Genesis 32:30-31 - So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." 31Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Read also Genesis 32:24-31.
Many of you have read the story of Joni Eareckson. Joni had a lot of things going for her. She was a good looking, popular, athletic and very active teenager. She was also a Christian. What more could she ask for?! But Joni's life was far from what God intended it to be. She says in her book that her teenage life revolved around her own ego and desires. Upon graduation from high school, Joni knew that things were not the greatest between herself and the Lord, and she prayed that somehow God would do something to turn her life around so that she could be used for His glory. God answered Joni's prayer in a most unusual way. He permitted her to break her neck in a diving accident and to permanently lose the use of her arms and legs. How could God allow such a tragedy? Joni struggled tremendously with this question for the first few months following her injury. Then she gradually began to realize that God really wanted to draw her closer to Himself and bless her life through this traumatic experience. In reality, God was breaking the old Joni down so that the new Joni in Christ could become a blessing to others. Today Joni's beautiful relationship with God radiates out from her wheelchair to literally thousands of people. Completely fulfilled in Christ, Joni says she would not want it any other way. On each of the pictures she sketches (Joni draws with unbelievable skill by holding a felt-tip pen in her mouth!) she writes "Joni PTL". Her "Praise The Lord" signature is a constant testimony that blessing can come from brokenness. "Broken before blessed" is a Scriptural principle and God uses different breaking down methods in each of our lives. God's methods are not just physical; they vary, depending on the particular hang-ups and blind spots of each growing Christian. The sudden loss of a scholarship or the unexpected challenge of undesirable responsibilities may be part of the breaking process. The "broken before blessed" principle is very dramatically taught in Genesis 32:24-31 from an event in the life of Jacob. Perhaps a little background for this portion of God's Word may be helpful. Jacob was the son of Isaac and the grandson of the great patriarch Abraham. As Jacob grew up he believed in the God of his fathers, but he was certainly not what we would call "totally committed". In fact, the picture we get of Jacob from Scripture is that of a young man who was selfish and all out for "number one". Even when he was a teenager he cheated his brother Esau out of the birthright (certain family rights and privileges which Esau would inherit--see Genesis 25:27-34). Then some years later he tricked his aging father in order to get the paternal blessing which also rightfully belonged to the first-born twin, Esau (see Genesis 27). At this point Esau was so furious that he determined to kill Jacob as soon as their father Isaac died. Since Jacob had no chance against Esau in a fight (see Genesis 25:27), he left home. Cheating, cunning, coniving Jacob was on the run! But God was not done with this run-away. Jacob had a lot of lessons to learn, but he would eventually become the man of faith God intended him to be (see Hebrews 11:21). God never gives up on any of his children. You can be sure that in spite of our selfish and "me-first" ways, the Lord is at work behind the scenes. He is steadily chopping away at our proud and savage hearts. He wants to break us down and open us up for blessing (see Psalm 51:17 and Philippians 1:6). Jacob put several hundred miles between himself and Esau. He went to the land of his mother's relatives and settled there for 20 years. There he married and began a large family. (His sons were later to become the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel.) During these 20 long years Jacob "reaped what he had sown". God taught him and disciplined him in this distant country. It certainly was not by chance that Jacob had to learn to respect the rights of the first-born by being forced to marry Leah (see Genesis 29). It wasn't by chance that Jacob's father-in-law, Laban, happened to be as cunning and selfish as Jacob himself! Time and time again they locked horns and tried to selfishly outwit each other (see Genesis 28-31). But God used all these circumstances to break Jacob down and prepare him for blessing. How often the Lord will bring us into contact with people and circumstances that rub us the wrong way! This is one of the methods God uses to knock the rough edges off us. You don't smooth a rough plank by rubbing it with cotton--you must use an abrasive! In Genesis 32 we see Jacob finally going home. On the way he received word that Esau was planning to meet him with 400 men. Jacob was scared and prayed for his life! He divided his party in two for safety and then sent most of them ahead with gifts to appease Esau. He even put his family in front of him as part of the buffer between himself and his brother. Maybe the still-crafty Jacob planned to run and save his own skin if he saw that Esau would not accept the gifts or show mercy to his family. While Jacob waited alone that night, a man came into his campsite and began to wrestle with him. What was said or how the "fight" began we don't know, but we do know that Jacob's opponent was no ordinary man. Hosea 12:4 indicates that the stranger was an angel of God. In fact, verse 30 of Genesis 32 intimates that this heavenly visitor may have been the angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Son of God temporarily taking on the appearance of a man (see also Genesis 18).God wrestled with Jacob! Jacob had learned a lot of lessons already but, like all of us, he still had a long way to go. Until Jacob was thoroughly broken of his selfishness and scheming he could not go further in his relationship with God. And so God met Jacob alone and wrestled with him one-on-one. What a picture lesson for us! Is God wrestling with you right now because of some area of your life that needs to be broken down? What about submission to authority--like your folks? What about priorities--like Scripture versus sleep?! What about God's will for your life--like next summer or next year? The wrestling match was not over in a few minutes--it went on all night. God could easily overpower us, but He does not "zap" us or violate our wills--He patiently wrestles with us in order to break us down. Near dawn the Lord "put a move" on Jacob which evidently caused a slight dislocation of the ball-and-socket joint in Jacob's thigh. It wasn't an illegal hold or a karate chop--just the "touch of God" in a critical area. Has the Lord "touched" you in this way yet? The "touch of God" may be painful at first, but it is part of the breaking process that paradoxically leads to greater blessing in your life as a Christian. Jacob now was no longer able to wrestle--he could only cling to God. At last he realized his helplessness and weakness and dependence. Now he wouldn't even be able to run from Esau. His only hope was to hold on and ask for a blessing from the Lord. What a turnaround in the life of Jacob! Each one of us must come to that point. Sometimes it is the area of our greatest natural strength or ability that God must "touch" in order to cause us to depend on Him. The Lord says, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). The next thing we read (v27) is that the Lord asked Jacob his name. Why? Before Jacob could be blessed he had to own up to the reality of what he really was: "the supplanter". This is the meaning of the name Jacob, and how well it characterized his life of deceiving and scheming to get what he wanted from others. By giving his name, Jacob openly confessed his wrongdoing. Confession of our sin is part of the breaking process. Before God can fill our lives with his blessings we must own up to our past failures. This is humbling but necessary. The stigma of the old name was removed and Jacob was given a new name, Israel. There is some question as to the exact meaning of the name Israel, but from the context of verse 28 as well as Hosea 12:3-4 it seems that the idea is "he who strives or perseveres with God". Quite a change from "supplanter" to "one who perseveres with God". Notice that verse 28 adds that Jacob prevailed with God. This, of course, does not mean that Jacob won the wrestling match but that he realized his defeat and clung to the only Source of hope. The breaking process worked a miracle in the life of Jacob--it still does in the lives of believers today. Jacob tried to get the stranger to reveal Himself by giving His name, but was unsuccessful. Jacob still had a way to go before the Lord would intimately disclose Himself to Jacob as He had done with Jacob's faithful grandfather, Abraham. (See Genesis 35:1-15 for this stage in Jacob's life as a believer.) But for now the breaking process brought blessing (v29) and the realization that God Himself had touched his life (v30). The view we have of Jacob in verse 31 is a beautiful spiritual picture of the growing Christian who has undergone the breaking process and "prevailed". The sun is shining on one who has wrestled all night. He is making forward progress with a permanent limp. Here is a believer who is broken--but blessed.