There are two particular essentials for everyday living. Although a person might be able to survive twenty days without it, come day twenty-one food is essential for everyday living. Although a person might be able to survive two days without it, come day three water is essential for everyday living. And although a person might be able to survive nine months without it, come month ten everyone in Cleveland knows warm air and sunshine are essential for everyday living.
But then there is Psalm 127:2. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” I love this one verse. Why go to bed late just to get up early? Why eat the bread of anxious toil? Your God has gifted to you, his beloved, sleep! And the two particular essentials then for everyday living are a pillow and a blanket!
Genesis 32:22-32 is about Jacob. It is about the night that Jacob could not sleep.
Why Could Jacob Not Sleep?
And the big question to ask is, why could Jacob not sleep? Pay close attention to Genesis 32:22. “The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.” Where is Jacob? The immediate answer is that Jacob is with his family – his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven children.
So, where is Jacob? Jacob is with his family at the Jabbok River. And the Jabbok River runs east and perpendicular to the Jordan River. There Jacob finds a safe place to send his family across the river. Why is Jacob sending his family not up the river but across the river? Keep in mind that earlier in Genesis 32, Jacob divided his family into two camps (cf. Genesis 32:7, 10). We will come back to this in a moment, but for now pay close to attention to how Genesis 32:22 begins. “The same night…” It is night time. It is night time and Jacob has sent his family across the river.
But again, where is Jacob? Pay close to attention to those first few words of verse twenty-two. “The same night…” It is night. The English Standard translation makes the point that this is “the same night.” Still other translations point out that this is “that night.” What night? Two things have happened which resulted in Jacob staying the night on this night. First, listen to Genesis 32:21. “So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.” Jacob had sent a present – gift after gift after gift – to his brother Esau. Then Jacob stayed that night.
But then there is Genesis 32:13. And this, I think, more fully answers, where Jacob is. Listen to verse thirteen. “So he stayed there that night.” Where is there? It is where he prayed. In Genesis 32:9-12 he prayed. And when Jacob prayed, he had but one heart felt need. “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children” (Genesis 32:11).
This is a particular night. Jacob is afraid of his brother. Jacob sent gifts to his brother. But he stayed that night in the camp. But Jacob also prayed. Jacob prayed because he is afraid of his brother. And he stayed there that night where he prayed. “The same night, he arose.” Notice the word arose. It just means to get up. So, let’s put it together. It is night time. And Jacob gets up. He gets up from where? Where is Jacob? He is in bed! And why is he in bed? It is because night time is the right time for bedtime. But he cannot sleep. Why can Jacob not sleep? What does Jacob do soon after getting up? He takes his family, all fifteen of them and sends them across the river. Back in Jacob’s prayer, what was his concern? He asked God to deliver him, but he also thought of his family, the mothers with the children.
Jacob cannot sleep because he is thinking about his family. It is nine o’clock, he is in bed with his pillow and blanket, but he cannot sleep. He is eating the bread of anxious toil. And now it is still night and Jacob is left alone.
And a Man Wrestled with Jacob
Jacob is left alone. It is night. I keep picturing him standing there at the river. He stood watching his family cross the river. He stood watching the last figure be enveloped by the darkness. He stood listening to their sound until all he could hear was the water. I am all alone, he thought. And then he felt it; the grip of a man taking him to the ground.
Notice the word wrestled. It literally means to be covered with dust. A man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day. The man is unnamed. There is no announcement, like “here in this corner.” The unnamed and unannounced man wrestled with Jacob, tossing with him in the dust until the breaking of the day. This is hours of silence, except for the grunting and tearing of clothing and the pounding of the heart and the sounds of pain and the deep heaving from round after round after round of struggle. The bigger question thus far is, who is this man?
Why Is It You Ask My Name?
I want us to jump ahead to verse twenty-nine. At the breaking of the day, the silence has been broken. There are finally words, none of which was, why are you wrestling with me? But at verse twenty-nine, Jacob asks the man, “Please tell me your name.” And the man only responds, “Why is it you ask my name?” The man never gives his name. It is because Jacob already knows it. How does Jacob know this man’s name? Are you ready for it?
But first listen to Genesis 32:29b-30. Jacob will receive a blessing “there.” Where is there? It is where he could not sleep. It is where the wrestling match was held. It is where Jacob prayed. Look again at Jacob’s prayer request. “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.” Mark the word deliver. Jacob knows this man. For he calls the place, and remember, where is this place? Jacob calls the place “Peniel, saying, ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’” See the word delivered? It is the same Hebrew word as in the prayer request. There is so much more to be said regarding seeing God face to face and yet Jacob’s life has been delivered. But this much is true: God answered Jacob’s prayer request by the breaking of the day. What has Jacob realized? He asked that God deliver him, and his family too, from Esau. But the real battle was not with Esau. The real battle was with God himself. Facing Esau would not compare to facing God (cf. Genesis 32:21). And before Jacob came face to face with Esau, he had to come face to face with God.
But how did Jacob know this man’s name? Get ready for it.
Jacob Wounded by God
It is in Genesis 32:25-26. The breaking of the day was coming, and these two men have been going at it. There these men stood holding on to each other, trying to tighten each grip amidst the sweat and blood and dust. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled him.” Notice the word touched. The word touched is too tame. It means to strike; to injure; to hurt; to deal a devastating blow. It means to wound. And since we already know who this man is, the biggest question of all is, why would God wound Jacob?
My guess is that this wound was pretty painful. Jacob’s hip by a mere touch was put out of joint. Why would God be the cause of my pain? Hosea 6:1-3 is helpful. “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Why would God wound Jacob? God wounds like a surgeon wounds. It is corrective. It is to heal and to bind, to revive “that we might live before him.”
Keep though looking at the text. Why did God wound Jacob? It is verse twenty-six. This is my favorite part of the whole text. God said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob would not let go. He was wounded, and the two men kept wrestling and Jacob would not let go. God had wounded Jacob, and Jacob would not let go of God. Why? Jacob says, “unless you bless me.” This is not Jacob scheming. He is in no position to scheme or bargain. So, what is he doing? Jacob will not let go because he is finally admitting, “I NEED YOU.” And this, my friends is the blessing. “SATISFY MY NEED.”
And what happens next is beautiful. God asks to hear Jacob’s name. Now, he is God, he knows Jacob’s name, so what is the point? A person’s name was their reputation, their character. Who was Jacob? He was a liar. He was a schemer. He was a cheater. He was a sinner. And to say his name was to confess who he really was. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Then God gives Jacob a new name – Israel. Why did God give Jacob a new name? It was because he touched him. But how did Jacob know this man’s name?
‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought it scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but he held it up with a smile. “What am I bidden, good folk?” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me? “A dollar—a dollar—then two, only two—Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?” “Going for three”—but no—from the room far back, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow, then, wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loosened strings, he played a melody pure and sweet as a caroling angel sings. The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said, “Now what am I bid for the old violin?” And he held it up with the bow. “A thousand dollars—and who’ll make it two?” “Two thousand—and who’ll make it three? “Three thousand once—three thousand twice—And going—and gone,” cried he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not understand. What changed its worth?” Quick came the reply, “The touch of the Master’s hand.” And many a man with life out of tune, and battered and scarred with sin, is auctioned cheap, to a thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. A “mess of pottage”—a glass of wine. A game—and he travels on: He is going once—and going twice—He’s going—and almost gone! But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought by the touch of the Master’s hand.
Jacob left this day with a limp. It was the limp that mattered. He would forever have this limp. The nation of Israel would remember this limp. Why does the limp matter? It is because God touched Jacob and changed his worth.