chapter is based on Genesis 32 and 33.]
Jacob had left Padan-aram in obedience to the divine direction, it was not
without many misgivings that he retraced the road which he had trodden as
a fugitive twenty years before. His sin in the deception of his father was
ever before him. He knew that his long exile was the direct result of that
sin, and he pondered over these things day and night, the reproaches of an
accusing conscience making his journey very sad. As the hills of his
native land appeared before him in the distance, the heart of the
patriarch was deeply moved. All the past rose vividly before him. With the
memory of his sin came also the thought of God's favor toward him, and the
promises of divine help and guidance.
As he drew
nearer his journey's end, the thought of Esau brought many a troubled
foreboding. After the flight of Jacob, Esau had regarded himself as the
sole heir of their father's possessions. The news of Jacob's return would
excite the fear that he was coming to claim the inheritance. Esau was now
able to do his brother great injury, if so disposed, and he might be moved
to violence against him, not only by the desire for revenge, but in order
to secure undisturbed possession of the wealth which he had so long looked
upon as his own.
Lord granted Jacob a token of the divine care. As he traveled southward
from Mount Gilead, two hosts of heavenly angels seemed to encompass him
behind and before, advancing with his company, as if for their protection.
Jacob remembered the vision at Bethel so long before, and his burdened
heart grew lighter at this evidence that the divine messengers who had
brought him hope and courage at his flight from Canaan were to be the
guardians of his return. And he said, "This is God's host: and he
called the name of that place Mahanaim"--"two hosts, or,
felt that he had something to do to secure his own safety. He therefore
dispatched messengers with a conciliatory
greeting to his brother. He
instructed them as to the exact words in which they were to address Esau.
It had been foretold before the birth of the two brothers that the elder
should serve the younger, and, lest the memory of this should be a cause
of bitterness, Jacob told the servants they were sent to "my lord
Esau;" when brought before him, they were to refer to their master as
"thy servant Jacob;" and to remove the fear that he was
returning, a destitute wanderer, to claim the paternal inheritance, Jacob
was careful to state in his message, "I have oxen, an asses, flocks,
and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that
I may find grace in thy sight."
servants returned with the tidings that Esau was approaching with four
hundred men, and no response was sent to the friendly message. It appeared
certain that he was coming to seek revenge. Terror pervaded the camp.
"Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed." He could not go back,
and he feared to advance. His company, unarmed and defenseless, were
wholly unprepared for a hostile encounter. He accordingly divided them
into two bands, so that if one should be attacked, the other might have an
opportunity to escape. He sent from his vast flocks generous presents to
Esau, with a friendly message. He did all in his power to atone for the
wrong to his brother and to avert the threatened danger, and then in
humiliation and repentance he pleaded for divine protection: Thou "saidst
unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well
with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the
truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed
over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray Thee,
from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest
he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children."
They had now
reached the river Jabbok, and as night came on, Jacob sent his family
across the ford of the river, while he alone remained behind. He had
decided to spend the night in prayer, and he desired to be alone with God.
God could soften the heart of Esau. In Him was the patriarch's only hope.
It was in a
lonely, mountainous region, the haunt of wild beasts and the lurking place
of robbers and murderers. Solitary and unprotected, Jacob bowed in deep
distress upon the earth. It was midnight. All that made life dear to him
were at a distance,
exposed to danger and death. Bitterest of all was the
thought that it was his own sin which had brought this peril upon the
innocent. With earnest cries and tears he made his prayer before God.
Suddenly a strong hand was laid upon him. He thought that an enemy was
seeking his life, and he endeavored to wrest himself from the grasp of his
assailant. In the darkness the two struggled for the mastery. Not a word
was spoken, but Jacob put forth all his strength, and did not relax his
efforts for a moment. While he was thus battling for his life, the sense
of his guilt pressed upon his soul; his sins rose up before him, to shut
him out from God. But in his terrible extremity he remembered God's
promises, and his whole heart went out in entreaty for His mercy. The
struggle continued until near the break of day, when the stranger placed
his finger upon Jacob's thigh, and he was crippled instantly. The
patriarch now discerned the character of his antagonist. He knew that he
had been in conflict with a heavenly messenger, and this was why his
almost superhuman effort had not gained the victory. It was Christ,
"the Angel of the covenant," who had revealed Himself to Jacob.
The patriarch was now disabled and suffering the keenest pain, but he
would not loosen his hold. All penitent and broken, he clung to the Angel;
"he wept, and made supplication" (Hosea 12:4), pleading for a
blessing. He must have the assurance that his sin was pardoned. Physical
pain was not sufficient to divert his mind from this object. His
determination grew stronger, his faith more earnest and persevering, until
the very last. The Angel tried to release Himself; He urged, "Let Me
go, for the day breaketh;" but Jacob answered, "I will not let
Thee go, except Thou bless me." Had this been a boastful,
presumptuous confidence, Jacob would have been instantly destroyed; but
his was the assurance of one who confesses his own unworthiness, yet
trusts the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God.
"had power over the Angel, and prevailed." Hosea 12:4. Through
humiliation, repentance, and self-surrender, this sinful, erring mortal
prevailed with the Majesty of heaven. He had fastened his trembling grasp
upon the promises of God, and the heart of Infinite Love could not turn
away the sinner's plea.
that had led to Jacob's sin in obtaining the birthright by fraud was now
clearly set before him. He had not trusted God's promises, but had sought
by his own efforts to
bring about that which God would have accomplished
in His own time and way. As an evidence that he had been forgiven, his
name was changed from one that was a reminder of his sin, to one that
commemorated his victory. "Thy name," said the Angel,
"shall be called no more Jacob [the supplanter], but Israel: for as a
prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
received the blessing for which his soul had longed. His sin as a
supplanter and deceiver had been pardoned. The crisis in his life was
past. Doubt, perplexity, and remorse had embittered his existence, but now
all was changed; and sweet was the peace of reconciliation with God. Jacob
no longer feared to meet his brother. God, who had forgiven his sin, could
move the heart of Esau also to accept his humiliation and repentance.
was wrestling with the Angel, another heavenly messenger was sent to Esau.
In a dream, Esau beheld his brother for twenty years an exile from his
father's house; he witnessed his grief at finding his mother dead; he saw
him encompassed by the hosts of God. This dream was related by Esau to his
soldiers, with the charge not to harm Jacob, for the God of his father was
companies at last approached each other, the desert chief leading his men
of war, and Jacob with his wives and children, attended by shepherds and
handmaidens, and followed by long lines of flocks and herds. Leaning upon
his staff, the patriarch went forward to meet the band of soldiers. He was
pale and disabled from his recent conflict, and he walked slowly and
painfully, halting at every step; but his countenance was lighted up with
joy and peace.
At sight of
that crippled sufferer, "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and
fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept." As they looked upon
the scene, even the hearts of Esau's rude soldiers were touched.
Notwithstanding he had told them of his dream, they could not account for
the change that had come over their captain. Though they beheld the
patriarch's infirmity, they little thought that this his weakness had been
made his strength.
In his night
of anguish beside the Jabbok, when destruction seemed just before him,
Jacob had been taught how vain is the
help of man, how groundless is all
trust in human power. He saw that his only help must come from Him against
whom he had so grievously sinned. Helpless and unworthy, he pleaded God's
promise of mercy to the repentant sinner. That promise was his assurance
that God would pardon and accept him. Sooner might heaven and earth pass
than that word could fail; and it was this that sustained him through that
experience during that night of wrestling and anguish represents the trial
through which the people of God must pass just before Christ's second
coming. The prophet Jeremiah, in holy vision looking down to this time,
said, "We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.
. . . All faces are turned into paleness. Alas! for that day is great, so
that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall
be saved out of it." Jeremiah 30:5-7.
shall cease His work as mediator in man's behalf, then this time of
trouble will begin. Then the case of every soul will have been decided,
and there will be no atoning blood to cleanse from sin. When Jesus leaves
His position as man's intercessor before God, the solemn announcement is
made, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is
filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be
righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still."
Revelation 22:11. Then the restraining Spirit of God is withdrawn from the
earth. As Jacob was threatened with death by his angry brother, so the
people of God will be in peril from the wicked who are seeking to destroy
them. And as the patriarch wrestled all night for deliverance from the
hand of Esau, so the righteous will cry to God day and night for
deliverance from the enemies that surround them.
accused Jacob before the angels of God, claiming the right to destroy him
because of his sin; he had moved upon Esau to march against him; and
during the patriarch's long night of wrestling, Satan endeavored to force
upon him a sense of his guilt, in order to discourage him, and break his
hold upon God. When in his distress Jacob laid hold of the Angel, and made
supplication with tears, the heavenly Messenger, in order to try his
faith, also reminded him of his sin, and endeavored to escape from him.
But Jacob would not be turned away. He had learned that God is merciful,
and he cast himself upon His mercy. He pointed
back to his repentance for
his sin, and pleaded for deliverance. As he reviewed his life, he was
driven almost to despair; but he held fast the Angel, and with earnest,
agonizing cries urged his petition until he prevailed.
Such will be
the experience of God's people in their final struggle with the powers of
evil. God will test their faith, their perseverance, their confidence in
His power to deliver them. Satan will endeavor to terrify them with the
thought that their cases are hopeless; that their sins have been too great
to receive pardon. They will have a deep sense of their shortcomings, and
as they review their lives their hopes will sink. But remembering the
greatness of God's mercy, and their own sincere repentance, they will
plead His promises made through Christ to helpless, repenting sinners.
Their faith will not fail because their prayers are not immediately
answered. They will lay hold of the strength of God, as Jacob laid hold of
the Angel, and the language of their souls will be, "I will not let
Thee go, except Thou bless me."
Had not Jacob
previously repented of his sin in obtaining the birthright by fraud, God
could not have heard his prayer and mercifully preserved his life. So in
the time of trouble, if the people of God had unconfessed sins to appear
before them while tortured with fear and anguish, they would be
overwhelmed; despair would cut off their faith, and they could not have
confidence to plead with God for deliverance. But while they have a deep
sense of their unworthiness, they will have no concealed wrongs to reveal.
Their sins will have been blotted out by the atoning blood of Christ, and
they cannot bring them to remembrance.
many to believe that God will overlook their unfaithfulness in the minor
affairs of life; but the Lord shows in His dealing with Jacob that He can
in no wise sanction or tolerate evil. All who endeavor to excuse or
conceal their sins, and permit them to remain upon the books of heaven,
unconfessed and unforgiven, will be overcome by Satan. The more exalted
their profession, and the more honorable the position which they hold, the
more grievous is their course in the sight of God, and the more certain
the triumph of the great adversary.
history is an assurance that God will not cast off those who have been
betrayed into sin, but who have returned
unto Him with true repentance. It
was by self-surrender and confiding faith that Jacob gained what he had
failed to gain by conflict in his own strength. God thus taught His
servant that divine power and grace alone could give him the blessing he
craved. Thus it will be with those who live in the last days. As dangers
surround them, and despair seizes upon the soul, they must depend solely
upon the merits of the atonement. We can do nothing of ourselves. In all
our helpless unworthiness we must trust in the merits of the crucified and
risen Saviour. None will ever perish while they do this. The long, black
catalogue of our delinquencies is before the eye of the Infinite. The
register is complete; none of our offenses are forgotten. But He who
listened to the cries of His servants of old, will hear the prayer of
faith and pardon our transgressions. He has promised, and He will fulfill
prevailed because he was persevering and determined. His experience
testifies to the power of importunate prayer. It is now that we are to
learn this lesson of prevailing prayer, of unyielding faith. The greatest
victories to the church of Christ or to the individual Christian are not
those that are gained by talent or education, by wealth or the favor of
men. They are those victories that are gained in the audience chamber with
God, when earnest, agonizing faith lays hold upon the mighty arm of power.
Those who are
unwilling to forsake every sin and to seek earnestly for God's blessing,
will not obtain it. But all who will lay hold of God's promises as did
Jacob, and be as earnest and persevering as he was, will succeed as he
succeeded. "Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and
night unto Him, though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will
avenge them speedily." Luke 18:7, 8.