeing many flaws in him, even upon a superficial glance at his life, and yet the angels of God met him. All came to wait upon Jacob, on that one man: “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him”; but in this case it was to one man with his family of children that a host was sent. The man himself, the lone man who abode in covenant with God when all the rest of the world was given up to idols, was favoured by this mark of Divine favour. One delights to think that the angels should be willing, and even eager, troops of them, to meet one man. Are ye not well cared for, oh ye sons of the Most High!

6. Those forces, though in themselves invisible to the natural senses, are manifest to faith at certain times. There are times when the child of God is able to cry, like Jacob, “The angels of God have met me.” When do such seasons occur? Our Mahanaims occur at much the same time as that in which Jacob beheld this great sight. Jacob was entering upon a more separated life. He was leaving Laban and the school of all those tricks of bargaining and bartering which belong to the ungodly world. By a desperate stroke he cut himself clear of entanglements; but he must have felt lonely, and as one cast adrift. He missed all the associations of the old house of Mesopotamia, which, despite its annoyances, was his home. The angels come to congratulate him. Their presence said, “You are come to this land to be a stranger and sojourner with God, as all your fathers were. We have, some of us, talked with Abraham, again and again, and we are now coming to smile on you. You recollect how we bade you good-bye that night, when you had a stone for your pillow at Bethel; now you have come back to the reserved inheritance, over which we are set as guardians, and we have come to salute you. Take up the nonconforming life without fear, for we are with you. Welcome I welcome I we are glad to receive you under our special care.” Again, the reason why the angels met Jacob at that time was, doubtless, because he was surrounded with great cares. He had a large family of little children; and great flocks and herds and many servants were with him. Again, the Lord’s host appeared when Jacob felt a great dread. His brother Esau was coming to meet him armed to the teeth, and, as he feared, thirsty for his blood. In times when our danger is greatest, if we are real believers, we shall be specially under the Divine protection, and we shall know that it is so. This shall be our comfort in the hour of distress. And, once again, when you and I, like Jacob, shall be near Jordan, when we shall just be passing into the better land, then is the time when we may expect to come to Mahanaim. The angels of God and the God of angels, both come to meet the spirits of the blessed in the solemn article of death.

7. Thus I have mentioned the time when these invisible forces become visible to faith; and there is no doubt whatever that they are sent for a purpose. Why were they sent to Jacob at this time? Perhaps the purpose was first to revive an ancient memory which had well-nigh slipped from him. I am afraid he had almost forgotten Bethel. Surely it must have brought his vow at Bethel to mind, the vow which he made unto the Lord when he saw the ladder, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Here they were; they had left heaven and come down that they might hold communion with him. Mahanaim was granted to Jacob, not only to refresh his memory, but to lift him out of the ordinary low level of his life. Jacob, you know, the father of all the Jews, was great at huckstering: it was the very nature of him to drive bargains. Jacob had all his wits about him, and rather more than he should have had, well answering to his name of “supplanter.” He would let no one deceive him, and he was ready at all times to take advantage of those with whom he had any dealings. Here the Lord seems to say to him, “O Jacob, My servant, rise out of this miserable way of dealing with Me, and be of a princely mind.” Oh for grace to live according to our true position and character, not as poor dependents upon our own wits or upon the help of man, but as grandly independent of things seen, because our entire reliance is fixed upon the unseen and eternal. Believe as much in the invisible as in the visible, and act upon your faith. This seems to me to be God’s object in giving to any of His servants a clearer view of the powers which are engaged on their behalf. If such a special vision be granted to us, let us keep it in memory. Jacob called the name of that place Mahanaim. I wish we had some way in this western world, in these modern times, of naming places, and children, too, more sensibly. We must needs either borrow some antiquated title, as if we were too short of sense to make one for ourselves, or else our names are sheer nonsense, and mean nothing. Why not choose names which should commemorate our mercies? (C. H.Spurgeon.)

God’s host

I. THE PATH OF COMMON DUTIES IN DAILY LIFE IS THE BEST AND SUREST WAY TO HEAVENLY VISIONS. Jacob’s track lay downward to the deep valley, and through its shadows to the fords of Jordan. So, if our life is led downward, through toil and care and sorrow, heaven may open as freely above it as on the hill-tops. All know how the proof of a soldier is given on the march as much as in battle; and it is so in common life. But in spiritual application there is a difference: the rewards of men are won only on the field; but our Divine Commander observes and honours equally those equally faithful in the daily march, in farm, or shop, or household, or in the shut-in camp of sickness those “faithful in that which is least.”

II. GOD’S CARE OVER THOSE THAT FEAR HIM.

III. GOD’S WAY OF APPEARING FOR MAN’S HELP. (W. H. Randall.)

Lessons

1. Laban’s departure and Jacob’s progress are adjoining. Oppressors retreat and saints advance.

2. God’s servants are careful to move in their own way enjoined by God.

3. In their way commanded, God appoints His angels to meet them Psalms 91:2; Psalms 91:4). God with His angels appears to comfort His, after conflicts with their adversaries (verse 1).

5. God sometimes affords His visible helps unto visible troubles for His saints’ support.

6. God’s angels are God’s mighty host indeed, and that in the judgment of the saints.

7. Not single angels but troops God appoints for the guard of single saints.

8. God’s saints desire to call mercies by their right names. God’s angels are called God’s hosts.

9. It is proper to God’s saved ones, to leave memorials of God’s strength in saving them (verse 2). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Mahanaim

I cannot tell, for Scripture says not, in what form they appeared, or by what sign Jacob recognized them. It is perhaps in the most general view of the passage that its truest comfort lies. It matters not to us what the Patriarchs thought or knew of the ministry of angels, so long as we ourselves recognize the true place of that ministry in the economy of God. In its simplicity, the angelic office is a doctrine of revelation. There are beings beside and (for the present) above man; beings, like him, intelligent, rational, spiritual; beings capable, like him, of knowing, loving, and communing with God; beings, unlike him, pure from the stain of sin--tried once, as all moral natures must be tried, by the alternative of loyalty or self-pleasing--yet faithful among the faithless through that great ordeal, and now for ever secured by the seal of that holiness which they have chosen. Man is not yet, save in one single aspect, the head and the chief of all God’s creation. In the person of the God-Man he has the pledge indeed that one day he shall be so. But as yet, when the eye of faith looks upward through the infinite space, it discerns essences in all things equal to the human, and in their sinlessness superior; it sees those who in heaven’s primeval warfare sided with God and conquered--left not their original estate, nor despised their first habitation. The existence of a nature purer than man’s, more refined in its enjoyments and more elevated in its converse, presents no practical difficulty to the thoughtful. We find nothing but refreshment and nothing but encouragement in the belief that above as well as beneath us are beings performing perfectly the law of their creation; spirits that see God’s face, as well as animals instinctively true to God’s order. Man only mars the sweet accord: higher existences have not fallen, lower existences could not fall. If for man God has provided a redemption, then may there be in the end a restoration of that original perfection in which God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. That contrast which shames shall also comfort. But how much more when we read in the sure word of revelation that there exists even now a society and a fellowship between the sinless and the fallen! As man goes on his way, the angels of God meet him. In all his ways they have charge of him, that he dash not his foot against a stone. That which God has done for man, angels desire to look into. Angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation. Angels spend not their immortal age in abject prostration, or in delicious dreamy contemplation: rather do they excel in strength, doing God’s commandments, hearkening (for obedience sake) to the voice of God’s Word. When God spake to man from a material mountain, His holy ones were around Him: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; and the Lord is among them, as in the holy place of Sinai.” Theirs were those wondrous utterances, which Israel took for the voice of the trumpet, sounding long, and waxing louder and louder; theirs those fearful manifestations of blinding smoke and consuming fire, amidst which the Lord descended, while all the people that was in the camp trembled; theirs, it may be, the hewing and the graving of those tables of stone, on which were written, as by God’s finger, the words of His first testimony. The law was ordained by angels; the law was given by the disposition of angels; the word spoken by angels was steadfast. And if even that temporary, that parenthetical dispensation was thus introduced by the ministry of angels; if man’s recovery was dear to them, even in its earlier and more imperfect stages, while he was but learning his lesson of weakness, and heaving his first sighs after forgiveness and sanctification--well can we understand how they might herald a Saviour’s birth, and soothe a Saviour’s sorrows; strengthen Him in His agony, and minister in His tomb; proclaim His resurrection, predict His advent, and greet at the everlasting doors the return of the King of glory. Not even there, nor then, did their ministry terminate. He Himself has told us how in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, there is joy still over each sinner that repenteth; how His little ones below, His weak and tempted disciples, have their angels ever in heaven, beholding the face of His Father; how angels carry dying saints into Abraham’s bosom; and how, in the last great crisis of the world’s harvest, it is they who shall execute the reapers’ office, gather together His elect from the four winds, and gather also out of His kingdom all things that offend. Wheresoever there is a work to be done as between God and man, there is the great ladder still reared, and the angels of God are ascending and descending by it. Ministering spirits are they still; and man’s best wish for himself is that he may at last be enabled to do as well as to suffer God’s will, even as they, the inmates of heaven, have from the beginning borne and done it. Thy will be done, he prays, as in heaven, so on earth. Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. We know not how extensive, and we know not how minute, may be that ministration even in the things that are seen. We know not what angelic workings may be concealed behind the phenomena of nature, or latent in the accidents and the escapes of human life. We know not how, in seasons of mortal weakness or of fiendish temptation, we may be indebted to their instrumentality for the reviving courage or the resisting strength. We dare not say but that even the indwelling Spirit may avail Himself of their ministry to assist or to protect, to invigorate or to reanimate. This we know--for the Word of God has told us--that one portion of that holy communion and fellowship to which the citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem has come, not only in hope, but in present union and incorporation, is an innumerable company of angels. I read not these words as glimpses only of a glorious future, but as expressive of a present trust and a practical help and aid. The sympathy of angels is one of the Christian’s privileges. Are there any special ways in which we may recognize and use this sympathy? As we go on our way, can we in any special manner hope to meet the angels?

1. An apostle speaks of entertaining angels unawares. He says that the duty of hospitality may be exercised in this remembrance--thereby some have entertained angels. It is so still. The angelic office is discharged sometimes in human form. Let us count common life a ministry: let us, in common life, be on the look-out for angels!

2. And more especially, in the exercise of a vigilant self-control, lest we harm or tempt. Our Saviour Himself has warned us of the presence of the angels as a reason for not offending--that is, for not thwarting and not tempting--His little ones. Beware, careless parent! beware, sinful brother! beware, false friend! That child, that boy, that youth, has his angel, and the home of that angel is the heaven of God l (Dean Vaughan.)

God’s host always near

We who live in this matter-of-fact and mechanical age are apt to think that it was a wrapt and wondrous life which the patriarch led in that old time, when he could meet God’s host among the hills, and could see convoys of bright angels like the burning clouds of sunset hovering round him in the solitudes of the mountains. But God’s host is always nearer than we are apt to suppose in the dark hours of trial and conflict. The angels have not yet forsaken the earth, nor have they ceased to protect the homes and journeys of good men. Heaven and earth are nearer each other now than they were when Jacob saw God’s host in the broad day and Abraham entertained the Divine messengers under the shadow of the oak at noon. The spiritual world is all around us, and its living inhabitants are our fellow-servants and companions in all our work for God and for our own salvation. The inhabitants of heaven find more friends and acquaintances on earth now than they did in former times. It is not from any want of interest in the affairs of men that they do not now meet us in the daily walks of life or speak to us in the dreams of the night. If we do not see angels come and take us by the hand and lead us out of danger, as they led Lot out of Sodom, it is not because they have ceased to come, or because they fail to guard us when we need protection. We must not think that God was more interested in the world in ancient times, when He spoke by miracles and prophets and apostles, than He is now when He speaks by His written word and by His holy providence. The heart of the Infinite Father never yearned toward His earthly children with a deeper or more tender compassion than now. There never was a time when God was doing more to govern, to instruct, and to save the world than He is doing now. To those who look for Him the tokens of His presence are manifest everywhere; the voice of His providence is in every wind; every path of life is covered with the overshadowings of His glory. To the devout mind this world, which has been consecrated by the sacrificial blood of the cross, is only the outer court of the everlasting temple in which God sits enthroned, with the worshipping hosts of the blessed around Him. We need only a pure heart to see God as much in the world now as He was when He talked with men face to face. He speaks in all the discoveries of science, in all the inventions of heart, in all the progress of the centuries, in everything which enriches life and enlarges the resources of men. All the great conflicts and agitations of society prove that God is on the field. We need only add the faith of the patriarchs to the science of the philosophers, and we shall find Bethels in the city and in the solitude, Mahanaims in every day’s march in the journey of life (D. March, D. D.)

Angelic ministration

I did not see, early in the morning, the flight of all those birds that filled all the bushes and all the orchard trees, but they were there, though I did not see their coming, and heard their songs afterwards. It does not matter whether you have ministered to you yet those perceptions by which you perceive angelic existence. The fact that we want to bear in mind is, that we are environed by them, that we move in their midst. How, where, what the philosophy is, whether it be spiritual philosophy, no man can tell, and they least that think they know most about it. The fact which we prize and lay hold of is this, that angelic ministration is a part, not of the heavenly state, but of the universal condition of men, and that as soon as we become Christ’s we come not to the home of the living God, but to the “innumerable company of angels.” (H. W.Beecher.)

Angels on the path of life

Though no vision is vouchsafed to our mortal eyes, yet angels of God are with us oftener than we know, and to the pure heart every home is a Bethel, and every path of life a Penuel and a Mahanaim. In the outer world and the inner world, we see and meet continually these messengers of God. Wrestle with them in faith and prayer they are angels with hands full of immortal gifts; to those who neglect or use them ill they are angels with drawn sword and scathing flame.

I. The earliest angel is the angel of youth. Do not think that you can retain him long. Use, as wise stewards, this blessed portion of your lives. Remember that as your faces are setting into the look which they shall wear in later years, so is it with your lives.

II. Next is the angel of innocent pleasure. Trifle not with this angel. Remember that in heathen mythology the Lord of Pleasure is also the God of Death. Guilty pleasure there is; guilty happiness there is not on earth.

III. There are the angels of time and opportunity. They are with us now, and we may unclench from their conquered hands garlands of immortal flowers. Hallow each new day in your morning prayer, for prayer, too, is an angel--an angel who can turn “pollution into purity, sinners into penitents, and penitents into saints.”

IV. There is one angel with whom we must wrestle whether we will or no, and whose power of curse or blessing we cannot alter--the angel of death. (Archdeacon Farrar.)


Verse 10

Genesis 32:10

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies

A pilgrim’s acknowledgment of God’s goodness

Here we have the typical nature of this narrative brought out before us, as applying, first, to the material; secondly, to the mental; and thirdly, to the spiritual.

I. First, with regard to the MATERIAL. If we can show that it is typical; if it applies to the human nature of the present day, then what we wish you to do is this, not to leave the acknowledgment of God’s providence for future years and old age, when you will be able to say, “It is all Thy doing”; but even now to acknowledge the goodness and providence and omnipotence of God, and depending on Him to try and work in commercial matters in a righteous and God-fearing spirit. Look at the matter as typically understood. Jacob has prospered, and has come to a spot in his career when the circumstances of his poverty are brought to mind, and he falls down in thankful adoration. Are the types of this history died out in our own land? Is this narrative very different to the narrative we could give one of another?

II. But the narrative also, we believe, IS TYPICAL IN A MENTAL, SENSE. A man is about to study for a profession--no matter what it may be, he has toil, arduous labour, before him. He begins with nothing but good wishes from his friends that he may be successful, a good name and earnest determination; and he becomes eminently successful. And when he is sitting on the Chancellor’s seat in the House of Lords, or has otherwise acquired fame and fortune, will he not remember the Power that has done it all, and, remembering, devoutly and most thankfully acknowledge that he was not worthy of so great a mercy? If a man has reflection, honesty and common-sense, and believes in the existence of a Deity, he is forced to admit that this is true; and therefore we say, oh! what ingratitude not to thank Him for the health and strength supplied, and the providential ordering of circumstances which produced the result! Now, if you go thus far, you must go still farther. Ought you not to ask His blessing on everything you do? And if you do this He will bless; and in your old age, when you take a review of the past--of the circumstances under which you began life, the hopes and the fears that passed through your mind, and the prosperity that attended your path, you will be able to say, and to say with joy and happiness, “Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, and now I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

III. But we want now to come to the SPIRITUAL. And here perhaps we shall be joined by the experience of more than even the other two classes. It is not every one of us that can become rich--not every one of us that can develop our mental powers to the highest; but it is within the reach of all to be spiritually minded. Now, you have been a Christian for many years; now your example has been a help to others, and you are filled with joy and peace. You live in the Lord Jesus Christ; your “life is hid with Christ in God,” and you are looking forward to the period when you shall enter the eternal world. In a little time your body will be committed “dust to dust”; but you know and feel joyfully assured that there is a glorious resurrection life beyond, in the many mansions purchased with the blood of your Redeemer. Even now, in imagination, you join in the heavenly songs. You have felt the pressure of the golden crown on your forehead, and your fingers have seemed to sweep the strings of the golden harp. And sometimes you have felt to have a more intimate communion with Christ than you ever expected while in the body. When calling all this experience to mind, can you but remember the grace which has made you to differ from others, and remembering, say--“I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan: and now I am become two bands”? And feeling thus--remembering what God has done for you--can you be content to go through life without doing anything for Him,or without trying to serve Him? (W. Cuthbertson, B. A.)

Jacob’s character

I. THE ESTIMATE WHICH HE FORMED OF HIS OWN CHARACTER. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies,” &c. This acknowledgment implies--

1. He was a believer in God.

2. He was a worshipper of God.

3. He was a follower of God.

II. His GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE DIVINE GOODNESS. “All the mercies, and all the truth,” &c.

1. They were abundant mercies.

2. They were unceasing mercies.

3. They were covenant mercies.

III. His CONSCIOUS UNWORTHINESS OF SUCH PECULIAR BLESSINGS. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies”; or rather, “I am less than all the compassions,” &c.

1. This is the language of conscious dependence.

2. This is the language of grateful recollection.

3. This is the language of deep self-abasement.

How amiable is this disposition; it is the characteristic distinction of all the righteous (Genesis 18:27; 1 Chronicles 17:16-17; Eph 1 Peter 5:5). We may infer--

1. The design and advantage of Scripture biography (Romans 15:4).

2. The duty of imitating the piety of the primitive saints (Hebrews 6:12).

3. The necessity of cultivating a spirit of humility and gratitude (James 4:10). (Sketches of Sermons.)

Humility the friend of prayer

Jacob’s character was far from faultless, but equally removed from despicable. He was a man full of energy, active, enduring, resolute, and hence his infirmities became more conspicuous than they would have been in a quieter and more restful nature. Say what you will of him, he was a master of the art of prayer, and he that can pray well is a princely man. He that can prevail with God will certainly prevail with men. It seems to me that when once a man is taught of the Lord to pray, he is equal to every emergency that can possibly arise. The very first sentence of Jacob’s prayer has this peculiarity about it, that it is steeped in humility; for he does not address the Lord as his own God at the first, but as the God of Abraham and Isaac. The prayer itself, though it is very urgent, is never presumptuous; it is as lowly as it is earnest.

I. Our first observation is that HUMILITY IS THE FIT ATTITUDE OF PRAYER. Observe that he here speaks not as before man, but as before God; and he cries, “I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies.” He had been talking with Laban--Laban who had made a slave of him, who had used him in the most mercenary manner, and who had now pursued him in fierce anger because he had quitted his service with his wives and children that he might go back to his native country. To Laban he does not say, “I am not worthy of what I possess,” for, as far as churlish Laban was concerned, he was worthy of a great deal more than had ever been rendered to him in the form of wage. To Laban he uses many truthful sentences of self-vindication and justification. The same man who speaks in that fashion to Laban turns round and confesses to his God, “I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies.” This is perfectly consistent and truthful. Humility is not telling falsehoods against yourself: humility is forming a right estimate of yourself. As towards Laban it was a correct estimate for a man who had worked so hard for so little to claim that he had a right to what God had given him; and yet as before God it was perfectly, honest and sincere of Jacob to say, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto Thy servant.” Now, whenever you go to prayer, if you have previously been compelled to say some rather strong thing as to your own integrity and industry; or, if you have heard others speak in your praise, forget it all; for you cannot pray if it has any effect upon you. A man cannot pray with a good opinion of himself: all he can manage is just to mutter, “God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are,” and that is no prayer at all.

2. Brethren, it would ill become any of us to use the language of merit before God; for merit we have none; and if we had any, we should not need to pray. It has been well observed by an old divine, that the man who pleads his own merit does not pray, but demands his due.

3. Let me add, also, that in times of great pressure upon the heart there is not much fear of self-righteousness intruding. Jacob was greatly afraid and sore distressed; and when a man is brought into such a state the lowliest language suits him. They that are filled with bread may boast, but the hungry beg. Let the proud take heed lest while the bread is yet in their mouths the wrath of God come upon them.

4. I call your attention to the present tense as it is used in the text--Jacob does not say, as we might half have thought he would have said, “I was not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast made to pass before Thy servant,” but he says “I am not worthy.” He does not merely allude to his unworthiness when he crossed this Jordan with a staff in his hand, a poor solitary banished man: he believes that he was unworthy then; but even now, looking upon his flocks and his herds and his great family, and all that he had done and suffered, he cries, “I am not worthy.” What! Has not all God’s mercy made you worthy? Brethren, free grace is neither the child nor the father of human worthiness. If we get all the grace we ever can get we shall never be worthy of that grace; for grace as it enters where there is no worthiness, so it imparts to us no worthiness afterwards as we are judged before God. When we have done all, we are unprofitable servants; we have only done what it was our duty to have done.

II. Secondly, the same thought will be kept up, but put in a somewhat differing light, while we note that THOSE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAKE TOWARDS HUMILITY ARE THE STRENGTH OF PRAYER

1. Observe, first, that Jacob in this prayer showed his humility by a confession of the Lord’s working in all his prosperity. He says with a full heart, “All the mercies and all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.” Well, but Jacob, you have immense flocks of sheep, but you earned them, and through your care they greatly increased--do you not consider that those flocks are entirely your own procuring? Surely you must see that you were highly industrious, prudent, and careful, and thus grew wealthy? No; he takes a survey of his great estate, and he speaks of it all as mercies--mercies which the Lord had showed unto His servant. I do not object to books about self-made men, but I am afraid that self-made men have a great tendency to worship him that made them. It is very natural they should. But, brethren, if we are self-made, I am sure we had a very bad maker, and there must be a great many flaws in us. It would be better to be ground back to dust again, and made over anew so as to become God-made men.

2. The next point is a consideration of God’s mercies. For my part, nothing ever sinks me so low as the mercy of God, and next to that I am readily subdued by the kindness of men. The man who has a due sense of his own character will be laid low by words of commendation. When we remember the loving kindness of the Lord to us we cannot but contrast our littleness with the greatness of His love, and feel a sense of self-debasement. I have a dear brother in Christ who is now sore sick, the Rev. Mr. Curme, the vicar of Sandford, in Oxfordshire, who has been my dear friend for many years. He is the mirror of humility, and he divides his name into two words, Cur me? which means, “Why me?” Often did he say, in my hearing, “Why me, Lord? Why me?” Truly I can say the same, Cur me? Tills exceeding kindness of the Lord all tends to promote humility, and at the same time to help us in prayer; for if the Lord be so greatly good, we may adopt the language of the Phoenecian woman when the Master said to her, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,” She answered, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” So we will go and ask our Lord to give us crumbs of mercy, and they will be enough for us poor dogs. God’s crumbs are bigger than man’s loaves; and if He gives us what to Him may be a crumb, it shall be a meal to us. Oh, He is a great Giver! He is a glorious Giver! We are not equal to His least gift.

3. Again, a comparison of our past and our present will tend to humility and also to helpfulness in prayer. Jacob at first is described thus, “With my staff I passed over this Jordan.” He is all alone, no servant attends him; he has no goods, not even a change of linen in a parcel, nothing but a staff to walk with; now, after a few years, here is Jacob coming back, crossing the river in the opposite direction, and he has with him two bands. He is a large grazier with great wealth in all manner of cattle. What a change! I would have those men whom God has prospered never to be ashamed of what they used to be; they ought never to forget the staff with which they crossed this Jordan. I had a good friend who preserved the axle-tree of the truck in which he wheeled home his goods when he first came to London. It was placed over his front door, and he never blushed to tell how he came up from the country, worked hard, and made his way in the world. I like this a deal better than the affected gentility which forgets the lone half-crown which pined in solitude in their pockets when they entered this city.

III. And now, as time flies, we must dwell upon the third point, still hammering the same nail on the head: TRUE HUMILITY SUPPLIES US WITH ARGUMENTS IN PRAYER.

1. Look at the first one, “I am not worthy of all Thy mercies”; nay, “I am not worthy of the least of all the many mercies which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant. Thou hast kept Thy word and been true to me, but it was not because I was true to Thee. I am not worthy of the truth which Thou hast shown to Thy servant.” Is there not power in such a prayer? Is not mercy secured by a confession of worthiness?

2. Then please to notice that while Jacob thus pleads his own unworthiness he is not slow to plead God’s goodness. He speaks in most expressive words, wide and full of meaning. “I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies. I cannot enumerate them, the list would be too long! It seems to me as if Thou hadst given me all kinds of mercies, every sort of blessing. Thy mercy endureth for ever, and Thou hast given it all to me.” How he extols God as with a full mouth when he says, “All Thy mercies.” He does not say, “all Thy mercy”--the word is in the plural--“the least of all Thy mercies.” For God has many bands of mercies; favours never come alone, they visit us in troops.

3. Notice, next, how he says “Thy servant.” A plea is hidden away in that word. Jacob might have called himself by some other name on this occasion. He might have said, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy child”, it would have been true, it would not have been fitting. Suppose it had run--“Unto Thy chosen,” it would have been true, but not so lowly; or “unto Thy covenanted one”--that would have been correct, but not so humble an expression as Jacob felt bound to use in this time of his distress, when the sins of his youth were brought to his mind. He seemed to say, “Lord, I am Thy servant. Thou didst bid me come hither, and hither I have come because of that bidding: therefore protect me.” Surely a king will not see his servant put upon when engaged in the royal service. Jacob was in the path of duty, and God would make it the path of safety. If we make God our guide, He will be our guard. If He be our Commander He will be our Defender.

4. Jacob had yet another plea which showed his humility, and that was the argument of facts. “With my staff,” says he, “I passed over this Jordan.” “This Jordan,” which flowed hard by, and received the Jabbok. It brings a thousand things to his mind, to be on the old spot again. When he crossed it before he was journeying into exile, but now he is coming back as a son, to take his place with loved Rebekah and father Isaac, and he could not but feel it a great mercy that he was now going in a happier direction than before. He looked at his staff, and he remembered how in fear and trembling he had leaned upon it as he pursued his hasty, lonely march. “With this staff--that is all I had.” He looks upon it, and contrasts his present condition and his two camps with that day of poverty, that hour of hasty flight. This retrospect humbled him, but it must have been a strength to him in prayer. “O God, if Thou hast helped me from abject want to all this wealth, Thou canst certainly preserve me in the present danger. He who has done so much is still able to bless me, and He will do so.”

5. In closing, I think I discover one powerful argument here in Jacob’s prayer. Did he not mean that, although God had increased him so greatly, there had come with it all the greater responsibility? He had more to care for than when he owned less. Duty had increased with increased possessions. He seems to say, “Lord, when I came this way before I had nothing, only a staff; that was all I had to take care of; and if I had lost that staff I could have found another. Then I had Thy dear and kind protection, which was better to me than riches. Shall I not have it still? When I was a single man with a staff Thou didst guard me, and now that I am surrounded by this numerous family of little children and servants, wilt Thou not spread Thy wings over me? Lord, the gifts of Thy goodness increase my necessity: give me proportionately Thy blessing. I could before run away and escape from my angry brother; but now the mothers and the children bind me, and I must abide with them and die with them unless Thou preserve me.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Jacob’s remembrance of past blessings

I. JACOB’S THANKFUL REMEMBRANCE OF HIS PAST BLESSINGS.

II. THE SOURCE TO WHICH JACOB HERE TRACES HIS BLESSINGS,

1. He refers his blessings first to the mercy of God; for observe, he calls them mercies, and this shows us that he traced them all to God’s free bounty and grace.

2. But the patriarch mentions also here, the truth of God. He couples it, you observe, with mercy, and this blending together of these two things as the source of our mercies is very remarkable in Scripture. “Not unto us, O Lord,” says David, “not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake.” “God will send forth His mercy and truth.” “Mercy and truth are met together.” “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.” And in Jacob’s case the connection between these two things is very plain. He deserved nothing of God; whatever, therefore, God bestowed on him came from God’s mercy. But God promised to bestow many blessings on him; these blessings, therefore, when bestowed might be said to come also from God’s truth. Mercy made the promise and prepared the blessings; truth fulfilled the promise and sent the blessings.

III. THE TIME WHEN JACOB THUS REMEMBERED HIS BLESSINGS. We well know when we remember mercies; it is generally when they are first given us, and the heart is warmed and glowed by the first possession of them. And very little disappointment and vexation will, almost at any time, drive away all our thankfulness for them. Men, generally, never dream, when they get into trouble, of taking up the language of praise. But look back to the circumstances under which this patriarch thus thinks of mercy and truth. If we went no farther than the text, we should say he has just received some new proof of God’s love to him. There he is, we should say, once again travelling, with joy and gladness, his native plains, and pitching his tent there in security and peace. But not exactly thus; he is in an extremity, and a very painful one. And yet, before any deliverance or any prospect of deliverance appears, we hear Jacob talking of mercy and truth; and he blesses God for His past goodness.

IV. THE EFFECT PRODUCED IN JACOB BY THE REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MERCIES--OR ONE OF THE EFFECTS. I allude to this, a deep sense of his own unworthiness and nothingness. “I am less than all Thy mercies”--less, not only than the most signal of them, but less than any, the least of them; I cannot think of any one of them that is not larger than I am. He seems to dwindle away to nothing in his own view as he contemplates God’s mercy towards him. There is no proportion between these mercies and myself; it is not only mercy, but abundant, marvellous mercy, that has bestowed them on me. And what has brought him into this state of feeling is, doubtless, a vivid remembrance at this time of those mercies. As his mind ran over them from year to year, tracing their multitudes and ways, there was something connected with them which he could not pass over--the vileness and nothingness of the creature on whom they had been bestowed. He thought, perhaps, of the baseness of his conduct which had driven him at first from his father’s house; but, if that did not enter his mind, he thought, doubtless, of the ingratitude and many sins that had stained him since. A sense of God’s love towards you lays you humble; and there is a tradition among the Jews, that all through his life this man was kept down. It is said, as a proof of his humility, that he had in his hand the staff which he carried with him over Jordan, when he went to Padan-aram; that he never afterwards parted with his staff; that it was upon this he leaned when he blessed the sons of Joseph, and that it was lying by him when he died. Now, let me ask you, Do you understand this truth? Have you ever experienced anything like it? Have the mercies of God towards yourselves ever made you shiver, as it were, from a sense of your guiltiness and nothingness? (C. Bradley, M. A.)

Jacob’s experience illustrative of the life of a child of God

I. JACOB’S CONDITION AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF HIS JOURNEY TO PADANARAM. “With my staff I passed over this Jordan.” It is difficult to imagine a state of greater destitution. And well did the patriarch bear it in mind. It was engraven deeply upon his memory, and he could not forget it. It would have been his sin and his shame, if he could have banished it from his recollection. O, my dear friends, who haw the God of Jacob for your refuge, but who know Him under an immeasurably dearer relation, as” the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” “look to the rock from whence ye are hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.” What was your natural condition? A spiritual state immeasurably more dark and dreary than were the circumstances of Jacob, when he set forwards on him journey.

II. BUT WHILE JACOB REVERTED TO HIS PAST WRETCHEDNESS, HE CONTRASTED IT WITH THE PROSPERITY INTO WHICH GOD HAD BROUGHT HIM. “Now I am become two bands.” He had thus divided his wives and children, and servants and cattle, that if one were smitten, the other might escape; and the separation proved his wealth. Thus it is, that they whom the grace of God hath brought manifestly within the covenant, must compare the wretchedness of the past with the mercies and the blessedness of the present, for His glory who graciously made the change. It is for each of them to say, as I trust may be said by each of many among yourselves, “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.”

III. WELL, THEN, DID JACOB ACT IN GIVING UTTERANCE TO THE HOLY GRATITUDE AND DEEP HUMILITY OF HIS SOUL. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.” O, never should one who hath experienced the gospel of Christ to be the power of God unto salvation, in believing--never should one in whom Christ hath been “formed the hope of glory,” forget to own the Hand from whence all his blessings come; and his own unworthiness, who yet is privileged so largely and so freely to receive them. Observe the language of Jacob; “not merely the mercy, but all the mercies”; everything from the greatest to the least, and everything in the riches of absolute grace. The spring is inexhaustible, and the streams are many, suited to every need of every individual member in the Church of the Most High. There are mercies past, for which to thank a covenant Father, according to His promise; and there are mercies yet to come, secured to them by the promise. O, it is true grace in exercise, to lie low in the dust before God, acknowledging our vileness, and to know that we merit wrath, while yet we are emboldened to plead for mercy, and to expect it.

IV. THE CONDUCT OF JACOB WILL NOW SHOW US THE DUTY OF ONE WHO HATH ACCESS TO A COVENANT GOD IN THE TIME OF TRIAL. Jacob’s refuge was the throne of grace, and we find him pre-eminently a man of prayer. O, let trials, temptations, conflicts, sorrows, sins, shortcomings, lead you, dear brethren, thither. (R. P. Buddicom.)

Jacob’s prayer

1. In the prayer itself, consider how sweet it is in the child’s woe, for him to be able to remember that his parents were godly and in favour with the Lord. Then conceiveth he comfort, that he which loved the stock, will not east away the branch, but graciously respect him. A great cause to make parents godly if there were no other, that their children ever may pray as did Jacob, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, look upon me, &c.

2. Consider how he groundeth both prayer and hope, upon word and promise, saying, “Lord, which saidst unto me, return unto thy country and to thy kindred, and I will do thee good.” So let us do, and not first do rashly what we had no warrant for, and then pray to God for help wherein we have no promise: yea, if you mark it, he repeateth this promise over again in the twelfth verse, it was such strength unto him to consider it.

3. Not merit, but want of merit is his plea; I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies, and all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant. (Bp. Babington.)

Jacob’s prayer

1. He approaches God as the God of his father; and, as such, a God in covenant. This was laying hold of the Divine faithfulness: it was the prayer of faith.

2. As his own God, pleading what He had promised to him.

3. While he celebrates the great mercy and truth of God towards him, he acknowledges himself unworthy of the least instance of either. The worthiness of merit is what every good man, in every circumstance, must disclaim; but that which he has in view, I conceive, is that of meekness. Looking back to his own unworthy conduct, especially that which preceded and occasioned his passing over Jordan with a “staff “ only in his hand, he is affected with the returns of mercy and truth which he had met with from a gracious God. By sin he had reduced himself in a manner to nothing; but God’s goodness had made him great. As we desire to succeed in our approaches to God, we must be sure to take low ground; humbling ourselves in the dust before Him, and sueing for relief as a matter of mere grace. Finally, having thus prefaced his petition, he now presents it (Genesis 32:11-12). This was doubtless the petition of a kind husband, and a tender father; it was not as such only, nor principally, however, but as a believer in the promises, that he presented it; the great stress of the prayer turns on this hinge. It was as though he had said, “If my life, and that of the mother, with the children, be cut off, how are Thy promises to be fulfilled?” (A. Fuller.)

Lessons

1. An humble self-denying frame is best for prayer of faith to God in time of temptation.

2. It is a special way to humble saints, by comparing themselves with God’s mercy and truth.

3. The mercy and truth of God go always jointly together (Psalms 25:10).

4. God’s servants have experience of His mercy and truth in their pilgrimages below.

5. Gracious souls judge themselves less than any mercy or truth of God.

6. It is good to keep souls low to remember their former empty conditions.

7. God can make the solitary a multitude and make the poor to be full.

8. The remembrance of such mercy from God should humble souls in their approaches to God (Genesis 32:10). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Mercies remembered

Bishop Hutton was travelling between Wensleydale and Ingleton, when he dismounted and retired to a particular spot, where he knelt down and continued some time in prayer. On his return, one of his attendants inquired his reason for this act. The bishop informed him, that when he was a poor boy, he travelled over that cold and bleak mountain without shoes or stockings, and that he remembered disturbing a cow on the identical spot where he prayed, that the might warm his feet and legs on the place where she had lain. His feelings of gratitude would not allow him to pass the place without presenting his thanksgiving to God for His mercies to him. I am become two bands

I. THE CONTRAST HERE PRESENTED BETWEEN THE EARLY LONELINESS AND POVERTY OF LIFE AND ITS GROWING RICHES IS UNIVERSAL.

1. What is life but a constant gathering of riches? Compare the man and the woman of forty with their childhood. They have made themselves a name and a place in life; they are centres of attraction to troops of friends. How rich has life become to them I how full its storehouses of knowledge, power, and love!

2. That which is stored in the mind, that which is stored in the heart, is the true treasure; the rest is mere surplusage. To know and to love: these are the directions in which to seek our riches.

3. There is no other way to make life a progress, but to root it in God.

II. Consider THE HIGHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAW OF INCREASE, the deeper and more solemn sense in which, through the ministry of the angel of death, we become “two bands.”

1. Through death there has been a constant progress in the forms and aspects of creation. The huge, coarse, unwieldy types which ruled of old in both the animal and vegetable worlds have vanished, and out of their ashes the young phoenix of creation has sprung which is the meet satellite of man.

2. This is the counsel of God: to make the darkness of death beautiful for us; to make it the one way home; to show us that the progress is not rounded, but prolonged and completed, and that the increase is not gathered, but consecrated by death as the possession of eternity. To bring heaven easily within our reach God separates the bands--part have crossed the flood, part are on the hither side, and the instinct of both tells them that they are one. At the last great day of God they shall be one band once more, met again and met for ever. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)


Verse 11-12

Genesis 32:11-12

Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother

Jacob’s prayer

Observe the spirit of Jacob’s prayer.

I. IT WAS A REVERENT SPIRIT.

II. A HUMBLE SPIRIT.

III. A THANKFUL SPIRIT.

IV. A SPIRIT DEEPLY SENSIBLE OF ITS DEPENDENCY UPON GOD.

V. A SPIRIT OF GREAT CONFIDENCE IN GOD. (Homilist.)

Lessons

1. The greatest fears do not drive away holy souls from prayer: faith looks to God for help.

2. Jehovah alone is the rock of salvation to whom believing souls fly for deliverance.

3. Dismal is the danger by the hand of a brother engaged that is cruel and bloody.

4. Fears may possess the hearts of God’s ,covenanted ones in respect of such cruel instruments and of danger by them to them and theirs (Genesis 32:11).

5. God’s promise of salvation quickens faith and strengthens prayer in His saints against their own unworthiness.

6. It is fit for faith to press God with the certainty and enlargedness of His promise to His servants.

7. General promises of grace are to be drawn to special use in times of temptation.

8. Upon such promises saints dare trust God with themselves and children (Genesis 32:12). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

I fear him

Fear and faith

Jacob’s fear, and Jacob’s faith--“I fear him: and Thou saidst.” Whether is that a contrast, or a connection, or both? I believe that it is both. And I have linked the two together as the text, because they will be found to stand thus related by the double tie of contrast and connection--deep, painful contrast, and yet strangely close kindredness also and connection--the fear with the faith--“I fear him: and Thou saidst.”

I. JACOB’S FEAR AT THIS TIME--“I fear him,” said he.

1. My first remark respecting the fear is, that there was a great deal of unworthy unbelief in it.

2. And yet, secondly, there was not wanting in it an element, kindred at least to faith. True, he might have left the Divine promise--ought to have left it tranquilly--in the keeping of the Divine power and faithfulness. Still, this is no mere craven dread of his personal safety, nor of that even of his beloved family, simply as such, but for that family as in relation to the Divine covenant, with which his own hopes for eternity, and the welfare of all the families of the earth, were bound up. There was an element in his fear, I say, kindred at least to faith.

3. And, thirdly, I observe on Jacob’s fear, that, amid all its unworthiness, it was a fear told freely out to God--laid bare before the omniscient One--“I fear him,” says he, speaking to Jehovah. A great lesson this, beloved, for us in reference to our difficulties, temptations, fears--that we bring them all to the Lord--tell them freely out to Him. It may be that our fears are weak and foolish--such as others might only smile at. Or it may be that they are deeply unworthy, and such as we should be ashamed to tell to others. But they shall be much more than safe with God. Let us tell them to Him, hearing the voice, “Bring them hither to Me.”

4. As it was a fear told freely out to the Lord, so it shut up Jacob the more to the Lord, and to His word of promise.

II. JACOB’S FAITH: “Thou saidst”--“I fear him: and Thou saidst.”

1. Well, the things that have been already said have prepared us for my first remark on the faith, which is, that it is faith in conflict--faith in a struggle with unbelief and fear.

2. And so, secondly, I observe, on Jacob’s faith here, that, if it is faith in conflict--in a struggle with unbelief--it is faith prevailing, victorious, in the conflict, “I fear him: and Thou saidst.” I pray you to note that that is Jacob’s closing word--he ends here. He plants his foot on this rock of the promise, and here will abide, “Thou saidst.”

3. But, thirdly, I observe in Jacob’s faith, that it is faith in the midst of difficulties taking simple hold of God in his word of promise.

4. Once more, I observe that this is faith exercised in immediate converse and fellowship with God in prayer. Brethren, prayer and faith are entirely distinct; yet they are most intimately connected together. For, as there is no true prayer without some measure of faith, so faith is never better exercised than in prayer. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)

Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good

The Master-key opening the gate of heaven

The possession of a God, or the non-possession of a God, makes the greatest possible difference between man and man. Esau is a princely being, but he is “a profane person.” Jacob is a weak, fallible, frail creature, but he has a God. Have you not heard of “the mighty God of Jacob”? My dear hearers, you can divide yourselves without difficulty by this rule: have you a God, or have you none? If you have no God, what have you? If you have no God, what good have you to expect? What, indeed, can be good to you? If you have no God, how can you face the past, the present, or the future? But if you have God for your portion, your whole history is covered. The God of the past has blotted out your sin, the God of the present makes all things work for your good, the God of the future will never leave you nor forsake you.

In God you are prepared for every emergency. He shall guard thee from all evil; the Lord shall preserve thy soul.

1. Because Jacob had a God, therefore he went to Him in the hour of his trouble. As well have no God, as have an unreal God, who cannot be found in the midnight of our need. But what a blessing it is to be able to go to our God at all times, and pour out our hearts before Him; for our God will be our Helper, and that right early! He is our near and dear Friend, in joy and in sorrow.

2. Make thou good use of thy God, and especially gain the fullest advantage from Him by pleading with Him in prayer. In troublous times, our best communion with God will be carried on by supplication. Tell Him thy case; search out His promise, and then plead it with holy boldness. This is the best, the surest, the speediest way of relief.

3. Beloved, we see that Jacob had a God, and that he made use of Him in prayer; but the point I want to call your attention to at this time is, that the stress, the force, the very sinew of Jacob’s prayer consisted in his pleading the promise of God with God. When he came to real wrestling with the Lord, then he cried, “Thou saidst.” That is the way to lay a hold upon the covenant angel--“Thou saidst.” The art of wrestling lies much in a proper use of “Thou saidst.” Jacob, with all his mistakes, was a master of the art of prayer: we justly call him “wrestling Jacob.” He said, “I will not let Thee go.” He gets grip for his hands out of this “Thou saidst.” In handling my text, which was Jacob’s prayer, I shall notice--

I. First, it ought to be OUR MEMORIAL. I mean that we ought to recollect much more than we do what God has said. We should lay up His word in our hearts as men lay up gold and gems in their caskets: it should be as dear to us as life itself. My heart stands in awe of God’s word, and I am sorrowful because so many trifle with it. No good can come of irreverence towards Scripture; we ought to cherish it in our heart of hearts.

1. We ought to do this, first, with regard to what God hath said. You notice that Jacob puts it, “Thou saidst,” and then he quotes the words--“Surely I will do thee good.” It is an essential part of the education of a Christian to learn the promises.

2. Moreover, Jacob also knew when God had spoken a promise, for he quotes twice the fact that God had spoken to him, and said so-and-so. It is clear that he knew when the promise was spoken. I have often found peculiar comfort, not only in a promise, but in noticing the occasion for its being made.

3. There is another matter which it is important for us to know, namely, to whom God made the promise. Jacob knew to whom it was spoken. He tells us in a previous verse that God had spoken a certain promise to himself. “Which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee.” A promise that was made to another man will be of no service to me until I can discover that I, being in the same condition as that other man, and being of like character to that other man, and exercising like faith to that other man, do stand before God in the same position as he did, and therefore the word addressed to him is spoken also to me. Brethren, I entreat you continually to study God’s word to see whether the promise is made to your character and condition, and so is made to yourself, as much as if your name were written upon it.

II. Secondly, “Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good” this is GOD’S BOND. Nothing holds a man like his word, and nothing so fully fixes the course of action of the Lord our God as His own promise. From the necessity of His nature He will be faithful. What a mighty thing, then, is a promise, since it is a bond which holds God Himself! How does it do so?

1. I answer, it holds Him, first, by His truth. If a man says, “I will,” it is not in his power, without a breach of truth, to refuse to make good his word. If a promise be made by one man to another, it is considered to be a matter of honour to fulfil it. Unless a man is willing to tarnish his honour, and disgrace his truthfulness, he will certainly do as he has solemnly promised to do. Alas! many persons think lightly of truthfulness: they even dare to swear lightly; but what do we think of such people? To utter solemn promises, and then to disown them, is not the way to be esteemed and honoured. It can never be so with God. None can impeach His veracity. None shall ever be able to do so.

2. But, next, he who enters into an engagement is bound to keep his word, or he is considered to be vacillating and changeable: the Lord is, therefore, held by His immutability. He is God, and changes not.

3. But sometimes men make a promise, and they are unable to fulfil it from want of power. Many a time it has cost honest minds great grief to feel that, though they are willing enough to do what they have engaged to do, yet they have lost their ability to perform their word. This is a grave sorrow to a sincere mind. This can never happen to the Almighty God. He fainteth not, neither is weary. To Him there is no feebleness of decline, or failure of decay. God All-sufficient is still His name.

4. Once more, the Lord’s wisdom also holds Him to His promise. Men make engagements thoughtlessly, and before long they realize that it would he ruinous to keep them. It is foolish to keep a foolish promise. Yet because wisdom is not in us we make mistakes, and find ourselves in serious difficulties. It may so happen that a person may feel compelled to say, “I promised to do that which, upon nacre careful consideration, I find it would be wicked and unjust for me to do. My promise was void from the beginning, for no man has a right to promise to do wrong.” Whatever justification an erring man can find in his folly to excuse him from fulfilling his rash promise, nothing of the kind can occur with God. He never speaks without knowledge, for He sees the end from the beginning, and He is infallibly good and wise.

5. I should not complete my statement if I did not add that to go to God through Jesus Christ, is to use the best and most powerful of pleas.

III. So then, last of all, this may be, and this ought to be, in prayer OUR PLEA, as it was Jacob’s plea--even this “Thou saidst.”

1. We may urge the gracious promise of the Lord as pleading against our own unworthiness. This must win the suit. If a man has made me a promise, he cannot refuse to keep it on the ground that I am unworthy; because it is his own character that is at stake, not mine. However unworthy I am, he must not prove himself to be unworthy by failing to keep his word.

2. This is also good pleading as against our present danger. See how Jacob puts it with regard to his own peril. He sets out his very natural fear from his brother’s anger: the mother, the children, everybody would be smitten by fierce Esau; and to save himself from this threatened horror Jacob lifts the shield of the promise, and as good as says to the Lord his God, “If this calamity should happen, how can Thy promise be kept? Thou saidst, ‘Surely I will do thee good’; but, Lord, it is not good for Esau’s sword to shed our blood! If Thou permit his anger to slay us, where is Thine engagement to do good unto Thy servant?” This reminds one of the plea of Moses, when he asked, “What will the Egyptions say?” If Israel were destroyed in the wilderness, what would Jehovah do for His great name? This is a prevalent argument.

3. Once more, as to future blessedness. Jacob used this argument, “Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good,” as to all his future hopes, for he went on to say, “Thou saidst, I will make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” Not as much as he should, but still in a measure Jacob lived in the future. He lived under the influence and expectation of the covenant blessing. Now, brethren, what hope have you and I of getting to heaven? None, except that the Lord has said, “I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish.” I shall never perish, for Jesus says I never shall. He has also said, “Where I am, there shall also My servant be.” Therefore I shall be in the glory with Him, and that is enough for me. (C. H. Spurgeon)
.

Good comes through difficulty

Now the highest and richest good often comes to men through difficulties and disappointments, losses and crosses, sicknesses and sorrows. Men are very prone to forget this, and to get discouraged in the hour of trial, but it is true nevertheless. The vinedresser does the vine good, not only by manuring its roots and admitting sunshine to its branches, but by sometimes opening his knife and cutting off superfluous leaves and wanton shoots, for by this pruning he has enabled the tree to bear more abundant fruit. The doctor does the patient good, sometimes by kindly looks and hopeful words, and soothing powders, but at other times by prohibiting favourite foods administering nauseous medicines, and even by using the sharp lancet. The father does his child good, not by gratifying all his desires and humouring all his whims, but rather sometimes by prohibiting certain pleasures, enjoying special tasks, and occasionally using the rod. The heavenly Vinedresser, Doctor and Father, deals with us on similar principles. He does not say to any one of us, I will always consult thy wishes, gratify thy tastes, and gladden thine heart, but I will always do thee good. And many have found that pain ministers to profit, that the sickness of the body promotes the health of the soul, that the cutting off of temporal comforts opens the way for the inflowing of spiritual blessings; and that the removal of earthly friends brings them into closer sympathy and communion with Jesus Christ the heavenly Friend; so that with David they have been able to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, for before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I know Thy law”; and with Paul, “These light afflictions which are but for a moment work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”


Verses 13-20

Genesis 32:13-20

A present for Esau.

Jacob’s offering to Esau

1. Prudent disposition of presents must follow the preparation of them.

2. Good servants are fit helps unto good masters for ordering their affairs.

3. Order is as needful as matter unto prudence to pacifiy enraged enemies.

4. Wise masters must give instructions to servants for the prosperity of their own affairs.

5. Lawful instructions from masters must be strictly observed by servants.

6. Humble presentations of saints to lords of the world is comely to procure peace.

7. Frequent and gradual expressions of such goodness and humility is most likely to overcome them.

8. Faces of cruel men are hard to be reconciled unto the faces of the righteous.

9. By foregoing gifts and preventing grace from God, saints may gel a good look from such men.

10. Jacob and Jacob’s children are forced so to seek peace in the world. (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Verses 21-23

Genesis 32:21-23

Himself lodged that night in the company

Lessons -

1.
Honest hearts do not only intend good, but see it done, before they rest.

2. Means lawful being used for safety, men may better lie down in peace.

3. It behoveth masters of families to rest among the charge, when it may be (Genesis 32:21).

4. Diligence and early care of their’s becomes Governors of families in times of danger.

5. Wives and children are the chiefest matter of a man’s care and providence.

6. It is fatherly care to see as much as they can wives and children past danger (Genesis 32:22).

7. It is the duty of the father of the family to order the motions of all under him.

8. After wives and children, substance is to be cared for, to keep it safe, for subsistence (Genesis 32:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Verse 24

Genesis 32:24

Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him

The crisis in Jacob’s life

From this description of a day and a night in the life of Jacob we learn three things.

1. This is a crisis, a turning-point in his career. His experience at the ford of Jabbok is his “conversion” from the craft and cunning and vulturous greed of years to the sweet subjection of his will to the Eternal, and consequent victory over himself and his brother.

2. God is in this crisis from first to last and at every moment of these twenty-four hours.

3. The crisis closes in the victory of the patient and loving Lord over the resisting selfishness of Jacob. Note these points:--

I. It must have been a welcome fore-gleam of approaching victory, and a pledge of the sustaining presence of Jehovah in the “valley of the shadow of death,” that as this day of crisis broke on the pilgrim the angels of God met him.

II. What is the significance of this terrific conflict? It means this assuredly. Jacob having gone to God in quaking fear, God holds him and will not let him go; goads and harrows his soul, till his heart swells and is ready to break; urges him to such a relentless and soul-consuming struggle with his self-will that he feels as though he is held in the grip of a giant and cannot escape. He resists, he struggles, he writhes, and in his furious contortions is at last lamed and helpless, and therefore compelled to trust himself and his all to God.

III. Jacob wrestled against God, but at last yielding, his soul is suffused with the blessedness of the man whose trust is in the Lord. Faber asks, with mingled beauty and force, “What is it will make us real?” and answers, “The face of God will do it.” It is so. Israel is a new creation: Jacob is dead. Dark as the night was, Jacob passed through it, saw the face of God at day-dawn, and became himself, met his brother with serenity, and spent the rest of his days in the love and service of God. (J. Clifford, D. D.)

The change in Jacob

I. In what position do we find Jacob’s spiritual state up to the time of this second incident in his life? During the first period of his life he was simply a man of the world. After the vision at Bethel he was a religious man; the sense of religious influence was seen in his life; after the conflict at the ford Jabbok he became a spiritually minded man. He was going home with his sin yet weighty on his soul, unpardoned, unforgiven, uncleansed by the Divine power. Bethel was the house of God, to teach him that he could not set his foot upon a single acre of soil without finding that the Governor of the world was there; here we have the unfolding of the wider thought of the intercommunion and personal relationship between the soul of man and his Maker.

II. Those who trust in the God of Bethel and providence are looking to Him for what He gives; but the aspirations of the spiritual man are wholly different. At Bethel Jacob said, “If Thou wilt be with me and wilt do me good.” At Jabbok his first thought was, “Tell me Thy name.” He desired to know more of God, not to get more from God. To gain further spiritual experience--this is the thirst of the spiritual man. To make a friend of God for the good that we can get--this is the idea of the merely religious man. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)

Jacob’s struggle

I. All the evidence here goes to prove that the wonderful wrestler, who contended with Jacob, was the one only true God.

II. Being God and being man, we are right in calling Him Christ, and in placing this incident as the second of the anticipatory advents of the Messiah which lie scattered over the Old Testament.

III. As Jacob wrestled with God in human form, so it is with God in the Lord Jesus Christ that in all our spiritual conflicts, in all our deep repentances, in all our struggling prayers, we must wrestle.

IV. There were two things which Christ gave in this encounter--a wound and a blessing. The wound first and then the blessing. The wound was small and for a season; the blessing was infinite and for ever. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Jacob striving with God

We see here the supernatural appearing in the world of the natural. We see God veiling Himself in human form, as He veiled Himself in the form of Christ His Son in after years. We must look at this story of miracle in the light of the miracle of the Incarnation.

I. In this striving of the patriarch with God, and in the blessing he won at the end of the striving, we see the very height and picture of our life, if into that life has passed the life of Christ our Lord.

II. It is by wrestling that we win the Divine blessing, but whether in struggling against doubt, against temptation, or against the enemies of the Church, we must take heed that we fight wisely as well as earnestly. We may strive, and we must strive; but let us strive wisely and lawfully if we would win the blessing.

III. The homeliest, the least eventful life, may and should be a supernatural life-a life in which Christ dwells, a life which the Holy Spirit sanctifies. If we can thus strive and wrestle on, the dawn comes at last, and we are blessed of God. (Bishop Magee.)

Jacob’s crisis-night

I. Any attempt to make Jacob a hero, or even a good man, at the time of his deception of his father, must fail. At that time he represented the very lowest quality of manhood. We can call him a man only by courtesy; while Esau, a venturous and kind-hearted child of nature, stands up as a prince, uncrowned indeed, but only because a thief had robbed him of his crown. In the fact that God chose Jacob we find the germ of the redemptive idea at work.

II. Jacob was not at once promoted to his high place. As a wanderer and a stranger, he underwent most humiliating discipline, and on this night his old and wretched past was replaced by a new name and a new hope.

III. There must be such a night in every life--a night in which the sinful past shall go down for ever into the depths of unfathomable waters. The wrestling of Jacob was

IV. The night of wrestling was followed by a morning of happy reconciliation with his brother. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Jacob wrestling with the angel

Consider this incident--

I. AS TO ITS OUTWARD FORM.

II. AS TO ITS SPIRITUAL MEANING.

1. That the great struggle of life is to know and feel after God.

2. That God reveals Himself through mystery and awe.

3. That God reveals Himself to us in blessing.

4. That God’s revelation of Himself to us is intended to change our character.

5. That God is conquered by prayer and supplication. (T. H. Leale.)

The features of the development of revealed faith in Jacob’s wrestling

1. The germ of the Incarnation. Godhead and humanity wrestling with each other; the Godhead in the form of a man.

2. The germ of the atonement. Sacrifice of the human will.

3. The germ of justification by faith. “I will not let Thee go,” etc.

4. The germ of the new-birth. Jacob, Israel.

5. The germ of the principle of love to one’s enemies. The reconciliation with God, reconciliation with the world. (J. P,Lange.)

Guilt all alone

I. His EXPERIENCE is singularly transparent, though seriously mixed.

1. We know, for one thing, he was in positive fear.

2. There was solicitude in his experience.

3. There was reminiscence in his experience.

4. There was remorse in his experience.

II. THE INGENIOUS PRECAUTIONS HE TAKES. He made the best disposal of all his affairs that he could under the circumstances. Four things there were on which he grounded some hope.

1. One was his late vision of the angels at Mahanaim.

2. His vast worldly wealth.

3. Disposition of forces.

4. Prayer.

III. HIS LONELINESS. (C. S Robison, D. D.)

Jacob’s wrestle

I. THE CONFLICT.

1. Its loneliness.

2. Its earnestness.

II. THE VICTORY. “He blest him there.” What was the nature of the Divine blessing?

1. A change in the man’s state.

In more than a physical sense, “Jacob halted on his thigh.” Whoever spends half a lifetime in sin, must not be alarmed if traces of old habit remain.

2. A change in the man’s relations.

The history and mystery of Jacob’s life

I. OF THE COMBAT ITSELF.

1. In the general, it is one of the most famous combats recorded in Scripture; we read, indeed, in that Divine record of sundry eminent conflicts carried on after the manner of a duel. As of that combat betwixt little David and great Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40, &c.); but in that the match was only made betwixt man and man, there was only one mortal against another, though the one was a great giant, and the other was but, in comparison of his antagonist, a little dwarf. Here is a rare show indeed. Go along with me, I beseech you, both to see and hear this great wonder in some sense, the greatest wonder that ever was in the world, that God Himself, as will appear after, should come down from His throne in heaven to wrestle a fall with man, a poor worm (Isaiah 41:14; Psalms 22:6), upon his foot-stool on earth.

2. But more particularly, in the second place, what kind of combat this was, whether corporal only, or spiritual only, or both together, is our next inquiry. There be some who say that it was only spiritual by way of vision, or in way of a dream, imaginary only. So Thomas, Rupertus, and Rabbi Levi, who thinketh that Jacob’s thigh might be hurt by some other means, as by the weariness of his tedious travel, or by his catching cold while he lay that cold night upon the cold ground, rather than by any real wrestling; and he further added, that Jacob dreamed of that same hurt upon his hip. How improbable this is may be easily urged. Assuredly Jacob had little either list or leisure for sleeping, much less for dreaming, while he was so struck even with a panic fear of his bloody brother. It was, therefore, a real and corporal combat, not visional or imaginary, which appears by many reasons.

II. The next part or particular of this famous history is JACOB’S VALOUR, which is conspicuously demonstrable in several circumstances.

1. It is a clear discovery hereof, if his antagonist be well considered, that he was no less than the Omnipotent Jehovah.

2. Discovery of Jacob’s valour is drawn from the circumstance of time when he wrestled, as the first was from the person with whom he had his conflict. The time when was the most timorous time of all times, it was in the night time, which is accounted a time of fear.

3. Wherein Jacob’s courage and valour carries a high commendation, is, in respect of the length as well as lonesomeness of it, even all the night until the dawning of the day (Genesis 32:24-25). Though wrestling work be most wearisome work, stretching every sinew in the flesh, and every jointbone in the body, and requiring the very utmost of a man’s strength and skill.

4. The fourth circumstance, which higher illustrates Jacob’s valour, is the sad posture he was now in, a lame and limping man, who had but one sound leg to stand upon while he wrestled with his adversary. As his place was a solitary and disconsolate place, so his posture was a discouraging and disadvantageous posture.

5. The fifth circumstance, which further commends Jacob’s courage and valour, is the lastingness of his valour, the ever and everlasting noble temper of his mind under this wounding hurt, and under all other wonderful discouragements.

III. NOW come we, from Jacob’s valour, thus demonstrated, unto that which was the royal wage thereof, to wit, HIS VICTORY. Though this was, secondarily, but the just reward of his right, noble resolution. Yea, Jacob’s victory and prevailing over God here was symbolical, as it was a predicting sign--

1. That his person should prevail over Esau.

2. That his posterity should prevail over Esau’s offspring, the Edomites or Idumeans.

3. That Christ, springing from Jacob, should subdue all His enemies, that every knee should bow to Christ (Philippians 2:10).

4. It was also a symbol or sign that every true Christian, who are Israelites indeed (John 1:47), and the right new and now Israel of God Galatians 6:16), should likewise conquer all their temporal and spiritual adversaries, the flesh, the world, and the devil.

IV. Though God granted Jacob the victory, yet must he have something with it to humble him, to wit, HIS LUXATION OR LAMENESS, as before, that he might not be too much puffed up with the glory of his victory, nor, as it were, drunk with his success in this single combat. The conqueror here cannot come off with his conquest alone, but he must come off halting from it. He must be made sensible both of his antagonist’s potency, in being lamed by him, whereby he understood him greater than himself, therefore desired he his blessing, for the lesser is blessed of the greater Hebrews 7:7), and also of his own impotency, and to have low thoughts of himself while he came off with flying colours in the most glorious triumph. He must, even when he had overcome the great God, understand himself to be but a sorry man, otherwise he could not have been so lamed. He was, therefore, lamed that he might not ascribe the victory to his own strength, and that he might not, notwithstanding his overcoming God, be overcome by the pride of his own heart. Pride is a weed that will grow out of any ground--like mistletoe, that will grow upon any tree--but for the most part upon the best--the oak. Of all sorts of pride, that which is spiritual is most venomous, and far worse than temporal. That pride which grows out of the ground of our own graces and duties, is more poisonous than that which flows from honour, treasure, or pleasure. The holiest have their haltings, which they carry, as Jacob did his, along with them to their dying day. God hath His redder at every man’s foot, and His bridle upon all men’s spirits, to rein them in from self-exaltation, that they may not mount too high by having the victory. Oh, that our former haltings may be sanctified to us, so as to work savingly in us some future humblings. Thus, holy Jacob, in this holy contention with this holy angel, by those holy weapons obtains those holy things.

1. Holy honour.

2. The holy blessing. (C. Ness.)

Penuel

I. THE CONFLICT.

II. THE VICTORY.

III. THE RESULTS. (T. S. Dickson.)

Jacob at Penuel

I. How GOD PREVAILED WITH JACOB In regard to this Divine conflict, think of--

1. Its condescension.

2. Its necessity.

3. Its success.

II. How JACOB PREVAILED WITH GOD.

1. Jacob prevailed when he had been made to feel his own weakness.

2. Jacob prevailed, not by the exercise of natural strength, but by the purely spiritual force of trustful and earnest prayer.

III. THE RESULTS THAT FOLLOWED FROM THIS MEMORABLE CONFLICT.

1. Jacob received a new name.

2. Jacob received new spiritual power.

3. Jacob received a blessing which fully compensated for unexplained mystery. (G. J. Allen, B. A.)

Jacob at Penuel

I. JACOB’S WRESTLING.

1. A personal contest.

2. A protracted contest.

3. A contest with an unknown person.

II. JACOB’S VICTORY.

1. A partial victory.

2. A victory by which he obtained a better name.

3. A victory ever to be remembered. (Homilist.)

Human lonelihood

Man is lonely--

1. In his profoundest thoughts.

2. In his moral convictions.

3. In his greatest sorrows.

4. In his dying moments. (Homilist.)

The wrestling of Jacob

I. JACOB’S WRESTLING.

1. Of course I need hardly say that the wrestling of Jacob was not physical but spiritual, and that it refers to importunity in prayer, to great earnestness and perseverance in that duty. It is presumed all Christians know this much even from their cradles, Now, the time and place where this transaction occurred are worthy of notice. The time was during the night season. The place, very likely the tent of Jacob, fixed in the open country, in the spot from which the little village of Penuel, so called from this event, derives its interest. It was when all was still and hushed, and no voice was heard, perhaps, save the lowing of the cattle and the bleating of the sheep. It was on the eve of Jacob meeting his brother when the mind of Jacob was full of anxious thought and fears.

2. Consider the Infinite Being to whom Jacob addressed his prayer, and the manner or mode of His presence. God. Spiritually present to all who seek and love Him.

3. The intense earnestness of the prayer of Jacob is called a “wrestling” with God; it was so importunate, so full of feeling, and so bent upon obtaining its request. And the felt nearness of the Divine presence; the assurance of the power and willingness of the Infinite to bestow what was wanted; and of the very simple, gentle, and loving attractiveness of the Presence, drew out all that intensity of feeling and word so fully expressed in the language of the Patriarch, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” Such earnestness as here expressed, forms a striking contrast to the cold dead religious conventionalism of the age. There is great naturalness too in this earnestness of entreaty. It is what is felt oftentimes in some of our earthly affairs. For instance, let us suppose a person bent upon obtaining some particular object: say it has engaged his thoughts by night and by day, ever pressing itself upon his attention; an object of all others most desirable to be obtained. Well, let us further suppose that the moment has arrived when your wishes and hopes may be fulfilled; when he who can accomplish this is close beside you. Can you not imagine that as the person referred to becomes more and more friendly, and familiar, and endearing, that the earnestness of expectation will rise in proportion, and the determination to obtain what is longed for more and more fixed? Such too is the case with the heart in prayer with God.

II. THE RESULT OF THE PRAYER.

1. The change of Jacob’s name to Israel, a prince and a conqueror, and also a change of character. The change of character is the most important, and his altered name is the sign by which that is forestalled. Henceforth he is no longer to be known as a subtle supplanter, but as an ennobled conqueror, who has waived all intrigue and treacherous design, and fought the battle bravely, openly, and honestly.

2. To conclude, know we anything of this inner life of the soul, of this earnest and intense struggle of a praying heart, of this deep and solemn communing with the Almighty? Do we feel that He is so near us at all times in the restless, and busy, and anxious seasons of life, that we have only just to turn our hearts towards Him to realize the power and comfort of His presence? Brethren beloved, who is in reality your God and mine? Is He the God of the wrestling Jacob, drawing us into close and earnest fellowship with Himself, and inspiring us with a feeling of trust that clings to Him, that yearns after Him, and that will not let Him go until He answers our petitions? Or is it some other idol we worship--some god of this world we obey? (W. D. Horwood.)

Jacob’s example in prayer

I. IT BRINGS TO VIEW THE HUMAN SIDE OF PRAYER. Communion with God. No true or prevalent prayer where Christ is not laid hold of.

II. GENUINE PRAYER IS ACTUAL PERSONAL CONTACT OF THE SOUL WITH GOD IN CHRIST.

III. Note THE MEANS BY WHICH JACOB PREVAILED. Only when he ceased to rely on his own strength, and resorted to the weapon of prayer, did he succeed. So it is ever with the Christian.

IV. Note THE REWARD OF IMPORTUNATE PRAYER.

V. EVERY CHRISTIAN HAS POWER TO PREVAIL WITH GOD IN PRAYER.

VI. How SUGGESTIVE JACOB’S MEMORIAL NAME. “Penuel.” “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

Jacob’s prevailing prayer;

I. THE REPRESENTATIVE CHARACTER OF JACOB AT PRAYER.

1. He represents the true Christian in that he prayed.

2. He represents the true Christian in the characteristics of his prayer.

3. He represents many a Christian in his anxiety.

4. He represents the judicious Christian in using all proper means that lie in his power.

II. THE REPRESENTATIVE CHARACTER OF JACOB WRESTLING WITH THE ANGEL.

1. It represents the purpose of God in all His disciplinary measures.

2. It represents the means by which faith grows to its maturity.

Lessons:

1. God graciously deals with each of His children according to their circumstances and temperament.

2. Wrong-doing ever brings anxiety, weakness, failure.

3. To prevail with God, faith must rely only on Him. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Jacob wrestling with God

I. THE NATURE OF ACCEPTABLE PRAYER.

1. There must be a deep sense of personal unworthiness (Genesis 32:10).

2. We must cherish confidence in the word and the goodness of

God.

3. Perseverance should distinguish our prayers.

II. THE BLESSINGS WHICH BELIEVING PRAYER SECURES.

1. God’s special protection.

2. The sensible enjoyment of an interest in God’s love.

3. A blissful anticipation of glory.

Conclusion:

1. A word to the sinner. Prayerless sinner, what will become of you?

2. A word to the saint. Encouragement. It is said “ God blessed him there.” He blessed him in the very place in which He had lamed him. And does not this intimate that when we are sunk the lowest in discouragement, that relief is just at hand that the darkest hour is the prelude to the brightest day, and that holy earnest petitions overcome heaven itself, and bring down to earth the odours of immortality and the supports of Omnipotence. Oh! believer, cleave to the example of Jacob--say, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” (W. Hodson.)

Wrestling Jacob

I. THE BELIEVER IN HIS DIFFICULTY. Rest on the promises of a loving Jehovah, and go through all your trials honouring God, and experiencing patience and peace in your souls. But, moreover, you children of God, who have had trouble, and have it at this moment, do not be cast down.

II. THE BELIEVER IN HIS INSTRUMENTALITY.

1. You will perceive in the conduct of Jacob, in the first place, peculiar wisdom. There was no presumption in the conduct of Jacob. He made use of every variety of means to appease the anger of Esau; and after he had made these most providential arrangements, he remained with God alone. Having made these arrangements, he did not depend on them; he flew to his great resource, his only sure instrumentality, and that which, after all, must be that on which all must rest--namely, prayer to God.

2. You will perceive that this prayer, from the few words in which it is presented to our notice, is remarkable for its earnestness. Further, we mention that this prayer is remarkable for its perseverance, its persevering earnestness--“I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”

III. THE BELIEVER IN HIS BLESSING. (H. Allen, M. A.)

Penuel

I. We have here A STRIKING ILLUSTRATION OF THE LONELINESS OF ALL REAL DISTRESS. There is a certain solitariness about every man. The proverb says that “there is a skeleton in every house,” and it is equally true that there is a secret closet in every heart where the soul keeps its skeleton, and to which, after sending wife and children across the brook, it retires in times of sadness and insolation. There is something in every soul that is never told to mortal, but which, as if to make up for its being withheld from others, has a strange fascination for ourselves; and in every moment of silence it is heard sounding in our secret ear. Even those nearest and dearest to us know not of these hidden things. They are kept for solitude; nay, such is some their power over us that they draw us into retirement that they may speak to us awhile. Different exceedingly in their character may those things be that are hidden thus in the secret chamber of men’s hearts. They differ in different individuals, and in the same individual at different times. In the case of Jacob here, guilt and suspense were the troubles of his soul.

II. But the narrative before us teaches us that in this dreary solitude our ONLY EFFECTUAL RESOURCE IS INCARNATE GOD. For as this mysterious one came to Jacob, so Jesus came to earth, a human brother, and, at the same time, a divine helper. And herein does He not precisely meet our need? As a man He comes, and so we need not be afraid of Him. You know the beautiful story which Homer tells in connection with the parting of Hector and Andromache. The hero was going to his last battle, and his wife accompanied him as far as the gates of the city, followed by a nurse carrying in her arms their infant child. When he was about to depart, Hector held out his hands to receive the little one, but, terrified by the burnished helmet and the waving plume, the child turned away and clung crying to the nurse’s neck. In a moment, divining the cause of the infant’s alarm, the warrior took off his helmet and laid it on the ground, and then, smiling through his tears, the little fellow leaped into his father’s arms. Now, similarly, Jehovah of hosts, Jehovah with the helmet on, would frighten us weak guilty ones away; but in the person of the Lord Jesus He has laid that helmet off, and now the guiltiest and the neediest are encouraged to go to His fatherly embrace, and avail themselves of His support. But while thus His humanity emboldens us to apply to Him, His divinity furnishes us with the help we need. That which I cling to for strength must be something other than myself, and something stronger than myself, otherwise it will be time as worthless as a broken reed. When in the howling hurricane wave after wave is breaking over the ship and sweeping the deck from stem to stern, it will not do for the sailor to depend upon himself; neither will it avail for him to grasp his fellow, for they may together be washed into the deep; but he lays hold of the iron bulwark, making the strength of the iron for the moment to be as his own, and is upheld. So in the surges of agony that sooner or later sweep over every man, it will not do for him to depend upon himself, or even to hold by a fellow-mortal. He needs one who while, he is a brother, is mightier than any human brother; and here in Jesus Christ, the God-man, the great necessity of his heart is met; for is the omnipotence of divinity added to the accessibility of humanity. Nor is this all. Jesus Christ as God, is omniscient as well as omnipotent. He knows, therefore, precisely what is wrong with us.

III. But the narrative before us teaches us further, THAT OUR FIRST APPLICATION TO THIS DIVINE FRIEND MAY BE MET WITH SEEMING REPULSE, BUT THAT RELIEVING IMPORTUNITY WILL ULTIMATELY PREVAIL.

1. When our earnest applications to Him appear to be met with indifference, when our repeated importunity seems only to call forth repeated repulse, when in the yearning earnestness of our entreaty, our hearts feel as if they had lost all strength, even as Jacob’s limb went from beneath him when the angel touched it, let us remember that His design is either to bring our faith to the birth, or by the discipline of resistance %o develop it into greater strength, and let us cling to Him all the more, saying, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”

2. But it is not alone for the strengthening of our faith that the answer to our application may be deferred. Jesus may design thereby to open our eyes to our real need. For observe, though it was suspense concerning Esau that was at first oppressing Jacob, there is no mention of that in this wrestling. He has discovered that he needs something far more important than reconcilation to his elder brother. He wants to know God’s name, that is, his relation to Him, and he desires a blessing from Him. Thus through the apparent denial of the minor request, he is brought to feel his need of something greater than he had thought at first of asking. Now is it not thus very frequently with God’s children still?

IV. I hasten to add, in the last place, that such an experience as that which we have been tracing always LEAVES ITS MARK ON THE INDIVIDUAL WHO HAS PASSED THROUGH IT, AND RENDERS MEMORABLE THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS UNDERGONE. “Jacob halted upon his thigh”--that was literal fact.

But that was not the only permanent memorial of his night of wrestling which Jacob bore upon him. That was, in truth, but the corporeal indication of a spiritual result. The rocks beneath us bear the marks of the flames, to the actions of which, millenniums ago they were exposed; and in the mountain ridges of our planet we may see the record of those terrible convulsions and upheavels to which in former ages it was subjected. In like manner the spirit of a man is marked by the fires of those trials through which he has been made to pass; and we may see in the character and disposition of an individual, the indications or results of those inner struggles through which he has been brought. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Jacob alone

What happens to any one left alone is better worth thinking about than is anything else about him. We all live much of our lives before the world: I mean before that part of mankind which is to each of us our world. But we all live some part of our life alone. We may be utterly alone in a crowd, or even in what is called society. Anywhere, unless you are conscious of more or less sympathy, you are alone. But there are times when we are alone in body, as well as in mind. Jacob was not alone in a crowd. He was alone out of a crowd--alone literally--alone in every sense--alone with God. That which is described occurs every day to a serious and thoughtful man when he is alone. What is it? I can describe it thus. A strife between God and man, which is real but not hostile. It teaches us, if I read aright, that there is a conflict between man and God-or that there may be--which is not one of hostility, but of friendship--a conflict in which God overthrows, but only to raise us the higher. He prevails; lie weakens us; He humbles: but we get the blessing. There is a seeming contradiction in the story’s teaching; but the story is true to experience. He prevails and we prevail. It is with the thought of God as with the sight of the ocean. Look at it as you see it first roll up easily upon the shore. It refreshes and it charms. But sit down and look out “alone” upon the unmeasured waste of desert water beyond. Think of the terrific might that slumbers in that vast water-power. Your mind will be held spell-bound and amazed by the overwhelming grandeur of the object. It will be paralysed. And so it is with that Almighty Power of which the ocean is the fittest symbol. The first shallow thought of God sustains and comforts the soul. It affords a standing-ground and a resting place to the reason, which is embarrassed by the problem of existence. It gives the mind a centre and point of view. It gives the explanation which man requires as a rational being. There is wanting a reason for all things that exist, and God is that reason. We go through the reasoning of first cause of laws of lawgiver. To me, and perhaps to you all, this much is clear. There must be God or nothingness: but some one may say, or think when alone--“Why, then God? and why not nothingness?” That is the wrestle. God strikes the soul. He is asked to tell what He is--“Tell me Thy name.” “Wherefore is it thou askest after My name?” How crushing an answer from God to man! “But He blessed him there.” This is what I have called a strife between God and man, real but not hostile. We are taught about God in our childhood. We learn afterwards to have a reason of the hope that is in us and to be able to give it. We are satisfied that God is intelligible, and, so to speak, reason, let us say, is satisfied: Revelation confirms what reason has declared. (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

Jacob at Penuel

After Jacob had prayed to God, a happy thought strikes him which he at once puts in execution. Anticipating the experience of Solomon, that “a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city,” he, in the style of a skilled tactician, lays siege to Esau’s wrath, and directs against it train after train of gifts, which, like successive battalions pouring into a breach, might at length quite win his brother. This disposition of his peaceful battering trains having occupied him till sunset, he retires to the short rest of a general on the eve of battle. As soon as he judges that the weaker members of the camp are refreshed enough to begin their eventful march, he arises and goes from tent to tent awaking the sleepers and quickly forming them into their usual line of march, sends them over the brook in the darkness, and himself is left alone, not with the depression of a man who waits for the inevitable, but with the high spirits of intense activity, and with the return of the old complacent confidence of his own superiority to his powerful but sluggish-minded brother--a confidence regained now by the certainty he felt, at least for the time, that Esau’s rage could not blaze through all the relays of gifts he had sent forward. Having in this spirit seen all his camp across the brook, he himself pauses for a moment, and looks with interest at the stream before him, and at the promised land on its southern bank. This stream, too, has an interest for him as bearing a name like his own--a name that signifies the” struggler,” and was given to the mountain torrent from the pain and difficulty with which it seemed to find its way through the hills. Sitting on the bank of the stream, he sees gleaming through the darkness the foam that it churned as it writhed through the obstructing rocks, or heard through the night the roar of its torrent as it leapt downwards, tortuously finding its way towards Jordan; and Jacob says, so will I, opposed though I be, win my way by the circuitous routes of craft or by the impetuous rush of courage, into the land whither that stream is going. With compressed lips, and step as firm as when, twenty years before, he left the land, he rises to cross the brook and enter the land--he rises, and is seized in a grasp that he at once owns as formidable. But surely this silent close, as of two combatants who at once recognise one another’s strength, this protracted strife does not look like the act of a depressed man, but of one whose energies have been strung to the highest pitch, and who would have borne down the champion of Esau’s host had he at that hour opposed his entrance into the land which Jacob claimed as his own, and into which, as his glove, pledging himself to follow, he had thrown all that was dear to him in the world. It was no common wrestler that would have been safe to meet him in that mood. Why, then, was Jacob thus mysteriously held back while his household were quietly moving forward in the darkness? What is the meaning, purpose, and use of this opposition to his entrance? These are obvious from the state of mind Jacob was in. He was going forward to meet Esau under the impression that there was no other reason why he should not inherit the land but only his wrath, and pretty confident that by his superior talent, his mother-wit, he could make a tool of this stupid, generous brother of his. And the danger was, that if Jacob’s device had succeeded, he would have been confirmed in these impressions, and have believed that he had won the land from Esau, with God’s help certainly, but still by his own indomitable pertinacity of purpose and skill in dealing with men. Jacob does not yet seem to have taken up the difference between inheriting a thing as God’s gift, and inheriting it as the meed of his own prowess. To such a man God cannot give the land; Jacob cannot receive it. He is thinking only of winning it, which is not at all what God means, and which would, in fact, have annulled all the covenant, and lowered Jacob and his people to the level simply of other nations who had to win and keep their territories at their risk, and not as the blessed of God. If Jacob is then to get the ]and, he must take it as a gift, which he is not prepared to do. And, therefore, just as he is going to step into it, there lays hold of him, not an armed emissary of his brother, but a far more formidable antagonist--if Jacob will win the land, if it is to be a mere trial of skill, a wrestling match, it must at least be with the right person. Jacob is met with his own weapons. He has not chosen war, so no armed opposition is made; but with the naked force of his own nature, he is prepared for any man who will hold the land against him; with such tenacity, toughness, quick presence of mind, elasticity, as nature has given him, he is confident he can win and hold his own. So the real proprietor of the land strips himself for the contest, and lets him feel by the first hold he takes of him, that if the question be one of mere strength he shall never enter the land. This wrestling, therefore, was by no means actually or symbolically prayer.

Jacob was not aggressive, nor did he stay behind his company to spend the night in praying for them. It was God who came and laid hold on Jacob to prevent him from entering the land in the temper he was in, and as Jacob. He was to be taught that it was not only Esau’s appeased wrath, or his own skilful smoothing down of his brother’s ruffled temper, that gave him entrance; but that a nameless Being, who came out upon him from the darkness, guarded the land, and that by His passport only could he find entrance. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Jacob and the angel

I. JACOB PRAYING.

1. He was alone when God came out of His eternity to wrestle with him. There are some whom the Omnipresent can never find alone; He has seldom or never the opportunity of revealing Himself to them.

2. It was night. That is the time the Infinite is best revealed to us.

3. He was sunk in a deep fear. When in health and prosperity you may frame elaborate theories to demonstrate the absurdity of prayer; but let death stare you in the face, let a heavy sorrow or bereavement overtake you, and you cannot help praying.

II. JACOB WRESTLING.

1. There was bodily wrestling on that memorable night.

2. There was mental wrestling.

3. It was a long struggle: lasting all night. Why?

III. JACOB PREVAILING. He desired a blessing. God granted his request--giving him a change of nature, an elevation of character--making him a better, truer, more sincere man. This is the chiefest blessing He can bestow. (J. C. Jones, M. A.)

Mahanaim and Penuel

1. The day and the night mutually act and react. A day of meeting with angels may well be followed by a night of wrestling with God. As you go on your way, through the toil and bustle of this life, remember the thousand eyes which watch you from heaven, and let speech and act testify that your heart is true to the sanctities and solemnities of being. So live and so move as those who know that they have come to an innumerable company of angels, and to God the Judge of all. Thus, when night comes, the veil which shuts out earth will be a glory to open heaven.

2. Lastly, earnestness is the condition of success. (Dean Vaughan.)

Certainty of retribution and possibility of reform

It strikes a great many persons with surprise that Jacob the supplanter should have been the chosen of God. The true answer to this marvel is, that God selects men for His work on earth, not on account of their personal agreeableness, but on account of their adaptation to the work that they have to perform. Now, the object in this case was to establish a nation. There was to be brought up a great seed to Abraham. They were to be established, and out of them was to issue the moral culture of the globe--as it has. Now, although Jacob was a man of many failings and of deep transgressions, yet with them he had a forecast, a shrewdness, a persevering wisdom, an organizing power, that pointed him out as the statesman. And so he was selected, not because in every respect his disposition was the best, but because he was the best instrument to execute the purpose which God had in view. The same thing is taking place continuously. God employs for His purposes instruments which are adapted to those purposes, although they may not be persons that are in harmony with God’s holiness. The crime which he committed against his brother banished him. And now he is returning to his country; and his very first act is to assume the manners of a servant, and to bow down, recognizing the chieftainship of his brother. Such transformation fear makes. And yet, in the midst of this, he is shrewd and self-possessed. Fear, and then calmness; anguish, and then again management. This fluctuation, how extremely natural it is in a moment of suspense. For of all things in this world there is nothing so painful as suspense. And here was this man kept in this fiery state, waiting to know what should be developed; wondering if he should be bereft of his household, and if his property should be swept away, wondering if his brother would be peaceable. Doubtless there were running through his mind all these possibilities. If he is, then what? And if he is not, then what? It was this fiery swinging from one side to another that was the chastisement of the Lord indeed, But now we come to the first step of that great change which passed upon Jacob at this time--for he had reached a crisis, as I shall show, in his life’s history, and in his character and disposition. See this man skulking in the shadow of his sin, and his sin breeding fear, and both of them exciting remorse in him- See how much this man had made by his wrongdoing! For he had struck at the confidence between man and man. He had undermined the very structure on which society stands. He had destroyed faith between brother and brother. It was a great crime, and greatly was he punished for it. How it takes hold of him through his wife, and through his children, and through all that he loves! And how has it been so since the beginning of the world! Hear this old patriarch saying, “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” This was a great grief. Few words were recorded; but ah! it was a great grief. After this prayer, you will see how strangely--not surprisingly, but yet strikingly--back comes his old politic spirit again. “And he lodged there that same night, and took,” &c. “Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” What it was I do not know except that it was an angel-man--the angel of the covenant--that stood in God’s place, and was as God to him. That Jacob knew that it was a superior personage there can be no manner of doubt; but as to what this wrestling was--the whole mode of it--we know nothing. Neither here or in any subsequent Scripture, is therelight thrown upon it. He wrestled with the man “until the breaking of the day.” “And when he”--that is, the celestial personage--“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.” It is very plain that the patriarch understood that the crisis of his life had come. He had prayed to God, and here was the answer to his prayer; and it is very plain that he felt that on his persistent faith depended his whole safety. From this hour Jacob was another man. In the strength of this vision, and in the blessing which he received in this mysterious struggle, he advanced to meet his brother. The hand of the Lord was also on him. Strangely, I probably might say unexpectedly, to Jacob, he met him; and the old boyhood affection returned. They made friends; and they parted, one going one way after the interview, and the other going the other way. But that to which attention is more especially directed is, that from this hour Jacob is nowhere recorded as falling back upon his selfish, his politic, his managing career. From this hour out there is no trace of anything in him but largeness of mind, nobleness of purpose, and beauty of character. All the dross seems to have been purged away. He had met the crisis, and had risen, and gone through it; and he had come out a changed man. And now he was indeed a prince of God, and he was the principal founder of the nation of the Israelites. Jacob went, the civilizer, over into the promised land, and there established the economy for which he had been ordained, and lived revered, a beautiful specimen of an old man. And the last scenes of his life were transcendently beautiful. In view of this narrative, which I have conducted so far, let me say: Men’s sins carry with them a punishment in this life. Different sins are differently punished. The degrees of punishment are not always according to cur estimate of the culpability. Many sins against a man’s body go on in the body, reproducing their penalties from year to year, and from ten years to ten years. And the ignorant crime, or the knowing crime, committed when one is yet in his minority, may repent itself and repent its bitterness and its penalty when one is hoary with age. Mere repenting of sin does not dispossess the power of all sins. There are transgressions that throw persons out of the pale of society. There are single acts, the penalties of which never fail to reassert themselves. There are single wrongs that are never healed. This great trangression that seemed in the commission without any threat and without any danger, pursued this man through all his early life, and clear down until he was an old man, and returned from his exile. And even then he was quit of it only by one of those great critical transitions which take place, or may take place, in the life of a man, without which he would have gone on, doubtless expiating still his great wrong. And yet God bore no witness. It does not need that God should bear witness against a man that has committed a sin. A man may commit sins, and he may not himself be conscious that he is sinning; at any rate, he may not be conscious of the magnitude of his sins. A man may commit sins, and the customs of society may be so low that he shall not think that he is a great sinner. The sin does not depend upon your estimate of it, or on the estimate which your fellow-men put upon it, but upon its effect upon your constitution, and the constitution of human society. Jacob had had a good time, apparently. So far as his violation between himself and his brother and his father’s family was concerned, he had had twenty years of rest. And yet, as with all his abundance he came trooping back to the border to go over into the promised land and take possession of it, there, hovering, haunting the banks of the Jordan, was that old wrong. In that very hour when he could least afford to meet it, when he was most open to it, when all his possessions were in danger of being seized--worse than that, when all that his heart loved lay under the stroke of his adversary--that was the time that his old sin came back to meet him. And so it is yet. Men’s sins find them out. And though you put as far as between Palestine and Assyria between you and them; though your sins slumber for years and years, they will have a resurrection on earth. I do not believe that any man commits in this world any sin against the fundamental laws of his body, or against the laws of human society, by which men are knit together in faith and love, and goes unpunished, even in this world. It does not touch the question of the other. This is a primary and lower and organized arrangement quite independent of Divine and arbitrary penalties in the life to come. It is not safe, therefore, for those who have choice in this matter to trifle with right or wrong. Finally, no man need ever despair of past misdoing who is in earnest. There is no man that is suffered to do wrong without check or hindrance. Ten thousand things stop men, interrupt them, throw them upon thoughtfulness. Ten thousand things oblige men to look back, to calculate; to look forward, to anticipate. And when these seasons from God come, if any man is in earnest to do better, there is no reason why he should not. The power of God’s angel, the wrestling of God’s Spirit, is not only in this far-off history of the patriarch. There is many and many a man with whom this mysterious Spirit of God wrestles; and if he be in earnest, if he will not let God’s Spirit go except He bless him; if he feels that his life is in the struggle and he will be blest of God, there is no man so bad, no man so wicked, but that he may become pure, and his flesh return to him again like the flesh of a little child--as in the case of Naaman the leper. (H. W. Beecher.)

Loneliness and communion with God

Here is--

I. SOLITARINESS OPENING AN OPPORTUNITY for a man to go “face to face” with God.

II. A CRISIS DISPOSING a man to go “face to face” with God.

III. A CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN SENDING a man “face to face” with God.

IV. A SENSE OF MYSTERY PERVADING a man while he is “face to face” with God.

V. INTENSE REALITY CHARACTERIZING a man while he is “face to face” with God.

VI. RICHEST BLESSING FOLLOWING from being “face to face” with God.

1. Elevation of his own character.

2. Reconciliation with men. (Homilist.)

Jacob wrestling with God

I. GOD WRESTLES WITH MAN TILL HE HAS PREVAILED WITH HIM.

1. The Divine desire to bless. This is the foundation of all God’s dealings with us.

2. But before this blessing could be given, Jacob’s strength must be destroyed.

3. To destroy this, God wrestles with him apparently as an enemy.

II. WE SEE THAT WHEN MAN IS THUS SUBDUED BY GOD, HE CAN PREVAIL WITH GOD. IS it not strange that the Divine Conqueror in this story should say to him who is thoroughly in His power, “Let Me go, for the day breaketh”?” It seems strange, but it is not; there is a sense in which God is in the hands of the soul He has subdued.

1. Notice that there is no prevailing with God till the spirit of resistance is destroyed, Until we yield to Him we can receive little from Him. That may explain much unprevailing prayer; the fact is it is not prayer: true prayer says “Thy will be done.”

2. Then we see that we prevail with God when we only cling to Him in trustful prayer. That is the pleader that prevails. Thy covenant promises, Lord! Thy nature, which is love, and thus delights to bless! Thy mercy in Christ Jesus, which can bless the worthless; Thy fatherly relationship, which makes us trust Thy sympathy and depend on Thy resources, and which cannot cast Thy child back into the dark without a blessing!

3. Now to trustful prayer like this the delayed blessing is sure. But did God delay? We get an impression from this story (as I said) that God delays to bless and must be striven with, but did He delay, is there any sign of delay in the case of Jacob? None whatever after Jacob was subdued.

III. Then, we find that HAVING PREVAILED WITH GOD, MAN PREVAILS WITH ALL. Prevailing with God does not mean that we persuade Him to give us what we ask, but simply that we secure His blessing: “He blessed Him there.” That may be the gift, the deliverance, the supply we desire, but it may not; it may simply be power to endure--to endure cheerfully, enrichingly, and so as to glorify Him, but it involves that in some way we prevail over the trial. There is a great truth here. If we would prevail over our trials, we must first prevail with God; we may go to meet them bravely, but there will be no enrichment, no peace, no conquest, if that be all; we must prevail with heaven if we would conquer on earth. See how then we conquer!

1. In prevailing with God, Jacob prevailed over his own troubled heart. From that time he was a new creature with a new name, and I suppose in nothing was this change more apparent than in the tranquility which possessed him.

2. Jacob also prevailed over his dreaded foe. Esau came, the Esau that he feared, with his four hundred men. But what then? Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him. God’s blessing turns the foe into a friend. (C. New.)

Jacob wrestling

I. SOLITARY MUSINGS. Jacob was left alone. Before him was the river Jabbok. Beyond the river his wives and children. Still beyond them, on the march to Esau, were the presents he had sent. The servants full of wonder and fear for their master’s sake. The wives and children anxious. Jacob once more alone, as many years before he was when passing the same spot (Genesis 32:10). He would think of the past. How greatly he had been prospered. How little he had deserved. Now he feels how entirely he is in the hands of God. The disposing of his wealth is with God. It is a question whether God will own the means he has so far employed. Jacob is doubtful and perplexed. He has prayed already (Genesis 32:9-12) and exhausted all his arguments. He can now only cast himself on the undeserved mercy of God. Night a good time for such reflections. David often meditated thus in the night watches. Jesus also spent His nights in meditation and prayer. In darkness and silence there is less to divert attention than in the daytime.

II. MIDNIGHT WRESTLING. Jacob thus musing, becomes aware of the presence of some mysterious person. Called a man because in human form and nature. The angel of the covenant in disguise. Jacob perceives who his companion is. Seizes this mysterious personage, and declares he will not let him go unless a blessing is granted. The angel struggles to be released, doubtless intending by thus wrestling to teach that prayer should be bold, earnest, importunate, persevering. Physical wrestling a type of wrestling in spirit. The angel prevailed not. He had put forth only sufficient strength to excite resistance and earnestness, without causing discouragement to Jacob’s mind. Unable to release himself, he touches and disables Jacob. Thus weakened, Jacob still clings to the angel. Will not let him go without a blessing. Jacob conquers. His name is changed. Hitherto he had been a mere supplanter by human methods, now he shall prevail on higher principles. As a “God’s fighter” he shall fight God’s battles with spiritual weapons. Faith, prayer, &c.

III. MORNING SUNSHINE. “The sun rose upon him as he passed over Penuel.” The brightest day in his life was that in which the sun rose upon him a man blessed of God, and acknowledged to be a prevailer. With his bodily infirmity, he was a stronger man than he had ever been before. “Clothed with might by His Spirit in the inner man,” he was “strong” though “weak.” He felt better able to meet Esau, a lame man, than he had felt before in the pride of strength. Strength of soul the highest form of strength. Without this how weak are the strongest (illus. Samson, Goliath). Learn:

1. Select fit times and themes for profitable meditation.

2. Our affairs should be all placed in the hands of God.

3. Saying a prayer not truly praying. “Wrestling importunity”

4. The dark hour of earnest humble prayer is followed by sunshine in the heart. (J. C. Gray.)

Jacob’s wrestling

1. Then this wrestling warned and forewarned as it were Jacob that many strugglings remained for him yet in his life to be run through and passed over, which were not to discomfort him when they happened, for as here so there he would go away with victory in the end.

2. It described out the condition not only of Jacob but of all the godly also with him, namely, that they are wrestlers by calling while they live here, and have many and divers things to struggle withal and against; some outward, some inward, some carnal, some spiritual, some of one condition, some of another, which all, yet through God they shall overcome and have a joyful victory over in conclusion, if with patience they pass on and by faith lay hold upon Him ever in whom they only can vanquish, Christ Jesus.

3. It discovered the strength whereby Jacob both had and should overcome ever in his wrestlings, even by God’s upholding with the one hand when He assaileth with the other, and not otherwise; which is another thing also of great profit to be noted of us, that not by any power of our own we are able to stand, and yet by Him and through Him conquerors and more than conquerors.

4. It is said that God saw how He could not prevail against Jacob, which noteth not so much strength in Jacob as mercy in God, ever kind and full of mercy. Lastly, that Jacob saith, “He will not let Him go except He bless him.” It teacheth us to be strong in the Lord whensoever we are tried, and even so hearty and comfortable that we as it were compel the Lord to bless us ere He go, that is, by His merciful sweetness to comfort our hearts and to make us more and more confirmed in all virtue and obedience towards Him, yielding us our prayer as far as it may any way stand with the same; which force and violence as it were offered on our parts to the Lord He highly esteemeth and richly rewardeth evermore. (Bp. Babington.)

Saints wrestling for the blessing

The way to get the blessing is to go to the Lord for it, resolved not to take a denial, nor to part with Him even till we get it. In prosecuting this doctrine, I shall--

1. Open up this way of getting the blessing.

2. I will show what it is that makes some souls so peremptory and resolute for the blessing, while others slight it.

3. I will show that this is the true way to obtain the blessing, and that they who take this way will come speed. I am, then--

I. To OPEN UP THIS WAY TO OBTAIN THE BLESSING, WHICH YOU MAY TAKE UP IN THESE PARTICULARS. If we would have the blessing, then--

1. We must have a lively sense of our need of it.

2. We must by faith lay hold on Christ the storehouse of blessings for it. God blesses us with all spiritual blessings in Christ.

3. We must by fervent prayer wrestle with Him for it. How did Jacob obtain it? “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto Him.”

4. We must by believing the promise, keep a sure hold of the blessed Redeemer. He had said to Jacob, “I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea which cannot be numbered.” And we find Jacob reminding Him of this promise (Genesis 32:12). Now what way can we hold Him and not let Him go, but holding Him by His Word? They who hold Him by His Word, they have sure hold.

5. We must by hope wait for the blessing. “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait I say on the Lord.”

6. We must leave no means untried to procure it.

7. No discouragements must cause us to faint.

8. If at any time we fall, we must resolutely recover and renew the struggle.

9. We must resolve never to give over till we get it, and so hold on. “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” This is the resolute struggle, this is the way to the blessing.

Motives to urge you to this way--

1. Consider the worth of the blessing. Whatever pains, and struggles, and on-waiting it may cost, it will far more than repay the expense of all. God’s blessing is God’s good word to the soul, but it is big with God’s grace and good deeds to the man that gets it; and that is enough to make one happy for ever.

2. Consider the need you have of it. You are by nature under the curse, and unless you get the blessing, you must for ever be under the curse.

3. If you will not be at this pains for it, you will be reckoned despisers of the blessing; and that is most dangerous, and will bring on most bitter vengeance. And you will see the day you would do anything for it when you cannot get it.

4. If you will take this way you will get the blessing.

II. To SHOW WHAT IT IS THAT MAKES SOME SOULS PEREMPTORY AND RESOLUTE FOR THE BLESSING, WHILE OTHERS SLIGHT IT.

1. Felt need engageth the soul to this course.

2. Superlative love to and esteem of Christ engageth them to this.

3. Without the blessing all is tasteless and unsatisfactory to them.

4. They see not how to set out their face in an ill world without it. They say with Moses, “If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.”

5. They see not how to face another world without it.

III. THAT THIS IS THE TRUE WAY TO OBTAIN THE BLESSING, AND THAT THEY WHO MAKE THIS WAY WILL COME SPEED. “And He blessed him there.” Such as come to Christ for the blessing, they shall get it, if they hold on resolutely and will not be said nay.

1. We have many certain instances and examples of those who have obtained the blessing this way. Jacob in the text. The spouse (Song of Solomon 3:1-11). The woman of Canaan (Matthew 15:22 and downwards; see also Lamentations 3:40-50 and downwards). Would you know how to get the blessing? There is a patent way, behold the footsteps of the flock, not the footsteps of lifeless formal professors, who cannot go off their own pace for all the blessings of the covenant; but the footsteps of wrestling saints, who were resolved to have the blessing cost what it would

2. We have God’s word or promise for it. “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall hath abundance.”

3. It is the Lord’s ordinary way to bring great things from small beginnings by degrees.

4. Consider the bountiful nature of God, who will not always flee from them that follow Him, nor offer to go away from them that will not let Him go, except He bless them.

5. None coming to Christ for the blessing ever got a refusal, but they that court it by their own indifference.

6. Our Lord allows and encourages His people to use a holy freedom and familiarity with Him, yea a holy importunity, as He teaches us (Luke 11:8-9).

7. As importunity is usually in all cases the way to succeed, so it has special advantages in this case, which promise success.

Use 1. This lets us see why many fall short of the blessing. They have some motions of heart towards it, and if it would fall down in their bosom with ease, they would be very glad of it. They knock at God’s door for it, and if He would open at the first or second call, they would be content, but they have no heart to hang on about it, and so they even let Him go without the blessing.

Use 2. I exhort you all to hold on. You that have received a blessing, wait on resolutely for more. And you that are going away mourning, take up with no comfort till you get it from Himself; and be resolute that you shall never let Him go till He bless you. (T. Boston, D. D.)

God’s revelation to Jacob

1. It does not appear to be a vision, but a literal transaction. A personage, in the form of a man, really wrestled with him and permitted him prevail so far as to gain his object.

2. Though the form of the struggle was corporeal, yet the essence and object of it were spiritual. An inspired commentator on this wrestling says, “He wept and made supplication to the angel.” That for which he strove was a blessing, and he obtained it.

3. The personage with whom he strove is here called “a man,” and yet in seeing Him, Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Hosea, in reference to his being a messenger of God to Jacob, calls him “the angel”: yet he also describes the patriarch as having “power with God.” Upon the whole, there can be no doubt but that it was the same Divine personage who appeared to him at Bethel and at Padan-aram, who, being in the form of God, again thought it no usurpation appear as God.

4. What is here recorded had relation to Jacob’s distress, and may be considered as an answer to his evening supplications. By his “power with God” he had “power with men”: Esau and his hostile company were conquered at Penuel.

5. The change of his name from “Jacob” to “Israel” and the “blessings” which followed signified that he was no longer to be regarded as having obtained it by supplanting his brother, but as a prince of God, who had wrestled with Him for it and prevailed. It was thus that the Lord pardoned his sin and wiped away his reproach. It is observable, too, that this is the name by which his posterity are afterwards called. Finally, the whole transaction furnishes an instance of believing, importunate, and successful prayer. (A. Fuller.)

God’s interpositions

Sometimes God interposes between us and a greatly-desired possession which we have been counting upon as our right and as the fair and natural consequence of our past efforts and ways. The expectation of this possession has indeed determined our movements and shaped our life for some time past, and it would not only be assigned to us by men as fairly ours, but God also has Himself seemed to encourage us to win it. Yet when it is now within sight, and when we are rising to pass the little stream which seems alone to separate us from it, we are arrested by a strong, an irresistible hand. The reason is that God wishes us to be in such a state of mind that we shall receive it as His gift, so that it becomes ours by an indefeasible title. Similarly, when advancing to a spiritual possession, such checks are not without their use. Many men look with longing to, what is eternal and spiritual, and they resolve to win this inheritance. And this resolve they often make as if its accomplishment depended solely on their own endurance. They leave almost wholly out of account that the possibility of their entering the state they long for is not decided by their readiness to pass through any ordeal, spiritual or physical, which may be required of them, but by God’s willingness to give it. They act as if by taking advantage of God’s promises, and by passing through certain states of mind and prescribed duties, they could, irrespective of God’s present attitude towards them and constant love, win eternal happiness. In the life of such persons there must therefore come a time when their own spiritual energy seems all to collapse in that painful, utter way in which, when the body is exhausted, the muscles are suddenly found to be cramped and heavy and no longer responsive to the will. They are made to feel that a spiritual dislocation has taken place, and that their eagerness to enter life everlasting no longer stirs the active energies of the soul. In that hour the man learns the most valuable truth he can learn, that it is God who is wishing to save him, not he who must wrest a blessing from an unwilling God. Instead of any longer looking on himself as against the world, he takes his place as one who has the whole energy of God’s will at his back, to give him rightful entrance into all blessedness. (M. Dods, D. D.)


Verse 26

Genesis 32:26

I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me

Jacob’s struggle for a blessing

I.
He was thoroughly in earnest; he wrestled till he got the blessing.

II. If we wish to gain a blessing like Jacob’s, we must be alone with God. It is possible to be alone with God, even in the midst of a multitude.

III. Jacob’s heart was hardened with a load of sin. It crushed his spirit, and was breaking his heart. He could bear it no more, and so he made supplication. He wanted to be lifted out of his weakness, and made a new man.

IV. in the moment of his weakness, Jacob made a great discovery. He found that when we cannot wrestle we can cling.

V. He received the blessing wrestled for as soon as he became content to accept it as God’s free gift. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

Jacob’s prevailing prayer

I. THE SOUL’S AGONY.

1. The soul is absorbed in the awful loneliness of its own thought. “Jacob was left alone.” So is every one in similar experiences. In times of agony, friendly sympathy seems distant and ineffectual. We are even impatient with well-meant words of kindness. Then comes a sense of powerlessness. The afflicted one has done all he can, and now can only wait. At this juncture he begins to ask himself as to the cause of his misery. Why is he thus situated? Perhaps, like Jacob, he recognizes his sorrows as the lineal descendants of some former sin; or more likely, he now perceives, as never before, the general fact of his sinfulness, his imperfections as a Christian, and his failure to enjoy religious privileges.

2. Just here the soul is arrested by God’s presence. Abstracted from the world, because grief has made him indifferent to worldly thoughts, the Christian can now see God and feel His power. We can imagine Jacob, in his conflict of emotion, standing in the darkness by the brook Jabbok, lost in thought, when suddenly a heavy hand is laid upon his shoulder. He turns to find a mysterious Presence of terrible reality and power. That Presence he speedily recognizes as God. So now every storm-racked heart is introduced by conscience to its God.

3. In such times of trial, the soul at first finds God a seeming foe. Jacob at first was obliged to defend himself against his mysterious adversary. Who can tell what fearful surmises came over him as he wrestled in the dark with his terrible opponent? Can this be Esau? No; this is a superhuman strength. Can this be God? It surely is none else; but why does He meet me thus? God hedges men in to bring them to His feet, to show them themselves, to prevent prosperity from injuring them, very likely to prepare them for it, to purify them from remaining sin, frequently to fit them for some great work. We must pass through the furnace before we are what we should be.

II. THE RELIEF OF THE SOUL.

1. The narrative discloses the human means of securing this relief, namely, prayer.

2. The narrative sets before us the Divine methods of giving relief to the soul.

3. The narrative indicates the safeguard of the soul in this secured relief. Jacob, though his troubles were now passed, yet halted on his thigh, and doubtless limped through life. He carried from that place of conflict and triumph a reminder of his dependence. He had then, ever after, a sense of his weakness, and could say with Paul, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” There is danger, after meeting God face to face and securing His favour, of undue elation. Even Paul, with all his saintliness, needed a thorn in the flesh, lest he be exalted above measure. We may forget that every successful struggle with sin or attainment in piety is due solely to the Divine help. For this reason, doubtless, God has established a universal law in life. We cannot pass through a terrible experience like Jacob’s without bearing the scars of battle. (A. P. Foster.)

Jacob’s powerful prayer

1. It was a prayer that by living faith took firm hold upon God. He came to God, not as one far off, but close at hand; not merely on the throne, but present in all the affairs of daily life. He comes to Him as the God of his fathers, the God of the covenant. He at once lays hold of the Divine faithfulness. As much as any one thing, we need to-day this sense of God as ever present to be a restraining power in business life. Like the patriarch, every believing soul must draw nigh to God, reverently, it is true, but not timidly or distrustfully. The command is to “come boldly to a throne of grace.” We must come not as though we more than half questioned whether there is any God, or, if there be, whether He cares anything about us, and will hear our prayer; but with all the heart believing “that He is, and is the Rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.”

2. Jacob did not offer a hasty prayer for safety merely in general terms, and then go about his worldly business with all the intensity of his nature. His need was urgent, was deeply felt; and he found time enough to press it before God. The whole night was none too long for his business with God.

3. Wrestling, Jacob came to a point where he was powerless. All he could do was to hold fast to God. God never takes from any of His children their power to do this. Every other refuge may be swept away, but they can cling still.

4. Jacob’s prayer was direct and simple. He asked for just what he wanted, then stopped. (The Study.)

Importunate prayer

I. THE OBJECTS OF JACOB’S PRAYER or, the blessings implored. It need not be disguised that one of these was the preservation of his own life, and the safety of his family and substance. It would be doing Jacob injustice, however, to deny that higher objects than the preservation of himself, and of his family and substance, occupied his thoughts and prayers on this critical occasion. The very circumstances in which he was placed were calculated to call his sins to remembrance; just as his sons were reminded of their unnatural and criminal conduct towards Joseph, by being thereby involved in difficulties in Egypt many long years after their sin had been committed. Jacob being reminded of the falsehood and deceit by which he had provoked the anger and vengeance of his brother, would humbly confess his sin and earnestly pray for the salvation of his soul, whatever might be the fate of his body at this time. Knowing that the souls of his family were as precious as his own, and remembering the relation in which he stood to them, and the duty that he owed them, he would be very importunate in prayer for their salvation also, though they should fall by the sword of Esau. But he would not despair of their preservation. He would remember the covenant of God with his father Abraham, and the promise that He would make of him a great nation, and that in his seed, which is Christ, all the families of the earth would be blessed. He would pray that he and his family might live to be witnesses for God in a world lying in wickedness, and might introduce the spiritual seed, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed.

II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE DUTY SHOULD BE PERFORMED.

1. Jacob sought retirement for devotion.

2. Jacob spent a long time in prayer.

3. We must implore lawful things, and employ proper arguments to attain them.

4. We ought to be earnest and persevering in prayer.

5. We should pray in faith and hope.

III. THE ANSWER WHICH JACOB OBTAINED TO HIS PRAYERS. God blessed him there. He obtained a gracious answer. (R. Smith, D. D.)

Importunity in prayer

I. EXPLAIN THIS HOLY WRESTLING IN PRAYER. Wrestling implies some resistance to be overcome. Some of the chief obstructions which must be overcome are--

1. A sense of guilt whelming the soul.

2. A frowning Providence discouraging the mind.

3. Unbelieving thoughts and inward temptations.

4. Coldness and slothfulness of the heart.

5. Discouragement through Divine delays.

II. THE REASONABLENESS OF IMPORTUNITY IN PRAYING.

1. It strengthens in our minds a sense of God’s glory.

2. Our unworthiness vindicates it.

3. The inestimable value of the blessings to be obtained requires it.

III. ITS ADVANTAGES.

1. It prepares for blessings in many cases: it is itself the actual possession of them.

2. It has the promises of success.

3. Memorable examples confirm its worth.

IV. IMPROVEMENT.

1. How many have cause to mourn their lack of this spirit!

2. Its absence is one cause of the low state of religion.

3. As you would persevere in prayer, be watchful and circumspect, observe the course of Providence, be much in intercession for others. (Dr. J. Wotherspoon.)

“Now”

Canon Wilberforce tells a pathetic story illustrating the force of this little word “now.” It was of a miner who, hearing the gospel preached, determined that, if the promised blessing of immediate salvation were indeed true, he would not leave the presence of the minister who was declaring it until assured of its possession by himself. He waited, consequently, after the meeting to speak with the minister, and, in his untutored way, said, “Didn’t ye say I could have the blessin’ now?” “Yes, my friend.” “Then pray with me, for I’m not goin’ awa’ wi’out it.” And they did pray, these two men, wrestling in prayer until midnight, like Jacob at Penuel, until the wrestling miner heard silent words of comfort and cheer, even as Jacob heard the angel’s announcement, “As a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” “I’ve got it now!” cried the miner, his face reflecting the joy within; “ I’ve got it now!” The next day a terrible accident occurred at the mines--one of those accidents which so frequently shock us with their horror merely in the reading of them. The same minister was called to the scene, and among the men, dead and dying, was the quivering, almost breathless body of this man, who only the night before, big and brawny, came to him to know if salvation could really be had now for the asking. There was but a fleeting moment of recognition between the two, ere the miner’s soul took flight, but in that moment he had time to say, in response to the minister’s sympathy, “Oh, I don’t mind, for I’ve got it--I’ve got it--it’s mine!” Then the name of this poor man went into the bald list of “ killed.” There was no note made of the royal inherit-ante to which he had but a few hours before come into possession, and all by his believing grip of the word “now.”

Grip

This is what every Christian ought to have, and what many a one lacks. There is a certain inspiration in the very thought of the clenched hand, with its tense muscle and unyielding grasp. It signifies not only strength, but purpose; not only earnestness, but endurance. It is the symbol of a necessary and important element of a Christian’s success. It typifies consecrated self-control, that mastery which every true child of Christ has in some degree over his own sinful nature, and which, having secured by the Holy Spirit’s help, he maintains by the aid of the same blessed agency. It typifies, too, that hold which he has upon Christ Himself, that tenacious, yet reverent, clinging of spirit which imparts to his prayers the temper of Jacob’s words, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” It typifies also that benevolent, yet authoritative influence which he seeks to gain, and usually succeeds in gaining, over his more sorely tempted fellows; the drunkard, for instance, who is rapidly losing confidence in himself without yet finding it in God, and who needs the protection of some sturdy, masterful soul who has no personal fear of his temptation, and has the power and the will to stand by him through everything to cheer and uphold, and by God’s grace to save. Grip is the holding fast and not letting go, in spiritual as in material life. It is tenacity of holy purpose, renewal of effort after moral failure, cheerfulness in the teeth of discouragement, hopefulness for others, no matter how low they may have sunk, and unfaltering faith in the truth that God reigns, can save to the uttermost, and somehow will bring out all things aright for His own. What wonder that he who has it is a healthy, useful Christian! He may be timid by nature, weak in body, and humble in place, but if he illustrate what a true Christian grip is upon himself and his little world, men learn to marvel at him. Something of God’s own Almighty power is visible in him. What he does succeeds, and in blessing others he is doubly blessed himself.

The Prayer-meeting at Jabbok

Events drive Jacob’s mind back on the past, which has been a series of wrestlings with his nearest neighbour, the gain of which has been wealth, but the loss that, in most important senses, he is “left alone.” Jacob is one of those men who, wild among their fellows, are tame and best when “alone.” The world contemns the man who is crafty as one of its own children when among men, but afterwards goes to the prayer-meeting. The world, however, would not be better pleased with him if he did not go, and the man, in that case, very likely would be a wilder man. There are three way-side prayer-meetings in Jacob’s journeyings so far. Where God tells him that “the world has been too much with him” of late--Bethel, Mahanaim, Jabbok. Jacob is redeemed from the world by the prayer--meeting. How do we use the opportunities which God gives when He throws open to us the hallowed gates of the lonely hour? Do we enter with thanksgiving and betake ourselves to prayer, “the flight of the lonely man to the only God”? “There wrestled,” &c. Again and again the heavenly world enters into controversy with Jacob, and breaks the spell of this world. At Bethel he saw angels, at Mahanaim he met angels, but at Jabbok one of them stayed to minister to the man who wrestled with the old self and needed help. “I can do all things through Christ, that strengtheneth me.” When we make a vow, we lay hold on the angel of the covenant. If we forget our vow, we let the angel go. A little shell-fish can cling to the rock, despite the Atlantic, because of a tiny vacuum in the shell. Our emptiness is our strength with God. Jacob in the world is “somebody,” but at the prayer-meeting “nobody” but broken, sinewless Jacob. Our wrestling must be with “pleading, not with contradiction.” He blessed him there. The blessing, in brief, was the power to look at the world and himself from a cleaner heart through a cleaner eye. The place was Penuel, the face of God, and he was Israel, a prince, from that time. No religious meeting or exercise will have done us good unless it exalt us, and make the world- wife, children, home, friends, business--look lovelier and more sacred. (T. M. Rees.)

Boldness in prayer exemplified

There is a wide difference between striving against God and striving with God. Some men strive against God by their sins, and they must be conquered by His power; but Jacob strove with God. Jehovah Himself gave strength and determination to his servant, for the express purpose that he might, as a prince, have power and prevail. It is one of the most delightful evidences of Divine condescension, that He is willing to be conquered by human prayer and importunities.

1. Who was that personage that appeared to Jacob, and wrestled with him? The narrative calls him a man; but all interpreters are agreed, that by this is meant some one in the form of a man. Was it, then, a created angel? or, was it God Himself? We think the latter; because, though He is called an angel, Jacob paid Him Divine homage. Again, because the inspired prophet, referring to this event, says that Jacob had power with God. And again, because Jacob himself said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Once more, because the patriarch appeals to Him in our text for a blessing, which he could hardly look for from any being but God. There is another point to which I would direct your attention, viz., that this angel was not merely God, but God the Son, who in this, and in many other instances, anticipated His Incarnation, by appearing in the form and fashion of a man. With whom should Jacob wrestle to obtain pardon for his sin, and deliverance from its just consequences, but with the appointed Mediator, who should make atonement, and then enter into the heaven of heavens, there to appear in the presence of God for us?

2. What was this wrestling? Was it spiritual, or corporeal, or both? There are a few interpreters, and but a few, who think it was purely spiritual; and that there was no bodily conflict at all, but that it was illusive and imaginary. It is said distinctly, “There wrestled a Man with him”; and that Man, when the conflict had lasted long, says, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” Finally, he touched Jacob’s thigh upon the sinew that shrank, so that he went halting to the end of his days. All these are strong marks of reality, which go far to prove that the outward form of this conflict was corporeal. Yet, beyond all question, it was connected with a mental and spiritual wrestling with God in prayer. The outward was a sign and picture of the inward strife; and Jacob to this day is an image of every saint who prevails with God by the holy boldness, earnest opportunity, and untiring perseverance of His supplications.

3. Why did this wrestling take place? what was its great end? With respect to Jacob himself, it signified that he should overcome the hatred of his brother Esau; for what has he to fear from man, who, as a prince, hath power with God? With respect to ourselves, and to the Church generally, we may consider this scene as descriptive pictorially, not of Jacob’s condition only, but of all the saints with him. They are all wrestlers, by their very calling; wrestlers with affliction, with temptation, with outward and with inward, with carnal and with spiritual enemies: yet, in the strength of God, they shall all overcome. Wrestlers with God; that is, men of prayer. Now, we take our text as exemplifying to us this one subject, boldness in prayer: “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” Now, there are two reflections that, in a manner, force themselves upon our notice. One is, that God never violently withdraws Himself from a praying man. His trial of our faith and importunity never stretch beyond this, “Let me go, if Thou canst consent”; and, even when the trial proceeds so far, it is only done to provoke a refusal. It was obviously not the Divine intention to send Jacob away unblessed, but to elicit this proof of his determination. The other reflection is consequent upon it; namely, that when God withdraws from any man, it is always with his own consent. He must be willing to give up the point before he loses his advantage. No man can fail to obtain everything that he really needs, and everything that God has promised, unless he himself voluntarily draws back and yields; otherwise, God consents to be overcome by prayer. This is the great comfort of every sinner, and of every saint.

I. Consider WHAT KIND OF BOLDNESS IT IS THAT GOD APPROVES, NEGATIVELY AND POSITIVELY.

1. God does not approve the boldness which is grounded on self-righteous principles: it must, therefore, be connected with a deep sense of guilt and unworthiness (Genesis 32:10).

2. God does not approve that boldness which loses sight of His own awful majesty and holiness. Boldness must be associated with reverence and godly fear, to be acceptable. What! can God’s condescension and love give an unworthy creature the smallest ground to forget his own unworthiness, and the infinitude of Him with whom he has to do? On the contrary, it should deepen his sense of his own meanness, and increase his adoration.

But let us come more particularly to the question.

1. God approves that boldness which surmounts all the doubts and fears adapted to obstruct our freedom of access to Him. There are improper fears, and a sinful diffidence opposed to the exercise of prayer. When, for instance, a sense of guilt and unworthiness leads us to suspect that God will not hear us, will not forgive; this is a sign of faint-heartedness, not of humility. It is a sentiment directly contrary to His revealed will. Now, Jacob might have been restrained by similar considerations. He might have thought of all his sins.

2. God approves that boldness in prayer which is evinced by the largeness of its desires. He is not honoured by feeble desires and limited supplications. His promises are most ample, and various in the benefits which they convey.

3. God approves that boldness which is importunate, and will take no denial. It is often necessary that a blessing be withheld for a season, in order that its full value may be realized. Moreover, this is an important test of sincerity. Coldness and languor are repulsed and betrayed. Genuine devotion believes the word, and will not consent to go empty away. Formality is satisfied without the blessing, when conscience is appeased by the performance of the duty. The true worshipper cannot rest in outward services if the blessing be not given.

II. Let us take notice of one or TWO CONSIDERATIONS WHICH NOT MERELY JUSTIFY THIS BOLDNESS, BUT GO FAR TO PROVE IT INDISPENSABLE.

1. The urgency of our wants. The fervency of prayer should be regulated by our condition. It is evident that the secret of Jacob’s importunity was the pressing circumstances in which he felt himself to be placed. His was a kind of desperation, inspired by the extremity of his danger.

2. The importance of the blessing. We plead not merely for well-being, we plead for life; life, not of the body, hut of the soul. If we do not prevail we are lost.

3. The absolute certainty of its prevalence. There will be timidity in asking, wherever there exists a doubt of obtaining. Thine own word is my warrant, when I answer, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”

IN CONCLUSION, the subject is adapted to impress upon our minds these two points of instruction: the quality of prayer, and the power of prayer.

1. Boldness is an essential characteristic of prayer. This may be made clear by barely mentioning the defects and infirmities to which it is opposed. Can there be sincerity and acceptableness where there is a want of sensibility and zeal, where low views are entertained of the kindness and grace of God, and where the suppliant is ready to withdraw from the mercy-seat without the blessing, at the least discouragement or delay?

2. Observe exemplified the power of prayer. “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye Me in vain!” (D. Katterns.)

The characteristic of true prayer

Now that Jacob found himself once more in Esau’s power, he trembled to think of the consequences. There were two considerations which must have intensified his agony of mind.

1. That he had brought these difficulties upon himself. Conscience now accused him of his crime with the same vehemence as if it had been committed only yesterday. Ah! this is a solemn fact in connection with certain sins which we rashly perpetrate! Painful indeed was Jacob’s reflection now upon the past. Had he conducted himself as a straightforward man in his youth, he might have avoided his present trouble. How he wished he could have commenced life again! Even in old age men are doomed to possess the sins of their youth, to reap the inevitable consequences of early aberrations.

2. That others beside himself shared in the impending danger. He is now the head of a family; he has wives and children whom he passionately loves; they are in danger of being put to death on the morrow by his furious brother; and his conscience reproaches him with being the cause of their misery. Surely this was the keenest pang of all--the bitterest ingredient in his cup of bitterness. Such is human life. Say not that children are never punished for the transgressions of their parents; reason not concerning the injustice of such an arrangement; the hard fact continually stares us in the face, and warns us at every step to beware, to take heed to ourselves, to be prudent in our conduct, not only for our own sake, but also for the sake of others, whom we may unwittingly injure. “And Jacob was left alone.” It is when you are alone with the powers of nature-powers whose existence speaks of a higher Power, which sustains them all--that the light of Heaven is most likely to flash upon your soul. It was when banished to the isle of Patmos that John saw the glorious visions recorded in the Book of Revelation; it was when imprisoned in Bedford goal that Bunyan dreamed his Pilgrim’s Progress; it was when shut up in total darkness that Milton sang his Paradise Lost. We are taught here that--

I. WHEN WE TRULY PRAY, WE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF THE PRESENCE OF A PERSONAL GOD. It is stated that “there wrestled a man with Jacob until the breaking of the day.” God is not an abstract idea of the mind; is not the natural powers by which we are surrounded; for He has a personal existence. God is a person, and as such, men in all ages have desired to know Him; to commune with Him, to call upon Him in distress. It is when we pray, however, that this fact forces itself most vividly upon our minds. It may be said, therefore, that true prayer can never be uttered where the presence of a personal God does not inspire the soul. You must feel, like Jacob, that there is a Parson with you, standing at your side, listening to your cry; for otherwise it will not be prayer, but a form--it will not be an outpouring of the heart, but a meaningless performance.

II. WHEN WE TRULY PRAY, WE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF A STRUGGLE TO OVERCOME DIFFICULTIES. The experience of formidable opposition in drawing near to God is by no means uncommon. The repelling power with which Jacob struggled on this occasion, has been encountered by almost every suppliant at the throne of grace. Indeed, our Lord seemed anxious to prepare the minds of His disciples to expect it. “And He spake a parable unto them for this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.” But our Lord prepared His disciples to expect difficulties in prayer by other means than parables--by His dealings with some who sought temporal favours at His hands. While He sojourned in the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, a woman of Canaan came to Him, crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” Passing on with perfect unconcern, He feigned not to hear her; for He answered her not a word. She then cried all the more, “Have mercy on me,” so that His disciples felt annoyed, and besought Him to send her away. Thus when we encounter difficulties in prayer, when we feel as if God did not hear us, it is because God wishes to test our faith, and by testing to strengthen it. Consequently, not only do we enjoy God’s blessing with greater relish when it comes, but we are also made stronger for His service.

III. WHEN WE TRULY PRAY, WE BECOME CONSCIOUS OF A CHANGE IN OURSELVES, AS A TOKEN OF SUCCESS. It may be that when we are apparently most unsuccessful, we are really most successful. We do not obtain the very thing we seek at the time, but the spiritual strength we acquire in the effort may be infinitely more important than the thing itself. It always happens thus when true, fervent, earnest prayer is sent up from the heart to God; when there is a mighty struggle to obtain a blessing from above, there comes over the soul a change for the better, a visible improvement, a closer resemblance to God’s image. Jacob carried in his body ever after a memorial of the wrestling of that night; for “he halted on his thigh.” We are reminded here of a beautiful story, told of the celebrated John Elias, the prince of Welsh orators. He addressed on one occasion a meeting presided over by the late Marquis of Anglesey. The marquis, as you know, was lame, having lost a limb in the famous battle of Waterloo. Referring, therefore, to that circumstance, the speaker thrilled his audience by this striking remark, “We have a president here this evening, whose very step as he walks reminds you of his bravery!” So Jacob “halted on his thigh.” His limping gait kept in remembrance his wonderful victory with God. A man of prayer is well known as such; there are certain marks which reveal his character; his public performances bear the impress of his private wrestlings. In this transforming, elevating, and invigorating influence of prayer lies the secret of a godly man’s strength. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)

Earnest prayer

When a person told a story in a heartless way, Demosthenes said, “I don’t believe you.” But when the person then repeated the assertion with great fervour, Demosthenes replied, “Now I do believe you.” Sincerity and earnestness are ever urgent. The prophetess at Delphos would not go into the temple once when Alexander wished to consult the oracle. He then forced her to go, when she said, “My son, thou art invincible”; a remark which led him to believe he should always conquer in war. Luther was so earnest in his prayers that it used to be said, “He will not be denied.” When Scotland was in danger of becoming Popish, John Knox prayed most mightily for its preservation in the true faith. “Give me Scotland,” he pleaded, “or I die”; and his prayers have been answered. Epaphras “laboured fervently in prayer.” Christ, “being in an agony, prayed the more fervently.”


Verse 28

Genesis 32:28

And He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed

Jacob the prince

Some surprise may be felt at first at the term prince being applied to the patriarch Jacob; for whatever good qualities distinguish his character, we hardly regard him as possessing princely ones.
He has the quiet virtues of resignation, meekness and caution, but we hardly attribute to him that spirit and mettle, that vigorous temper and fire, which belong to the princely character. Yet when we consider Jacob we find that he had virtues which lie at the foundation of the royal and grand form of human character.

I. His patience was a princely virtue. How patiently he bore the long delays in Laban’s service I the plots of his sons, Simeon and Levi! We sometimes think of patience as the virtue of the weak, the sufferer, the inferior. Yet a great prime minister of England, when asked what was the most important virtue for a prime minister, gave this answer, “Patience is the first, patience is the second, patience is the third.”

II. Hopefulness was another of Jacob’s regal virtues. He looked forward with trust and confidence to the future; he believed firmly in God’s promises. His was a religious spirit; the religious mind is sustained by hope. “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord,” he says in his last address, when he summed up the purpose of his life. He had waited, but never ceased to hope; the Divine reward had always been before him.

III. But it was in prayer specially that Jacob showed his princely character. What a nobility is attributed to prayer in this episode of Jacob’s life! What a description the text gives us of the royal attributes of prayer that it sets in motion the sovereign agency which settles all human events! (J. B.Mozley, D. D.)

Jacob’s twofold name and nature

I. The very twofold name of Jacob and of Israel is but the symbol of the blending of contradictions in Jacob’s character. A strange paradox--the hero of faith, and the quick, sharp-witted schemer.

II. The character of Jacob is a form which is to be found among the Gentiles no less than among the Jews. There are in our days prudential vices, marring what would otherwise be worthy of all praise. And that which makes them most formidable is that they are the cleaving, besetting temptations of the religious temperament.

1. Untruthfulness--the want of perfect sincerity and frankness.

2. Thinking much of ease and comfort, and shrinking from hardship and danger.

III. The religious temperament, with all its faults, may pass into the the matured holiness of him who is not religious only, but godly. How the work is to be clone “thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter,” when thou too hast wrestled with the angel and hast become a prince with God. (Dean Plumptre.)

Jacob’s new name

I. EVERY SOUL NEEDS THE NEW NAME.

II. EVERYONE MAY HAVE THE NEW NAME.

III. EVERY ONE MUST SECURE THE NEW NAME AS JACOB HAD.

1. By repentance.

2. By faith. (T. J. Holmes.)

The new man

I. THE SYMBOL OF THE NEW LIFE. He was no longer to be called Jacob, but Israel. In this change of name was intimated an entire change of character. He was sent back in recollection over the years to the time when he had been a wicked man; and then he was sent forward in anticipation across the years, under the command that he should begin a fresh career. From that night onward, he was to leave off his worldly cunning, and surrender his craft. He must become a new man, and, above all, a true man. His early and continuous sins might now be forgiven; but he must lead an altered life.

II. THE REACH TO WHICH THIS NEW LIFE EXTENDS.

1. When once a believer is truly in Christ, his standing with God is entirely changed. Every barrier is broken down. God’s displeasure is over, and man’s enmity is ended.

2. Not only in state but in character is the true believer a new man. If he be in Christ, he will grow assuredly to resemble Christ.

3. The new creation of a believer in Christ extends even to his experience, as well as to his state and character.

Israel; or, Jacob at Penuel

I. THAT GOD MANIFESTS HIMSELF FOE THE COMFORT AND PROTECTION OF THOSE WHO TRUST IN HIM ACCORDING TO THEIR NEED (2 Kings 6:17; Psalms 46:1; Acts 27:23-24).

II. WHAT COWARDS A GUILTY CONSCIENCE MAKES OF US ALL.

III. THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF PRAYER. Mark:

1. The kind forbearance and long-suffering patience of God.

2. The purpose of God concerning us. (A. F. Joscelyne, B. A.)

Power with God

I. WHAT THIS POWER CANNOT BE.

1. Cannot be physical force.

2. Cannot be mental energy.

3. Cannot be magical.

4. Cannot be meritorious.

5. Cannot be independent.

II. WHENCE THIS POWER PROCEEDS.

1. It arises from the Lord’s nature. His goodness and tenderness are excited by the sight of our sorrow and weakness.

2. It comes out of God’s promise (Isaiah 43:26).

3. It springs out of the relationships of grace.

4. It grows out of the Lord’s previous acts. Each blessing draws on another, like links of a chain.

III. How CAN IT BE EXERCISED.

1. There must be a deep sense of weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10).

2. There must be simple faith in the goodness of the Lord (John 14:12).

3. There must be earnest obedience to His will (John 9:31).

4. There must be fixed resolve (Genesis 32:26).

5. With this must be blended importunity (Genesis 32:24).

6. The whole heart must be poured out (Hosea 12:4).

7. Increased weakness must not make us cease (Isaiah 33:23).

IV. To WHAT USE THIS POWER MAY BE TURNED.

1. For ourselves.

2. For others. Jacob’s wives and children were preserved, and Esau’s heart was softened. If we had more power with God, we should have a happier influence among our relatives. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Power with God

What is power with God? Knowledge of God in Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures, forms the basis of all power with God.

I. How DID JACOB OBTAIN THIS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD? In two ways--

1. By the instrumentality of pious parents. Isaac and Rebecca were the most Godly couple of the Old Testament families. They taught Jacob the first principles of, and the parental character of God; His wisdom, love, and power.

2. By a direct revelation of God’s loving kindness to him in a time of great distress.

II. POWER WITH GOD IS THE RIGHT APPLICATION OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IN CHRIST AT THE RIGHT TIME, IN THE USE OF RIGHT MEANS TO ACCOMPLISH THE RIGHT END.

1. A crisis in the life of Jacob had arrived. A fearful episode in his life is revealed in the words, “And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother,” &c. (Genesis 32:3-6). Jacob wisely flies to God in prayer. In this crisis he makes a right application of his knowledge.

2. Jacob uses successful means to appease his brother’s wrath. Knowledge of God in the Covenant of Grace by Jesus Christ, contains the knowledge of man. The greater includes the less.

3. Jacob uses the right means to secure the blessing of God. Power with God is knowledge of God applied by faith until the end is accomplished. (J. Brewster.)

The proper design and influence of prayer

Both the letter and spirit of the text suggest this general observation:

I. THAT IT IS THE DESIGN OF PRAYER TO MOVE GOD TO BESTOW MERCY. This will appear if we consider--

1. That prayer properly and essentially consists in pleading. Though it may be divided into distinct parts or branches, yet all these ultimately unite and centre in supplication. In adoration, confession, petition, and thanksgiving, we ultimately plead for Divine mercy.

2. It appears from the prayers of good men, which are recorded in scripture, that they meant to move God to grant their petitions.

3. The friends of God are urged to pray with fervency and importunity, in order to make the Divine compassion.

4. That the prayers of good men have actually prevailed upon God to grant great and signal favours.

II. But now some may be ready to ask, How CAN THIS BE? How can prayer have the least influence to move the heart of God, who is of one mind, and with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning?

1. Here we ought to consider, in the first place, that the prayers of good men are proper reasons why an infinitely wise and good being should grant their requests.

2. We ought to consider, in the next place, that though God formed all his purposes from eternity, yet he formed them in the view of all the pious petitions which should ever be presented to Him, and gave to these petitions all the weight that they deserved, in fixing his determinations.

3. This leads us, in the last place, to consider pious prayers as the proper means of bringing about the events with which they are connected in the Divine purpose. Though God is able to work without means, yet He has been pleased to adopt means into His plan of operation.

III. IMPROVEMENT.

1. If it be the design of prayer to move God to bestow temporal and spiritual favours, then there is a propriety in praying for others, as well as for ourselves.

2. We are led to conclude from what has been said upon this subject, that we have as fair an opportunity Of obtaining Divine favours, as if God were to form His determinations at the time we present our petitions. For God has determined, from eternity, to hear every prayer that ought to be heard.

3. We learn the propriety of praying for future, as well as for present blessings.

4. It appears from what has been said, that saints are in a safe and happy condition. They enjoy the benefit of the prayers of all the people of God.

5. This subject may remind sinners of what they haw to fear from the prayers of saints. Their united supplications for the honour of God, the accomplishment of His designs, and the overthrow of all His incorrigible enemies, forebode terrible and eternal evils to impenitent sinners.

6. Since prayer has such a prevailing influence upon the heart of the Deity, saints have great encouragement to abound in this duty. They are formed for this devout and holy exercise. Having become the children of God, they possess the spirit of adoption, which is the spirit of grace and supplication. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

What is our name?

He is asking us to-day as He asked Jacob, “What is thy name?” For when God asks, “What is thy name?” He means, “What is it that lies behind the name, that is really thee?” And Jacob had grace and honesty at last to own up and say, “Oh, unknown wrestler! my name is trick and quirk and cunning. My name is Jacob. My name is craft, my name is cunning.” He owned up at last: “I am of the earth, earthy. My name is Jacob--Supplanter.” My brother, what is your name? After bearing a Christian profession; after, it may be, being an office-bearer in God’s house for twenty or forty years, the great God with whom we have to do comes in mercy to-day simply because perhaps we are soon to get to heaven, and we need a lot to make us ready; we need a lot yet to make us ready. God has to come to you this morning with my lips, and says: “What is thy name?” If you tell the truth you will say: “My name is Jacob.” You will say, “My name is money, my name is cent--per cent., my name is profit--my very name is that, O God. My name is moderation and religion. O God, dost Thou ask my name? My name is lust. Right down at bottom that wriggling thing is me My name is lust, uncleanness, vileness. I have kept it in; I have veneered it over; but I admit to-day that, that is me. This is the one thing in me. It is my name.” “What is thy name? What is at bottom in us, that is us? What is it? “ How few of us can say honestly, “My name, O God, is religion; my name is settled principle; my name is candour, openness, honesty, sincerity. My name is singleness of heart, childlike simplicity.” What is our name? I cannot give all the names. It is not the actual Johns and Roberts that were named over us here in baptism. Jacob’s name was a name of significance; and God gives us all a significant name, and He is asking us to-day, “What is your name? What is it?” Oh, let us be honest and tell Him. I know mine. You could stand up in this church, and in one sentence could tell this meeting what “is your prevailing characteristic. Young girl, young woman, you can stand up before God and say, “My name is frivolity. That is nay prevailing characteristic. I come to church on Sunday, but the thing that engrosses and consumes me is a ball and a dance and the theatre. That is my name. That sets my whole soul abounding and a-pulsing.” With some of us, our whole creed is just a determination not to yield ourselves utterly unto God, but to keep on the safe side. What is your name? Ananias is the name for some, and Sapphira is the true name for others. It was not a nice name. It may be that Jacob’s swarthy cheek got a little swarthier even in the darkness, as he said, “Supplanter is my name. I am a wrestler, I depend on cunning, I call on God even occasionally, to help my cunning. I use religion for a cloak for my cunning.” My name, in Thy sight, and with shame I confess it, my name is double-tongue, or facing-both-ways. (J. McNeill.)

The new name

I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE EVENT. It will occur to our recollection that, after the intimation of Esau’s approach, Jacob had almost immediately addressed himself to the duty of prayer, and that he had earnestly sought deliverance from the threatening danger; but he had as yet received no favourable answer. He remained still in suspense, and in the anxious exercise of faith upon the promise of his Divine protector. His previous experience seems to have consecrated to him the shades of night. It was during the night that God appeared to him at Bethel. It was in a dream at night that he received the instruction to depart from Syria. A degree of obscurity hangs over the passage, from the difficulty of affixing a meaning satisfactorily to the word which we translate wrestled, and which implies intense occupation and effort; yet upon the whole, the general statement seems to render it unequivocal, that on this occasion a bodily struggle did actually take place. It was, however, at the same time, a contest in which the chief interest lay in the spiritual blessing to be obtained. The external effort for victory was evidently in Jacob’s mind intimately associated with the deliverance that he was then seeking by prayer. And with the external wrestling to detain this nocturnal visitant, Jacob still continued the ardent pleading of his soul for the indulgence of his request. Jacob evidently regarded them as being one and the same. And the prophet Hosea confirms this view of the case when he tells us (in chap. 12.) that “Jacob had power over the angel and prevailed”; that “he wept and made supplication unto him”; a passage which brings the spiritual object prominently forward, and excludes the idea of a contention of mere muscular strength. Probably the appearance of a human form, on these occasions of revelation, was at this time new to Jacob. It appears, however, to have given him a peculiar encouragement. Where was the created frame that would not instantly crumble into its original nothingness, if, for one instant, it was placed in the attitude of resistance against Him who is “a consuming fire?” But the terrors of the Godhead were veiled in humanity. It was a man that appeared to Jacob. The sequel of the history ascertains, beyond a doubt, the Divine character of the person who appeared to Jacob.

II. THE DOCTRINE WHICH WE MAY GATHER FROM IT. Viewed in this light, the doctrine which this event inculcates on the Church of God is--the permitted prevalency of the prayer of man with God, through the mystery of the incarnation of His eternal Son.

III. THE DUTIES WHICH THIS EVENT INCULCATES.

1. It teaches gratitude. It becomes us to be thankful. It is indeed an unspeakable mercy that God has vouchsafed to provide so graciously for the approach of our guilty race to Himself.

2. A second duty inculcated by this event is humility. If you know yourselves you will be ashamed of the history of your closets; and many an humbling memento will teach you that if ever you prevailed at the throne of God, it was not because you were worthy, but because that throne was the throne of grace.

3. Observe, thirdly, the duty which this passage inculcates of seeking God earnestly. It is vain to offer to God that listless, heartless service, which too frequently constitutes the whole of a Christian’s devotions.

4. Learn, fourthly, the duty of persevering importunity in prayer.

5. But, lastly, a word is due to those who have never yet thought seriously of prayer. How energetically a case like this speaks to you. (E. Craig.)

Jacob and Israel

Before this time, he had been Jacob, the worker with wiles, who supplanted his brother, and met his foes with duplicity and astuteness like their own. He had been mainly of the earth, earthy. But that solemn hour had led him into the presence chamber, the old craft had been mortally wounded, he had seen some glimpse of God as his friend, whose presence was not “awful,” as he had thought it long ago, nor enigmatical and threatening, as he had at first deemed it that night, but the fountain of blessing, and the one thing needful. A man who has once learned that lesson, though imperfectly, has passed into a purer region, and left behind him his old crookednesses. He has learned to pray, not as before, prayers for mere deliverance from Esau and the like, but his whole being has gone out in yearning for the continual nearness of his mysterious antagonist--friend. So, though still the old nature remains, its power is broken, and he is a new creature. Therefore he needs a new name, and gets it from Him who can name men, because He sees the heart’s depths, and because He has the right over them. To impose a name is the sign of authority, possession, insight into character. The change of name indicates a new epoch in a life, or a transformation of the inner man. The meaning of “Israel” is “He (who) strives with God”; and the reason for its being conferred is more accurately given by the Revised version, which translates, “For thou hast striven with God and with men,” than in the Authorized rendering. His victory with God involved the certainty of his power with men. All his life he had been trying to get the advantage of them, and to conquer them, not by spear and sword, but by his brains. But now the true way to true sway among men is opened to him. All men are the servants of the servant and the friend of God. He who has the ear of the emperor is master of many men. Jacob is not always called Israel in his subsequent history. His new name was a name of character and of spiritual standing, and that might fluctuate, and the old self resume its power; so he is still called by the former appellation, just as, at certain points in his life, the apostle forfeits the right to be “Peter,” and has to hear from Christ’s lips the old name, the use of which is more poignant than many reproachful words--“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you.” But in the last death-bed scene, when the patriarch lifted himself in his bed, and with prophetic dignity pronounced his parting benediction on Joseph’s sons, the new name re-appears with solemn pathos. That name was transmitted to his descendants, and has passed over to the company of believing men, who have been overcome by God, and have prevailed with God. It is a charter and a promise. It is a stringent reminder of duty and a lofty ideal. A true Christian is an “Israel.” His office is to wrestle with God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Power in prayer

Jacob, though a man, a single man, a travelling man, a tired man, yea, though a worm, that is easily crushed and trodden under foot, and no man (Isaiah 41:14), yet in private prayer he is so potent that he overcomes the Omnipotent God; he is so mighty, that he overcomes the Almighty. (Thomas Brooks.)

Successful importunity

A stern father has been conquered by a tear in the eye of his daughter. An unwilling heart has relented and bestowed an alms at the sight of the disappointment caused by a refusal. Sorrow constrains to pity. When importunity takes the hand of grief, and the two go together to the gate of mercy, it opens of its own accord. Sincerity, earnestness, perseverance, confidence, and expectancy are all potent instruments of power with God.

God yields to importunity

How often have I seen a little child throw its arms around its father’s neck, and win, by kisses and importunities and tears, what had else been refused. Who has not yielded to importunity, even when a dumb animal looked up in our face with suppliant eyes for food? Is God less pitiful than we? (T. Guthrie.)

A praying prince

In a certain town (says the Rev. Mr. Finney), there had been no revival for many years; the church was nearly run out, the youth were all unconverted, and desolation reigned unbroken. There lived in a retired part of the town an aged man, a blacksmith by trade, and of so stammering a tongue that it was painful to hear him speak. On one Friday, as he was at work in his shop alone, his mind became greatly exercised about the state of the church, and of the impenitent. His agony became so great that he was induced to lay aside his work, lock the shop door, and spend the afternoon in prayer. He prevailed, and on the Sabbath called in the minister and desired him to appoint a conference meeting. After some hesitation, the minister consented, observing, however, that he feared but few would attend. He appointed it the same evening, at a large private house. When evening came, more assembled than could be accommodated in the house. All were silent for a time, until one sinner broke out in tears, and said, if any one could pray, he begged him to pray for him. Another followed, and another, and still another, until it was found that persons from every quarter of the town were under deep convictions. And what was remarkable, was that they all dated their conviction at the hour when the old man was praying in his shop. A powerful revival followed. Then this old stammering man prevailed, and as a prince, had power with God.

Power with God

The mightiest man on earth is the man who has most power with God. For God is almighty, and man is omnipotent for the accomplishment of His purpose when he has the promise of all needed help from the Most High. The hiding of the power which determines the destiny of nations is not in the cabinets of kings or the heavy battalions of war, but in the closets of praying men, who have been raised by faith to the exalted rank of princes with God. The conflict which gained the greatest victory for Scotland, and gave her such freedom and intelligence as she enjoys to-day, did not originate in Holyrood Palace, nor was it waged upon the high places of the field, but in the solitary chamber of the man who prayed all night, crying in the agony and desperation of faith, “Give me Scotland or I die.” (D. March, D. D.)

The conflict and its result

I. THE CONFLICT, AND--

II. ITS RESULT. “Thou hast power with God,” said He who had wrestled the whole night with Jacob. Unequal conflict! God against man! Unheard of, incredible result! The man overcomes! Jacob now learnt with whom he had had to do--not with a foe, but with his best Friend. How is the soul astonished, when at the end of the darkest paths, in which it was inclined to think that God had in wrath forgotten to be merciful, and to say, “Is His mercy clean gone for ever?” it perceives in these very paths the most striking condescension of the Lord, and the greatest kindness in a guidance which seemed only to aim at its destruction. Then indeed a wonderful and glorious morning dawns. He wrestled with God. God, therefore, seemed in some respects not to be for him, but against him. God seemed not to be for him; for why was it otherwise with him with regard to Esau than it had been with regard to Laban? Why did fear obtain such possession of his mind without his being able to defend himself against it? Why did it not depart at his humble prayer and thanksgiving? If God intended to do him good, why did tie expose him to so much danger--and he at the same time so defenceless? If He loved him, why did He ask him to let Him go? And why did He put him so entirely to shame?. The Lord, however, seemed to be entirely against Jacob; against him with words; for He must have said bitter things to him, otherwise why did he weep, as Hosed informs us? He must have reproached, reproved, rejected, and threatened him; otherwise why did he entreat Him? It did not rest in mere words: actions are added to them. He increases Jacob’s distress by wrestling with him, and that so violently that Jacob, according to the expression of Hosea, is obliged to resist with all his might. He chooses for this purpose the night, a season the most appalling of all; and the period when Jacob’s distress had, besides that, reached a terrific height, and when his fear was great. By the dislocation of his thigh He deprived him of all strength, and rendered it impossible for him to continue the conflict, although the ceasing from it was equally impossible. He caused him pain. He casts him, as it were, defenceless before his enemy by making escape impracticable. Jacob therefore found it necessary to defend himself, and to strive against his adversary, be He who He might. And the Lord bears him witness that he had struggled with God and had prevailed. With God? How wonderful!

What!-does God act in such a manner with men? Does He so degrade Himself as to wrestle with a man--as man against man? It is not credible! Not credible? Thou shalt see still greater and more unaccountable things than these. How wilt thou believe the latter if the former are incredible to thee? Go to Bethlehem; there thou wilt find Him lying in a manger as a little needy infant. Go to Jerusalem; there thou wilt see Him in the hands of the wicked, who nail Him to the cross; there thou wilt behold Him crucified between two malefactors, hear Him complain of being forsaken of God, see Him die, and witness His interment. What sayest thou to these astonishing mysteries? If thou canst not believe the less, how will it be with the greater? Jacob wrestled with God first with the exertion of all his powers, in the most determined struggle, as long as he felt any power in himself; but this only served to convince him that we do not gain the prize by our own efforts and that the kingdom of peace is not taken by violence. This mode of wrestling was rendered impracticable to him since he was deprived of the requisite power for it by the dislocation of his thigh. The conflict was now obliged to be continued in an entirely different manner--that is, by a passive conduct which the circumstances pointed out. The paralyzed combatant had no alternative than that of casting himself into the arms of Him who had thus disabled him, and, instead of exerting himself, to let himself be carried; in other words--instead of caring for himself, to cast his burden upon the Lord--to believe, and to turn from the law to the gospel. But why did God enter into such a conflict with Jacob?

1. Because it pleased Him.

2. To give a particular proof of His condescension, how minutely He concerns Himself about His people.

3. It serves also as a representation to others of the ways by which the Lord may lead them in a similar manner to Jacob. It is true the Lord will scarcely think it needful to enter into a bodily conflict with any one, although He is able, and really does, exercise His children by temporal occurrences. There are instances in which, from the time the individual was converted to God success no longer attends him, but sicknesses or misfortunes befal himself or his family; nay, it may even be the case that he himself is deprived of his natural ability to take charge of his affairs, and they fall into confusion, however much he may exert himself and however cautiously he may act, so that even in natural things he is put to shame. Generally speaking, those to whom the Lord is willing to manifest Himself more intimately, as He did to Jacob, experience many trials and much adversity for a period; and at length an Esau stands in their way who threatens them with destruction--nay, not only an Esau, but the Lord Himself. They are brought low in themselves that the Lord may be magnified. They desire to be holy, strong, righteous, wise, believing, and good; they pray and labour as much as possible; but instead of advancing forward they go back. They increasingly exert themselves like Jacob, but only dislocate their limbs the more. Whatever they lay hold of eludes their grasp; what they seek they do not obtain. Jesus makes sinners of them without mercy, and their sin appears extremely sinful to them by means of the commandment, however much they may moan and groan on account of it. At length their very hip is dislocated; they can no longer maintain their former footing, and nothing is left them but to yield themselves to the Son of God at discretion, and creep, as chickens, under His expanded wings. O glorious result, but highly disagreeable path to nature, to which nothing is left, and to which nothing ought to be left! Here it is manifest that the mystery of godliness is great. But what was the result of the conflict? It is described in the unparalleled words, “Thou hast had power with God, and hast prevailed.” Jacob therefore, gained the victory over God; nay, he gained it of necessity. And why? God could not strive with him as the Almighty, or as the Holy One, because He had bound His own hands by His truth and by His promise, “I will do thee good.” God had rendered it impossible for Him to strive with Jacob in such a manner as would have resulted in his ruin. This would have been at complete variance with His truth, the thoughts of peace He had towards him, and with the whole contents of the covenant of grace, as well as the spiritual espousals of the Lord with His Church. He could, therefore, only strive against him in love, and do him no further injury than the glory of God and Jacob’s salvation necessarily required. Under these circumstances, therefore, Jacob could not fail to succeed. He saves sinners and justifies the ungodly. Now, since He has said this Himself, He cannot treat those who are sinners and ungodly in any other manner. “As a prince thou hast had power with God.” Wherein consisted his princely conduct? He was sincere, and did not wish to appear before God better than he really was. He confessed his sins by frankly owning that he was afraid. He believed the word which the Lord had spoken. (D. C. Krummacher.)

Jacob at Penuel; or, the interpretation of life

I. Jacob had at Penuel the mystery of his past life interpreted to him. His miseries and hardships were in consequence of his mingling fraud and treachery with his Divinely-ordered destiny. Had he never fallen into crooked ways, he had never halted on his thigh.

II. Jacob had at Peniel the secret of true life interpreted to him. An attitude of supplication and submission, rather than resistance. Human ends are best achieved by Divine assistance.

III. Jacob at Penuel had the highest type of human life revealed to him. He feels himself brought into more immediate personal relations with God at Peniel, than when visited by the Angels of God at Bethel So higher subjects occupy his thoughts. And his desires are now elevated and enlarged. (W. Roberts.)

The changed name

There is one result of this change of name, which is familiar to us all, and will continue to the end of time: the descendants of the patriarch Jacob became known as the Children of Israel. My text, in this connection, shows the origin of the change. Jacob was a man of prayer. It was good for him to draw near to God; and surely God drew near to him this memorable night. In the likeness of a man He approached, “and wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day.” It was an age of figures and emblems; things physical were used to denote things spiritual; and doubtless, in this midnight conflict, Jacob’s prayerfulness was tried. And how does he stand the test? The Divine wrestler prevailed not against him Jacob’s faith was not weakened by the protraction of the struggle. Here is a model for us--a model of closeness of communion, of unwavering confidence, of pious importunity in prayer. And if a model, what an encouragement! The change of name. Observe his first name--Jacob. This is a word which conveys no favourable omen; it means “supplanter”--“one taking hold of the heel”--“a layer of snares.” It suggests a very faulty character. A man who is ready to descend to petty shifts and crafty stratagems, in order to gain some personal advantage, can never be ranked with the loftiest of his fellows. Jacob, the supplanter does not show to advantage besides Daniel, or beside his own son, Joseph. But now observe his second name Israel. What a difference of meaning--“a prince of God.” The difference between the two names is immense; so that it is difficult to imagine how both could belong to one man. For here is a prince of loftiest creation--other titles are bestowed by earthly sovereigns, but this by the King of kings.

1. It is a title implying the loftiest service. Some royal commissions are of doubtful dignity, but this is given by One “glorious in holiness.”

2. It implies the loftiest communion. A prince has access to the throne at times when others are debarred. A “prince of God” is one who holds intimate fellowship with Jehovah.

3. It implies, also, the loftiest influence. All ranks look up to the prince. So, O Israel, shall all people look up to thee. And why this change? It was the reward of faith in God; “as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The blessing Isaac gave him, he got by fraud; but this which God gives him, he got by faith. Brother, what is your first name? What does God call you in your unregenerate state? Names that you might well blush to bear; names that your natural pride can hardly tolerate to listen to; names which often perhaps awake your anger and your enmity! Listen! for it is God that speaks. He calls you names of complaint, of reproach, of threatening. He calls you unmindful, unjust, ungrateful; calls you foolish, depraved, corrupt; earthly, sensual, devilish; a child of wrath and heir of perdition. These, and such as these, are the names you bear. And, O my brother! these names are more than names--they denote facts; they express realities! What complacency can you have, then, in your degenerate state? how bear to reflect on the being that you arc? One might fancy that Jacob never thought on the meaning of his first name without being ashamed! and can you think of the names that belong to you without burning shame? But is it not possible to change your name? Must you always go about with the brand on your brow? Read this sacred book and see! Here I find the record of not a few whose names God changed. And the change--O how marvellous! They were sinners against God--now they are called Saints of God. They were condemned--but are now justified; pronounced guilty--but are now declared righteous. They were once rebels--they are now subjects, servants, friends. “They are called God’s people, that were not God’s people; and those beloved, that were not beloved.” Nay, brethren, there are dearer titles still--titles which admit them into God’s family, and permit them to share His glory. And it is no mockery to say that these are given to the same persons who once bore those hard and repellent names. The monarch’s sword has been ]aid on the shoulder--or rather, instead of the sword, the “golden sceptre” of Divine favour; and the name has been declared changed. Down, child of wrath--Rise, child of God! Down, heir of perdition--Rise, heir of heaven! It is this that has moved the wonder and fired the praise of multitudes gone before us. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.” “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” How has this change been brought about? By faith in God! Taking Him at His word--meeting Him as He approaches--laying hold of His strength--and resolving not to let Him go until He bless you! (F. Tucker, B. A.)

Love the true interpreter

There is no such thing as interpreting the will of God unless we have in us the spirit of children. What is the spirit of children? Love--confidence. If a man comes to the interpretation of adverse or of fortunate events in the spirit of pride, he will never know their meaning: God locks up His best blessings, but gives to every man a key wherewith to open the lock. One man takes his key, and goes up to the lock and tries to unlock it; but his key will not fit; it will not go in, because it is pride that he has been trying to unlock with. Another man says, “Let me try my key.” He takes vanity; but he finds that vanity will not unlock the door of Divine Providence and reveal the secrets that are within. Another man comes up with the key of wilful selfishness. His key is three times as big as the keyhole, and he can’t get in. They all fail to unlock the door, and go away. By and by another man comes. He puts his key to the lock, it slides in; there is not a ward that it does not touch; the bolt slides back without a sound, and the door swings open. He knows the secret. He comes in the spirit of love, obedience, and resignation, and to him God’s will is revealed. Pride could not open the door; vanity could not open it; selfishness could not open it: love could open it. (H. W. Beecher.)

Power of young men

Ah! young men, what power you have! I remember reading in a fairy-tale that a whole city was in one night changed into stone. There stood a war horse, with nostrils distended, caparisoned for the battle. There stood the warrior, with his stone hand on the cold mane of that petrified horse. All is still, lifeless, death-like, silent. Then the trumpet’s blast is heard ringing through the clear atmosphere; the warrior leaps upon his steed; the horse utters the war-neigh, and starts forth to battle; and the warrior, with his lance in rest, rides on to victory. Now, young men, put the trumpet to your lips, blow a blast that shall wake the dead stocks and stones, and on, on--upward to victory over all evil habits and evil influences surrounding you. (J. B. Gough.)

Prevailing prayer

A little more than two centuries ago a thoroughly devoted English minister was full of anxiety in view of the dangers that threatened many of the seamen who belonged to his parish. They were about to engage in a fearful battle with the French, and be exposed to all the perils of the fight. His heart yearning over them, he calls together his people, and appoints a day of fasting and prayer, that the shield of the Almighty might be thrown before them in the day of battle. It is said the good man wrestled in prayer as in an agony, that the seamen might be preserved in the hour of danger. When the battle was over, it was found that John Flavel too had wrestled with the angel; that he was a prince with God, and had prevailed. His prayers were a wall of defence round about those for whom he pleaded. Not a single sailor from Dartmouth was lost, though many of them were in the hottest of the fight. If the real history of many a soldier in our fearful civil war were written, it would doubtless be found that he came forth unscathed because defended by the believing prayers of a Christian wife, mother, or sister.


Verse 29

Genesis 32:29

Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name

The great question

This is the question of all questions.
For the name of God denotes His nature and His essence, the sum of all His properties and attributes.

I. It is a question worth the asking. There is a despair of religious knowledge in the world, as though in God’s rich universe, theology, which is the science of God Himself, were the one field in which no harvest could be reaped, no service of sacred knowledge gained.

II. The knowledge of God is the one thing needful. He who seeks to do the work of a Paley in presenting Christian evidences in a sense conformable to the intellectual state of thoughtful men, as the shadows are folding themselves about this wearied century--above all, he who cultivates and disciplines his spirituality until it has become the central fact of his being--it is he who offers in a right and reverent spirit the prayer of Jacob at Penuel, “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.”

III. It is necessary not only to ask the great question of the Divine nature, but to ask it in a right spirit. Jacob acted as though there were no other way of asking the question aright than by prayer; he must also ask it at the cost of personal suffering.

IV. What is the answer when it comes? Jacob’s question was asked, but was not answered; or, rather, it was answered not directly and in so many words, but effectually: “He blessed him there.” It is not knowledge that God gives to striving souls, but blessing. He stills your doubtings; He helps you to trust Him. You go forth no longer as Jacob, the supplanter, mean, earthly, temporal, but in the power of a Divine enthusiasm, as an Israel, a prince with God. (J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.)

Inquiry and reply

The Lord had asked Jacob how he was called, not as if He did not know it, but in order to give him a name more in accordance with his present state of grace. Jacob, meanwhile, feels emboldened to ask his antagonist His name. It may be that he was desirous of knowing how the Lord ought properly to be called. He was usually called “Elohim”--the Most High. God Himself had said to Abraham, “I am the El Shaddai, the Almighty or All-sufficient God.” He was also called simply El, the Strong One. But these appellations no longer satisfied the patriarch after his recent experience. They all expressed something of the Divine glory, but none of them the whole of it. There was probably an ardour in his soul, which would gladly have poured itself out in hymns of praise, but for which he could not find words. But Jacob doubtless was not anxious merely about the name when he said, “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” I think he meant to say by it, “Lord, how shall I call Thee? I know not what to think, much less to say. Such a condescension as that which Thou hast shown to me, who am but dust, is more than my heart could have remotely anticipated. I know and confess that Thou, O Lord! art wonderful and gracious. It was Thou who madest me competent to all this, and yet commendest me, as if I, a poor timid creature, had done it of myself. Thou, who art the Holy One, sufferest Thyself to be embraced by my unholy arms; Thou, who art Almighty, to be overcome by one so weak as I! This is too much, this is too wonderful and too lofty; I cannot comprehend it. Tell me, what is Thy name? What shall I say of Thee? for I know not. Who, indeed, can know how he ought to bless, praise, exalt, and extol Thee as he ought, when he learns and is conscious of what Thou doest to Thy children? “If it had been said to Jacob, thus filled with God,” This that the Lord hath now done unto thee is something very trifling compared with that which He is willing to do for thee. He has, in this instance, assumed the human form only for a short time; but in the fulness of time He will really be born of a woman, and not spend merely a few hours, but three-and-thirty years, upon earth; suffer in body and soul the most extreme anguish; and even die for Israel that they may live. And the people will not meet Him, as thou hast done, with prayers and tears, but with great wrath and bitter fury will they do Him all conceivable injury; whilst He, from love, will bear it as a lamb.” If the patriarch could then have been told these things--which were not fitted, however, for that period--“Oh,” he would have exclaimed, by God’s grace, “I can believe it! I can believe it! What can be too much for Him to perform?” Had he been told that He would be called Love, he would have exclaimed, “That is His true name!”’ And who can say what an insight Jacob may have obtained into the mystery of salvation during this event, and of which he uttered many things in his parting blessing? At least, Jesus says of Abraham, “He saw my day, and was glad.” But “tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name. Reveal Thyself more intimately to my soul.” Such a desire is very laudable. Christ declares that “this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Paul found so much comprised in the knowledge of Jesus Christ that he regarded everything else in comparison with it as loss and dung. Moses also once experienced such a strong desire that he prayed, saying, “If I have now found grace in Thy sight, I beseech Thee show me Thy glory.” And the Lord really granted him his request, as far as was possible. Who would not tong for such an acquaintance, and pray, “Make Thyself known to me; cause Thy face to shine upon me; make me acquainted with Thee!” especially since we have the promise, “Thou shalt know the Lord”? Certainly this is a pearl worthy of the whole of our poor property; a treasure for the sake of which we may well sell everything in order to obtain it. But it is only in the light of God that we see light. Blessed are the eyes which see what ye see. “Flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” The Lord does all things well in due time, in general, as well as in particular--He only knows also the proper manner; and hence we must be content to be told, “my hour is not yet come.” Jacob’s question was also fully answered; eternity, however, is destined for its further elucidation. Israel thought he might then become acquainted with the whole mystery of redemption; but a couple of centuries must elapse ere it was fully made known. Israel was obliged to learn to wait--to see the promises afar off, and to be satisfied with it. He was satisfied, and held his peace. (D. C. Krumreacher.)

The search after God

In this experience there seem to be three things--a request, a denial, and a compensation.

I. THE REQUEST here, as Jacob urges it, is this: “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.”

1. The manner is bold and abrupt. It appears strange, sometimes, as we note the real prayers on record in the Bible, to find them so short, so sharp, so resolute in utterance. “Master, carest Thou not that we perish!”--“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!” . . . Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!”--“Lord, save me, I perish!” It is an old Reformer’s saying: “Prayer is the Christian’s gun-shot. As then the bullet out of a gun, so prayers out of the mouth, can go no further than they are carried. If they be put out faintly, they cannot fly far. If they be hollow-hearted, then they will not pierce much. Only the fervent, active devotion hits the mark, and pierceth the walls of heaven, though, like those of Gaza, made of brass and iron.”

2. But what does this request of Jacob’s mean? Indeed, it seems quite fair to retort the question of the angel. Jacob asked to know the name of the Being he had been wrestling with. Most surely, we are not left to imagine he still remained in ignorance who his antagonist was. You have already learned, from the change in Jacob’s own name, that names in those days meant character--indicated personality. And when this wearied man girds up his remaining force for a new petition, he is simply pressing the old answerless question of the human soul: Who is God--and What is God?

3. The order of experience in this heart-history is of special value, and must be noted also. It follows success and not failure. It best becomes, therefore, the symbol of prayer founded on encouragement. It suggests to us a rewarded soul standing on the vantage-ground of a previous welcome, and stretching out its hand for a yet more advanced disclosure of love.

II. THE DENIAL. It seems to be the settled determination of the Divine will to hold in a holy and unbroken reserve the heights and depths of His character and being. Enough only is revealed for us to be sure He is our friend and our well-wisher. It cannot be called an unwholesome question, this in our text, even though it never meets an earthly answer. It stimulates the soul. Even a reverent curiosity about God is better than a dead apathy.

III. THE COMPENSATION. “And He blessed him there.” There is something surpassingly beautiful in this quiet statement. The mystery remains unrelieved, but the affection pays for it. Just as a loving mother grants every wish of her little one, until a serious mistake is pressed as a petition. Then she declines with a smile, and compensates with a kiss, so that the child is glad to be disappointed. And that is exactly the delicate figure of the Scripture: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you,” saith the Lord. But now you press the inquiry--Is there any answer to the old question--does not this same Being, who is to judge us at the last, as He made us in the beginning, elude our every search--oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat--has He no word to speak to me? Yes--I answer; there are two disclosures at least in this experience of compensation that give relief. They are always made. They are here, as elsewhere, in the story of Jacob. One of these is a clear revelation of the right of human petition. The other is a new repetition of Divine confidence. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The secret revealed to wrestling Jacob

I. Jacob in that hour felt THE DARK SECRET AND MYSTERY OF EXISTENCE.

1. The contrast observable between this and a former revelation made to Jacob’s soul. Twenty years before he had seen in vision a ladder reared against the sky, and angels ascending and descending on it. Exceedingly remarkable. Immediately after his transgression, when leaving his father’s home, a banished man, to be a wanderer for many years, this first meeting took place. Fresh from his sin, God met him in tenderness and forgiveness. After twenty years God met him again; but this second intercourse was of a very different character. It was no longer God the Forgiver, God the Protector, God the covenanting Love, that met Jacob; but God the Awful, the Unnameable, whose breath blasts, at whose touch the flesh of the mortal shrinks and shrivels up.

2. Again I remark, that the end and aim of Jacob’s struggle was to know the name of God. “Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name.” In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters. These three, it has been observed by acute philologists, correspond to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, Jews. In the first of these periods, names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given then were simplicity and sincerity. They were drawn from a few simple sources: either from some characteristic of the individual, as Jacob, the supplanter, or Moses, drawn from the water; or from the idea of family, as Benjamin, the son of my right hand; or from the conception of the tribe or nation, then gradually consolidating itself; or, lastly, from the religious idea of God. But in this case not the highest notion of God--not Jah or Jehovah, but simply the safer and simpler idea of Deity. The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterized by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought and feeling more intensely religious. The heart of the nation was big with mighty and new religious truth--and the feelings with which the national heart was swelling found vent in the names which were given abundantly. God, under His name Jah, the noblest assemblage of spiritual truths yet conceived, became the adjunct to names of places and persons. Oshea’s name is changed into Jehoshua. The third period was at its zenith in the time of Christ--words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow unreal state of all things. A man’s name might be Judas, and still he might be a traitor. Yet in this period, exactly in proportion as the solemnity of the idea was gone, reverence was scrupulously paid to the corpse-like word which remained and had once enclosed it. In that hollow, artificial age, the Jew would wipe his pen before he ventured to write the Name--he would leave out the vowels of the sacred Jehovah, and substitute those of the less sacred Elohim. In that kind of age, too, men bow to the name of Jesus, often just in that proportion in which they have ceased to recognize His true grandeur and majesty of character. In such an age it would be indeed preposterous to spend the strength upon an inquiry such as this--“Tell me Thy name?” Jehovah, Jove, or Lord what matter? But Jacob did not live in this third period, when names meant nothing; nor did he live in the second, when words contained the deepest truth the nation is ever destined to receive. But he lived in the first age, when men are sincere, and truthful, and earnest, and names exhibit character. To tell Jacob the name of God was to reveal to him what God is and who.

3. This desire of Jacob was not the one we should naturally have expected on such an occasion. He is alone--his past fault is coming retributively on a guilty conscience--he dreads the meeting with his brother. His soul is agonized with that, and that we naturally expect will be the subject and the burden of his prayer. No such thing l Not a word about Esau--not a word about personal danger at all. All that is banished completely for the time, and deeper thoughts are grappling with his soul. To get safe through to-morrow? No, no, no! To be blessed by God--to know Him, and what He is--that is the battle of Jacob’s soul from sunset till the dawn of day. And this is our struggle--the struggle.

II. THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY.

1. It was revealed by awe. Very significantly are we told that the Divine antagonist seemed as it were anxious to depart as the day was about to dawn; and that Jacob held Him more convulsively fast, as if aware that the daylight was likely to rob him of his anticipated blessing; in which there seems concealed a very deep truth. God is approached more nearly in that which is indefinite than in that which is definite and distinct. He is felt in awe, and Wonder and worship, rather than in clear conceptions.

2. Again, this revelation was made in an unsyllabled blessing. Jacob requested two things. He asked for a blessing--and he prayed to know the name of God. God gave him the blessing. “He blessed him there,” but refused to tell His name. “Wherefore dost thou ask after My name?” In this, too, seems to lie a most important truth. Names have a power, a strange power, of hiding God. Speech has been bitterly defined as the art of hiding thought. Well, that sarcastic definition has in it a truth. The Eternal Word is the revealer of God’s thought; and every true word of man is originally the expression of a thought; but by degrees the word hides the thought. Language is valuable for the things of this life; but for the things of the other world, it is an encumbrance almost as much as an assistance. Lastly, the effect of this revelation was to change Jacob’s character. His name was changed from Jacob to Israel, because himself was an altered man. Hitherto there had been something subtle in his character--a certain cunning and craft--a want of breadth, as if he had no firm footing upon reality. The forgiveness of God twenty years before had not altered this. He remained Jacob, the subtle supplanter still. For, indeed, a man whose religion is chiefly the sense of forgiveness, does not thereby rise into integrity or firmness of character--a certain tenderness of character may very easily go along with a great deal of subtlety. Jacob was tender and devout, and grateful for God’s pardon, and only half honest still. But this half-insincere man is brought into contact with the awful God, and his subtlety falls from him. He becomes real at once. Every insincere habit of mind shrivels in the face of God. One clear, true glance into the depths of Being, and the whole man is altered. The name changes because the character has changed, No longer Jacob the supplanter, but Israel the Prince of God--the champion of the Lord, who had fought with God and conquered; and who, henceforth, will fight for God and be His true loyal soldier: a larger, more unselfish name--a larger and more unselfish man--honest and true at last. No man becomes honest till he has got face toface with God. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name?--

God’s revelation of Himself to Jacob

This answer of the Being--“Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name?”--what does it mean? So far as I can judge, it is the same reply that was given long afterward to the wise and learned Moses--“When I speak to the people, who shall I say hath sent me? What is Thy name? . . . I am that I am. This shalt thou say, I AM hath sent me unto you”; that is, as I think, “I am, the nameless One, the One who refuses to be named, whose being transcends all description.” The highest revelation of God must consist of two sides--the apprehensible, the inapprehensible. God must be the apprehensible and inapprehensible God. Throughout the Bible He is introduced generally with the definition and distinction of a high man; He talks, acts, feels before us as plainly as any character in the history, and we have the satisfaction of the clearest knowledge. But were this all, it would not have been God, and would have ended in the rankest idolatry. So in this singular tale of Jacob--so far back--for the first time, I think, is there a revelation of theinfinite, unspeakable God, manifested so simply in the fact that He refuses to be or cannot be revealed. “Wherefore?” “I am.” (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)

He blessed him there

Blessing from God

God blessed Jacob at Penuel because he asked to be blessed, and his desire for it constituted at once his worthiness and his capacity. He began the blessing by the agony of prayer, and he completed it with the discipline of sorrow.

1. Life being itself a blessing, and to one who believes in God and hopes from Him the greatest of all blessings, God makes it a yet greater blessing by ordaining for it a fixed plan.

2. God does not expect perfect characters to fulfil His purposes. He chooses the fittest instruments He can find for His purest purpose, and trains them and bears with them until their work is done.

3. God uses circumstances as His angels and voices to us, and He has special epochs and crises in which He visits our souls and lives.

4. The perfection of youth is eagerness without impetuosity; the perfection of old age is wisdom without cynicism, and a faith in the purpose of God which deepens and widens with the years. (Bishop Thorold.)

Fulness of blessing

1. Evil conduct will, sooner or later, bring trouble to those guilty of it.

2. We may meet with trouble in the way God bids us go.

3. The memory of former wrong-doing robs us of comfort and hope under new trials.

4. God will help us if we repent, confess, seek pardon, and call for His aid.

I. THERE IS A FULNESS OF BLESSING IN GOD TO MEET OUR NEEDS BEYOND ALL WE HAVE EVER REALIZED. We can have blessings spiritual, moral, mental, physical, secular, personal, family, national.

II. GOD IS WILLING AND WAITING TO BESTOW ALL WE NEED OUT OF THAT FULNESS. We see this from--

1. The nature of God. “God is love.”

2. The promises.

3. Past dealings.

III. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE BLESSING BECOMES OURS IS EARNEST, FERVENT PRAYER. This the key that opens the treasure, the channel that conducts the water to my soul, the hand that grasps the blessing. (J. Marsden, B. A.)

Blessed by God

I. WHAT WAS JACOB’S BLESSING IN THAT PLACE?

1. He was saved from a great peril--Esau’s attack.

2. He was forgiven a great wrong--supplanting.

3. He was able to feel that a great breach was healed (Genesis 33:4).

4. He had won a new name and rank (Genesis 32:28). He was knighted on the spot, made a prince on the field.

5. He was now under a fresh anointing: he was a superior man ever after. “The angel redeemed him from all evil” (Genesis 48:16).

II. WHAT WAS THE PLACE? “He blessed him there.”

1. A place of great trial (Genesis 32:6-7).

2. A place of humble confession. “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed to Thy servant” (Genesis 32:10).

3. A place of pleading (Genesis 32:11-12). “There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

4. A place of communion. “I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30).

5. A place of conscious weakness. “As he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.”

III. ARE THERE OTHER SUCH PLACES?

1. Before the earth was created the Lord blessed His chosen people in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-4).

2. At the Cross the tomb, and the throne of Jesus.

3. In the heavenly places.

4. At conversion (Psalms 32:1-2).

5. In times of stripping, humbling, chastening, pleading, &c. James 1:12).

6. In times of prompt obedience (Psalms 1:1).

7. At the ordinances (Acts 8:39; Luke 24:30-31).

IV. IS THIS SUCH A PLACE? Yes, if you are--

1. Willing to give up sin.

2. Willing to have Jesus for your all in all.

3. Willing to resign yourself to the Father’s will.

4. Willing to serve God in His own way. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Lessons

1. God’s blessing on His saints unites their hearts unto Him to seek His praise.

2. Saints ascribe all their blessings to the face or favour of God.

3. Gracious souls desire that exaltations of God be monumental and perpetual.

4. God’s face-discoveries have been in measure to sight towards His saints of old.

5. God’s sensible discoveries of Himself have been dangerous to the life of His saints (Daniel 8:27).

6. God’s appearance, visible in grace, hath been to the preservation of humbled souls (Genesis 32:30).

7. God giveth a pass to His servants in their way after He hath tried them. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Jacob’s blessing

This blessing wherewith Christ here blessed Jacob was a Divine blessing containing all other blessings within its bowels. It was that blessing of the throne which comprehended in it the blessings of the footstool. Jacob had got already a great store of footstool mercies--much wealth, wives and children, &c. These worldly blessings would not (and indeed could not) content him. He tugs hard still, and must have some better mercy than these, even the throne mercy, to wit, peace with God; well knowing that this would bring peace with his brother, and all other good things; as Job saith, “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee” (Job 22:21). He knew that his power to prevail with Emmanuel Himself would fill him with power to prevail with Esau. (Christopher Ness.)

Blessing sought and found

It was with a young man a day of seeking, and he entered a little sanctuary and heard a sermon from “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.” He obeyed the Lord’s command, and “He blessed him there.” Soon after he made a profession of his faith before many witnesses, declaring his consecration to the Lord, and “He blessed him there.” Anon he began to labour for the Lord in little rooms, among a few people, and “ He blessed him there.” His opportunities enlarged, and by faith he ventured upon daring things for the Lord’s sake, and “He blessed him there.” A household grew about him, and together with his loving wife he tried to train his children in the fear of the Lord, and “He blessed him there.” Then came sharp and frequent trial, and he was in pain and anguish, but the Lord “blessed him there.” This is that man’s experience all along, from the day of his conversion to this hour: up hill and down dale his path has been a varied one, but every part of his pilgrimage he can praise the Lord, for “He blessed him there.”

Blessed by God

I have here (said Mr. Fuller) two religious characters, who were intimately acquainted in early life. Providence favoured one of them with a tide of prosperity. The other, fearing for his friend, lest his heart should be overcharged with the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches, one day asked him if he did not find prosperity a snare to him. He paused and answered, “I am not conscious that I do, for I enjoy God in all things.” Some years afterwards his affairs took another turn; he lost, if not the whole, yet the far greater part of what he had once gained, and by this disaster was greatly reduced. His old friend, being one day in his company, renewed his question, whether he did not find what had lately befallen him to be too much for him. Again he paused and answered,” I am not conscious that I do, for now I enjoy all things in God.” This was truly a life of faith. To him it was as true as to Jacob--“He blessed him there.” (Arvine’s Anecdotes.)

The present blessing

It is a common temptation to men to think that if their circumstances were different they could become religious, put forth all its fruits, enjoy all its blessings; but with things as they are they can hope for little. By this miserable temptation thousands are deluded, life is wasted, souls are lest. What I wish to show is that the realization of salvation and the maintenance of a holy life are possible to us anywhere, everywhere, if we have the true disposition of heart. Goodness is never a question of the outer world; it is always a question of the inner world. Now, in nature climate determines everything respecting the animals which live, the flowers which grow; the character of the climate, not the nature of the soil, or the conformation of the ground. It is from difference of climate that tropical life differs so much from arctic, and both these from the life of temperate regions. It is climate, and climate alone, that causes the orange and vine to blossom, and the olive to flourish in the south, but denies them to the north of Europe. It is climate, and climate alone, that enables the forest tree to grow on the plain, but not on the mountain top; that causes wheat and barley to flourish on the mainland of Scotland, but not on the steppes of Siberia. Not the quality of the ground, or the form of the ground, but the climate; the products of the landscape are determined not by the soil itself, or by what is below the soil, but by what is outside it, above it, beyond it. But human character is not governed by circumstance as the landscape is determined by climate. The supreme distinction of man, the characteristic that marks him out from the mere physical universe, is that there is in him a self-energy, an inner freedom, a fundamental liberty and strength of soul, by which he triumphs over the unfriendliest conditions in pursuit of his ideal. How Demosthenes, in spite of his stammering, became an orator; how Huber, in his love of science, triumphed over his blindness; how Beethoven created splendid music despite his deafness! It is the same in the moral life of man; victory is from within, no matter what may be the state of things without. The patriarch struggling with the angel until he overcame is the picture of man’s ability to overcome all difficulties in the way of the highest life, to realize purity and peace and uttermost salvation. And so we constantly see men getting goodness and exemplifying goodness in circumstances which seem altogether to forbid moral excellence. We see here how mistaken men are in fancying that they cannot give themselves to God and live for Him just where they find themselves. And yet that is a common mistake. Thousands to-day are waiting for the propitious hour, the fitting place, the convenient season.

1. “I cannot serve God in this home,” says one. If their parents and friends had been religious, if their training had been otherwise, it would have been otherwise with them. Now, believe it, God can bless and keep you there. There was “ some good thing in the house of Jeroboam,” the most unlikely house in Israel. Abijah was there, a God-fearing and a God-favoured youth. Some little while ago I noticed in a field quite a vast growth of fungi--yellow, purple, black, spotted, no end of toadstools and devil’s snuff-boxes--and right in the middle of the ghastly, pestilent, poisonous growth there was a single mushroom, white and fragrant, a veritable pearl of the field. So Abijah stood in the house of Jeroboam.

2. “I cannot serve God in this neighbourhood,” says another. Ours is a bad neighbourhood, say they, and nobody can live in it and be what they ought to be. Have you never thought how wonderfully God preserved the primitive Christians in such cities as Rome and Ephesus and Corinth, full of atheism, idolatry, sensuality, as they were?

3. “I cannot serve God in this calling,” says another. They feel their business is unfriendly to religious life, that their business relations are so. The tailor says, We are a loose set; the shoemaker feels as if all his comrades were infidels; the horse-dealer wants to know how he is going to keep a conscience; the collier, the soldier, the sailor, feel how difficult it is with their vocation to serve God. Do not spend your life sighing for another and more helpful calling; God can bless you where you are; He can give you grace to resist the special temptations of your lot; m slippery places He can make you to stand, in dark places He can make you to shine.

4. “I cannot serve God in this situation,” says another. The domestic servant feels this sometimes. She lives where there is not a thought of religion, and it seems incredible that she could keep her soul alive there. Seek God’s blessing now. That was a strange place where Jacob wrestled with the angel, on the wild heath beneath the stars; but he was resolute for the blessing, and he got it. Are you earnest for the blessing as he was? (W. L.Watkinson.)

Deliverance from affliction

Be not earnest, in time of affliction, to use inordinate means to speed deliverance. Jacob was too nimble in bending his knees for his father’s blessing. It cost him twenty years’ exile and a shrunk sinew before he obtained it fully from the angel. Stay God’s time, and mercy will ripen more kindly. It is no wisdom to break prison unadvisedly; our troubles will end more auspiciously when angels are sent from heaven to open the iron gate, as they did to Peter, and led him to the house of prayer. When God intends a salvation, the shackles will fall off easily, and the gates will fly open at night; and you shall be like them that dream, when God turns your captivity like streams in the south. (J. Lee.)

Power of wrestling prayer

“There’s nae gude dune, John, till ye get to the close grips.” So said “Jeems,” the doorkeeper of Broughton Place Church, Edinburgh, to the immortal Dr. John Brown, the author of “Rab and His Friends.” Old Jeems got into a marvellous nearness with God in prayer, and conversed with Him as he would with his “ain father.” (Dr. Cuyler.)

The name of that place Peniel

Peniel

This world possesses many uncommonly glorious places. The natural man finds those the most remarkable where Nature manifests herself in peculiar splendour and majesty, where lofty mountains yield delightful prospects, and smiling plains exhibit the blessings of heaven; where majestic rivers roll along, or the wide ocean expands itself like an eternity before the eye which seeks in vain its limit. The scientific man lingers with pleasure on the monuments of ancient and modern art; he gazes with admiration at the enormous dome which ancient times reared heavenwards, or is ravished with the productions of the painter or the statuary, which animate, as it were, the lifeless canvas and the solid marble. He admires the magnificence and beauty of princely palaces, and lingers astonished at the works of art. The historian loses himself in reflection when visiting the scene of former important events, when coming in sight of ancient Rome with all its reminiscences; or when upon a field where memorable battles have been fought. Who at this present period does not think with admiration of Wittenberg and its royal chapel, of the Wartburg, of Zurich and Geneva, and of the names of Luther, Zuinglius, and Calvin, because they remind us of a multiplicity of events connected with them? The Christian has also his memorable spots and places in the world; Bethlehem, Capernaum, Jerusalem, Calvary, and the Mount of Olives, are these remarkable spots. Formerly they were personally visited by the piously superstitious pilgrim, whilst his heart, perhaps, was far from God. His bodily eye saw the remarkable places, whilst the eye of his spirit remained closed against the wonders which there took place for the salvation of sinners. His feet wandered in what is called the Holy Land, where Abraham once sojourned; which the Son of God touched with His sacred feet, and even with His face; which He bedewed with His tears, His bloody sweat, and His atoning blood; in which His lifeless body slumbered three days, and where He again rose to heaven from whence He had come down. There the foot of many a pilgrim wanders, whilst it is not given him to walk in the steps of faithful Abraham, and to know the way of peace--nay, whilst rejecting the Son of God, by thinking to render his own works effectual as an atonement for his sins. These places are Peniels to believers, revelations of the glory of God, since His faith and love find the pastures of eternal life in that which there took place. And has not every Christian his particular Peniels in which God revealed Himself to him in an especial manner?--his closet, a sermon, a book, a company, a solitary hour, and the like, which continue ever memorable to him. Jacob called this remarkable place Peniel--not as a memorial of himself, nor of that which he had there performed and accomplished; but of that which he had apprehended and experienced of God, and of the gracious benefit bestowed upon him. (D. C. Krummacher.)


Verse 31-32

Genesis 32:31-32

And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh

Defeats in life

I.
FROM THE GREAT CONFLICT WITH SIN NONE COME OFF WITHOUT MANY A SCAR. We may wrestle and prevail, but there will be touches of the enemy, which will leave their long and bitter memories. The way to heaven is made of falling down and rising up again. The battle is no steady, onward fight, but rallies and retreats, retreats and rallies.

II. The reason of our defeats is that THE OLD SIN OF THE CHARACTER CONTINUES, AND CONTINUES WITH UNABATED FORCE, IN THE HEART OF A CHILD OF GOD. There are two ways in which sin breaks out and gains an advantage over a believer.

1. A new temptation suddenly presents itself.

2. The old habit of sin recurs--recurs, indeed, sevenfold, but still the same sin.

III. ALL SIN IN A BELIEVER MUST ARISE FROM A REDUCTION OF GRACE. This is the result of grieving the Holy Ghost by a careless omission of prayer or other means of grace. There was an inward defeat before there was an outward and apparent one.

IV. DEFEAT IS NOT FINAL. It is not the end of the campaign; it is but one event in the war. It may even be converted into a positive good to the soul, for God can and will overrule guilt to gain; he allows each defeat to teach us repentance and humility. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Lessons

1. The sun-rising may be in special mercy unto tempted persons, as well as good to all.

2. Holy conquerors in temptation may go out halters.

3. Halting is no evil while it tends to humbling Jacob and his seed (Genesis 32:31). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Lessons

1. God’s visible actions to his saints have been apt to be mistaken by men.

2. Jacob’s children have been forward to turn God’s spiritual intentions to carnal interpretations (Genesis 32:32). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Memorials of conflict

In these bodies of ours there is often perpetuated the recollection of some former sin, and the wrestle for pardon which grew out of it. You remember that during the awful fight with Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation, Bunyan tells us that Christian, despite of all he could do, was wounded in his head, his hand, and his foot. Few men there are, whose early life has been profligate, who do not even to this day bear in their persons most recognizable pains, and perplexing inabilities, and mortifying memorials of the sorrowful past. Repentance brings pardon, but never restores the ravages of sin. In the child’s story, we were taught that it was easy to draw the nails that numbered our faults from the tree-trunk that recorded them; but the scars remained for ever. More often, however, this memorial of conflict takes the form of constitutional weakness, or besetting sin. An early inadvertence, a youthful vice, a wild habit, an impulsive act of criminal evil, from the guilt of which the penitent man has been restored by the pardoning mercy of God, has yet proved to be of sufficient moral force to leave behind it a permanent mark. The wound healed, but it is only cicatrized over; it can never be less than a centre of solicitude, tender and sensitive to exposure. Always after this that soul has one insecure, one vulnerable point to be watched. There are men to-day who, just because they once swore an oath, have to put up special guards against profanity. There are men who once read a page of a vile book that have never got over the tendency to impurity it bred in their souls. We may definitely conclude, from wide observation, that no wickedness has ever been committed which has, in the end, left the man where it found him. God may forgive much; but the devil’s service fixes its own memorial on the soul. One of its natural sinews of strength has been shrunken, and now it betrays itself by the limp. Two lessons will follow just here. One is this:--Let every person, young and growing beware of all vice, and be on thealert against even early sin. You maybe called upon to carry its stigmas with you to the great day of your death. You may be a weaker man all the days and years you live afterwards, just because of one seemingly trifling indulgence. This body of ours is a wonderful thing. It is the most beautiful object in the world. When the artists searched the universe for the curve of absolute beauty, they found it in the maiden’s shoulder; when they wanted the colour of absolute purity, they found it in the infant’s cheek. But this body may be deformed, disfigured, ruined, by sin. Be careful about that! The other lesson is one of consideration for others. When we see a man with a personal mutilation, every instinct of courteous life bids us hesitate to causelessly wound his feelings. When the weakness is mental or moral, the appeal if yet more direct and overwhelming to our thoughtfulness and care. He who would heedlessly disregard a sign of weakness or old exposure like this is more unthinking and more ungenerous even than he who would drink wine in the presence of one who had been a drunkard, or rattle dice in a reformed gambler’s ear. The silent plea of feebleness ought to be simply irresistible to every noble mind. It seems to say plaintively, like the suffering Job: “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me!” We must use our Christian freedom cautiously, lest with our indulgence we should injure one for whom Christ died. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The anomalies of Jacob’s character

Jacob is to me the most difficult character in the Bible history. He looks so worldly, shrewd, and even unscrupulous, that it is hard to reconcile ourselves to him. I feel the justice of the sneers about him, and sometimes it seems humbling that this should be one of the patriarchs, even in that rude time. But if all were on one side, it would be easy, however painful, to judge of him. It is his singular contradictions, with his visions of angels, &c., that make it hard. He cheats his brother; and behold him just afterward with his consecration, his awful sense of God’s presence, and hear his simple vow! Behold Jacob so shrewd to Laban, so calculating and successful! Behold him returning; see the shrinking of his guilty and timid heart; and then at night see this scene of wrestling! We are all of us mixtures of earth and heaven, but I know of none like this. On the one hand I see Jacob sometimes so merely a Jew that he seems the father of Jewish guile, fear, unscrupulousness, and thrift. On the other I see him sometimes not only as the deeply faithful lover in his youth, the most tender father, but as an elevated, majestic man of faith, who believed in high things, who valued them, and who left on record such words of lowliness and penitence for his faults, in such genuine tones, that the purest and most repentant hearts take them up from age to age and repeat them as their own: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant”; “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been,” &c. Nay, I see him sometimes as so purely an inspired Hebrew, that he seems the father of the visions of Hebrew prophets, the father of the Psalms, and the father of the deepest spiritual insights of the Bible. How wonderful! The shame and sorrow and shock of such contradictions is a common tale. Alas, that we, who are linked in some qualities, at some moments, with the highest, purest, in the fellowship of Christ, should so blaspheme ourselves, should descend from angels’ food to prey on garbage--that heavenly-fashioned hearts should go into business and society and do mean things, and be worldly Jacobs, and forget, and live our low lives, while we have in solemn moments our visions and wrestlings! This is not merely for reproach, but for hope. Awful contradiction as man is, Christ believed in the power of the better part. (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)
.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 32:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/genesis-32.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
Second Sunday after Epiphany
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