Sunday, February 26, 2017

When Jacob Became Israel

24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank. (Genesis 32)

It is helpful to consider the situation that bred this experience. He was in charge of a sizable company of men, women, cattle, and small children. There would have been substantial work to do to care for the cattle and children along the way, making the long journey of several hundred miles even longer. The trip could have taken months. The whole time he was beset by anxiety over what Esau might do to him and his family once they reunited. Jacob "was greatly afraid and distressed" in fear of his brother, who he thought wanted to kill him (Gen 32:7).

What of Jacob's spiritual life? Some twenty years earlier, in the same path, he saw the Lord and angels in a dream (Gen 28). At some recent point after leaving his oppressive father in law, Jacob was met by a company of angels (Gen 32:1). The text indicates the physical presence of the angels. Unlike his previous experience, this was not a dream. But Jacob had more in store.

Upon reaching the river, Jacob sent his company in partitions. He was left alone at evening. Despite the arduous journey and the exhaustion that no doubt overwhelmed him, he spent the entire night in focused, intense prayer. At some point in the night, the Lord appeared once again to Jacob. Instead of appearing in a dream, where the physically impure body is protected from the glory of the Lord, Jacob physically saw the Lord in glory. Initially, the Lord appeared in an impulse of light and fire some distance from Jacob. It was so intense that it knocked Jacob to the ground with such force that it popped his leg bone out of his hip socket. As a witness to the force that hit him, this injury is most often seen today in intense car accidents.

The Lord dwells in everlasting burnings, and this self-contained, non-extinguishing ball of fire was at once violent, loud, peaceful and beautiful. The overwhelming nature of the light at first pinned Jacob on his face. The light from glory is not like the light we see in the telestial kingdom. It is not just a visual phenomena. Even with the most telestial light, the only physical effect is warmth on the skin. Light from glory pierces your body thoroughly. It is an utterly intense experience that permeates your being. In extreme pain from both his hip and the reaction of his flesh to the glory of God, he struggled to breathe as he attempted to shield his face from the light. The scene went on for what seemed like an eternity: Jacob struggling to hold on, and the Lord patiently waiting in silence. As the light penetrated his shielding arm and his closed eyelids, the glory began to purify Jacob's flesh. The pain started to gradually ease. By persisting in the glory, it sanctified his flesh by burning out the impurities. Eventually, he was able to remove his arm, then open his eyes. At first, the light was too bright to see clearly into. Then, his eyes adjusted enough that he could make out the shape of a man.

Most men, knowing they were in the presence of God, would have long since recoiled and said, "it is enough Lord." Jacob was not like most men. Jacob was a man of great tenacity, physical strength, and courage. He mustered every ounce of strength left in his devastated frame, and he did the unthinkable. He inched his arms forward, and scraped his body forward along the rocky soil. He immediately collapsed from exhaustion. The Lord patiently waited. Recovering some fraction of strength, he repeated the process. His injured leg hung powerless by his side. He repeated the process again and again, each time using his last ounce of strength, then collapsing for some time, then pulling from some previously undiscovered reservoir of strength to inch forward again.

Eventually, he came within arm's length from the Lord. Still prostrate, exhausted beyond measure, he lurched up and grabbed the Lord's feet. Like a boxer at the end of the bout of his life, he clung tightly to the Lord, who permitted him to remain there for a great deal of time. Finally, the Lord spoke and announced that he must go. The Lord blessed Jacob for having wrestled with his glory all night and overcoming. Most men quit long before their prayer yields the presence of the Lord. Of those who don't, very few indeed would endure God's glory without pleading with the Lord to stop the experience. Jacob truly was exceptional, and yet he was not exceptional enough for the Lord to tell him his name, a special blessing reserved for a special few.

We may wonder why the account we have is so abbreviated and adulterated. The answer lies in the false traditions of the revisionists. They did not like the idea of a man coming face to face with God, so they cooked up a silly story about a wrestling match with an angel. Thankfully, they could only revise the story so much around the two fixed points provided by the name of a physical place (Penuel means "face of God") and the well-known tradition of Jacob's limp.