Pastor Craig Carter
All of us have some things we feel like we just can’t live without – for many of us these might include hot showers and cell phone service.
But these items haven’t always been considered indispensable. Here in Bay County, we all learned 17 months ago that we could live without those things and a whole lot more (Internet, cable, air conditioning, oven, even ice and flushing toilet).
In actuality, there are very few things we can’t live without – air, food, water, shelter.
But the next character we encounter in our Family Album, Volume 1, the Book of Genesis, shows us something that is just as vital as those life essentials.
His name is Jacob, and he is the son of Isaac, and the grandson of Abraham. We’ve seen that God established His covenant with these men and promised that through them and their descendants all nations would be blessed.
A critical event in Jacob’s life is recorded in Genesis 32 and reveals something that neither he, nor anyone, can live without:
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. (Genesis 32:22-31 NIV)
Through a series of events that culminated in this wrestling incident, Jacob discovered that he simply could not live without God’s blessing.
We use that term, blessing, a great deal both in the church and life in general. But what exactly does it mean and entail?
According to one Bible dictionary, God’s blessing means “divine goodwill and favor that brings contentment and happiness.” In simpler terms, it’s that inner feeling or conviction that all is well because God is on your side and taking care of you.
The story of Jacob contained in the Book of Genesis gives us a vivid portrait of what it looks like, how it is secured, and what it means for our lives.
In particular, three principles emerge from his experience:
1) Jacob realized God’s blessing was what he needed most.
This awareness did not come easily for Jacob. He knew there was something outside himself that he needed so he spent the better part of his life looking for it.
In fact, his search began even before his entry into the world. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau. According to Genesis 25:22, the boys struggled while still in the womb.
When Esau was delivered first, Jacob emerged right behind him “grasping [his] heel” (Genesis 25:26 NIV). So he got his name, Jacob which means “heel holder,” “grabber,” “one who strives.”
Why was this sort of delivery noteworthy – besides its peculiarity, of course? Because the firstborn received a double-portion of his father’s estate. From all indications, Jacob wanted it and tried to get it.
What he didn’t receive by virtue of his birth, Jacob sought through deception. You may recall he convinced Esau to sell him his birthright one day when Esau came into the house starving and Jacob was preparing a pot of stew. Later, he secured his father’s blessing that was intended to be given to the eldest son by tricking an aged, blind Isaac into thinking he was Esau.
While Esau overlooked the first offense, he didn’t take too kindly to the second. So Jacob was forced to flee to a distant land. There, Jacob’s search for meaning and significance continued. But he also met his match in his uncle Laban (the brother of his mother Rebekah). Jacob fell in love with Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel. So he and Laban struck a deal – if Jacob would work for his uncle for seven years, he would be allowed to marry her.
But when the seven years were up, Laban tricked the master deceiver into marrying his other daughter, Leah. Laban then offered Rachel’s hand in marriage in exchange for seven more years of labor by Jacob. When that contract was fulfilled, Jacob worked an additional six years for Laban before fleeing in the dark of night.
After 20 years of laboring in this foreign country and accumulating great wealth and a sizable family, Jacob still sensed an emptiness in his life and decided to return to his home country and attempt to reconcile with his brother, Esau.
Chapter 32 begins with yet another elaborate scheme by Jacob – this time to turn away his brother’s wrath and win his favor.
Do you see the pattern in Jacob’s life?
He was aware that something was missing in his life but he couldn’t figure out what it was (e.g. birthright, father’s blessing, perfect wife, abundant wealth). He looked everywhere and tried everything but nothing satisfied his deepest longings. Jacob lived up to his name as he struggled and tried to grab whatever he could.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Many of us spend our lives searching for all the wrong things, in all the wrong places. And inevitably we end up like Mick Jagger puts it in his rock classic, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”
We long for our parents’ blessing, but it either eludes us or disappoints us. We want someone to love us, but no one is able to give us what we need. We think a bigger house or faster car or higher paying job is just what we need, but when our dream is fulfilled – we still aren’t. We scratch and claw our way to the top and then find there’s nothing there.
When are we ever going to learn? All we need is…not love (as the Beatles sang), but God and His blessing.
At wit’s end, Jacob came to this conclusion during a lonely night in the desert and cried out for divine intervention (see excerpts from his prayer in Genesis 32:9-12).
“O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac…I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown me…Oh, Lord, please rescue me…I am afraid…But you promised me, ‘I will surely treat you kindly…’”
Finally, Jacob was ready to receive what he really couldn’t live without.
How about you? Have you come to that place in your life? Are you convinced that you can’t live without God’s blessing?
No matter what others may tell you, it’s what you need more than anything else.
2) Jacob received God’s blessing by holding on to the Lord.
With Jacob desperate for God, He came face-to-face with just what (or who) he needed. According to the text, a “man” wrestled with Jacob until daybreak (v. 24).
Clearly, this was no ordinary man because when he touched Jacob’s hip, he put it out of socket. Later in Genesis and then in Hosea, we’re told that this man was an angel. But oftentimes the Old Testament refers to theophanies (divine appearances) as angels. In fact, the passage itself tells us the true identity of the unnamed wrestler: “I saw God face to face…” (Genesis 32:30 NIV) In other words, this was God in human form].
Knowing that this “man” was not of human origin, Jacob held on for dear life. Even amid great pain and agony, Jacob tenaciously held out for what he now knew was most vital: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26 NIV)
Jacob was willing to risk his own life for that which he believed held the key to life.
It seems to me that we need some “Jacobs” in the church today. By that I mean folks who will hang on to God at all costs. Instead, what I see more often are people who want God to hold on to them: “Sure, Lord, I want your blessing – just do it on my terms, when it’s convenient for me.”
Many expect God to follow them around and bless the messes they make. Unfortunately, that perspective forgets that He is the Creator and we are the creature. It also is a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be blessed by God. God’s blessing is not getting things from the Lord.
God’s blessing is experiencing the very presence of the Lord – God is the blessing. It is a who that we’re after, not a what. And God is all we’ll ever need.
Like Jacob, we must be ready to do whatever is necessary to secure the Father’s blessing.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret: God’s blessing is free but it’s not cheap. Make no mistake about it, there is price to be paid. Just ask Jacob.
Why is that? One reason is that it reveals our sincerity. By paying a price, genuine seekers are separated from casual observers.
Another reason God’s blessing is costly is because perseverance builds faith. I earlier used the phrase that Jacob was “holding on for dear life.” He literally was because true life is found only in God. When we become convinced that in God is life itself, we’ll grab hold and never let go. As that happens, our faith will swell.
What price are you and I willing to pay to secure God’s favor in our lives and fellowship?
We all struggle as we journey through this world. The question is: Will we hang on to the Lord and never let go – no matter what? Are we willing to give up a few minutes of sleep or TV watching to be with Him? How about coming early on Sunday morning or staying late? I’m afraid some Christians (of course, none at LHUMC) wouldn’t wrestle with God past lunch time, much less all day and all night.
3) God’s blessing completely changed Jacob’s life.
Instead of following through on his earlier conceived plan to try and appease his brother with gifts, we’re told that Jacob “went on ahead” and fell down before Esau (33:3).
No longer was Jacob an arrogant manipulator, now he was a humble servant.
It’s as though he laid down as one man and woke up as another. In fact, that’s precisely what happened.
As you’re well aware, names were very significant in the ancient world. They conveyed something about the person or place being named. Because of the wrestling incident, Jacob is now to be called Israel.
The name, Jacob, described who he was (striver, grabber, deceiver, cheater). In fact, he admitted it when asked his name (v. 27). But now, with the name, Israel, it is an indication of who he is (struggles with God or God rules).
So Jacob approached Esau a changed man. He demonstrated true repentance by sending gifts to appease his brother’s wrath and then bowed in humility when they met. It seems like Jacob was trying to acknowledge and even repay his stolen blessing. It’s what always happens when someone gets right with God – they seek to get right with others. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are forgiven so we can forgive.
But Jacob was changed in another significant way – he now limped. One author calls what happened to Jacob the “crippling victory.” His limp served as a reminder of Who was in charge of his life. Instead of being self-reliant, Jacob was now God-reliant. And this perspective made him stronger, not weaker (despite the limp).
It’s what Paul later wrote about after His own encounter with the Lord:
“So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 NLT)
So maybe God’s blessing looks like a “limp.” It is not coincidental that Israel became the name of not just a man but a nation. And according to the New Testament, all true believers are part of the New Israel.
God’s desire is for every one of us to become an Israel – one in whom God rules. But that requires us to grab hold of the blessing God has for us.
And now we know that is accomplished through faith in His Son, Jesus. Once we have encountered the living Lord, everything changes. It changes our outlook…our relationships…our priorities…our LIVES.
God’s greatest blessing is changing us into the person He wants us to be. That doesn’t necessarily mean life’s journey will be all smooth sailing from then on. Jacob still faced a variety of struggles: He lost his beloved wife, Rachel, in childbirth, had trouble controlling his sons’ behavior, and had to move due to famine. Like Jacob did, we may have to limp through life, but it’ll be with a “spring in our step” because we know that God is on our side.
I doubt there is a person reading this who doesn’t want to change some things in his/her life. It may be a habit, character flaw, ungodly attitude, or broken relationship. Unfortunately, we normally go about trying to change these things in the wrong way. We struggle to get a handle on it, we strive to overcome, we grab and we claw.
The portrait of Jacob we find in our family album shows us what we really need is for God to become real to us and bless us accordingly. For that to happen we must acknowledge He is what we need most and then grab hold of Him in faith and never let go.
One final thought: As a congregation we’ve said we want to change our community and world for Christ. Jacob teaches us that before we can change the world, we first must be changed. So more than anything else, LHUMC needs a bunch of Jacobs who will hang on the Lord, through thick and thin.
Because if there’s one thing you and I can’t live without, it’s God’s blessing.