This is one of the passages that has had the most impact on me a little over one and 1/2 years ago, when I preached a series of messages on the life of this patriarch, Jacob. Genesis chapter 28 records his encounter with the Lord God, his moment of truly turning to the Lord in salvation - but chapter 32 records the point in his life where he surrendered himself to God's will, after a night of wrestling. When all his strength was removed, he realized who he was wrestling with and therefore would not let go, until God - the pre-incarnate Christ appearing as a Man - gave His blessing to Jacob (ie. the promise that he would be successful in his upcoming meeting with his brother, Esau). That encounter, that striving with God, changed his life, both physically and spiritually. It resulted in God giving him a new name, a name based on his growing faith - that name was Israel, A Prince or Contender With God.
Genesis 32:25-31 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
From the life of Jacob, we can see how he wrestled with men (Esau and Laban), and how he wrestled with God. But there was someone else he wrestled with for the rest of his life - himself. These wrestlings went on until the day the Lord called him home. As time went on, with God's strength and working in his life, I am sure he prevailed more and more over himself - as we find him increasingly being called Israel in moments of faith. This characteristic of faith predominated as his life wore on.
I want to bring several applications out of these thoughts and passages for us to glean from.
Who is the believer wrestling with until the day break? Who are we wrestling with until the Lord Jesus Christ returns (or until He takes us home to live with Him in Heaven)?
1) With Men.
From the time of his birth, Jacob was wrestling with men - first his brother in the womb, and later throughout their adulthood, then with his uncle Laban. In the end, the Lord used these encounters to show Jacob what he was really like: for so long a supplanter, scheming to get his way - only to have the tables turned on him for those twenty years he lived with his uncle. He realized that what he had sown (ie. deception and manipulation), he would also reap.
How many of Jacob's problems would have been removed or lessened if he remembered that his wrestlings were not with men...
Ephesians 6:10-13 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
No doubt men will attempt to strive with us, but we should not be wrestling with them, but wrestling spiritually with the demonic powers influencing or tempting them.
The word for wrestle comes from a Greek word meaning "to throw (in various applications, more or less violent or intense)." Spiritual warfare will involve striving against Satan and his wiles, wrestling with the thoughts of temptation that he seeks to use to draw us away from our steadfastness, wrestling with the evil intent of men - but not wrestling with men themselves. We are to strive to live peaceably with all men (as much as lieth in us), but not to strive with men (see Romans 12:18).
I want to bring another passage to your attention right now, that is a passage that deals with Jesus and what He came to do:
Song of Solomon 4:6 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
If you study out the context of this verse, you will realize that it is King Solomon, the Beloved, that is making this statement. As a picture of Christ and His church, this part of the inspired Song reflects Christ's view from the point these words were spoken (somewhere close to 950 B.C., approximately). From then on, from His first coming, He would be going to the mountain of myrrh - which represents suffering and death. He would first come as the Suffering Servant, bearing the sins of men and dying in our place, suffering on the cross and shedding His blood to purchase our redemption. That was something He must do before the day break, before He could reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The second thing was to go to the hill of frankincense. All through the OT and even in the NT book of Revelation, (frank)incense typically represents prayer. After Christ's death, burial and resurrection, He ascended into Heaven to be our Mediator, our Advocate, our High Priest, continually offering prayer on our behalf, continually standing at the right hand of God the Father and making intercession for His brethren. These two things He promised to do before the day break - ie. before His return in glory, when He will rule from Jerusalem and the shadows of this darkened world will flee away. (One glorious day - I can hardly wait!)
What was Jesus' response to the wrestlings of men when He was among us on earth, during His years of public ministry, as the Man of Sorrows?
No matter the trials, no matter the schemings of evil men, He trusted in His Heavenly Father to work it all out according to His plan:
1 Peter 2:21-23 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
Wrestle against spiritual forces of wickedness, but don't wrestle against men...
1 Peter 4:19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
Wrestle for them...
2) With God.
In Genesis 32, we see Jacob wrestling with God until the breaking of the day. At first he was wrestling based on his own strength and his own wits - as he had done throughout his life - but then God took away that strength, and he realized the only thing left for him to do was to cling to the Lord and not let go! Just cling to the Lord in prayer, wrestling with God to bless him.
That is what we need to do as well - not strive with God to get our will done, but striving in prayer for our needs, petitioning for the needs of others, and striving with God for Him to change us. Ultimately, that was the best result of Jacob's wrestlings with the Lord. Yes, God blessed him also - BUT God changed him first.
Knowing the trials that Jesus had before Him, what was His response to them?
John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
Luke 22:42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
No matter what, our Saviour and great example chose to do the will of His Father. As should all God's children. (If you are not saved, then you are not His child - His will first involves coming to Him for salvation from your sins. Then you are in a position to seek and do His will for your daily life.)
Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane did not change His situation, but it gave Him the grace and strength to endure God's will for His life - which was for our Saviour to go to the cross and die for our sins. There was no other way to save fallen man.
What is God's will for each of us? We can find His general will for all His children in the Word of God - and His specific will for each of us, as we walk daily with our Heavenly Father. See Romans 12:1-2 and Ephesians 5:15-17.
That will involves conforming us to the image of His Son, making us fruitful in our service to Him, wrestling with us until we come to the place where He can do His will, not just through us, but in us. That wrestling will go on until the day break and the shadows flee away - until He returns in the sky for His own at the rapture (or until we die and go to be with Him in Heaven).
Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Oh, Lord, that you would change me - change each one here reading this, wrestle with us, until we are conformed to the image of Christ! Wrestle with us, overcoming our own selfish, self-centered wills, and making us more like you, more devoted to your will - UNTIL THE DAY BREAK, and you take us home!
While the Scriptures do not teach that Job personally knew Jacob, I believe he was a contemporary of his and was familiar with his story of wrestling with the angel, in light of his following statement:
Job 31:35-37 Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book. Surely I would take it upon my shoulder, and bind it as a crown to me. I would declare unto him the number of my steps; as a prince would I go near unto him.
Are we wrestling with God in prayer - letting Him change us? Are we wrestling with Him for the souls of those around us? Please read the following excellent devotional, You Can't Have Spirituality on the Cheap. I don't want to copy what Brother Tim has written, but as he has basically stated, Effectual fervent prayer for others involves labour on our part. We must wrestle in prayer. Too often we want the easy way - and then we wonder why the Lord isn't using us and why we don't see Him working through us as we would so desire Him to do.
3) With Ourselves.
The third area Jacob no doubt had to wrestle in was in his battle with himself, with his carnal nature. At times he failed, and as time went on, he had greater victory, until at the end of his life we can see more victories than failures. That is the same for each of us that are saved - we all have a carnal nature, and we all are battling with it day by day. We must wrestle with ourselves and die to ourselves daily.
As I was meditating on this part of the study last night, the Lord brought to mind the Apostle Paul's comments:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
I know I have switched from a wrestling image to a running image - but so much of the athletic training overlaps, especially when we consider that all these are just different aspects of the same spiritual picture. Paul says the believer is to strive for the mastery and be temperate (self-controlled) in all things. The word for striveth is agonizomai (from which we get our word agonize) and means "to struggle, literally (to compete for a prize), figuratively (to contend with an adversary), or genitive case (to endeavor to accomplish something)."
The word strive is also used in the following verse:
2 Timothy 2:5 And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
Here the word used is athleo (where we get athlete from), and means "(a contest in the public lists); to contend in the competitive games." To wrestle against the devil, to wrestle with God, and to wrestle against ourselves will involve some effort. It will cost us something - there is no such thing as instant spirituality. If it took God a whole life to make a Jacob He could use for His glory, it is going to take time for Him to work on us - not because of any limitation on His part, but because of pride, weakness, and sinfulness on ours!
Remember the exhortation that we find in Hebrews 12, and let us learn from Jesus' example here too (not that He needed to die to self - He never sinned - but we can learn from His example to always do the will of the Father and to always strive against sin, no matter what trials or sufferings may come our way as a result of them):
Hebrews 12:1-3 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
And when we fail, let us remember to bring our lives back into subjection to the will of God and the Word of God, and to plead for His mercy and grace, claiming His promise of forgiveness and cleansing.
Song of Solomon 2:17 Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
Bether means "division." It is the believer's prayer here that his Lord would continually come over the divisions our sin causes in our fellowship with Him, that He would have mercy upon us and wipe it away - until the day break; because once the day breaks, we will have our new glorified bodies and our sin natures will be forever removed! Oh, until the day break! Lord, make haste and return!
Song of Solomon 8:14 Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.
Revelation 22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.