Be an "Israel"
O Lord God, my dear heavenly Father—You dwell in heaven above, yet are everywhere around me. You know my every thought and are aware of my every word and deed. O Lord, You are both great and glorious! Protect me from all danger and everyone who would hard my body and soul. As I enter Your presence for worship this day, please, send Your Holy Spirit to open my mind to Your truths and my heart to Your love. Fill me with a desire to serve You with faithfulness all of the days of my life. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
How important is our faith in Jesus Christ? It is ever so important, because as the apostle John explains, it gives us victory over a world that opposes us and the gift of everlasting life from teh One whom God the Father declares to be His own Son!
Jesus appeared to His disciples repeatedly after His resurrection to reassure their faith and to commission them to proclaim the gospel of forgiveness. The evangelist John records these and other accounts of Jesus’ words and works, so that we might believe and obtain everlasting life.
Text: Genesis 32:22-31
And he (Jacob) arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.
In Christ Jesus, who by grace is our Savior and Brother, dear fellow redeemed:
I am sure all of you have heard the expression: “God helps those, who help themselves!” I cringe just a bit when I hear that expression. I do so because, while it is certainly true that God expects us to be active and busy in our lives, and that it is through such activity that God often blesses us, I believe that expression can also quite easily mask an attitude of trust in self, rather than in God. Such trust in self can be and often is dangerous!
Today we want to look back into Bible history at a very interesting event—a life-changing event for the patriarch Jacob. The importance of the event is symbolized by God’s change of his name from “Jacob” to “Israel.” The name “Jacob” in Hebrew means “usurper.” A “usurper” is someone who through his wits or strength takes possession of things that do not belong to him. A “usurper” trusts primarily in self. This describes Jacob’s approach early in his life. He was a believer, but his words and actions often failed to reflect the love of and trust in God, as he sought to satisfy his own desires. The name “Israel” on the other hand in Hebrew means “prince with God.” It describes someone who ultimately prevails, but who does so with his trust in God. This name describes Jacob’s approach later in life.
I would urge each of you here today to BE AN “ISRAEL!” Realize your need for God, wrestle with God in prayer, and rejoice in God’s blessing!
Yes, an “Israel” realizes his or her need for God. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. Jacob had an older, twin brother—Esau. Jacob proved true to his name during his early life. The Bible tells us that at one point when Esau came in from hunting and was famished, Jacob would not share the meal he was preparing with him unless he bought the meal with his birthright. The Bible tells us that by selling his birthright for a lentil stew Esau “despised” it—certainly something displeasing to God. Jacob, however, was surely also to blame, for he did not display proper love and concern for his brother, but rather took advantage of his weakness. Later, Jacob joined his mother, Rebekah, in deceiving his blind father in order to gain Esau’s rightful blessing. This led to a sharp division between the brothers and a plot on Esau’s part to kill Jacob after their father’s death. This led Rebekah to ask Isaac to send Jacob to live with her brother Laban in far off Haran. During his twenty year stay in Haran, Jacob continued his devious ways, resorting to a variety of superstitions in order to increase his flocks and herds at the expense of his uncle and cousins. These actions taken in response to Laban’s dishonest dealings led to hard feelings between them and Jacob’s hasty and secretive departure from Haran back to the land of Palestine. Were it not for the LORD, who restrained Laban’s anger and intentions, Jacob and his family might well have been killed at that time.
As Jacob approached Palestine, he sent word ahead to Esau that he was returning. He hoped that his brother had by this time forgiven him. He received word back again that his brother was coming to meet him with four hundred armed men. What on earth could Jacob possibly do at this point? It would seem that Esau was still angry and intent upon destroying Jacob and his family. Jacob had run out of answers. He was facing a problem with no apparent solution. If indeed Esau intended to harm him and his family, there was nothing that he could do to prevent it. Yet this was good—for Jacob finally came to realize his absolute need for God!
We are told that Jacob divided his family and his flocks and herds, so that if one group were attacked the other might escape. That was simply prudent. But then we find Jacob kneeling in prayer—humbly confessing his sins and asking for God’s help. As our text begins, which follows the record of his prayer, we are told that Jacob was “left alone.”
My dear friends, does this sound at all familiar? So often in our lives, even as believers, we can find ourselves trusting essentially in ourselves to solve life’s problems. Oh yes, we are believers, but we focus on our own concerns, we seek to secure our own needs…even at the expense of others and with little thought to the will and ways of our God. God urges us to serve others, but we choose to serve ourselves (cf. Matthew 20:26-28). God urges us to place the well-being of others before our own, yet we secure our own well-being first (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:24). We turn to God upon occasion, but we really do not depend upon Him, and in fact at times almost hold Him at arms’ length…as if we might become too beholden to Him, or lest He somehow cramp our style. Yet, in reality at such times we are simply being disobedient and refusing to face reality. The reality of each of our situations is that we are completely dependent upon God and need Him. Let us pray that He does not place us in a situation such as Jacob’s before we realize that fact. Dear friends—BE AN “ISRAEL!” Realize your need for God!
Secondly, wrestle with God in prayer! This, of course, is the most interesting part of the story. Someone came and “wrestled with him (Jacob) until the breaking of day.” We are not told in this account who this Someone was, but later in Scripture He is identified as the Angel of the LORD—the pre-incarnate Christ. We are told that when “He (the Angel of the LORD) did not prevail against him (Jacob)” He touched his hip and put it out of joint. As dawn approached, the Angel of the LORD said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for the day breaks,” to which Jacob responded, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” What is going on here? How could the pre-incarnate Christ, through whom the entire universe was created, fail to prevail against a man in a wrestling match? How could He not get away, if He wanted to do so? The answers to these questions, of course, are that Christ could have prevailed and could have gotten away, but He chose not to because His purpose in coming was to strengthen Jacob spiritually. While Jacob may well have begun that wrestling match thinking he was confronted by an earthly opponent, there is no doubt that he understood his opponent was the LORD God by the time it ended. That is why he wanted so badly to receive a blessing.
The LORD God wanted Jacob to grow stronger in his understanding of the reality of his situation. Yes, he was totally dependent upon God, but God was totally committed to meeting his every need. He did not have to trust in and depend upon himself, especially when that trust and dependence led him into sin. Rather, the LORD God wanted him to turn to and trust in His promises—to hold them so tightly and never let them go, that they would dominate his thinking and lead inevitably to greater blessing in his life.
My dear friends, this is God’s desire for you! He wants you to turn away from yourself and trust completely in Him. He wants you to come to Him in prayer and to do so with the tenacity of a wrestler. You cannot come too often. You cannot ask too much. You cannot request anything that goes beyond the ability of God to provide, for He is all-powerful, and He is completely just and absolutely merciful. He has promised to hear and to respond. He has promised to protect and provide. When you go to Him in faith—not as a last resort…not as if you have nothing else to lose—but rather trusting confidently in Him in view of who He is and what He has promised, you honor Him and bring Him glory! BE AN “ISRAEL!” Wrestle with God in prayer!
Rejoice in God’s blessing! Jacob demanded a blessing from the Angel of the LORD. The Angel, only too willing to bless, but desiring that Jacob understand the greatest blessing he would receive, asked him about his name. He then informed Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Israel means literally “prince with God.” A prince is the son of a king—one who is close to and has influence upon the king. If the king is God, and Jacob was now the prince—he would have influence with God and prevail in his life-struggles with men through God. The Angel of the LORD was showing Jacob where his true strength and hope of success lay—not in himself, but in His God! In order to remember that lesson, God caused Jacob to endure a physical disability—a limp in his walk, as a reminder that he ought not trust in himself, but in God. He would not escape Esau by his own strength, cunning, or speed, but rather by the blessing of God.
That blessing was given and Jacob rejoiced in it. We are not told the exact nature of the blessing, but it may well have been the reassurance that it was through him and his descendants that all the families of the earth would be blessed. It was that promise of the Savior, given both to his grandfather, Abraham, and father, Isaac, which was Jacob’s most prized possession. Was Jacob blessed as his life continued? Yes, indeed! Esau, his brother, greeted him with a kiss, not with a sword. The armed men who accompanied him were intended to provide his brother with protection, not to inflict extermination. Jacob’s family grew and prospered, and although Jacob would later describe his life as being shorter and more bitter than those of his fathers, he died with the sure confidence that the LORD would send a Savior through whom his sins would be forgiven and life everlasting gained.
My dear friends, our God will bless us as we place our trust in Him and appeal to Him in prayer. Let us open our hearts to Him and our eyes to His blessings. They are all around us. His greatest blessings can be seen in the blood-stained cross and the empty tomb—the spiritual blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation. His blessings can be seen in the promises of His Word—to hear our prayers, to protect us from evil, to preserve us unto life everlasting. His blessings can be seen in the dawn of each new day, the touch of a loved one, the laughter of a child, the colors of spring flowers, and even something so simple as the ability to walk and tie your own shoes. Yes, dear friends—BE AN “ISRAEL!” Rejoice in God’s blessings! Then you will honor Him, and you may rest assured that He will honor you! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting