9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins…. 19 We love Him because He first loved us. 1John 1:9, 10, 19
Of the three Old Testament patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—none was perfect, and the Bible speaks openly about their shortcomings. But of these three, Jacob and his character cause the most eyebrows to be raised.
“What’s In a Name?”—William Shakespeare
Jacob’s very name means con man, cheat, liar, crook. In Old Testament terms, “usurper, supplanter,” “that which grabs, that which holds.” A grasping individual. In fact, on a fateful night described in Genesis 32, Jacob is still in hot water because years earlier he “grasped” his brother Esau’s rightful inheritance right out from underneath him.
Jacob had a history of running. And here we find him running again. Do you have a similar story? Jacob ran first from the wrath of Esau. This time he’s running from his shyster father-in-law, Laban, who had about the same character Jacob did. Now on his journey away from Laban and returning home, Jacob comes to the place where he says, “Oh God, I’m a goner without you.” After years of being “Jacob the Cheat,” finally God brought him to the place He had been wanting to bring him, a place of utter, absolute, complete brokenness and dependence.
Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man [the pre-incarnate Christ] 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 Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” (Genesis 32:24-27)
The Angel of the Lord finally has Jacob exactly where He wants him. Then He asks a question Jacob truly didn’t want to answer: “What is your name?”
Now, that’s an odd question to bring up in the middle of a wrestling match—unless you’ve researched your opponent and know the question will psyche him out. The Lord knew it was a trigger point. He would make Jacob say the word.
Have you been brought to the place where you’ve ever really admitted your name? If God were to ask you today, “What is your name?” would you say, “My name is lazy,” if you are lazy? Or “My name is fearful,” if you are fearful? Or “My name is doubter,” “My name is greedy,” “My name is lustful”?
Whatever dogs your footsteps and keeps you from being all you could and ought to be, admit it before God. Call yourself by your name. With all our weaknesses and faults, God sees something in us that He wants to make out of us. But first we must face ourselves.
In this famous encounter in Genesis 32, God wanted to bless Jacob, not hurt him. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” God did not want to change Jacob so He could love him—He loved Jacob in order to change him.
Why did God love Jacob? Pay attention, because it's the same reason God loves you. God did not love Jacob for what he was, but for what He knew He could make out of him. In spite of all of his faults, Jacob had a heart for God.
Is There Ever a Time to Just “Let Go”—of the Lord?
Jacob and the Angel of the Lord have been wrestling all night. Dawn is breaking. The Angel has worn him out and even rendered one of Jacob’s legs useless. He says to this crippled man, “Let Me go” (v. 26).
At this point, would you have let go? Are you tempted to just “let go” of God? Have you decided it’s not worth it to keep following God?
Jacob’s response was, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” At that moment, something wonderful took place.
The “grabber,” the “holder,” is still grasping, but this time for the first time in his life, with all of his heart, he gets hold of the Lord and says, “Oh God, I need You. God, I will not let You go except You bless me.” What words. The words God had been wanting to hear for so long. Finally He hears them.
You see, the Bible says we’re to have no confidence in the flesh. And until this moment, Jacob’s confidence throughout his life was not in the Lord. It was in his own ability to swing a deal, dodge and weave, survive by his wits.
What is your confidence in? A wrestler’s confidence is in his legs, his arms, his chest, his muscles. Your confidence may be in your good mind, your personality. For businessmen, it may be in your wealth. Some say, “I’ve got it in the bank; I don’t have to worry anymore. Anything I want, I can buy.” Whatever it is, dear friend, the Bible says you are to have no confidence in the flesh.
Jacob is completely weakened. He can't do anything. If he were wrestling with another human, the human could easily get away. But he's wrestling with the LORD, who said, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” Jacob, this old schemer, this con artist, says “No, sir, I'm not going to let you go—until you bless me.”
Have you let go of God too easily? Have you? God wants us to come to that place of total, absolute dependence upon Him, where we say, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” Most of us have never come to that place. We still have enough Jacob in us to figure out, “Well, we hope He'll bless us. But if He doesn't, we'll figure out a way somehow.” But you see, God had brought Jacob to a place of desperation, the place He wants to bring every one of us to. As Paul said in the Book of Philippians, “We are those who have no confidence in the flesh.”
I'm not saying you ought not to have confidence, but if you're going to have confidence, have it in the Lord Jesus. Then you will really have confidence.
The apostle Paul had come to the place where he had “no confidence in the flesh.” Yet talk about a confident person! He also said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11). That's exactly where God wanted to bring Jacob—to the end of himself that he might say, “God, I can't. I have no hope. And I'm not going to let You go, except You bless me.”
Maybe you’re not a cheat or a deceiver. But your confidence is in your business ability. Or in your physical strength. Or your personality. Or your creative talents. Where is it?
I'm not saying God will take those things from you, but God will not allow you to be successful as a Christian if your confidence is anywhere except in Him.
Have you ever come to this place? “Lord, you're my only hope. No longer am I mine. No longer my ability, no longer my scheming. I need You. God, without You, I am sunk.”
God wants to bring us to that place of desperation, that He might make us totally, completely dependent upon Him.
A New Name
From the time of his surrender, Jacob’s name was no longer “supplanter.” The Angel of the Lord gave Him a new name—“Israel”—“Prince of God” (v. 28). Because he finally came to the end of himself, he went from a name of shame to God’s hall of fame.
And when he came to the end of his long life, what did Jacob look like?
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed the sons of Joseph and worshiped, leaning upon his staff. Hebrews 11:21
Why was he leaning upon his staff? Because he'd been crippled! The rest of his life, everywhere he went, he went with a crutch. And all of his life he worshiped, leaning. The staff was a reminder that the arm of flesh will fail you. He worshiped, leaning upon his staff. “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”
Are you still standing on your own two feet? Or have you learned to lean?
Now, God will never make you anything you don't want to be. He'll wrestle with you, but you must come to the place where you say, “Lord, I'll not let You go, except You bless me.”
I heard a story once about an old man who thought maybe he could get right with God if he became a hermit, went off, and lived in a cave. Later someone went to see the old hermit and asked, “Are you still wrestling with the devil?”
“Not any longer,” he said, “Now I’m wrestling with God.”
The man said, “You are? You don’t hope to win, do you?”
He said, “No, I hope to lose.”
Thank God for His infinite, marvelous patience. I'm so glad God loves us. He just loves us. And He keeps working with us.
Father, may we grasp hold of You, Lord, our only hope, our help, our strength. We’ll not let You go, except You bless us. And Lord, teach us not to let go, but to hold on for that blessing.
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How do we answer the tough questions? Why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa? Why was Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross necessary for redemption? And why were there three crosses on Calvary that day? Pastor Adrian Rogers tackles these topics in his simple and profound style in the “Why” booklet collection, which includes four booklets. It will become a staple in your own faith-building library and a valuable tool as you share the true Love worth finding, Jesus Christ. Ready to get your questions answered? Start here.