The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
As I said, sometimes in life, my best is not good enough. What do we do when my best is not good enough? There is nothing more than I can do to deal with my problems and my life. What can I do? If we can deal with our problems, then it’s not a problem anymore. It’s not a problem if we have a solution. So the problem is when you cannot deal with it. There’s no solution, there is nothing that you can do to solve it. So when that happens, what do we do? We feel helpless when the task is beyond our capacity and the problem is too big for us to be able to handle on our own.
We often, we feel this helplessness in our life. Maybe not often in our modern life. We can arrange our life in such a way that we don’t need to go into a helpless situation. We make sure that we can do everything so we don’t fall into a helpless situation. For example, Israelites they’re in the wilderness, they didn’t have food, they didn’t have water and all these things. We don’t experience that. We have everything provided for us. I don’t know whether it’s a blessing or even curse. When we have everything provided for us, maybe there’s something that we will never learn in life, will never discover, but once in a while in your life, you experience this helplessness. You cannot do anything about it. You have no strength, no power, no capacity, no matter what you don’t see any solution to it. What do we do?
I think Jacob felt the same way. His biggest problem, as you know, was his twin brother, Esau. He was an older one, so in a long time ago, the older one was supposed to take the blessing from father, but Jacob deceived his father, Isaac. So he took away the blessing that rightly belongs to his older brother, Esau. And Esau was so angry with Jacob. When your brother takes away what belongs to you, sometimes you can get quite angry. He was so angry that Jacob and his mother feared that Esau might even kill him. So, when he was young, Jacob ran away from home and he had to live with his uncle Laban and there he got married and then he made some money.
He became wealthy, but he didn’t get along with his uncle, Laban, either. So he had to come back home. See on the way home, the first thing that he was thinking about was Esau, in other words, Esau, all his life, he was thinking about Esau. That was his biggest problem Esau was his biggest problem. So when he had to come back, he had to face his biggest problem, his biggest fear in life. And that’s why as soon as he was near, he sent messengers to Esau to see how Esau was doing, whether he was still angry. He wanted to find out. And Genesis writer recorded the incident. In this way, “The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed”
He is coming with 400 men and not by himself. Why does he take 400 men with him? He is going destroy me. If he decided to destroy me, I’ll be in big trouble. Jacob thought. So Jacob, he’s a smart guy. He was always smart guy, very capable person. He could almost anything. So, he divided the people into two groups. Why? So if Esau attacks the first group at least, the second group might be able to run away. That was first thing that he did. And the second thing he did was he prepared a really abundant present for Esau. He prepared 200 female goats and 20 goats, 200 ewes and 20 rams, 30 milch camels and their colts, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. He brought all these animals as a present to Esau. And after all that he prayed to God, “Lord, deliver me from the hands of my brother Esau. Please save me.” In other words, Jacob did everything he could possibly do. He did his best. Jacob was that kind of person. He was not lazy. He did not have a defeatist mentality thinking, “what’s the point of doing all of this? I’ll be in trouble. I won’t do anything.” He didn’t have that kind of defeatist mentality. He thoroughly prepared to meet Esau. He prepared for the worst. He did everything. He was comfortable. He prepared all of these things, but he wasn’t quite sure yet how Esau would react. He felt that his best was not good enough.
I did everything, but still, it’s all up to him Esau. There was nothing left that he could do, but there was one more thing that he could do. There was nothing more he could do but there was one more thing he could do. You know what that was? He wrestled. The wrestling was one more thing left for him to do. This wrestling was soul-searching. It is almost like a dark night of the soul. It was a struggle, an inner struggle. It is fighting. It is wrestling. He struggled all through the night. He didn’t sleep at all. This struggle showed the inner reality of Jacob. It was not something that he could prepare on the outside. It was something that he had to deal with internally. He had to truly deal with who he was. He prepared everything, but he had to deal with who he was. This struggle was different from nice religious prayer that he did. It was wrestling, real struggle, his hipbone pulled out of its socket. He didn’t even know it was God that he was wrestling with. And he realized to truly find out who you are there’s no other way but to wrestle with God.
To truly find out who I am, I have to wrestle with God. Because we have hidden ourselves so deeply it won’t come out easily. We don’t even know what’s in there. I realized how little I know about myself. Deep within me, I have hidden myself, that I don’t even know what it is. Until we truly struggle with God we cannot know. Through that wrestling, true Jacob came out, the fighter, the one who always had to win, no matter what. The trickster who, who deceives anyone for his advantage to get what he wanted. He had to face his own demons. He had to face his own real self, regardless of how it was presented, and wrestle with it during the night. Jacob’s ugly, dark reality of his own person had to be faced on that night, wrestling with this unknown figure, who turned out to be God. The message of today, stories like this, you prepared everything, but you cannot beat Esau with your old tricks. That was the message. You divided people into two groups. You give extravagant gifts and presents and you prayed, but with your old self, that trickster character, you cannot meet Esau.
You have to change. This is what I learned. When you face a helpless situation that’s when you need to change. Don’t try to change the circumstances. That’s when you need to change. Whenever you face helpless situations, you need to change and to change there’s no easy way but to wrestle with God. You have to go through that wrestling and struggle. Even though he came out of the wrestling, limping because of his hip he changed. And after he changed he was ready to face his biggest fear. Esau was not just a person, he was the personification of Jacob’s greatest fear in his life. When he changed, he was able to face his greatest fear. What is your greatest fear? What is your biggest fear? If you don’t deal with it, it will continuously paralyze you. You face it only when you change. As you change, somehow your biggest fear does not scare you anymore. As you change your biggest fear loses the power to intimidate you. That’s what I learned. When I change what you once feared does not scare you anymore.
I share this story with a Bible study this morning and it’s about Job. Job was blessed. He has so many children. He has wealth, good health and everything. So whenever the children had a party, he prayed, he gave sacrifice so that if they committed sins, they could be forgiven. He was so religious and everything, but somehow disaster struck him. All his children died. He lost all his possessions his health declined. And his wife told him, “why don’t you curse God and die” and she left. So he was all alone. When he was all alone. You know what the first thing that Job said? What I fear the most became reality. What I fear the most happened to me. What does that mean? All his life he lived with fear, even when he has so many blessings, he lived with fear. Later Job experienced another blessing from God, but he had to go through that night of struggle, conversation, wrestling with God. Job is all about this wrestling. He truly wrestled with God and in the end, he was blessed.
You know what the true blessing was? Freedom. He didn’t fear that anymore. There was no fear of losing anything. He was completely comfortable with himself. That’s a result of wrestling with God. When we change the fear is not fear anymore. Today is the first Sunday after Easter. We celebrate the life, the resurrection. Is death the biggest fear? When we change, even death cannot scare us anymore. We can say, where is your victory Oh, death? So when you feel helpless in your life, realize that’s when you need to change and to change you need to wrestle with God. And know that wrestling will give you the confidence, a power which is unshakable, and will give you strength so that you can face any situation in your life. Be Strong, don’t be wimpy, be strong. If I die, I’ll die. That kind of attitude. If I perish, I perish. With that courage and confidence and power, you can do anything. Sometimes these superficial blessings can weaken you. Make you weak. If I lose this, what if God takes that away? After Job went through all the suffering. He said, “it is God who gave. It is God who takes away. If he takes away. Okay.” That confidence. Don’t turn your blessing into a curse.