He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
It is no small thing to have a godly parentage. To be born to the heritage of a good name and of religious influences brings heavy responsibility and noble privilege. The man who turns t rein the path in which his godly ancestors walked commits a greater sin, in the judgment of God, than the godless who have never known the advantages of a religious home. Among the nations, "Israel" had this peculiar responsibility. The name of the people was a reminder of the prayer in which their great ancestor obtained self-conquest, knowledge of God, and grace to keep justice and do mercy. Hence they are reminded by Hosea of what their father was, that they might know what was still possible to themselves. The prophet refers here to Jacob's agonizing prayer at Jabbok, and speaks of a "strength" which was in him, which consisted not in holiness or merit, but (as the next verse suggests) in "supplication and tears." God could not overthrow his faith and constancy. He could not, because he would not. The touch which shriveled Jacob's thigh showed what he could do. The delay and struggle were only imposed on the suppliant (as by Jesus on the woman of Syro-phoenicia) in order to prepare him to receive a loftier blessing than he began at first to seek. The incident is related in a highly poetic form, and to Jacob the conflict was so terrible that it seemed an actual struggle with a living man. The voice and the presence were not material, but they were nonetheless real. We do not attempt to distinguish between the subjective and objective in this great conflict, yet we believe that Hosea's words respecting it are true, "There God spake with us," and that we are called upon to incline our hearts to the inference in the sixth verse, "Therefore turn thou to thy God," etc.
I. THE PREPARATION FOR WRESTLING WITH GOD, as exemplified in the experience of Jacob. Most men are so surrounded by what is material that they want the help of circumstances to enforce upon their thoughts the deeper necessities of their nature and the nearness of their God. Refer to Jacob's circumstances, and show how they constituted such a crisis in his life. Examine his mental condition, and see in it:
1. Remembrance of sin. Twenty years had gone by since that crime was committed which deceived his father, destroyed the peace of the home, and made Jacob an exile. Yet changes of scene, cares of business, the vexations caused by an exacting employer, etc., had not prevented the rising again of that dreadful memory. Bury sin as you may beneath cares and pleasures, it will reappear before you. Men have left the scene of guilt, formed new associations, hushed conscience to silence successfully for years, and then a chance word, or an unexpected event, has raised the specter of the past sin. Such a one, like Jacob, would give anything to begin life again; but all in vain. We walk on through life like one upon a path in the cliffs which crumbles away behind him, so that he cannot go back to gather the flowers he neglected, or to take the turn that would have given pleasure instead of peril. What else can we do, when the remembrance of sin is overwhelming, but "weep and make supplication unto God"?
2. Realization of peril. Jacob cared not so much for himself; but he could not bear to think that these innocent, dear ones around him might suffer death or captivity because of his wrongdoing. When he committed the sin he had neither wife nor child, and little thought how far-reaching and disastrous its results would be. So the sins of youth full often are the seed whence springs a harvest of sorrow to others as well as to ourselves. Darwin would teach as plainly as David that the sins of the father are visited upon the children; as Jacob's children were in peril because of a sin their father committed before they were born. No wonder Jacob turned to God with tears and supplications, and "there God spake with us," saying, "Turn thou to thy God."
3. Consciousness of solitude. Jacob was left alone. Most of the crises of life must be faced in solitude. Hence our Lord said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet," etc He himself went up into a mountain alone, and when every man departed to his own house, he went to the Mount of Olives. Moses was alone on Sinai, John in Patmos, etc. It is well for us sometimes to shut the world out, to think over the past and to prepare for the future by waiting upon God. "Therefore turn thou to thy God," etc.
II. THE MEANING OF WRESTLING WITH GOD. In his spiritual struggle Jacob had:
1. An apprehension of a personal God. The expressions "man" and "angel" are used to show that God was as real to him as a man would have been; that Jacob found him to be One with whom he could plead, who could speak, who noticed his tears, and was able to bless him there. Those who know something of the intensity of prayer are not satisfied with vague ideas of God. To them he is not an abstract notion of the mind, projected upon nothingness; nor is he the sum of natural forces. He is the living and true God, who has a personal interest in them, and listens to the cry of their hearts, nothing less than that satisfies the soul. Idolatry is but a blind attempt to create some objective personality, nothing less than which men can worship. But what we want is given to us in Christ, who was "the image of the invisible God." Men may be satisfied with less than him in their lower life, but when the want of the soul is really pressing, when the hunger of the heart is fairly roused, prayer becomes an agony, in which they can say, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God!"
2. Consciousness of spiritual struggle. "Struggle" does not correctly describe all fellowship with God, as we may see from Jacob's own experience. When he first left home he saw the heavenly ladder at Bethel, and had a sweet assurance of God's love and protection; but now twenty years have elapsed he goes through this scene of darkness and struggle and weeping. This is not what many would have expected. They demand that religious experience should always begin with agony over sin. But it does not. Children may know nothing of the agony of soul, yet they may know the reality of prayer. By the foolish expectations of some Christians, they are tempted to persuade themselves that they have known what they never did know, or else to regard the devotion of their childhood as sentimental and unreal. Why should they not heed the angels of Bethel first, and have the agony of Jabbok twenty years after, as Jacob did? But, sooner or later, most devout men know something of struggle, when the darker problems of life and its more terrible issues face them; yet, although in their later years they have to fight with doubts which did not trouble them once, they have no reason on that account to suspect the reality of their earlier religious life. It was not Bethel's pleasant dream, but Jabbok's dreadful struggle, that transformed Jacob into a prince.
3. Victory through the Divine goodness. Observe the change in the attitude of Jacob. At first the angels "met him" as if coming out of Seir, to remind and rebuke him of sin. He began with struggle, but ended in supplication. The end of all wrestling with God is not to conquer him, but to conquer self; e.g. one assailed by intellectual doubts finds rest, not in the solution of the difficulty, but in trust in him whose "greatness is unsearchable;" another troubled by the conviction of sin wins peace by confessing sin, not by disproving the charges of conscience. The consciousness and acknowledgment of weakness is our power, "weeping" is our eloquence; and they who come with the supplication, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," by their strength have power with God.
III. THE ISSUES OF WRESTLING WITH GOD. See what Jacob won. 1. Knowledge of God. He knew him as "the Lord of hosts," with power to rule Esau and others, and as "Jehovah," who would fulfill his covenant promise. He was nearer to God now than ever. Before this he had been at Beth-el, "the house of God ;" but now he was at Peniel he saw "the face of God."
2. Change in character. No longer Jacob (supplanter), but Israel (prince). Before this he sought Divine ends by human means, but never after. In the presence of things eternal, things temporal faded away; and in the light of God's countenance he became sincere and transparent. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image," etc.
3. Delight in prayer. When an old man he blessed his sons, having faith to foresee their future, and power in prayer to win their blessings. The priesthood of Christians on earth has yet to be realized in the fullness of its power. If only the Church had the spirit of supplication which Jacob had when he cried, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," there would come a wave of spiritual influence over the world which would cover the bare rocks of skepticism, and sing a paean of victory over the dreary wastes of sin. "By his strength" may the Church have "power with God"! - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: