Jesus and Jacob

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This is the fifth of my Christmas devotionals focused on the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ in the Old Testament.  Previous devotionals focus on Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua.  

Jesus and Jacob

When we think of Jesus appearing in the Old Testament, just about the last thing we expect him to do is wrestle.  But that is just what he did with the patriarch Jacob!  Jacob was in the proverbial place "between a rock and a hard spot."  He had just cheated his father-in-law Laban out of his best herds.  Running from him, Jacob now faced his brother Esau, who he earlier had cheated of the family's covenant blessing.  Jacob was in a quite a fix, all because of his conniving ways.  

True to his nature, Jacob had a scheming plan.  He would send gifts over to his brother until he won his favor.  So off went his goats, then his rams, next his camels, cows, and donkeys.  Now all the animals were gone, so Jacob sent over his wives and even his children (Gen. 32:13-23).  Still, no news of welcome arrived from Esau and his 400 warriors.  Now Jacob was all alone beside the river and darkness was falling.  We can imagine Jacob wrestling with his fears, trying to find a scheme to save him, until Jesus came to wrestle him instead.

Jesus came in answer to Jacob's own prayer.  Jacob had been so desperate that he cried out to the Lord for help:  "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac," he prayed... "Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him" (Gen. 32:9-11).  We know from the Bible that God always hears the prayers of his people and God answers those prayers to help (see Lk. 11:9).  But sometimes God gives us what we really need, not what we think we need.  This is why Jesus came to see Jacob.  What Jacob really needed was to surrender himself to the Lord - not just his goats, donkeys, and children.  He needed to be saved from his sin, and Jesus is the Savior who comes from heaven to give salvation to sinners.  We know it was Jesus - that is, the Second Person of the Trinity who later would be named Jesus - who came that night because Jacob said that he saw "God face to face" (Gen. 32:30).  

Here is what happened: "And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day" (Gen. 32:24).  While Jacob was wrestling with his brain, seeking some plan, the divine person appeared and laid hold of him.  Resisting him, Jacob fought back all night.  Finally, the Lord "touched his hip socket so that "Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him" (Gen. 32:25).  Jesus then started to leave Jacob but he held on to him.  Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Gen. 32:27).  This is what the Lord wanted, and so he blessed Jacob with a new name: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). 

What exactly happened that night?  God had wanted Jacob to stop striving in his own strength for the things that he wanted but instead to put his hands on God for his blessing.  Isn't this a lesson we need to learn?  There are things our hearts desire because we are certain we must have them.  For children at Christmas, it may be a certain toy or computer game.  For older Christians, it may be a relationship or a job.  We seek these things because we want to be safe and happy, so like Jacob we scheme how we can get them.  We may not even be sinning, but we are still relying on our own way of getting our own things.  But God wants us to take our hands off of the things that we want and to put our hands onto Jesus.  God will provide us what we need.  God will decide how to bless us.  It is fine for us to try to get good things, but God wants our hearts to be resting in his grace.  So when we pray for his help, we should surrender not only our sheep and donkeys, so to speak, but we should surrender our hopes, dreams, and even ourselves into God's hands.  We should let God be the one who determines how he will bless us, knowing that his ways are best.  Then, sometimes God not only gives us what he wants but he gives us what we wanted too, once we have first placed it into his hands.  This happened for Jacob, because God did restore his relationship with Esau.

When God changed Jacob's name to Israel, the Lord was saying that he was to be a new person.  "Jacob" meant "Grasper," and he was no longer to live that way.  He was to live as Israel, the name of one who trusted God, even if wrestling with God in prayer, and in that way he prevailed.  Jacob said of his meeting with the pre-incarnate Christ: "I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered" (Gen. 32:30).  When we look in faith to Jesus at Christmas, we are looking to Jacob's Savior, the Lord who wants us to surrender our whole selves to him in faith.

Did you notice one last thing about Jacob?  He left that place "limping because of his lip" (Gen. 32:31).  God gave him a reminder that he should stop grasping but should keep trusting the Lord.  Sometimes God brings painful things into our lives so that our hands will be placed onto him, and sometimes we may even limp a bit afterwards.  But if we learn the lesson of truly surrendering ourselves and allowing Christ to be the one who decides on the way he will bless us, even the limp will have been worth it.  As we prepare for Christmas, we are reminded that though God's ways seem hard to us, he really does give us his very best.  At the right time, God sent Jesus to be born in the manger to bring us salvation.  And in the right way, at the right time, he will give the things we really need to everyone who holds on to him and prays, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Gen. 32:26).

Posted December 19, 2014 @ 4:44 PM by Rick Phillips

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