Christian Friend vol. 18, 1891, p. 37.
"Jacob was left alone." This was the occasion of his greatest blessing. The beginning of his spiritual history was at Bethel (chapter 28); but here he is thoroughly broken down, and receives that wonderful name of Israel.
Notice how a crisis like this is often the moment of richest spiritual blessing. Jacob had just escaped from the clutches of Laban, only apparently to fall into far worse hands - even those of his offended brother Esau, and God now seemed against him. "There wrestled a man with him." Later on in his history this same Jacob uttered the cry, "All these things are against me." But in both cases the suffering was the precursor of blessing. The process of breaking us down is often long, but there cannot be real blessing to our souls apart from it. The experience of God's children in all ages attests this. Paul is let down in a basket before he is caught up to the third heaven. If God is dealing with us, however painful the process, the blessing is sure to follow, if we only get low enough before Him. It is not great or splendid gifts we need so much as to have the hollow of our thigh touched - to have no confidence in the flesh; for when we are weak, then are we strong. But we do not like to admit we are weak, and God has to wrestle with us as He did with Jacob; not to prove He is stronger than we are, but to make us conscious of our weakness, and in order that we may lean upon Him for strength.
Jacob continued wrestling until the hollow of his thigh was touched and out of joint. He could then no longer wrestle, but he could cling, and he did.
It is not now God wrestling with Jacob, but Jacob clinging to God; and this is what it ought to be with all of us. If we cling to another, it implies that we trust in his strength; if we wrestle, it shows that we have confidence in our own. Are we clinging or wrestling? Weakness clings, strength wrestles. Which is it with us? Have we learnt how to cling to God? It is in doing so we find blessing. It is one thing for God to lay hold of us, quite another for us to lay hold of Him. Only felt weakness knows how to do that. "To Him our weakness clings," as we sometimes sing.
"Let me go, for the day breaketh." Ah, Jacob, you can let go now! The day has come. Is that Jacob's thought? Far from it. "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," he says. Day must have been very welcome after such a night of travail, but to Jacob God was better than all. And notice, it is from the very One who has caused Jacob's thigh to be out of joint that he expects the blessing. And he was right. Have we learnt to know God thus - that He only afflicts in order to bless, only weakens to make room for His strength? Perhaps you have had some affliction. Have you laid hold of God in it, and cried, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me"? For there is blessing behind as there was for Jacob. It was painful to have his thigh out of joint - perhaps more painful to confess what he was; but what a blessing follows! God does not afflict for affliction's sake, but only to prepare the ground for the blessing in store. Are we ready to say to God, "Thou mayest take everything away from me, only give me thyself? I will not let thee go."
And God said, "What is thy name? And he said, Jacob." There must be the fullest confession if we want the blessing. If God is not to have any reserve towards us, we must keep nothing back from Him. He confessed he was Jacob. He confessed, as it were, "I am the supplanter." He learns two lessons here, which we also must learn; his weakness and his sinfulness. His weakness was demonstrated by his thigh out of joint, and his sinfulness in that he was a supplanter. And now that these two lessons have been learnt, God can come in and say to him, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel." What a change! But so it is. "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that He may set him with princes, even with the princes of His people." (Psalm 113:7, 8.)
Why are we not more blessed? The simple answer is, We do not fulfil the conditions; we have not learnt our utter helplessness, come to the end of ourselves. The poor and the needy, as our Psalm tells us, and those who become weak, like Jacob, are those whom God can make princes. But there is a further question, "How is this condition to be reached?" By having to do with God. By getting often into His presence. By seizing every opportunity of being alone with God. By learning that it must be Christ and not self.
And then God interprets the name for him. "For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." It was his weakness that prevailed, not his strength. Yes, it is our weakness that has power with God. Just as an infant's cry has power with a mother more than the cry of a strong man. Why does a mother run so eagerly at the cry of her babe? It is the cry of helplessness, and until we learn our utter weakness we shall never have power with God. It was not the strong Jacob of verse 24, but the weak Jacob of verse 25, that prevailed.
It was a wonderful name Jacob received. But he was not content, he wanted to know something else. And he said, "Tell me, I pray thee, thy name." With Jacob now, the desire is to know God, He is looking away from himself. He is in the presence of God, and all else is forgotten. "I will not let thee go! Tell me thy name."
Once more. "As he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh." We must ever keep in the place of weakness, for it is the place of power. Jacob here was like one afterwards who could say, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities." Israel had ever to return to Gilgal. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. We have no resources in ourselves. Jacob had gained the victory through his disjointed thigh. He halted upon his thigh; nevertheless he had prevailed. "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." He had to meet Esau now with a shrunken sinew; but it taught him not to trust in his own natural strength, but in the One who had weakened him and made him strong.
We have glanced at the beginning of Jacob's spiritual history, and have dwelt at greater length upon another eventful period; we would now conclude by touching upon the close of his life. We refer to Hebrews 11:21, where we read, "By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff." It is the only mention of him in this chapter; but he is seen as a worshipper, and his staff denotes his strangership. With his staff he passed over Jordan at the commencement of his wanderings, and now he is on the verge of the grave, and it is still the staff; but how different, how changed the man who leans upon it! It is the sequel to the hollow of the thigh being touched. The lesson has been learnt. He leans. The one who can worship and bless others must himself be dependent. And can we ever afford to be anything else? To Jacob everything was now a wilderness, for he was outside the promised land. But what a moral grandeur invests this aged pilgrim! He blesses the sons of Joseph, and he worships God. R. E.