PATRIARCHS AND PROPHETS # 18
The Night of Wrestling
Though 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.
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.
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
Again the 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, camps."
Jacob 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, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent
to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight."
the 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.