When the time came for Jacob to return to the land of his father, he approached the country of his birth with trepidation, anticipating the welcome he would receive from his twin brother, Esau. To help soften his brother’s heart and to appease him, Jacob sent expensive gifts to him. He did everything he could, but he knew that it was not enough, and it was not enough. Esau was on his way with 400 armed men.
Jacob learned something, friend, that you and I need to learn. He was shrewd; he knew how to make business deals. But he was in a situation now where those skills were useless. There was no business deal that he could make, which would get him out of this. He knew that unless the Lord intervened, it was going to be all over.
Plea for Help
So, Jacob went to the Lord in prayer: “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, Jehovah. You said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your kindred, and I will deal well with you: I am not worthy for any of your mercies which you have done with your servant.’ ” Genesis 32:9, 10.
Jacob had divided his family into two camps, thinking that if the people in one camp were killed, the people in the other camp would be able to flee on horses or mules and get away. Then he had crossed over the Jordan. His plea to God continues in verses 11 and 12: “Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; because I am terrified lest he should come and strike me and the mother with the children. And now, You said, ‘Indeed, I will deal well with you, and I will make your descendants, your seed, as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
We do not know the entire contents of his prayer; all that is recorded are those few verses in Scripture. He was, no doubt, praying there for hours, pleading with the Lord. From these verses, you can understand the gist of his prayer. He said, “Lord, You promised. You are the One Who told me to come back here, and You said that You would deal well with me. You said that my descendants would be like the sand of the sea, which could not be numbered for multitude. Now we are all about to get killed.”
Jacob kept praying into the night hours. He was alone and unprotected, having sent his family and everything that made life dear to him a distance away. He was there all by himself. In describing the region where he was praying, Ellen White wrote: “It was in a lonely, mountainous region, the haunt of wild beasts and the lurking place of robbers and murderers. Solitary and unprotected, Jacob bowed in deep distress upon the earth. It was midnight.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 196.
Midnight, and his mind is still filled with doubts and questionings: “Maybe the Lord cannot fulfill His promises to me, because I am such a bad sinner. I am a crook and a liar. Maybe, even though He promised this to me, it will not happen, because I am so sinful, and now all my children, my wives, and everything will be killed, because of what I have done.”
If you are a father, you can understand Jacob’s anguish. For most fathers, it would be easier to die themselves than to watch their children get killed. This is why, during the Dark Ages, to torture the Waldenses, the agents of Rome would kill their sons before them, cut off their heads, tie them to the necks of their fathers, and then march the fathers to their deaths.
“He arose in that night and took his two wives, his two concubines, and his eleven sons and passed over the Brook Jabbok.” Genesis 32:22. Verse 23 says that he “sent them over the brook,” and verse 24 emphatically states that “Jacob was left alone.” He was left alone, all by himself. No one else was around. While Jacob was praying, all of a sudden, “There wrestled with him a man until the breaking of day. And He saw that He did not prevail against him, and He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh went out of joint as He was wrestling with him. And He said, ‘Send Me away, because the dawn is coming.’ And he said, ‘I cannot send You away unless You bless me!’ ” Verses 24–26.
You see, when his thigh was touched, Jacob realized instantly that he was dealing with a supernatural being, with someone from heaven. He was not dealing with another man. If you were struggling with another man and the man just touched you with his finger, your hip would not go out of joint. He knew, then, with Whom he was dealing.
“And He said, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob, Heel Grabber.’ And He said, ‘Not Jacob shall be called anymore your name, but rather Israel; because you are a prince with God and with men you will prevail.’ And Jacob asked and said, ‘Declare, please, Your name.’ And He said, ‘Why is this that you ask My name?’ And He blessed him there.” Verses 27–29.
What is the meaning of this story? During this night, Jacob struggled with the Lord Jesus. Jacob called the name of this place Peniel, which means “The Face of God,” because he said, “I have seen God face to face, and I am still alive.” Verse 30.
Jacob wrestled as hard as he could wrestle. What lesson can we learn from this? Have you ever met someone who has wrestled hard to overcome sin in his or her life, and he or she says, “I can never do it; I guess I will just have to be lost”? Jacob was fighting to overcome. He thought he was fighting Esau, one of Esau’s men, or a robber or a murderer who was going to kill him. He was determined to overcome, but he found that he could not. If you have a besetting sin in your life, you cannot overcome it anymore than Jacob could overcome. You cannot overcome unless you are blessed.
Confess and Forsake
Over and over again this night, it came to Jacob’s mind that he had stolen from his brother, and he had lied to and deceived his father. It kept coming back to him, and he told himself that was why he was going through this. But in the midst of it all, he had to keep fighting or, he thought, he himself would be killed.
While those sins kept coming to his mind, he also thought to himself, “But I have repented. I have told the Lord over and over again for 20 years that I am sorry, and I want to be forgiven. I do not do those things anymore, and I will not do them anymore. The Lord has promised me . . .”
The promise is very clear in the Bible. Proverbs 28:13 tells us, “He who hides his rebellions, his transgressions, will not prosper. But the one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Jacob’s transgressions were rebellions. They were deliberate transgressions against the Law of God. They were not sins of ignorance.
Although the Book of Proverbs had not yet been written in Jacob’s time, he knew the principle. He knew that if a person confessed and repented of his sins, God had promised mercy. And he kept saying, as he was fighting, “Lord, I have repented. I have confessed. I have tried to do everything I know to make it right. I am not living like that anymore.”
This experience was also recorded by Hosea, in Hosea 12:4: “He wept and pleaded.” For what was he pleading? He wanted the assurance that his sins were pardoned and that they would not be held against his account. He continued to weep and plead until, it says, “He had power over the Angel and prevailed.”
This is quite a statement, that a human being would have power over an angel! And this was the Angel of the covenant, whose name we know as Jesus Christ! Jacob was fighting with Jesus Christ!
No Excuse for Sin
This is the story of a sinful human being who, by humbling himself, by repentance, and by self-surrender, prevailed with the Majesty of heaven. He did not come to the Lord and say, “Lord, You made a promise before I was born that my older brother would serve me,” even though God had made this promise before he was born. He did not come to the Lord and say, “Lord you know that Esau is a profane person”—and Esau is called a profane person. (See Hebrews 12:16.) Jacob did not use either divine promises or the character defects of his brother to excuse his own sin. Remember this. A confession is not an excuse; there is no excuse for sin.
“Satan is jubilant when he hears the professed followers of Christ making excuses for their deformity of character. It is these excuses that lead to sin. There is no excuse for sinning. A holy temper, a Christlike life, is accessible to every repenting, believing child of God.” The Desire of Ages, 311.
There is no excuse for sin. I cannot come to the Lord and say, “I sinned because so and so did this wrong.” This is not a confession. This is an excuse. Jacob did not do this. He did not say, “Lord, my brother did something . . . .” No, he just confessed his own sin and said, “Lord, I need to be cleansed from what I have done.”
Time to Come
This story about Jacob and the Angel—called “Jacob’s Time of Trouble”—when a helpless, unworthy person pleaded God’s promise of mercy to repentant sinners, is used in the Bible as a symbol of future events. In Jeremiah 30:5–7, we read, “Because thus Jehovah said, ‘A voice of trembling we have heard of dread, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, if a male bears a child. Wherefore do I see every male with his hands upon his loins as a woman giving birth to a child, and they have turned all faces into paleness? Alas! Because that day is great, so there is none like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, But he will be saved out of it.’ ”
If you look at the whole context of this prophecy, you will understand that this is a prophecy about the end of time. We are approaching the time when the plan of salvation is going to be completed.
The Book of Hebrews teaches that Christ is our High Priest. He is an all-powerful mediator. Even if you are the worst and weakest of sinners, you have an all-powerful Mediator who, if you call upon Him, can help you. He specializes in helping people who other people consider helpless, and this is what the strongest of Christians have to learn too. This is what Jacob had to learn.
Time of Jacob’s Trouble
There is coming a time when Christ’s work as a mediator in man’s behalf is over. What happens next? The Bible says, in Revelation 22:11, 12, “He who is unjust, shall be unjust still; and he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; and the righteous one, let him do righteousness still; and the holy one, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every one according as his work shall be.”
Soon after this pronouncement is made, the time of Jacob’s trouble is going to begin, because the plan of salvation will be over. It is the end of probation. Soon after this pronouncement is made, if you are filthy or unjust, you are going to stay this way forever. If you are righteous and holy, you are going to stay this way forever. When this pronouncement is made, then the time of Jacob’s trouble will begin for all of God’s children.
Bible prophecy tells us, in Revelation 13:15, that there is coming a time when, if we do not accept the mark of the beast or do not worship the beast, there will be a death decree against our lives. It will be just as it was with Jacob. Was Jacob in danger of losing his life? Yes, he was. Every member of his family was in danger of losing his or her life. If the Lord had not worked a miracle on Esau’s heart, they all would have lost their lives.
Jacob knew that the only way he would be saved was if he received the mercy of God. This is the only way you and I are going to be saved too.
Repent and Confess
Almost driven to despair, Jacob began to plead for deliverance. Imagine having to wrestle with someone from midnight until almost dawn! He held on. He would not give up. This is going to be the experience of God’s people who are alive during the last days, in their final struggle with the powers of evil spoken of in Jeremiah 30:5–7. It will seem to each person that his or her case is hopeless. Did Jacob’s case look hopeless? It looked absolutely hopeless.
God’s people will have a deep sense of their shortcomings. We all have shortcomings. If we look at our pasts, we are tempted to lose all hope. This is the feeling the devil tries to impress upon people. If the devil can convince us to believe we are absolutely hopeless and our hold on God is broken, then he has us. The people of God are going to do the same thing as did Jacob, when they know the greatness of God’s mercy, and they know that they have repented and confessed their sins.
My dear friend, right now is the time. If you have any sins on your record, which the Holy Spirit brings to your remembrance, say, “Lord, I want to be through with sin.” Repentance means that you are sorry for your sins—sorry enough to not keep repeating them. Confess the sin. If it is a private sin, confess it to the Lord. If you have injured someone, go to him or her and make it right. Jacob had to make things right with Esau.
Just think of coming to the end of the world and realizing the devil can point at you and say, “This sin you have concealed; you have never repented of it; you have never confessed it!” If this is true, what will happen? You will lose salvation. Now is the time to make sure there is nothing on your record for which you have not repented and confessed.
Remember, the other person’s sin does not excuse your sin. You can never say to the Lord, “I sinned because he sinned.” He does not accept this excuse. No matter what the other person does, you are not responsible for it, but you are responsible for what you say and do.
Assurance of Salvation
Are you going to be as persevering in your Christian walk as Jacob was in his struggle? If you are willing not to give up, then it is absolutely guaranteed that you are going to be saved, as is Jacob.
Mrs. White penned a very encouraging statement about Jacob’s experience. “Jacob’s history is an assurance that God will not cast off those who have been betrayed into sin, but who have returned unto Him with true repentance. It was by self-surrender and confiding faith that Jacob gained what he had failed to gain by conflict in his own strength. God thus taught His servant that divine power and grace alone could give him the blessing he craved.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 202, 203. Jacob learned that he could not do it on his own. This is what we must learn.
“Thus it will be with those who live in the last days. As dangers surround them, and despair seizes upon the soul, they must depend solely [only] upon the merits of the atonement. We can do nothing of ourselves. In all our helpless unworthiness we must trust in the merits of the crucified and risen Savior.” Ibid., 203. Acknowledging that we are unworthy, we must put our trust in His merits. If we do this, we are given the promise: “None will ever perish while they do this.” Ibid.
What good news! If you realize that you are helpless and you put your complete trust and confidence in Him, you cannot perish, because you serve an all-powerful Mediator.
“The long, black catalogue of our delinquencies is before the eye of the Infinite. The register is complete; none of our offenses are forgotten. But He who listened to the cries of His servants of old, will hear the prayer of faith and pardon our transgressions. He has promised, and He will fulfill His word.” Ibid.
Many people believe that we need more talent, more education, more money, or more manpower to finish God’s work. I want to tell you that we will never finish God’s work with all the talent, education, money, or manpower in the world. Where must we go to gain the victories that we need for ourselves and as a church?
“The greatest victories to the church of Christ or to the individual Christian are not those that are gained by talent or education, by wealth or the favor of men. They are those victories that are gained in the audience chamber with God, when earnest, agonizing faith lays hold upon the mighty arm of power.” Ibid.
Do not say, “We need more money; we need more education; we need more talent; we need more manpower.” It would be nice to have all of those things, but what we need more than anything else is people who will go to the audience chamber and pray, as did Jacob, “Lord, I am not going to quit asking until a change happens in my life.”
When God sees that you are serious, a change is going to happen in your life. He said that, if you lay hold of God’s promises, “I am going to take away your stony heart, and I am going to give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26. Claim this promise and say, “Lord, I must have a change in my heart or I am lost, and I am not going to give up. I am going to keep asking. I am going to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and I am going to plead with you for this until I have it.”
John Knox went to the Lord and said, “Lord, if you don’t give me Scotland, I am just going to die.” He kept praying, and Scotland became a Protestant country as the result of one man’s prayers. Just think what could happen if people went to the Lord and said, “Lord, I am like Jacob. I am helpless. I am vile, and I am wretched. I know I must have a change in my heart or I will be lost, so I am not going to quit asking. I am coming to you, because I have a great need. I want to be ready for heaven, and I want you to change my heart and my life.” God would gladly hear and answer such a prayer! He heard Jacob’s cry for help, and He is no respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34.)
[Bible texts quoted are literal translation.]
Pastor Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.