Jacob took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone.
The Lord of the universe dwells in unapproachable light surrounded by many angels, myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy!” (Revelation 5)!” Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), sitting on a throne of fiery flames and burning fire, a stream of fire coming out before Him (Daniel 7:9-10). His eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13) and He has a settled holy hatred of all sin. Why, then, would this thrice holy God ever have pity on us and pursue us to rescue us? And if He did, how could mere man ever bear an encounter with the living God without being consumed?
We, the ruined ones, live among myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of other ruined sinners. Crammed into this crowded planet, we wander down the wide way leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). We grope along the wall like the blind, growling and moaning as we go (Isaiah 59:9). Foolish and disobedient to the Lord, we, as slaves of passions and pleasures, pass our days being hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3). This is the picture the Bible paints for unsaved man, the natural man. It is not a pretty picture and it is not a picture with any hope.
THE LORD CONDESCENDS TO US
Yet here is one of the many mysteries of the Bible, for despite the fact that the LORD is a consuming fire and cannot be seen by mortal eyes because of His holiness, and despite the fact that all mankind has been ruined by sin and each of us is under God’s righteous wrath (Romans 1:18; John 3:17-18, 36), the Bible is full of encounters between the Lord of the universe and ordinary human beings. It seems impossible, but the Holy One, who is surrounded in heaven by myriads of angels, condescends to earth to meet with a single sinful human being, such that the human is not consumed, but is blessed and has their life changed. There is no way that mortal man can find or approach God, so God seeks out His chosen ones and brings them home (Luke 19:10). And in the Bible, these encounters are all one on one. The holy God condescends to meet with a single human being and arranges the circumstances so that the human is alone. It is just God and a single human.
JACOB AT THE JABBOK
In this post, I want to talk about the Lord’s encounter with Jacob in Genesis 32, because this encounter is staged to create a feeling of drama and awe and foreboding. Jacob has returned to Canaan from Paddan-Aram and is now defenseless against his brother Esau. Messengers have sent word to Jacob that the brother he tricked and enraged many years ago is now coming to meet him with four hundred men. In response, Jacob prays to the God he barely knows, asking Him to deliver him from his brother Esau, asking the LORD to protect his wives and his children. Jacob the deceiver has now become Jacob the man of prayer. Throughout his life, Jacob has tricked and cheated and deceived those around him. He tricked and cheated his brother Esau, not once but twice, stealing his birthright and then stealing his blessing. Jacob tricked and deceived Laban, stealing his flocks and running away with Laban’s daughters and grandchildren. By his conniving, Jacob has become two camps (32:10), but now it appears that Esau will have his revenge and will destroy all that Jacob holds dear. Jacob has no more tricks; he wants no more tricks. “Enough of tricks and conniving and deception! O LORD, I need You! I need Your help! You said, ‘I will surely do you good (32:12).’ I ask that You fulfill Your word.” Then Jacob sends his flocks and herds in droves as gifts to his brother Esau. “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me. Perhaps he will accept me (32:20).” So the present passed on ahead of him, and he stayed that night in the camp (21). The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok (22). He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else he had (23).
And Jacob was left alone (24a).
Alone. Jacob was left alone. Alone with his fears. Alone with his thoughts. Alone with his regrets. Alone. But he was not alone for long. “And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day (24b).” There at the ford of the Jabbok in the middle of the night, a humbled and fearful Jacob wrestles with “a man.” These two are alone in the wilderness. There is no one to witness their striving. And all night they wrestle to see who will prevail. Who is this “man” with whom Jacob wrestles? Where did he come from? How did he know that Jacob was here? What does he want from Jacob, since Jacob has already sent everything he has over the Jabbok to safety? At last “the man” tells Jacob to let him go, “but Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me (26).’” Who is this man? Then the man renames Jacob, calling him Israel, “for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed (28).” Jacob asked the man, “Please tell me your name,” but the man refuses. But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him (29). Who is this man who renames Jacob but refuses to tell his name? So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (30).”
The LORD had arranged this wrestling match at the Jabbok. Jacob is alone and is fearful and humbled. God condescends to Jacob, not only meeting him but wrestling with him all night. Instead of consuming Jacob in His wrath and overwhelming him with His unbearable glory, God takes on the appearance of a man and wrestles with Jacob. Of course, at any instant, God could have destroyed Jacob, but that was not the goal. Jacob needed this night to wrestle with God and with his own fears. Jacob needed to strive to a place of surrender. In eternity past, God had chosen Jacob as one of His own, and now He has arranged the details of this night to claim His prize. During this night God allows Jacob to wrestle himself into surrender. Jacob prevails, yet he leaves the encounter surrendered and limping on his hip. Jacob is allowed to prevail, but God has won His man. Before this night of striving beside the Jabbok, this second-born son of Isaac carried the name “he cheats,” but now God Himself has renamed him “he strives with God.” All alone, the human has an encounter with the living God and lives, emerging from the encounter blessed and changed.
Our God is a God who ordains the events of history, of time and space so that He can encounter His people and bring them to Himself. He arranged the events of the night by the Jabbok so that He could wrestle with Jacob and break his resistance. We see this over and over again in the Bible. Not only Jacob, but also Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, Joshua, Hagar, and Elijah all have one on one encounters with God that define their lives and change them forever. And not only in the Bible, but our God does this with us as well. Not every believer, but many believers can testify to their own “night by the Jabbok when they wrestled with a man.” We emerge from these life-changing encounters humbled and blessed and “limping on our hip.” Somehow, we have encountered God face to face and our life has been delivered.
SDG rmb 8/26/2020