The promise of Lord Jesus to all believers about receiving answers to prayers is categorical that any petition offered to God the Father in His Son’s name and directed towards glorifying the Father in the Son, will receive a definite answer. But many times one gives up on a prayer request after no answer is forthcoming and moves on to some other issue. Why is it that a child of God has to continue struggling with the Lord to receive the blessings which many receive without even asking?
Who and why did Jacob wrestle with? Jacob had fled from his father’s house after receiving his elder brother Esau’s blessing from Isaac by impersonating him, for Esau wanted to kill him in revenge. After spending more than twenty years with his relative Laban he returned to his father’s place with wives, children, flocks and much wealth but he feared that Esau may still attempt to kill him. On hearing of four hundred men coming with Esau to meet him, Jacob was ‘very afraid and distressed’ (Genesis 32:7-18). He made adequate preparations to handle the situation and divided his people in three groups. His first tactic was diplomacy (he sent lavish gifts of herds and flocks); second, prayer to God (Save me from my brother’s hand) and third, preparation for battle (divided his camp into two groups, to ensure at least one will escape).
He sent his two wives and children across the river Jabok and himself stayed back alone and someone wrestled with him at night. The opponent is identified as an angel (Hosea 12:4); The Jewish sages believe he was Esau’s guardian angel but Jacob calls Him God for he names the place Peniel, ‘because I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’ (Genesis 32:30). And the adversary also says the same fact that ‘you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed’. Just before daybreak Jacob received the blessing with a name change to a new name Israel, from a ‘heel grabber’ to one who ‘wrestle with God’ thus receiving his true identity, for name defines character or calling.
Abraham’s strength was in his conviction to stand apart from the cultural state of his time; Isaac understood the sacrificial offerings to God for he escaped being one and what carried him through was courage. But the Israelites are identified with the new name given to Jacob for his fight was about finding truth about his own self. All mankind is given the capacity to discern and understand for we are created in God’s ‘image and likeness’. The prophet speaks ‘You will give truth to Jacob’ and this truth is what Jacob struggled with most of his life, the truth about his identity (Micah 7:20). Jacob’s journey of life up to Jabok river is a desire to be like his elder brother Esau, right from the womb to be the firstborn to his birth as ‘heel catcher’ to be named as such. He bought the birthright from Esau (Genesis 25:31-32) and then he dressed in Esau’s clothes and told blind Isaac, ‘I am Esau your firstborn’ (Genesis 27:19). Jacob wants to be like Esau, a strong and energetic hunter, loved by his father.
The blessing that he took from Isaac was not for him, for Isaac blessed thinking Jacob to be Esau, the blessing about wealth and power (Genesis 27:27-29). The real blessing that was destined for Jacob was received by him later when he went to Isaac in his own identity Genesis 28:1-4). This blessing was to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and become ‘an assembly of peoples’; about Abraham’s blessing to ‘inherit the land’ which God gave to Abraham’. His children were to live in the ways of the covenant and to establish a nation based on ‘law and love’. This was the blessing which cannot be bought with anything but received through grace
The wrestling was Jacob’s inner battle with the truth about his very being and who he really was, a man of the covenant or not. Jacob sought a blessing from his adversary who wanted to leave before day-break and the blessing he gives is not about wealth, power or security but a change of name to Israel (Genesis 32:26-27). As Jacob he struggled to be Esau, who he was not but the new name does not free him from conflict but changes the terms. It is as if he was told, in the past you wanted to be someone else and fought for that but now you will fight to be yourself. In the past you held on to Esau’s heel, now you will cling to God and neither you nor God will let go of you ever. He named that place Peniel, saying ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’ (Genesis 32:30). The Hebrew word used for preserved is ‘natsal’ meaning ‘to strip, plunder, deliver or snatch away’ for his false identity was stripped off and his originality revealed.
Israel has never had the power and wealth of great empires and when it tried to do that during Solomon’s reign it lost the way and suffered division. Their strength has always been in the Most High God and none else. Jacob had to let go of Esau to catch hold of God and that is what he did the next day.
Esau planned to kill Jacob after learning of the trick played by the latter on his father Isaac, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob’ (Genesis 27:41). But when the two brothers met after more than twenty years, ‘Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept’ for gone was the attitude of vengeance (Genesis 33:3-4). Jacob’s behavior towards Esau is also drastically changed, first ‘he bowed himself to the ground seven times’ and all his family members did the same. The maidservants and their children came and bowed down and finally Rachel and her son Joseph also came and bowed down. Five times Jacob calls Esau ‘adoni’ or ‘my lord’ and twice he calls himself Esau’s servant and four times he tells his servants to do in like manner. He brings himself and all he has lower than Esau and this is the change after the wrestling, for before that his plans were different. The blessing that he received was ‘you have wrestled with God and with men, and have prevailed’ and this does not make him arrogant but humble (Genesis 32:28). His new identity leaves no doubt in him that he can face any conflict and survive.
When Esau first refused Jacob’s gifts by saying, ‘I have enough; keep what you have for yourself’, Jacob’s reply is unlike his past, ‘No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, in as much as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God’ (Genesis 33:9-11). He further says, ‘Please take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough’. The gift becomes a blessing and from whom he fled, seeing his face is now like ‘seeing the face of God. Clearly Jacob on meeting Esau after twenty years is returning the blessing he had taken by stealth from Isaac. Comparing that blessing he had received with his gifts we see that the herds and flocks represented wealth (dew of heaven and fatness of the earth); the sevenfold bowing and calling himself ‘your servant and calling Esau ‘my lord’ represented power (let peoples serve you and nations bow down to you, be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you) (Genesis 27:28-29).
Jacob now felt complete and felt no need of all that and said, I’ I have everything’ and am complete and then he clearly says, please take all the gifts I am giving and also ‘my blessing’. He readily returns the blessing of the firstborn that he took for he knows it is not meant for him. Jacob wrestles with his own self and God and realizes that he does not need wealth and power to be himself but what God has destined for him. The face we must bear is the image we see reflected in the face of God when we wrestle with Him in prayer and worship and refuse to let Him go. Our blessing is to be what He wants us to be and not someone else that we see around us.
Can we prevail against God in prayer? The wrestling with God is not about winning but receiving a blessing and it is about rolling in the dust, the lowest position we can adopt before God. The woman of Canaan who came to Lord Jesus for deliverance of her demon-possessed daughter, wrestled and received the blessing (Matthew 15:21-29). In answer to her plea for help, the answer from the Lord was ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs’. She immediately realized the correct interpretation of the word used by the Lord, ‘kunarion’ meaning ‘a little dog, a house dog’, a pet of the family. Expressing her agreement with the Lord, she rephrased her request, ‘yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table’. Her faith was appreciated and her daughter was healed. God is love and His love towards mankind is revealed in His Son, the Savior who died for us (1 John 4:8).
Apostle Paul provides the answer to our efforts to get blessed, ‘He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). At the time of creation, God created everything that man would need and then blessed them to ‘be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion’ (Genesis 1:28). Man was created in God’s image and likeness but the serpent wanted Eve to have her own identity independent of God by eating of the forbidden fruit for then ‘your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5). Mankind’s identity is in knowing good and bad and not knowing about evil. The Hebrew word ‘yada’ used means ‘to know, be intimate with, cohabit, and comprehend’. The same word is used for Adam who ‘knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain’ (Genesis 4:1). Thus the result of the sin of eating the forbidden fruit was about getting intimate with evil where the devil led mankind. From that moment the battle for personal identity started in mankind.
Lord Jesus, the Son of God, has Himself promised, ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you, for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’ (Matthew 7:7-8 & 11). He further confirms this by revealing the love of God the Father being at a greatly exalted state, ‘If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!’
Why do we lose out on receiving the blessings? Prophet Daniel fasted and prayed for twenty one days and angel Gabriel came with the answer to his prayers (Daniel 10:2-3 & 11-13). He refers to Daniel as ‘man greatly beloved’ and then reveals the reason for the delay for answer to his prayers. ‘Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me’. Jacob wrestled against God and we battle against the god of this world and his controlled ‘principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12).
All efforts of the devil are directed at keeping mankind away from God, either by interfering in the answer, by keeping us from prayer altogether or giving up after a while. Apostle James encourages us that, ‘the testing of your faith produces perseverance’ (James 1:3). Lord Jesus ‘went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God’ (Luke 6:12). At Lazarus’s tomb His prayer before calling out the dead man to life was, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me’ (John 11:41-42). The Son of God was sure of His relationship with the Father in heaven, yet He prayed to Him regularly and for long hours.
Lord Jesus told the parable of the widow and the unjust judge ‘who did not fear God nor regard man’ to teach the disciples ‘that men always ought to pray and not lose heart’ (Luke 18:1 & 5-7). Apostle Paul, the great warrior of the Gospel, urged believers ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Apostle Paul was taken up to heaven and ‘heard inexpressible words’ and to prevent him from being filled with pride, God permitted Satan ‘to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure’ (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). God loves His people so much that sometimes He permits troubles to keep us from sinning. The Apostle’s prayer, three times to be saved from the devil, was answered that ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). And the chosen Apostle of the Lord could then ‘take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake’. He could claim strength from God in his weakness.
A young child climbs into his father’s lap and pulls at his hair and the father enjoys playing around with his child. How much more does the heavenly Father enjoy to hear the prayers of His children, when they open their hearts to Him. But wrestling is about being in the dust, in realization that we are but dust and then exalt God in our hearts, minds and souls in humility. The Father is then always willing to give a feeling to His children that they have prevailed over Him.
Lord Jesus wrestled with God the Father in blood and sweat, Abraham for saving Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction and Hanna for receiving the blessing for a child. A believer’s prayer session before the loving God, our Father in heaven, is not to wrestle with Him but a joyful meeting where the devil tries to interfere to break our relationship with his lies. But a real prayer warrior is he who keeps at it filled with the knowledge and assurance from God’s Word that God being love will surely answer!