Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)

Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ

Sunday, October 22, 2017

by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

Genesis 32:24-31

Not only did I wrestle with the passage, I even toiled over choosing the title.  I considered using the title, “Be Hip!”; a colloquial expression from the ’60’s.  I also thought of titling it: “Don’t Get Out of Joint!” since knee and hip replacements are so commonplace in these parts.  But then it occurred to me, “What if someone was offended and took it…personally?”  Which is precisely what I hope to achieve!  This message should be taken…personally.

Finally, I opted on titling this morning’s sermon, “The Man Who Walked with a Limp” since this episode is about a man who would never walk again, as he had once walked.  He was the grandson of father Abraham whose name was Jacob, which in Hebrew means: “may God protect”.

However, the verb usage offers a slightly different bent (pardon the pun!).  The root word sounds like “heel” which infers: “one who watches from behind.  According to ancient folklore, when these twin brothers were born, Jacob was seen clasping the heel of his older brother, Esau.

And for most of his adult life, Jacob lived up to his name.  Jacob acquired a sullied reputation for ‘grabbing hold’ of things that didn’t belong to him.  On one occasion, Esau returned from hunting wild game.  He was hungry and exhausted.  Jacob offers a bowl of lintel stew, but only on the condition that he forfeit his birthright.  To put it mildly, Jacob was the proverbial manipulator, a cheater, and a schemer.

When the brothers came of age, Esau honed the skills of a hunter and an avid outdoorsman.  Jacob was what you’d call a “mama’s boy.”  He was pampered by his doting mother, Rebekah, and much preferred the creature comforts of a tent-dweller.

But God had other plans for Jacob.  Divine plans.  God orchestrated events which would dramatically alter not only Jacob’s life, but would prove instrumental in forging the nation of Israel.

Then it came time for their aging father, Isaac, to bless his oldest son.  But while Esau was away on another hunting trip, Jacob impersonated his older brother.  He brought to his father freshly baked bread and his favorite savory food prepared by Rebekah.  Isaac’s eyesight had greatly diminished.  He was unable to recognize his youngest son standing before him.

At first, Isaac was skeptical.  He was apprehensive.  But, eventually he placed his hand upon his son and blessed him.  This was an irrevocable blessing upon the younger, rather than the older.  This, too, had been prophesied years before.  The Lord had spoken to Rebekah when her sons were still squirming inside her womb [Genesis 25:23].  When Esau heard about his brother’s trickery, he was incensed and vowed to seek revenge!  Left with no other choice, Jacob fled in fear for his life!

For the next twenty years, Jacob was pupiled in the ‘school of hard knots’!  He learned what it was like to be on the receiving end by someone just as conniving as he was.  He was Rebekah’s brother, Laban.  Jacob was “hood-winked” into marrying Laban’s oldest daughter, Leah.  He worked another seven years before being allowed to marry his true love.  Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel.  Laban was not only Jacob’s father-in-law, but his uncle.  This might explain the idiom, “to cry uncle” when you penned down and forced to give up.

During these contentious years, Jacob acquired sizeable herds of sheep, donkey’s and other livestock.  And just as before, Jacob left in a hasty retreat.  But, eventually they resolved their differences in what became known as the: “covenant of Mizpah.

When Jacob departed with his two wives and eleven children, God called out to Jacob, saying: “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” [Genesis 31:3].  By so doing, Jacob would have to revisit his sordid past.  To make amends with his older brother, Jacob sent messengers ahead along with an array of oxen and donkeys as a goodwill ‘peace offering.’  But, when his messengers returned, Jacob received some ominous news.  Esau was coming to greet him…accompanied by four hundred men!

Gripped with fear at the prospects, Jacob decided to split up his family into two caravans.  He reasoned if Esau was intent on attacking one group; the other might escape unscathed.  So, that same day his entire household crossed the ford of the Jabbok in a region occupied by Esau in the land of Edom.  A rugged, mountainous territory located halfway between the Sea of Galilee to the north and the Dead Sea to the south.

Jacob bid farewell to his loved ones and spent the night alone under a starry sky atop a high plateau called Bethel.  Up to this point in his life, Jacob acknowledged the existence of God, but he did not know God.  Here was a man alone with his thoughts.  But Jacob would soon discover that he was not alone.  Just as we are never alone.  Just so long as God is on our side.  In anguish Jacob cries out to God: “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me, the mothers with the children” [Genesis 32:11].

Perhaps in a dreamlike trance, Jacob finds himself wrestling with an unknown Man.  Throughout the night they resorted to using both their wits and their brawn.  Finally, as dawn was approaching, Jacob came to realize that: GOD HAD ALLOWED JACOB TO CONTEND WITH HIM (repeat).

Was this wrestling match real, or imagined?  Our passage reads: “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.”  As to Jacob’s physical prowess, it’s left to conjecture.  But this much we do know.  Jacob was tenacious.  He refused to yield.  This matchup was a test of endurance and fortitude which lasted to the break of day.

Perhaps for the first time in his life, Jacob had to come to grips with his despicable life.  Earmarked by betrayal, cowardliness and deceitfulness.  Jacob was a “heel” in the truest sense of the word!  He grabbed hold of persons and entitlements which did not belong to him!

It’s my belief this combativeness was real; not imagined.  For how else could one explain Jacob’s hip being dislocated from its socket?  But, Jacob not only wrestled with this mysterious figure, he was tussling with his own conscience!

Perhaps you, too, have wrestled with past unseemly deeds.  If not, you most likely will at some point.  For as with every sin, there are consequences.  The repercussions from Jacob’ sinful past was coming due!

But besides contending with God and himself: GOD ALLOWED JACOB TO PLEAD HIS CAUSE (repeat).

Our passage continues: Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.  And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’  But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’

It’s important for us to know who this Person that fought with Jacob.  In the Book of Hosea, the prophet spoke of this encounter: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity, he contended with God.  Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed” [Hosea 12:3, 4].

For the first time in his life, Jacob was having to play “by the rules”; God’s rules!  Neither party was the ultimate victor; nor was either the consummate loser.  From a spiritual perspective, both were victors!  A “Win, Win” confrontation.  Scripture reminds us repeatedly that angels are exceedingly powerful spirit beings.  They are far superior in both power and intellect than mere mortals.  Yet, Jacob persisted.  His perseverance won the day!

But, this was also a victory for this angel of the Lord.  On the heels of this encounter, Jacob’s countenance would forever be altered.  His demeanor changed dramatically.  And the same holds true for you and for me.  In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby writes: “At some point in your life you’ll experience a genuine crisis.  A crisis in which only God can help see you through it.”

And this as it should be.  For only God can change a person’s heart.  Only God can purify and sanctify what was defiled.  Put simply, only God can save us from ourselves!  Like Esau, you, too, have been given a birthright.  Don’t pawn it off, or give it away.

As this tussle was winding down, Jacob pleads for God’s mercy!  And GOD BLESSED JACOB (repeat).

Jacob steadfastly refused to let go of this Spirit Being until he received a blessing.  No human being, flawed as we are, can bestow a blessing from on high.  Only God can truly bless the wretched sinner.

Whereupon this spirit asked, “What is your name?”  “My name is ‘Jacob.”  The angel replied, Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  If Jacob had any lingering doubts as to who this Person was, he did no longer.  This Person

could only have been the Pre-incarnate Christ; the Son of the living God!  No angel could arbitrarily change a person’s name and/or title.

But, this was not the only time that God changed a person’s name (e.g., Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul, etc.).  And each time God does, it’s for a reason.  A new name came to symbolize how God had changed a person’s life.

Jacob, the deceiver, would now be called Israel.  The name bestowed upon God’s chosen people.  Like that of their namesake, God’s chosen people would also contend against God.  In turn, God would allow them to prevail!

Just as Jacob’s name had been changed, he changed this site from Bethel to Peniel, which means: For I have seen God face to face, and my life has been preserved.” 

 For the rest of his life, Jacob walked with a limp which served as a solemn reminder of his encounter with God.  However, never again would Israel limp along…spiritually!  From day forth, Jacob (Israel) would stand erect in the eyes of God.

So, what can you and I take away from this epic struggle?  We can come away with the knowledge that mankind is but an earthen vessel.  A fragile vessel.  Like vessels of clay, we must first be broken, before we can be transfigured.  Before we can be transformed into the newness of life for a worthy cause.  The cause of Christ!

Let us pray…