Wed. Jun 23rd, 2021

By Chuck Smith

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, “What is your name?” and he said “Jacob.” (In Hebrew, Jacob means “Heel-catcher”) And He said “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel [Israel means `governed by God’ in Hebrew] for you have struggled with God and prevailed.” (Genesis)

I believe God is in control of my life, and therefore, nothing happens to me by accident. I believe that God rules the affairs of my life; each thing that takes place has been ordained by God. I also believe that God loves me supremely. Believing these things often creates problems in my mind. There are times when I have very painful experiences and I’m hurt or sorrowed. I have difficulty reconciling the fact that God controls my life and loves me supremely with the pain that I sometimes go through. “If God loves me,” I reason, “then why is He allowing this to happen to me?” I think that I wouldn’t inflict pain on someone I love. Why is God allowing me to suffer?

But that really isn’t true, for in looking back I can see that I have often hurt those I love. I remember, for instance, that when our children were growing up, the boys would often run into the street without looking in both directions for oncoming cars. After repeatedly reminding them to be cautious when they crossed the street, I finally had to spank them for dashing into the street without looking first. Now why did I inflict pain on those little guys I loved so much?

Because I knew that if they didn’t learn not to run into the street, they might really be hurt. To spare them the tremendous pain and suffering of being hit by a car, I deliberately inflicted a lighter pain on them.

In the story of Jacob, God not only inflicts pain, but actually cripples a man He loves. People often ask why God allows a person to be permanently crippled. In order to fully understand this, we need to take a closer look at Jacob’s story.

Look first at Jacob himself. His name means Heel-catcher in Hebrew. He was the second-born of a set of twins. Because he took hold of his brother’s heel just after he emerged from the womb, his parents called him “Heel-catcher” This later came to mean sup-planter, or “one who overtakes someone by catching his heel.” And that, surely, was the story of Jacob’s life.

He was a shrewd, cunning man who had no qualms about cleverly taking advantage of any situation. Jacob was the kind of fellow no one liked to do business with, because he always managed to give everyone else the short end of any deal. If he met someone in the desert, dehydrated and dying of thirst, he was the type of person who would be happy to give him a drink from his canteen… for a price, of course!

Look at his relationship with his older brother Esau, who had the birthright. Jacob wanted his brother’s birthright and watched for an opportunity to get it. He waited until a day when his brother, Esau had been out hunting, and came home famished and weary. Jacob was cooking a stew and Esau smelled the delicious aroma of the stew and asked Jacob to give some to him. Jacob said that he could certainly have a bowl of stew, if he would trade his birthright for it. Esau was hungry and tired and so he agreed to trade his birthright for just a bowl of stew. That’s the kind of person Jacob was: a sup-planter. He took full advantage of his brother’s weakened condition and got the birthright in an unfair trade.

Jacob finally fled his home, fearing Esau’s wrath for taking the birthright and the blessing away from him. He traveled to the home of his uncle Laban in Haran. He fell in love with his cousin Rachel and wanted to marry her but he lacked the money for a dowry. When Laban asked Jacob what he’d like to receive as wages for his labor, Jacob offered to work for seven years to earn the chance to marry Rachel. Uncle Laban okayed this plan, and it seemed that Jacob was finally settling down, and turning from his devious, scheming ways.

But Jacob had not counted on the craftiness of Laban, who proved to be just as conniving as Jacob had ever been. Jacob worked diligently for the seven years of their agreement. The day of the wedding came and there was a great feast of celebration that lasted far into the night. It was dark when Jacob went to his tent, saw his veiled bride, and consummated his marriage. In the morning, when he turned to gaze at his beautiful wife Rachel, he saw that Laban had substituted Leah, Rachel’s older, ugly sister in her place. Jacob stormed from the tent and questioned his uncle, angrily demanding to know what had happened. He had served for Rachel and received Leah, and he was very upset. His uncle explained that custom of the land dictated that a younger sister cannot marry until her older sister is wed. He told Jacob to work for another seven years, then he could marry Rachel too.

Jacob served the next seven years, married Rachel and stayed on with Laban because the uncle found that God had blessed him with Jacob’s services. They established a regular wage for Jacob, but within about six years, Jacob had gained greater and stronger flocks than his uncle.

Laban’s sons were furious, and, fearing again for his life, Jacob fled with his wives, children and servants. When Laban had discovered that Jacob was gone, he pursued him for seven days. The night before he reached Jacob, God spoke to Laban and warned him not to harm Jacob in any way (Genesis 31:24).

When Laban overtook Jacob the next day he told him of God’s warning not to “speak good or evil” to him. Jacob then rebuked his uncle, saying that Laban would have sent him away with nothing if God had not intervened. They set up a pile of stones. Laban told Jacob not to cross over those stones to pursue him. Laban said “mizpah” and they parted. Now we have come to use this word as a pleasant benediction or good-bye. Something like: “May the Lord watch over thee while we are absent from each other.” That’s not what it meant to Laban. In the context here, it was more like “You’re a dirty rotten thief. I won’t be able to keep an eye on you anymore, so may God watch you and keep you straight.” Laban wanted Jacob to know that God would be watching him, to keep him from behaving so underhandedly in the future.

The pile of stones they set up meant that Jacob couldn’t go back to Haran, so he moved on and made camp at Manahaim. Jacob sent messengers ahead to let his brother Esau know he was coming home after a thirty year absence and that he possessed wealth, servants and cattle because God had been good to him. The messengers returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet him with an army of 400 men. Jacob knew his life was in danger because Esau vowed to kill him before he fled from home. Since he’d severed his relationship with his uncle, he couldn’t go back past the pile of stones. He had no place to go.

When there’s nowhere to turn, most of us look upward to God. That’s what Jacob did, offering one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible. (A prayer that is an excellent model for personal prayer.) As soon as he finished praying, he called his servants in and gathered 200 goats, and 20 he-goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milk camels, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 foals. He set the animals into three herds, with a servant leading each herd. He sent the first group out, ordering his servant to drive them toward Esau and let him know that the animals were Jacob’s gift to him. The other two servants were to do the same. Jacob set this up so that if Esau was angry, the servants were to give him their herds to appease him. The moment his brother softened toward him, Jacob ordered the servants to stop giving the gifts. Jacob was hoping the scheme would calm Esau’s anger and save his own life.

Though he’d just prayed to the Lord of help, he immediately returned to his manipulative nature.

After he made the arrangements with the servants, he took his wives and children across a brook near his camp and set them up for the night. He decided that he needed a good night’s sleep to prepare for whatever the next day would bring, so he crossed back over the brook and bedded down alone, anxiously anticipating the confrontation he would have the next day with his brother.

As he lay there, the angel of the Lord came to him. They began to wrestle, and continued to struggle all night. I have done a little wrestling, and I know that just 15 or 20 minutes can really be tiring. Imagine wrestling all night with the Lord! In the morning, when Jacob still would not surrender, God touched his hip, shriveling one of his muscles, and causing his hip to lock permanently out of joint. It was extremely painful and tremendously crippling. Then the Lord told Jacob to give up because the day was dawning. Crying, Jacob refused to let go unless the Lord blessed him.

Then the Lord asked, “What is your name?” Jacob replied, “Heel-catcher.”

The Lord proclaimed, “Your name will no longer be `heel–catcher’, but Israel [governed by God] for you have struggled with God and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:25-29).

How did Jacob prevail with the Lord? He was crippled in the struggle, so he must have lost the fight. But Jacob did prevail! Not by might, but through tears and prayer. That’s how we always prevail with the Lord: through prayer, through weeping, through defeat.

Jacob was a conniver and a schemer. God loved Jacob and wanted to do many wonderful things through his life. God wanted to bless him beyond measure and use him to father the twelve tribes that would comprise the nation of Israel, from which He would ultimately bring His Son, the Messiah, into the world. God had marvelous plans for Jacob, but because Jacob was able to scheme his way out of every situation, God could not carry out those plans. It was Jacob’s self-sufficiency that blocked what God wanted to do. God needed to break Jacob and bring him to the point where He could use him.

To accomplish this, God first brought the confrontation with Laban. The pile of stones was set up so that Jacob could not pass over them. Jacob was worried about Esau’s army of 400 men coming toward him so he turned to God in prayer. But he immediately tried to figure out a way to appease Esau on his own, with the gifts of livestock. He was right back to his old tricks, planning, as a last resort, to flee if his brother was still mad enough to attack him. So the Lord wrestled with him all night, but Jacob still refused to surrender, so the Lord finally crippled him, taking away his option of running away from Esau. Then he could turn only to the Lord in his frustration and despair.

To properly understand the text that declares that Jacob wrestled with God and prevailed, we must read the commentary on this passage in Hosea 12:4. We read there that Jacob wept and sought favor from Him.

How did Jacob prevail against God? Through prayer, weeping and finally, through surrender. He triumphed when he came to the end of himself, saying, in effect, “I can’t go any further. This is it, I’ve had it!” That was when he asked God for help. At last God brought Jacob to the place where He could fulfill His plans through him.

Why did God have to cripple Jacob? Because Jacob was so stubborn God had to break him before he would surrender himself to God’s will. But it doesn’t always have to be this way. If Jacob had surrendered during the struggle or if he’d just asked the Lord to help him, then the Lord would not have had to take such drastic measures.

Jacob was not the only one who refused to give in to the Lord. Look at Jonah. Did he have to spend three miserable days and nights in the belly of a whale, where, by his own description, he thought he was in hell? It was hot and humid and waves washed over him as he hovered in that disgusting, smelly place. Did Jonah have to go through all that? Not If he’d headed straight to Ninevah when God sent him, he would’ve never met the whale. It was only because he fled in the opposite direction that he learned that those who observe lying vanities are only making difficulties for themselves.

Many people, like Jacob and Jonah, think they can run from God or hide from Him. If you think you can do everything on your own, you’re only making it tough on yourself. True victory comes only through surrender.

Maybe you’re wrestling with God. And maybe you’ve just about come to the end. Perhaps God has touched you and crippled you in some way, or you’re very close to that point. You’ve been fighting with God and you won’t give in. You’re still manipulating, you’re still scheming and thinking, “…maybe if I just do this or that, then…” Perhaps God has to cripple you so that you’ll realize that you cannot make it on your own. Then you would have to cry out to God for help. That cry of despair and hopelessness will really be the beginning of a glorious work of God in your life as he takes over and begins to bring about His plan of victory for you.

We prevail when we surrender totally to God. That’s what happened to Jacob. It took a crippling injury to bring him to that point of surrender. I pray that you will not be so obdurate that God will have to cripple you to accomplish His purposes of love in your life.

We really misunderstand God and His ways most of the time. He loves you so much that He will keep you from doing things that might be life-threatening. He will not spare you pain if it is necessary to bring you to the point of total surrender to Him. That’s Jacob was not the only one who refused to give in to the Lord. Look at Jonah. Did he have to spend three miserable days and nights in the belly of a whale, where, by his own description, he thought he was in hell? It was hot and humid and waves washed over him as he hovered in that disgusting, smelly place. Did Jonah have to go through all that? No! If he’d headed straight to Ninevah when God sent him, he would’ve never met the whale. It was only because he fled in the opposite direction that he learned that those who observe lying vanities are only making difficulties for themselves.

Many people, like Jacob and Jonah, think they can run from God or hide from Him. If you think you can do everything on your own, you’re only making it tough on yourself. True victory comes only through surrender.

Maybe you’re wrestling with God. And maybe you’ve just about come to the end. Perhaps God has touched you and crippled you in some way, or you’re very close to that point. You’ve been fighting with God and you won’t give in. You’re still manipulating, you’re still scheming and thinking, “…maybe if I just do this or that, then…” Perhaps God has to cripple you so that you’ll realize that you cannot make it on your own. Then you would have to cry out to God for help. That cry of despair and hopelessness will really be the beginning of a glorious work of God in your life as he takes over and begins to bring about His plan of victory for you.

We prevail when we surrender totally to God. That’s what happened to Jacob. It took a crippling injury to bring him to that point of surrender. I pray that you will not be so obdurate that God will have to cripple you to accomplish His purposes of love in your life.

We really misunderstand God and His ways most of the time. He loves you so much that He will keep you from doing things that might be life-threatening. He will not spare you pain if it is necessary to bring you to the point of total surrender to Him. That’s exactly what God desires from you now, so that He can work out His plan for your life and do all the things He wants to do for you because He loves you so much.

Are you getting in His way? Your cleverness and self-sufficiency could be postponing the glorious work God intends to do through you.

I can picture Jacob limping as he crosses the brook back to his family. I see Leah and Rachel running out and asking him what happened and why he was struggling so. I can hear him tell them not to call him “Jacob” (heel-catcher) anymore, but to call him “Israel” (governed by God) instead. That was his victory: his life once governed by his flesh was turned over to God. There will be victory in your life when you allow yourself to be governed by God too, because true victory comes when we surrender to Him.

This article “Why God Cripples” written by Chuck Smith is excerpted from Answers For Today written by Chuck Smith pages 168-175.

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