Calvary Road Baptist Church

“JACOB’S WRESTLING MATCH”

Genesis 32.24-30; Hosea 12.3-5; Luke 13.24

 

At the outset of my message this morning it is very important that I establish for you the context in which all of my statements will be made. I am not only a Christian, but also a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, everything I say this morning is related to the gospel. The question, of course, is what is the gospel? The word gospel translates the Greek word euangelion, which refers to good news. Precisely what good news am I referring to? The good news that the Second Person of the Triune Godhead left heaven’s glory, was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, rose from the dead in victory over sin, death, Hell and the grave, and is now enthroned at the right hand of God on high until He returns to this earth in power and great glory. The gospel also includes as good news the wonderful truth that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God presently enthroned in heaven, bids sinners to trust Him for the forgiveness of their sins. That a guilty sinner can be saved from his sins is not just good news, it’s great news. It’s heaven instead of Hell, peace instead of guilt, and eternal life instead of eternal death and torment. Therefore, please keep in mind throughout the entirety of this morning’s worship service that everything I say is predicated upon the historical realities of the Christian faith and the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Your personal response to not only the historical realities of the Christian faith but also to the summons by Jesus Christ to come to Him and thereby be reconciled to God is the linchpin on which your soul’s salvation and your eternal destiny hangs. These things understood, let us proceed.

One of the most stressful times of your life was during your mother’s contractions and throughout the arduous process of your birth taking place. Your mother’s uterus began to contract, her combination of fear and excitement was apparent to you, and you also got excited. Certainly, if your mother got scared then you got scared. Your heart began to race, you became agitated, and then you began to feel the pushing, which only increased your level of anxiety. If you were delivered in a normal fashion, with your head down, you began to feel pressure coming from two directions. On one hand you felt the pressure from your mother’s muscles pushing you down the birth canal, something like toothpaste being squeezed from a tube. On the other hand, there was pressure on your head, resisting your easy access to the outside world. As this was happening you were very active, every organ in your body was on high alert, adrenaline was coursing through your bloodstream, you were under some distress, but you were too terrified and constrained to move and you didn’t make any noise at all. Why not? Because your lungs were filled with amniotic fluid, making it impossible for you to scream or to cry. That wouldn’t happen until after you were born, after most of the amniotic fluid had been squeezed out of your lungs as you passed through the birth canal. Once your lungs were filled with air, of course, you could scream to your heart’s content. And it is likely that for a while you did just that.

Looking back on your own birth, reflecting on what happened to you when you were born, I guarantee that you have no memories of the event. The reason you have no memories of your own birth is because throughout your eyes were closed, and memories are as much images of what you have seen and felt as just about anything else. But because you saw nothing of your own birth, and because you had no understanding whatsoever of the terror you experienced during your birth, your mind had no way of cataloguing the impressions and information you gathered and so those impressions were discarded. How then do I know that you were terrified while you were being born? Because observations are made of children being born (some instruments are called fetal monitors) and they show that unborn babies are universally terrified, they are universally confused, and they are universally uncomfortable until sometime after they are born. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the experiences of the children who are observed being born are no different than your own experiences were when you were born.

Can we, therefore, consider drawing a couple of conclusions about the birth process? We really don’t have to be doctors to form opinions, especially since there is so much information available about what happens when babies are born. We know that babies experience what might be called trauma during their birth. We know that babies greatly exert themselves during their birth. However, it is easy to see that babies being born do not in any way contribute to their own birth. No help is actually needed by the mother from her unborn and from her being born child to make sure he is safely delivered. Yes, the baby exerts himself. But for all his exertions he contributes nothing to his own delivery. It takes place with his awareness, but it takes place without his permission. Can we learn some things from the birth of a child about what the Lord Jesus Christ termed the new birth? Of course we can. There is a reason why the Lord Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”[1] By our Savior’s use of the term “born again” it is clear that there must be some similarities between what He was referring to in His conversation with Nicodemus and what He knew Nicodemus, and everyone else for that matter, would bring into a consideration of what He meant by being “born again.” That much is obvious from Nicodemus’ reaction, when he said,

 

“How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”[2]

 

Therefore, it is not only reasonable to assume that there are some parallels between being physically born and being spiritually born again, some parallels between the physical birth of an individual and his spiritual birth should he ever obey the gospel, but God’s Word shows how reasonable it is to make such an assumption. There are some things we can learn about the spiritual birth, about being born again, by considering a child’s physical birth. First, we see that in the physical birth of a child that baby is aware something is happening. He couldn’t tell you what is happening, but he knows something is going on. Next, we see that whatever is happening during his birth was not initiated by the baby. His birth is the culmination of an event that occurred nine months earlier, an event he did not participate in, but an event that resulted in him coming into being. Third, his birth is not understood by him. After all, without being informed how would any unborn child understand what is taking place during his own birth, when many strange things never before experienced are happening to him? Fourth, though he greatly exerts himself in the process of his birth, his exertions contribute not one iota to the end result of him being born. Studies have shown this to be true, and anyone who has ever observed the live birth of either a baby or a critter will acknowledge the truth of this.

Of these four observations that I have made related to natural birth, physical birth, I would like for us to be particularly mindful of the fourth observation, that exertion is present when a person is born though his exertion contributes nothing to his actual birth. If this observation of physical birth supports what the Bible teaches about the new birth, then it is a valid observation and the parallel that exists between one’s physical birth and what the Bible teaches about the new birth, about being born again, is a valid parallel. Our consideration of the new birth takes us back initially to the Old Testament book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the book of beginnings, and where the origins of every significant doctrine taught elsewhere in the Bible can be traced. In Genesis chapter 3 we learn of the Fall and some of the immediate consequences of sin. In Genesis chapter 15 we see the first mention of what we learn in the New Testament to be the doctrine of justification by faith, when Abraham believed in the Lord and it was counted unto him for righteousness. In Genesis chapter 22, when Abraham offered up his son Isaac, we see a picture of the great doctrine of substitutionary sacrifice.

This morning I would like you to first turn to Genesis chapter 32, where we read about Jacob’s wrestling match. My first text is Genesis 32.24-30. When you find that passage in God’s Word please stand:

 

24    And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25    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.

26    And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

27    And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

28    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.

29    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.

30    And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

 

My second text is Hosea 12.3-5, where the prophet refers to Jacob, and includes an illuminating explanation of what happened to him that night:

 

3      He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:

4      Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us;

5      Even the LORD God of hosts; the LORD is his memorial.

 

Hosea’s is actually a brief summary of Jacob’s life, at birth and then skipping to new birth. The first half of verse three, “He took his brother by the heel in the womb,” describes what happened when Jacob was born and how he came to be named Jacob, which means supplanter or heel grabber. The second half of the verse, “by his strength he had power with God,” refers “not to his own strength, but only God’s grace, which got him this victory.”[3] Verse four informs us that it was an angel he wrestled with and prevailed against, that during this wrestling match he wept and made supplication, and that he found this angel in Bethel, who then spake to us, Hosea writes; the us in verse 4 being the nation of Israel being spoken to when the angel spoke to Jacob, their patriarch. Who was this man Jacob wrestled with, who Hosea initially identifies as an angel in 12.4? He is none other than the LORD of hosts, Jehovah, according to Hosea 12.5.

My final text is Luke 13.24:

 

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

 

This was the directive the Lord Jesus Christ issued to those who had heard the gospel on several occasions yet they had not come to Christ for salvation full and free. What was commended to them was the activity of striving to enter in at the strait gate. Yet we must not understand Luke 13.24 to be anything like salvation by works, because these words were uttered by the Lord Jesus Christ, Who would never suggest that anyone’s salvation could be secured by good works.

What should we conclude from Jacob’s wrestling match? Three things:

 

First, THIS EPISODE IN JACOB’S LIFE IS A RECORD OF HIS CONVERSION

 

Though it is nowhere declared in the Bible, least of all in Genesis 32.24-30, I am persuaded that the events that unfolded in Jacob’s life on that night led up to and included his justification by faith in the sight of God. Allow me to rehearse to you my reasons for believing Jacob’s wrestling match was followed by his justification:

First, Jacob was going through a personal spiritual crisis that was quite similar to the crisis his grandfather Abraham had experienced in Genesis chapter 15 leading up to his salvation experience. Like Abraham, Jacob feared for his life.[4] Abraham was fearful of retaliation from those he had attacked to rescue his nephew Lot. Jacob, on the other hand, greatly feared his anticipated encounter with his brother Esau, who years earlier had vowed to kill him.[5] Like Abraham, Jacob had an encounter with God. We are told that night Jacob was left alone and that he wrestled with a man. However, the prophet Hosea identifies the man as an angel, in Hosea 12.4. That’s not all. In Hosea 12.5 he identifies the angel as Jehovah, the LORD God of hosts. This is the angel of the LORD, taken by most to be the preincarnate Christ. Therefore, it is not a reach to suggest that what happened to Abraham after being afraid, followed by his encounter with God, should also happen to Jacob after being afraid, and also being encountered by God. Any encounter with the one true and living God cannot but be a spiritual encounter.

Second, following the wrestling match and the exchange Jacob had with the angel of the LORD, he was dramatically changed. First, his name was changed from Jacob to Israel.[6] Whereas the name Jacob refers to someone who grabs heels, or who supplants others, Israel refers to one who is a prince of God or a prevailer with God.[7] Second, the angel of the LORD declares that not only has Jacob’s name been changed to Israel, but that the change of his name reflects a change of his status with God. So it is with justification by faith, that while the sinner himself is not changed by his justification, his standing before God is changed by his justification. I submit to you that is what here happened with Jacob. Abraham was justified and then God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel.

 

Next, THE BLESSING HE SOUGHT AND OBTAINED WAS SALVATION

 

There can be no denying that Jacob was a sinful man. His action at birth resulted in him being named Jacob after all, who I remind you means supplanter, the one who grabs heels, the guy who trips up others.[8] And indeed that is precisely the personality he displayed throughout the first half of his sneaky and conniving life. Though Esau was wrong for selling his birthright for a bowl of beans, what kind of brother would withhold food from his starving sibling? Yet Jacob sold food to his brother in exchange for his birthright.[9] Then of course there was the time Jacob deceived his blind father by lying to him and misrepresenting himself to his father Isaac as being his son Esau, in order to claim by deception his father’s blessing.[10] It was Esau’s resulting murderous rage that caused Jacob to flee for so long, with this wrestling match taking place as he returned after being gone for so many years.

His sinfulness clearly established in scripture, there is something very peculiar about Jacob’s recorded misdeeds with respect to his conduct toward Esau, who despite being Jacob’s twin was in fact the firstborn son of Isaac, with rights, privileges, and the heritage that was due the firstborn. May I restate our understanding that Jacob’s three recorded trespasses against Esau are always portrayed in Genesis in a bad light, as they should be? Interesting however, is that Hosea points out something in his prophecy that was designed to encourage the Israelites he was preaching to to abandon their moral decline in favor of passionately pursuing the blessings of God as Jacob had done. Therefore, despite the improper use of means, the grabbing of his brother’s heel, the purchase of his brother’s birthright, and the deception and stealing of his brother’s blessing, Hosea makes use of the example of Jacob’s persistence. Keil and Delitzsch observe, “The Israelites, as descendants of Jacob, were [according to Hosea] to strive to imitate the example of their forefather.”[11] What was it Jacob seems to have been doing throughout his entire life leading up to this wrestling match? Whether he was unconscious of it as an infant grabbing his brother’s heel, it is very clear from the purchase of his brother’s birthright and the deceptive acquisition of his brother’s blessing from their father, that despite his sinful actions he was prompted by a desire, however carnal, to seek God’s blessing. Esau, on the other hand cared nothing for God’s blessings and is therefore rightly described as profane.[12]

What is the ultimate blessing of God to be sought? To actually know God. From the time of his birth, through the course of his life until he wrestled with the angel of the LORD that night, Jacob was estranged from God, dead in trespasses and sins. When Moses informs us in Genesis 32.24, “And Jacob was left alone” that night, he was in essence summarizing what had been true Jacob’s whole life. And what was true of Jacob is true of you if you are without Christ. He was left alone. You are left alone. The remedy? The new birth, which is coincident with justification. I am persuaded that Jacob’s Peniel experience resulted in his justification. As Moses wrote in verse 30,

 

“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

 

 

Finally, THE STRUGGLE HE ENGAGED IN DID NOT MERIT JACOB’S SALVATION, THOUGH IT WAS BENEFICIAL TO HIM

 

I am persuaded that Jacob’s wrestling match was the Old Testament counterpart to what the Lord Jesus Christ prescribed for hardened sinners in Luke 13.24. However, I am not precisely sure what was accomplished during Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel of the LORD. That said, I could never bring myself to say that nothing happened other than physical effort.

Allow me to restate the obvious, that throughout the Bible, and in all of God’s dealings with sinful men, He has ever and always dealt with sinners on the basis of justification by faith apart from works of righteousness of any kind. So it was with Abraham, and so it was explained by the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 4. Habakkuk 2.4 first puts it into words, and the Apostle Paul and the writer to the Hebrews repeats it:

 

“The just shall live by faith.”

 

Further, Romans 11.6 shows the absolute incongruity of trying to associate grace with works in this matter of salvation:

 

“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”

 

What am I pointing out? That salvation is all of grace and not of works, lest any man should boast, Ephesians 2.9. I am also pointing out that salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done, either to appropriate salvation or to prepare for salvation, Titus 3.5.

What, then, was accomplished by Jacob’s wrestling match? I think it is the Old Testament counterpart to Luke 13.24, and I think it is a replication of some kind of what a baby experiences that culminates in his birth. As I said before, though the baby exerts himself in some way he is not responsible for and plays no active role of any kind in his own birth. Thus it was with Jacob, and thus it is with many who are justified by means of their faith in Jesus Christ.

 

What might be some of the consequences of Jacob’s experience of wrestling with the angel of the LORD? Throughout his life he had been a contentious, conniving individual. He had outmaneuvered his brother, deceived his father, wrangled his uncle Laban, and through these encounters had never previously experienced complete and utter defeat. However, during this hours long wrestling match in darkness before the dawn, Jacob encountered Someone at first unknown to him who was infinitely powerful and eternally determined to prevail. For the first time in his life Jacob encountered someone he cannot defeat. Yet God’s Word reads,

 

“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.”[13]

 

Do not mistake what Moses writes here as any indication that Jacob was actually stronger than the One he wrestled. Spurgeon astutely observes, “He who shrank one sinew could have crushed Jacob’s whole body: if we overcome the Lord in prayer, it is because he lends us strength, and condescends to be conquered.”[14]

Sometimes sinners become very frustrated in their efforts to obey the gospel. As well, they frequently experience false hopes associated with a person’s sincere attempt to obey the gospel, while the result is no conversion at all. What can we learn from Jacob’s experience and from his wrestling match? First, we can learn from Jacob’s determination. There is no doubt that he was a sinful man with sinful litter strewn along his life’s path, yet he displayed a determination to secure God’s blessing. When wrestling with the strange man, who he came to realize was God, he hung on for dear life and would not release Him without a blessing. Next, we learn that striving is a wrestling match that God sometimes wants sinners to engage in, particularly those who have been exposed to the gospel without properly obeying the directive to believe on Christ. Therefore, determine that Christ is worth knowing, that whatever you have to do to know Christ you should do, but that by deeds He cannot be known; only by faith. Jacob could not win that wrestling match, but he exercised faith; he was trusting to be blessed if he hung on for dear life, wept, and pleaded for God to bless him. He somehow understood that God “is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” Hebrews 11.6. Third, we learn that the prelude leading up to someone’s justification is not always the same. Though both Abraham and Jacob experienced fear before we see them exercising saving faith, we also see what seems to be akin to striving with Jacob that is not in evidence with Abraham. Some babies are born after a hard labor while other babies are delivered rather easily. Some babies are terrified through the process of their birth while others are frightened to a much less degree. What is important is that they have been born.

Know this: Once you are born you must be born again, and you cannot be born again apart from faith in Jesus Christ, Who died a substitutionary death on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead before ascending to the Father’s right hand on high, where He is presently enthroned.[15] Are you going through something, my sinful friend? I urge you to set as your goal the trusting of Christ, so that no matter what you go through, no matter how frustrating the obstacles and experiences may be, be as determined as Jacob was until you are blessed as he ultimately was.



[1] John 3.3

[2] John 3.4

[3] See comment for Genesis 32.25 from Matthew Poole, A Commentary On The Whole Bible, Volume 1, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), page 76.

[4] Genesis 15.1; 32.7

[5] Genesis 27.41-42

[6] Genesis 32.28

[7] Poole, page 76.

[8] Genesis 25.26

[9] Genesis 25.29-34

[10] Genesis 27.1-29

[11] C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT, Vol 10, (Peabody, MA: reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), page 96.

[12] Hebrews 12.16

[13] Genesis 32.25

[14] Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon Devotional Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

[15] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11


Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org