Faith Prevails

Chapter 12

Though Jacob had begun his trip home in obedience to divine direction, it was not without some misgivings that he thought of meeting Esau. After Jacob’s hasty departure and many long years away from home, Esau had come to regard himself as the sole heir of their father’s wealth. Jacob feared that the news of his return would arouse Esau’s fear that he was now returning to claim his inheritance. During Jacob’s absence, Esau had become a powerful desert chief and now was in a position to do his brother great harm. He might be moved to violence not only by a desire for revenge, but to secure his father’s great wealth without fear of interference.

In order to ease Jacob’s troubled mind, the Lord gave him an evidence of His protection and care. As the company traveled, there appeared two companies of heavenly angels that seemed to surround them in front and behind, traveling with them. Jacob called to mind his dream of many years before, when during the lonely flight into exile he had seen the ladder stretching from heaven to earth. As before, the knowledge that God was with him filled him with courage. When he saw the angel hosts, he said, “This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.”

Jacob still believed that he needed to do all within his power to assure, so far as possible, his safety and that of his family. In order to put Esau’s fears to rest, he sent messengers with a greeting that was of a nature to relieve his concern. Instructing the messengers, he told them the exact words which they were to say. When they met his brother, they were to address him as, “my lord Esau;” when brought before him, they were to refer to their master as “thy servant Jacob.” By addressing his brother in this way, Jacob hoped to remove the fear that he was poor and eager to obtain his share of the inheritance. He was also careful to state in his message that he had oxen, asses, flocks, and servants. However, when the servants returned, they brought the news that Esau was on his way to meet them with four hundred men. It appeared certain that he was coming to seek revenge.

Jacob’s company had now reached the river Jabbok. It was in a lonely, mountainous region, the haunt of wild beasts and the hiding place of robbers and murderers. As night came on, Jacob determined to send his family across the ford of the river, while he remained behind. He had decided to spend the night in prayer, and he desired to be alone with God. God could soften Esau’s heart; and this was Jacob’s only hope.

Alone and unprotected, Jacob bowed in deep anguish upon the earth. All that made life dear to him was at a distance, exposed to danger and death. Most bitter of all was the realization that it was his own sin that had placed his innocent family in this great danger. With earnest tears he poured out his heart in prayer to God. Suddenly, he felt a strong hand laid on his shoulder. Thinking that an enemy was seeking his life, he struggled to break the hold of his attacker. In the darkness, the two wrestled in silence. Not a word was spoken, but Jacob put forth all of his strength and did not relax his efforts for a moment. The struggle continued until nearly dawn when the stranger placed his finger upon Jacob’s thigh, crippling him instantly.

Jacob now knew that his opponent was no ordinary stranger. He knew that he had been in conflict with a heavenly messenger and that 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. Though he was now helpless and suffering severe pain, he would not loosen his hold. Clinging tightly to the Angel, “he wept, and made supplication unto Him,” pleading for a blessing. He must have the assurance that his sin was pardoned. “He had power over the Angel, and prevailed.” Hosea 12:4

During the night of wrestling, Jacob had come to clearly see his error in failing to trust God’s promise. In obtaining the birthright by deception and fraud, he had, by his own efforts, tried to accomplish that which he should have trusted God to do in His own time. The name Jacob means supplanter and is a reference to one who, using underhanded tactics, replaces another. Now, in recognition of his repentance and forgiveness, his name was changed from Jacob, a reminder of his sin, to one that commemorated his victory. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob,” said the Angel, “but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”

While Jacob was wrestling with the Angel, another heavenly messenger was sent to Esau. In a dream, Esau saw his brother separated from his father’s house for twenty years; he witnessed his sorrow at finding his mother dead; he was shown him surrounded by the angels of God. The next morning, Esau related this dream to his warriors, with orders not to harm Jacob, for the God of his father was with him.

The two companies at last approached each other. Pale and weakened from his recent struggle, Jacob, with his wives and children, attended by servants and followed by long lines of flocks and herds, moved forward to meet the desert chief and his band of soldiers. Jacob moved slowly and painfully, pausing at every step; but in spite of his physical handicap and discomfort, his face expressed joy and peace. At sight of his crippled brother, “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.”

Jacob’s experience during that night of wrestling and distress represents the difficult period of time that the people of God will experience just before Christ’s second coming. The prophet Jeremiah, in vision looking down to this time, said, “For thus saith the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.” “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

When the case of every soul will have been decided and Christ shall cease His work as Mediator in man’s behalf, there will no longer be atoning blood to cleanse from sin. At that time, Jesus will leave His position as man’s intercessor before God; and the solemn announcement will be 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 controlling Spirit of God will be withdrawn from the earth and this time of trouble will begin. As Jacob was threatened with death by his angry brother, so the people of God will be threatened by the wicked who are seeking to destroy them. 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.

Had Jacob not already repented of his sin in obtaining the birthright by deception and fraud, God could not then have heard his prayer and mercifully saved his life. So in the time of trouble, if the people of God have unconfessed sins, despair will overwhelm their faith and they will be overcome. But while they will have a deep sense of their unworthiness, they will have no secret wrongs to reveal. Their sins will have been blotted out by the atoning blood of Christ, and they will not be able to bring them to remembrance.

Jacob was victorious because he was unyielding and determined. His experience proves the power of persistent prayer. It is now that we are to learn this lesson of effective prayer, of unyielding faith. The greatest victories for the church of Christ or for 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 prayer to God, when earnest faith struggles to lay hold of God’s mighty arm of power. Those who are unwilling to withdraw from every sinful practice and to seek earnestly for God’s blessing, will not receive it.

This chapter is based on Genesis 32–33

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