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April 7, 2024

I Will Not Let You Go unless You Bless Me.

Passage: Genesis 32:22-31

Stressed, Winded, and moving at a quick pace, Jacob and his family rushed away from seeming danger. Jacob was running from a lot, for his past seemed to be chasing him away. As he ran from seeming danger, he ran along with the battle scars of his dysfunctional life: two wives from Laban instead of just the one promised to him; eleven sons and two daughters that we know of, many of which would bring him much heartbreak; and all while being chased by what he thought was a vindictive brother. He relied so much on his wits, his carnal gifts of deception and manipulation, and yet the “supplanter,” the meaning of the name Jacob, realized that all this resourcefulness wasn’t going to get him anywhere in life. Sure, it got him the birthright, but all the heartbreak that it brought! It brought about sinful favoritism shown by his mother, it made a fool of his unwitting father, and it stirred up murderous anger in his brother. Jacob, because of his wittiness, ended up wandering in stony fields, sleeping on boulders and waiting to find Laban. And while for seven years Jacob enjoyed the good graces of what he thought to be a fair father-in-law, he then was tricked by Laban into marrying two women. And now, after angering both Laban and Esau, Jacob needs a prayer. He needs a breakthrough. He needs help escaping the sins of his youth. In his acts of prayerful desperation, he sends his family over the river Jabbok and fights off a supposed threat to his family. In this last-ditch attempt to protect his family, with all the sins of his youth behind him, and not knowing what was coming ahead of him, he fights for his life. He fights a certain man for a long time, till the breaking of day! Left alone in the darkness, struggling with this man, Jacob perhaps thought many things, but the most important thing was when he realized who he was wrestling with. Now this match of kill or be killed over time became a fight of persistent prayer, as Jacob, refusing to let go of the Man, said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Jacob knows whom it is he wrestles with; he knows who he is desperately praying to. He grapples with the Lord, the one who has blessed him with many gifts, including the most important: the promised seed—the risen and ascended Lord Jesus.

Let us then learn from our spiritual forefather by following suit. With the consequences of our sinful past in hindsight, and with the uncertainties of our future on this earth ahead of us, let us grapple with the one who has forgiven us of our sinful past and has promised us a certain future through His resurrection. Let us grapple with Him in prayer, saying “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Seeing this our theme, we pray…

As Jacob grappled with the man on the bank of the Jabbok River, it happened to be night out. Nighttime in Old Testament times was much darker than what we could imagine. There was no artificial light. May be some moonlight and starlight to shine every now and again, Jacob was wrestling with a silhouette, not knowing what was going on. I wonder what his thoughts were at that moment. I wonder how his thoughts progressed throughout the night’s struggle. A jab here, a blow there, a counter, a thrust, all while thinking about his family, all while perhaps thinking about his dysfunctional relationship with his brother Esau, who was hot on his pursuit. Perhaps Jacob’s whole life came back to his memory as he struggled in this fight. “I lied to my father, I enabled my mother’s unfair favoritism, my brother hates me, my father-in-law does not like me…I have two wives! What a life of shamefulness! I lied my way to get here, running from my brother and ultimately from my past just like I did before I saw that ladder in my dream. I need a prayer! I need my Lord! He’s the only one that can save me from myself at this point. I can’t let him go until He blesses me.”

A night of darkness wrestling in prayer sounds like a wild experience. Have you been there yourself? Perhaps you weren’t throwing punches at a person in the darkness, but there are no doubt times where you and I have been in the darkness of grief, shame, trial, and sadness. There have been many times where, while wrestling in prayer, we’ve reflected on the sins of our youth while also thinking about what may possibly lie ahead of us in our futures. Will the consequences of our sins impact our futures like Jacob? In our sinful woes, just like Jacob, we need a blessing! If it were left up to us to mend our broken lives, we’d just make it worse! If it were left up to us to pull together every broken relationship, our sinful flesh would just want to tear it apart even more! We don’t stand a chance on our own! We need someone to save us from ourselves! We need someone to save us not only from the pain of this world’s consequences, but, more importantly, from the eternal consequence that our dysfunctional, Jacob-like dealings have earned us, a fate far worse than being suffocated at the Jabbok River, a fate of suffocation by fumes of sulfur and unending fire.

We need someone to hold onto, just like Jacob. We can’t trust in ourselves whatsoever. We can only trust in the Lord. This trust in Him, faith, overcomes the world and all its pains. This trust in Him, believing in our Lord Jesus, gives us eternal life in His name. Through this Lord, all pains, both temporal and eternal, are alleviated. “I won’t let you go unless you bless me.” Doesn’t that apply well here! This in no way means we are trusting in ourselves to cling to him. Would you give a poor, blind beggar credit for reaching out his hand to receive a piece of bread? Wouldn’t you give all the credit to the giver of the bread in this situation? And so, saying, “I won’t let you go unless you bless me” is like reaching for that piece of bread while in our suffering. All glory goes to God, the Giver. He is the one that blesses us. He is the only one that can save us from ourselves and all the evils and consequences that follow our sinful ways.

And how does the Lord do this? While we run in the darkness, praying and begging, the Lord offers to us the lamp to our feet and the light to our paths. He offers His word. In His word He does bless us. He gives us the message which says, “Jesus Christ has suffered in your place. He has died in your place. He has given His life of perfection that was lived in this pitch-black world for you. He has, through His sacrifice, given you the bread of heaven which our beggarly hands of faith so desperately grasp. And, as we heard last Sunday, He demonstrated to us that the bread He feeds us is the real deal. He demonstrates that He certainly is the only one we should rely on. When Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin and all its consequences, including death itself, He showed to us who it is we are wrestling with in prayer. He shows to us who it is exactly that we say to in prayer, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Just like Jacob figured out, we are shown that it is the Son of God, the gracious and victorious Lord, whom we wrestle with in prayer.

This man that Jacob wrestled with was the Lord, indeed. And so, in order to understand the similarities between our “prayer fights” and Jacob’s, let us break down the Jabbok River episode in detail. The Lord fought with Jacob in a most curious way. The day was breaking. The Lord said, “this is good enough.” He puts Jacob’s hip out of socket and tells Jacob to let him go! But Jacob persists, “I need this blessing! I will not let you go until you bless me! Please, I pray! I’m not giving up on you!” And so, at this point, the Lord was well pleased in His own creation. He, through trial and grace, has created in Jacob a strong faith that grapples with the Lord from dusk to dawn. And so, the Lord says, “What is your name?” After replying, “my name is Jacob,” the Lord says, “you are not Jacob, which means the supplanter or the trickster. “No, you are Isarel, which means wrestling with God and man, and have prevailed.” Jacob asks then, “what’s your name?” And the Lord replies “Why do you ask?” Jacob already knows!” And the Lord certainly does bless Jacob! We can only imagine how, but we know the greatest blessing Jacob received: the promise given to him, the same promise given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, namely he as well as all the nations of the world were to be blessed through his seed. And so, after blessing Jacob, the Lord disappears, and Jacob names the place of His struggle, “Peniel.” It is a most interesting and profound name. It means, “He has seen God face to face, and has lived!” This was unheard of! One could not see the face of God and live. He would be too holy for him to bear, and would do unto him like Isaiah, who laid down on the ground as one dead. But, you see, after living a life of sinfulness, Jacob was already a dead man who, in humility, relied wholly on His God. In this humble repentance, God through His grace and mercy spared the life of Jacob and even blessed Him. God is good to those who wait on Him. And so, the sun rose on a new Jacob, kindled in faith with the new day sun! He limps away with His memory of God, a hip out of socket, a battle scar, if you will, which would remind him of the day He wrestled with the Lord, leaning on His grace.

And so, I will not let him go unless He blesses me. God certainly blessed Jacob in many ways, but would you ever consider putting one’s hip out of socket as a blessing? I’m sure this was painful, but what did this battle scar constantly remind Jacob of? His merciful Lord! Can you think of any scars like this which you have? They don’t necessarily need to be physical injuries. They can be any sort of memento in your life that recalls in your minds how God through His Word came to comfort you, bless you, and strengthen your faith.

And while you limp on your battle scars, reminding you of your God’s faithfulness to you to deliver you through all trouble, didn’t He also give you a new name? Jacob remained Jacob, but He also was Israel. He had two titles. “Trickster” and “Prevailer.” And don’t you have the same? Sure, you retain your “trickster” flesh, and we should never forget that lest we get caught off guard and fall into sin. And so, to combat that flesh, we have given God’s Word which puts in our hearts a new man. And in doing so, hasn’t God given you the title “Israel?” Jesus has given you this title! He has adopted you with His blood to be part of the people of God. He has given you His Holy Spirit to show you that you too, through your gift of saving faith in Christ, also wrestle with God and man, and prevail. You wrestle with God in prayer through any hardship, knowing that the greatest hardship, namely your sin and death, are defeated, prevailed against through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And you prevail, for you know that if you ask anything in the name of the Lord Jesus, it shall be given you. You also wrestle with men, and prevail; for what can man do to you, you who stand in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? No man may harm you! Though sticks and stones may break your bones, they give you battle scars which remind you that God’s grace still has you covered. And words may never hurt you if you have the Word, the only bastion of truth in this dark world. This Word proclaims you victorious in Christ.

And so, after receiving our new name, do we even need to ask the One we wrestle with what His name is? Like Jacob, we know. We by faith held on to him this long in our lives because we know that only by His grace do we overcome. We by grace don’t let go until we are blessed, and we certainly are blessed. We are blessed in many ways. Our wrestlings, our prayers that is, are answered with blessings. Blessings that look like “yeses” to our requests, and blessings that look like “no’s” because God plans to give us something better than what we ask for. And on top of this, we are given the most important blessing: salvation in Jesus Christ. This salvation is promised in Jesus’ resurrection, and this promise will present itself in full one day, for on that day, after our God given faith has not let go until our blessings are received, we will let go at the greatest blessing, the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life in Heaven.

And so, we won’t let go until He, the Lord, blesses us! We have battle scars, the new name of saint, and we have been given many blessings including salvation by the one we know the name of: the Lord. And so, we have been given all these things at Peniel. What does Peniel mean again? I have seen the face of God and lived. Where have we seen the face of God? We may not have seen it in the way Jacob did, but we see it in the same person Jacob did. We see it in the one who says, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Through Jesus we see the face of God. Jesus is our Peniel. In Jesus we have seen the face of God and lived. Through Him, we give thanks for our scars. Through Him, we have the name Israel, the name of saint. Through Him, we have the source of every blessing. And through Him, we have seen the face of God and lived. Jesus, the Lord, is then the one we are to cling to. He is the one we are to wrestle with in the darkness, not letting go until He blesses us. And once the day dawns, shining on us who have battle scars, we shall have received blessings from the one whom we have not let go of.

So then, be comforted to know that God will give you the life and strength to hold on to Him, never letting go until He blesses you in eternity in Heaven.