.THE MAN WHO WRESTLED WITH AN ANGEL
Hosea 12:3-4 says, “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought favor from him. He found Hm in Bethel, and there He spoke to us–that s the Lord God of hosts.” The prophet Hosea made reference in this reading to the remarkable incident in the life of Jacob, when he wrestled all night with an angel until God finally blessed him. The prophet gives a spiritual meaning to this event which had taken place a thousand years before his time. He exhorts the nation of Israel to follow the example of Jacob, their ancestral father, and have their own wrestling match with God; for they were in a greater danger than Jacob when he faced his brother Esau whom he shamefully mistreated. We learn from Hosea that this wrestling match with God was an experience to be imitated by future generations. Hosea studied this Old Testament story that happened 1,000 years before his time and then applied it to his generation. This event happened 3700 years before our time, and I am going to apply to the 21st century.
First, let us refresh our memories by reviewing the events of that memorable night in the life of Jacob. The occurrence is recorded in Genesis 32. Twenty years had gone by since Jacob had left Canaan to live in Mesopotamia with his relatives. Mesopotamia was in present day Iraq. During those 20 years Jacob had accumulated four wives, 11 children, and a small fortune. After 20 years of hard work, he was finally able to settle down and enjoy life. Then a crisis came in his life. God appeared to him one day and said, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” That was the last place in the world Jacob wanted to go, and he would never have returned had not God commanded him to do so.
He had the best of reasons to stay away from Canaan, for a price had been placed on his head. He was a fugitive, and he was wanted dead or alive. His crime was grand theft, and his executioner was waiting on him. His own brother Esau had vowed to kill him. The command to return to his homeland meant meeting Esau whose birthright he had cheated him out of. The fact of the matter was he stole it, and what he did was despicable. Poor Esau wasn't too bright, and about all he was interested in was his dog, his dinner, and his hunting. Jacob stole a bundle from him, and lived up to his name Jacob which literally means, “a heel tripper.” He proved to be a great tripper-upper to Esau his brother. With great misgiving he started the journey and soon reached the stream which was
near the Jordan river that separated him from the land of his father. To make matters worse his scouts informed him that Esau was on his way with his army. Tomorrow he would have to come face to face with Esau. Jacob fell on his knees and reminded God of His promise to be with him. He pleaded with God to save him, his wives and children from the hand of his brother. He then divided his family and servants into small companies, separated by intervals, so that if one group was attacked, the others might escape. He also sent many expensive gifts ahead to appease Esau. Then Jacob moved his entire family and herd across the Jabbock river near to the place he would cross the Jordan sriver. Then he went back across the Jabbock and spent the night by himself in prayer.
All alone in that secluded spot and engaged in prayer with the Almighty, Jacob was suddenly startled by the appearance of an intruder. Taking him for an enemy he engaged in a fight with him. Jacob was a man of great physical strength and held his own, but neither could subdue the other. What a fight it must have been! They wrestled all night, and towards daybreak the struggle became more intense. It was when the day broke along the eastern ranges that Jacob's strange antagonist exerted super- human power by a touch of the hand that put Jacob's hip out of joint. He crippled him for life, but Jacob refused to concede defeat, even though he was injured, disabled and no longer a match for his opponent.
It was then that he recognized who this powerful stranger was. It suddenly dawned on him that he had been wrestling with God. This man was really an angel in human form, a messenger of God and a representative of God. But Jacob did not give an inch and fought furiously. Even with his hip out of joint, he held on to that man for dear life. He refused to let him go until he promised to bless him and assured him that he and his loved ones would be saved from Esau. Hosea states that he wrestled with God, and his means God was involved in thie wrestling match.We are not told much about the conversation which ensued, but they rolled around on the ground for some time. Jacob let him know that the fight was not going to end until he received God's blessings. He held on to that angel, in human form, for dear life. Finally, God granted his wish and the angel said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” The name Israel means, “Prince with God,” and he received this name because on that night he wrestled with God for everything he valued, for life and for death. Moreover, he prevailed with God and won His approval. This qualified him to be the ancestral father of the Old Testament church.
I have two observations to make on this remarkable event. First, it is quite clear from Hosea's interpretation that the all-night struggle with an angel was a religious and spiritual experience. With whom was Jacob wrestling? He was actually wrestling with himself. He wanted God to bless him, but God was not about to bless him because he was greatly displeased with him. His life was not right. He had wronged Esau and offended God in doing so. He was a cheat, a thief and a defrauder who took advantage of people. There was much wanting in Jacob's character. God sent an angel that night to let him know that his fight was with God as well as Esau. He had more to fear from God than his brother. He had a lot to make right before the Lord was going to help him. So, really Jacob was wrestling with himself; the fight was with Jacob, the supplanter, the tripper-upper.
But you might say, “How can a person wrestle with himself?” He can wrestle with his own sins; he can fight with himself over the evil that he has done and is still in his life. The real meaning of that struggle with the angel was that he was wrestling with his own conscience. The conscience is a God-given faculty of moral judgment which gives us a feeling of approval when we do what we believe is right, but gives us feelings of guilt when we do what we believe is wrong. God made us free moral beings, and we are free to do as we please, to do right or to do wrong. The only restraint God has placed on the freedom of man is the faculty of conscience. It is the only means that He will use to control human conduct. Every human being is tied to God with a cord called the conscience. If you cut it, you are gone. He will not use any other means to save you. He wins people over to love and obedience through the conscience. The gospel of Christ cannot save anyone unless it reaches the conscience.
So on that night of the divine wrestling match, Jacob made his life right with God, symbolized by the struggle with the angel. He had mistreated his brother, took advantage of people, and allowed idolatry to be practiced in his own family(Genesis 35:2). But he repented of all the sins of his past life, made his life right with God, and he became a Prince of God, henceforth to be known as Israel. However, he walked with a limp for the rest of his life as a reminder of that life-changing experience. It was a reminder of God's displeasure with him for the bad life he had lived. That explains why Hosea said that Jacob found God that night. The event of that night was indeed a religious and spiritual experience.
My second observation on the divine wrestling match is that it shows how man can have power with God. The angel changed Jacob's name to Israel because he had power with God and prevailed. Jacob had power with God(Genesis 32:28). The New King James version says he struggled with God and prevailed. Jacob had power with God because he made his life right with God and received the forgiveness of sins. What a comprehensive blessing it is to have power with God and prevail with God! Men think a great deal of anyone who has power and influence with rulers or anyone in high places. If I should name an individual in the audience and say that person has great power with the President, a great many would turn at once to look at that person. He who has great power with an earthly ruler is sure to have many flatterers around about him, who will pay him great respect for the sake of advantage which they hope to gain through his influence.
But what a far geater honor it is to have power with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Who has power with God in this Christian age of the world? No one but Christians! They have powers with God because they have prevailed with Him, even as did Jacob in the long ago. Each one of them has had a wrestling match with God, made their lives right with God and prevailed in that they received His forgivness and acceptance. God has blessed them and His favor rests upon them. These words are said to Christians in Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Does this not say that God is for Christians and that He is on their side?
And now for a final word. I like to think of that all-night struggle
with God as Jacob's conversion. He was a different man after that and was fit to be the father of the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation still wears his name to this day. His new name Israel was given in accord with his new nature and character. Every human being needs to have an encounter with God over his past life. God did not send us an angel for our betterment, but He sent Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, for our improvement and salvation. And I say unto you, don't let Jesus go till He blesses you. Without Jesus no one will make it to heaven.
However, before you can ever make your life right with God, you must wrestle with yourself. Before we can become a Christian we must struggle with our conscience. Ever since Jesus came and died for the human race, humanity has had a disturbed conscience. People do not want us to disturb their conscience; it is too painful. Jacob didn't want his disturbed, but God disturbed it on that fearful night long ago. If you are not a Christian, one of the most important questions for you to face is, “Can I
throw myself?” Can I put a headlock on my pride and
self-satisfaction and bring myself to repentance and a change of attitude relevant to my past sinful life? Am I too proud and too ashamed to admit my guilt? Can I pin the two shoulders of my past life to the mat, and confess to God that I have sinned, that I have mistreated Him, and I am ready to make it all right with the Almighty. That is your wrestling match.
When we wrestle with our conscience which the love of Jesus has aroused and disturbed, we are, so to speak, wrestling with God. Refuse to let Him go until He blesses you with forgiveness and peace of conscience. But He will not forgive you until you obey the requirements of the gospel. In I Peter 3:31, the apostle states that baptism is one of the requirements. In fact he says that baptism saves us, and adds that baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God. No one has a good conscience toward God who has not been immersed for the forgiveness of sins. Unimmersed people cannot have a good conscience, for baptism is a command of God. Hebrews 10:22 describes Christians as people whose hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience and whose bodies have been washed in the pure water of baptism. The pure water is immersion, and you can be certain that you have a guilty and defiled conscience if you have not been scripturally baptized. Scripture plainly declares that the cleansing blood of Christ is sprinkled (figuratively) on our hearts and conscience when our bodies are immersed in water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When you have reached this point in your religious struggle with God, you have won the wrestling match; and God has blessed you..