Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
As Jacob, son of Isaac, makes his long journey back to his father’s home, something from his past weighs heavily on his mind. His brother – or more importantly, his guilt regarding having wronged and deceived his brother 20 years ago, returns to haunt him as he nears his destination. After having heard that Esau responded to his message by coming to greet him with 400 men, Jacob was in great fear and distress [Gen 32:7]. Jacob came up with a few plans, and sent everybody ahead of him. In his solitude, he had a wrestle with a man, widely understood and accepted as God in the form of man. I’m back to reflect upon this episode again as I really like it, and I really need it. Wrestle. Struggle. Jacob’s wrestle with God often underlines our respective struggles with God as well. In today’s study, we will examine the man Jacob and how he, the supplanter, finally became the man who perseveres with God with the end of this wrestle.
Then the man said – “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” – We have to remember that there’s always a time limit to our wrestles with God. We cannot wrestle with God forever. When the daybreak comes, we must make a decision.When daybreak comes, the man will leave, and Esau will be here. Jacob will have to face his greatest fear. It will no longer be a wrestle. Truthfully, the man didn’t need to ask for permission to leave, did he? That was just plain odd, because Jacob was already injured, there was no way he could have chased the man down should he just turned to leave. But God will always ask us that question – are you ready to let go of this wrestle with me? Are you ready to let go of your own ways and ideas and follow mine instead? Are you ready, for daybreak is coming? At the moment when Jacob’s hip was hurt, I would like to think that he suddenly understood that he was weaker. When he understood that daybreak was approaching, and Esau was coming – and faced with the fact that he was actually a weak person – he made his decision, and he clung on to God.
I will not let you go unless you bless me – Esau was coming. By his own strength, Jacob won’t be able to face Esau. Clinging to God for his blessing was the only thing left, that could possibly save Jacob from Esau. We need to cling to God for strength, because we are weak. Nobody can hold God to hostage. Who, indeed, can force a blessing from God should he not wish to grant it? God was surely more than ready to give Jacob his blessing. God was certainly prepared to aid him in his encounter with Esau. All Jacob needed to do, was to let go of his desperate self-reliance and learn to grab onto God. While Genesis 32 doesn’t really put it across as a needy tearful pleading, Hosea sheds more light on the incident – He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor [Hosea 12:4]. In the face of his own weaknesses, he was suddenly made aware that he can only depend on God. And thus he grabbed hold of the man, and clung onto him, refusing to let him go unless he was blessed.
That was very characteristic of him, no? Jacob has always been trying to grab onto what he wanted. At his birth he grabbed the heel of his brother; in his youth he grabbed away his brother’s birthright; when Isaac gave his fatherly blessings he grabbed his brother’s blessings. When he was with Laban’s household, he tried to grab onto his love for Rachel, willingly sacrificing 14 years just for her sake. And as he prepares to meet Esau, he was desperate to grab onto his own life, which he had thought was in danger. He was a grabber, he was a supplanter, he desperately tried to grab and hold on to many things in his life, but it was all just grasping onto thin air, and it was really only when he grabbed onto God that he was truly transformed. His transformation was marked by the change of his name. He was no longer the one who’s always trying deceive, to usurp, to take over, but he became known as Israel – he who struggles with God, he who perseveres with God.
After the wrestle, Jacob was physically and spiritually a changed man. Even his name had changed to Israel. But while he had set his household ahead of him before that, he now rushed on ahead to be the first to meet Esau. Gone was the fearful and distressed Jacob who wanted to be as close to the escape route as possible. He had grabbed on to God, and no longer depended on his own strength for meeting Esau. Jacob is Israel – founding patriarch of the Israelites that survives even till today. Later on the households of Nahor and Laban fell away and merged with other outside clans, but the tribes of Israel prospered and became God’s special people. In many ways, we are like Jacob – we try and catch many fleeting things in life, only to realise that at the end of the day, those were just fleeting dreams. Let’s turn to God, instead. Grab onto Him as best as we can. Because it is when we learn how to hold on to God that our lives will truly be transformed.