Helplessness in Prayer
A daily devotion for June 19th
9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
Jacob Wrestles With God
22 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. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 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.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.(Gen. 32:24)
This is one of those mysterious, intriguing incidents found very frequently in the Old Testament, where some element of mystery is introduced without much explanation. Everyone who reads this asks,
Who is this masked man? Where did he come from? What is he doing? I am sure Jacob must have felt that way too. He thought he was all alone, having sent everyone and everything across the river, when suddenly out of the shadows steps a man, who to Jacob's amazement begins to wrestle with him. As you read further, there is, no doubt as to who the man is. In fact, at the end of the story, Jacob names the place of this encounter, Peniel, which means,
the face of God, because he said,
I have met God face to face and still survived. Here is a man who, in some strange way, in one of those Old Testament theophanies, is God himself appearing in visible form, and he wrestles with Jacob.
What does all that mean? Taken in connection with the whole story there is no question that what we have here is God's attempt to improve Jacob's prayer life with a crash course on praying. God is attempting to break down Jacob's stubborn dependence upon himself. Jacob's problem was that he never really trusted God to do things. He always had that inward feeling that if he did not do it himself, God would probably not come through. Now God is dealing with him in a defining moment. Jacob has to face up to the fact that, though his prayers are eloquent, beautifully phrased, and theologically accurate, they are useless because he does not believe that God is going to do anything. All his trust is in himself. I meet a lot of people like that. They pray and talk wonderful, theologically-correct language but do not really believe God is going to act. This is what Jacob is doing here. There is no expectation, but rather a stubborn refusal on Jacob's part to give up and expect God to handle the situation.
Do you recognize yourself here? I recognize myself frequently doing that. The account continues, Verse 25:
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. That came after hours of wrestling. Jacob has resisted, struggled, and fought back. He will not give in until, at last, the divine hand touches him on the thigh and puts the hip socket out of joint. That is the end of it; nobody can wrestle in that condition. All Jacob can do now is to cling in helpless dependence upon this strange wrestler. Knowing by now something of who this man is, he hangs on desperately.
Many messages on this account comment on the fact that Jacob was mighty in prayer because he wrestled with God all night long and prevailed. But it is not true that Jacob wrestled with God. It is God who wrestled with Jacob, trying to break down his stubborn self-reliance, his feeling that it all depends on him, that he has got to do it or else it is not going to get done, that God is really going to do nothing in the situation. Furthermore, Jacob did not prevail over God by wrestling. The moment of prevailing comes when his hip is broken, when he is absolutely helpless and can do nothing but hang on. That is when he prevailed with God. That is what this account is teaching us. God responds to that sense of human helplessness.
Lord, perhaps by your grace you may lame me that I may have a constant reminder that you are the God who acts beyond anything I can do. When I ask you to act I should expect you to act, Lord, and not be like Jacob, working things out on my own.
Life Application: Who among us does not at some time presume to control God? How does this compare with total trust in the integrity and power of God? Are we willing to pray with Jesus, '...nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done?'
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