Read Genesis 32:22-32
Where we left Jacob: In Genesis 32:1-21 we saw Jacob approaching his brother Esau’s territory on his way back home. As he neared his encounter with Esau, he became increasingly concerned with their history, specifically his deceit and manipulation of Esau to trick him out of his birthright and blessing, and Esau’s threat to murder Jacob for revenge. Jacob became afraid and sent gifts ahead in an attempt to appease Esau. He also prayed a fervent prayer to the LORD, asking Him for His help. (see previous post, Genesis 32:1-21 – Save me I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau)
If you’ve ever dreamed of having a powerful encounter with God Himself, read on.
We pick up our story on the night before Jacob will encounter Esau. He takes Leah, Rachel, their two handmaidens whom he took as wives, and his eleven sons, and he sends them across the river at the ford of Jabbok. Then he sends across all the rest of his possessions until he’s alone.
So here’s Jacob, just about to encounter Esau, just about to encounter, what is now at this moment, his greatest fear. And it’s when he’s alone that God chooses to encounter Jacob, coming to Jacob in the form of a man. (Is this man an angel? Is he a preincarnate appearance of Christ? Different scholars have different takes on the question) What we do know is that the man wrestles with Jacob all night long. At daybreak the man realizes he can’t overpower Jacob, so he touches Jacob’s hip socket, so Jacob’s hip is is wrenched. Then the man says, Let me go–it’s daybreak.
But Jacob says, I won’t let you go unless you bless me. (You might be tempted here, to think that Jacob is demanding to be blessed. But we see in Hosea 12:4 that Jacob was actually weeping and begging to be blessed.)
The man asks him, What’s your name?
Decades earlier, Jacob’s father Isaac had asked him the same question, What’s your name? And Jacob answered with a lie: Esau, he told his father. (Genesis 27:19) Here we see God’s angel, who quite obviously, already knows Jacob’s name, asking again, as if to say, Let’s see how well you answer this time? Many of us are trying to be someone who we’re not. I wish I were that guy, we say. Or, I wish I had what she has, we think. I wish I could do what he does… When we come to the place where we accept who we are, that’s the place where God can begin to use us most effectively. The LORD doesn’t want you to be someone else, the LORD wants you to be the best you, you can be.
Jacob, he answers.
Then the man says, Your name won’t be Jacob anymore, but Israel (which means he struggles with God or governed by God), because you’ve struggled with both God and with humans and have overcome.
Then Jacob says, Please, tell me your name.
But the man doesn’t tell him his name. He only answers Jacob’s request with a question, Why do you ask for my name?
Then the man blesses Jacob.
So Jacob calls the place Peniel. (which means face of God) He says, I call it Peniel because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.
By now the sun’s rising high in the sky, so Jacob limps along, because of his sore hip, out of that place called Peniel.
And to this day, the Israelites don’t eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
Alone with God:
So here’s Jacob, just about to encounter Esau, just about to encounter, what is now at this moment, his greatest fear. And it’s when he’s alone that God chooses to encounter Jacob.
This is huge! This is one of the most powerful secrets to confronting your fears! When you’re about to encounter something or someone you fear, do whatever you need to do to be alone. Send your wife across the river, so to speak, if you have to. Send your kids to the sitter if you need to. Take a vacation day if necessary. Do whatever you have to do to separate yourself from your people, possessions, and responsibilities, and get away.
Find a way to be alone, and God will find a way to encounter you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8 NKJV) And when He does, it’ll probably be emotional. It will probably be a struggle. There will be wrestling over your issue. An argument may even ensue, as you pour out your feelings, your fears, and maybe even your tears. (Hosea 12:4)
But don’t let go of Him. Hang onto Him for as long as it takes, until you’re blessed.
This is one of the most powerful actions you can take in life. It might feel weird at first, it might feel awkward initially, but try and see. If you do what I say here, if you do what Jacob did, and if you do it fervently, you’ll be blessed beyond your expectations.
God touches us in amazing and beautiful ways. He touches us when He helps us through unemployment, or a failed marriage, or a financial disaster. He touches us when He turns our hearts toward Him, and toward others.
One of my favorite examples of God’s touch occurred when the leper approached Jesus, begging Him for healing. Now at that time, in that culture, it was against the law to touch a leper. “Outcast unclean! Outcast unclean!” lepers were required to shout, everywhere they went. A leper was a person who hadn’t felt the touch of another human being in a very long time. A leper was a person devoid of physical affection from others.
But Jesus, disregarding the law of humankind, in response to this lepers pleading, reached out and touched him, and he was healed. (See previous post — Mark 1:40-45 Jesus’ Touch)
However, there’s another way in which the LORD touches us. I’ve experienced it myself. Ten years ago I was in the prime of life. My marriage was doing well. My family was doing well. Professionally I was a part of the leadership in my organization, and doing well. My wife and I were just starting up our vacation rental business, it was going well. We were building a 4,000 sq ft home overlooking the beautiful Rogue Valley. Physically I was doing well. I was a high energy guy who worked from early morning until late at night. And, in my not so humble opinion, I thought, spiritually I was doing well also.
Then God touched me.
I was in Portland for a college class I needed for my Fire Administration degree. My family and I had just enjoyed a nice dinner and we were leaving our hotel to walk over to the Lloyd Center Mall right across the street. As soon as I hit the cold January air, it felt as though someone had removed all the oxygen from the atmosphere. I honestly thought that I had somehow walked into an invisible cloud of hazardous chemical gas. The only problem with that theory was, I was the only one in our group who couldn’t breath.
Next thing you know I’m in the hospital for a double by-pass operation. I can’t tell you how many people told me, I was the last person on earth they thought would need open heart surgery. But God touched me.
No longer was I a high energy guy. Gone was the capability to work from early morning until late at night. The capacity of my flesh was reduced dramatically. But I continued to try to live my life the way I always had: teaching a mens leadership Bible study once a week, leading a church home group twice a month, serving as an elder at church, I was writing my book, I finished up school to get my degree, I took a promotion at work. As you might imagine, things didn’t go so well. I began to struggle with depression, partly from the heart medication, partly from the changes in my body, and partly because I wasn’t adjusting to life after God’s touch.
That was five years ago. Now I see God’s hand in it all. He taught me things, important things: I used to think that most people were lazy. I didn’t understand why they didn’t work as hard as I did. God taught me not to think that way anymore. He showed me that everything I have is because of Him and not me. Even my previous high energy level was a gift from Him, and He taught me that He can take away that gift, or any other gift, anytime He thinks it would benefit me to do so. He revealed to me my faults and my shortcomings. He helped me to see that I can be a difficult person to be around. He helped me to see that I’m a person who needs His grace, and His mercy.
He rocked my world. He humbled me. He humbled me in a big way.
And now, having walked through that valley, I’m thankful for His touch. If I had the power to go back in time and have God take a pass on touching me in that way, I wouldn’t do it. I would rather be more of the man He wants me to be, with a reduced capacity, than a man with abundant energy, but who’s less His man.
And that’s not even the best part. The other day Kathy and I were standing in line at Barnes & Noble when an older lady told us the story of how her husband went to sleep one night and never woke up. He died of a heart attack before morning. A few days later, after an hour of bicycling, I felt nauseous. Twenty minutes after that I had chest pain accompanied by pain in my left shoulder radiating down my arm. If you know anything about heart attacks, these are classic symptoms. I couldn’t help but think, Hey, this could be it, just like the lady’s husband from Barnes & Noble, the Lord might take me home before morning. Obviously by virtue of the fact that I’m writing this post, it wasn’t my time yet, but for the past five years, similar aches and pains happen from time to time. And every time, I’m reminded of heaven and eternity. Every time, I’m reminded of how short life is, here on earth, and how long eternity is, there with Christ.
The best part is, God’s touch has had the effect of turning my heart toward heaven, toward Jesus, toward eternity. God’s touch has changed my perspective completely. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’d rather live another two years with this perspective than another twenty primarily focused on the things of this world.
And it’s not just me. I know a man who had a similar experience when a knee replacement operation went badly. I read about a C 3-4 quadriplegic from Erie, Pennsylvania who says his broken neck was the best thing that ever happened to him. Just a few nights ago, I talked with a friend of mine who’s missing his right lower leg–he told me the accident that took his leg was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. This is what Paul is talking about when he says, he (Christ) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)
God touched Jacob. It’s interesting to note that after God touched his hip, we see very little evidence of sin in Jacob’s life. The angel even gave him a new name. He was no longer Jacob the “heel snatcher,” but now he would be called Israel, “governed by God.”
God touched Jacob, and the entire nation of Israel, from that day forward, no longer ate from the sinew of the hip socket, in remembrance of Jacob. He is remembered, not for his cleverness, not for his shrewdness, not for his amazing capability, but for his brokenness before his God. And for the rich and deep relationship he had with his LORD, after he was touched in the hip. God touched Jacob, He touched these other men I wrote of, He touched me. If He touches you in this way, after you’re through the valley, you’ll be surprised at the blessings that await you on the other side.
God may touch you, because He’s always more concerned about your eternal condition, than He is with your current comfort.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Right now you might be asking yourself about your own eternal condition. Maybe you’re like me before God touched me, consumed with the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. If you are, maybe you’re reading this for a reason. Maybe this is your time to give yourself to Jesus, I mean really give yourself to Him, wholly and completely. That’s what made all the difference for me. That’s what will make all the difference for you too.
That day when I fell on my face and surrendered my life to Him, that’s the day everything changed.
You can do the same.
Humble yourself before Him and give your whole self to Jesus.
You’ll never regret it.
(I would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org)