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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 32

 

 

Verse 26

DISCOURSE: 47

JACOB PLEADING WITH GOD

Genesis 32:26. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

SOME have thought that the circumstances here recorded were a mere vision; and others a reality: but they seem to have been neither the one nor the other; but a real transaction under a figurative representation. The “wrestling” was not a corporeal trial of strength between two men, but a spiritual exercise of Jacob with his God under the form of an angel or a man. That it was not a mere man who withstood Jacob, is clear, from his being expressly called “God,” and from his taking upon him offices which none but God could perform [Note: 9, 30.]. And that it was a spiritual, and not a corporeal, exercise on the part of Jacob, is evident, from what the prophet Hosea says respecting it; “By his strength Jacob had power with God; yea, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him [Note: Hosea 12:3-4.].” Such manifestations of God under the angelic or human form were not uncommon in the earlier parts of the Jewish history: and it is generally thought, that the Lord Jesus Christ was the person who assumed these appearances; and that he did so in order to prepare his people for his actual assumption of our nature at the time appointed of the Father. His appearance to Jacob at this time was for the purpose of comforting him under the distressing apprehensions which he felt on account of his brother Esau, who was “coming with four hundred men” to destroy him [Note:, 7.]. Jacob used the best means he could devise to pacify his brother, and to preserve as many as he could of his family, in case a part of them should be slain. But he was not satisfied with any expedients which he could use. He well knew, that none but God could afford him any effectual succour: he therefore “remained alone” all the night, that he might spread his wants and fears before God, and implore help from him. On this occasion God appeared to him in the shape and form of a man, and apparently withstood him till the break of day. Then the person would have departed from him: but Jacob would not suffer him; but held him fast, as it were, saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”

From these words I shall take occasion to shew,

I. The constituents of acceptable prayer—

These are beautifully displayed in the prayer of Jacob:

1. A renunciation of all dependence on ourselves—

[With this acknowledgment Jacob began his prayer: “O God of my father Abraham, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant [Note: 0.].” And such is the feeling that must influence our hearts whensoever we attempt to draw nigh to God. If we think ourselves deserving of the divine favour, not one word can we utter with becoming humility; nor have we the smallest prospect of acceptance with God: “The hungry he will fill with good things; but the rich he will send empty away [Note: Luke 1:53.].” It is “he who humbleth himself, and he alone, that shall ever be exalted.” In this respect the returning prodigal is a pattern for us all. He takes nothing but shame to himself, and casts himself wholly on the mercy of his father. O that there were in us also such a heart! for not the Pharisee who commends himself, but the Publican who smites on his breast and cries for mercy, shall obtain the blessings of grace and glory.]

2. A simple reliance on the promises of God—

[Jacob puts God in remembrance of the promise which had been made to him twenty years before; “Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good [Note: 2.].” And this is the true ground on which alone we can venture to ask any thing of God. He has “given us exceeding great and precious promises [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.],” which he has also “confirmed with an oath, on purpose that we may have consolation” in our souls [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.], and be encouraged to spread before him all our wants. Behold how David laid hold of the promises, and pleaded them before God in prayer: “O Lord God, thou hast promised this goodness to thy servant: do as thou hast spoken; do as thou hast said [Note: 2 Samuel 7:25-29.] ” — — — Again, and again, and again does he in this passage remind God of the promises he had made; and declares, that on them all his prayers, and all his hopes, were founded. In this manner then are we also to come before him; “Put me in remembrance,” says God: “let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified [Note: Isaiah 43:26.].” Are we anxious to obtain the forgiveness of our sins? we should take with us such promises as these; “Whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out:” “Though your sins be as crimson, they shall be as white as snow.” Do we want deliverance from some grievous temptation? we should remind the Lord, Hast thou not said, “There shall be no temptation without a way to escape, that thou mayest be able to bear it?” So, whatever our want be, we should take a promise suited to it, (for what trial is there that is not provided for amongst the promises of God?) and plead it, and rest upon it, and expect the accomplishment of it to our souls.]

3. A determination to persevere till we have obtained the desired blessing—

[This is the particular point mentioned in our text. And it is that without which we never can prevail. Jacob, though lamed by his antagonist, still held him fast. And thus must we do also: we must “pray, and not faint.” A parable was delivered by our blessed Lord for the express purpose of teaching us this invaluable lesson [Note: Luke 18:1-8.]. It should be a settled point in our minds, that “God cannot lie,” and “will not deny himself.” He has said, “Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He has not determined any thing indeed with respect to the time or manner of answering our petitions: but answer them he will, in the best manner and the fittest time. He may not grant the particular thing which we ask for, because he may see that the continuance of the trial will answer a more valuable end than the removal of it: but in that case he will give us, as he did to Paul, what is far better [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.] ”. In the confidence of this we should wait for him. “If the vision tarry, still we must wait for it, assured that it will come at last [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.].” And if at any time our soul feel discouraged by the delay, we must chide it, as David did: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul; and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God [Note: Psalms 42:11.].” In a word, we must hold fast our blessed Lord, though under the greatest discouragements [Note: Song of Solomon 3:4.], and must say, “I will never let thee go, except thou bless me.”]

Where such prayer is offered up before God, no tongue can tell,

II. The blessings it will bring down into the soul—

It will ensure to us,

1. The effectual care of God’s providence—

[The danger to which Jacob was exposed was imminent: but his prayer averted it, so that the brother whom he feared as an enemy, was turned into a friend. And what interpositions will not persevering prayer, when offered with humility and faith, obtain? It matters not what situation we are in, if God be our God. We may have seas of difficulty in our way; but they shall open before us: we may be destitute of food; but the clouds shall send us bread, and the rocks gush out with water for our use. Even though we were at the bottom of the sea, from thence should our prayers ascend, and thither should they bring to us effectual help. We read of such things in the days of old: but we are ready to think that no such things are to be expected now. But has God ceased to govern the earth? or is he changed in any respect, having “his hand shortened, that he cannot save, or his ear heavy, that he cannot hear?” What if God do not repeat his former miracles now, has he no other way of accomplishing his will, and of fulfilling his gracious promises? If our hairs are all numbered, and not so much as a sparrow falls to the ground without him, shall it be in vain for us to call upon him? No: he is still “a God that heareth prayer:” and “whatsoever we shall ask of him, believing, he will do:” yea, “we may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us.”]

2. The yet richer blessings of his grace—

[The new name which God gave to Jacob was a standing memorial of God’s love [Note: 8 with Hosea 12:5.], and a pledge of all that should be necessary for his spiritual welfare. And what will he withhold from us, if we seek him with our whole hearts? Recount all the necessities of your soul: express in words all your wants: and when you have exhausted all the powers of language, stretch out your thoughts to grasp in all the ineffable blessings of his grace; all that the promises of God have engaged; all that the covenant itself contains; and all that an almighty and all-gracious God is able to bestow: and, when you have done this, we will not only assure it all to you, but declare that “he will do for you, not this only, but exceeding abundantly above all that ye can ask or think [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].” However “wide you open your mouth, he will fill it.” Make what attainments ye will, ye shall still find, that “he giveth more grace.” And, whatever difficulties ye may have to encounter, you shall find “that grace sufficient for you.” Only “continue instant in prayer,” and God will give you, not a new name only (for that also will he give, even a name better than of sons and of daughters [Note: Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 62:12; Isaiah 56:5.],) but a new nature also, like unto his own [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.], that shall progressively transform you into his perfect image “in righteousness and true holiness. [Note: Ephesians 4:24; 2 Corinthians 3:18.] ”]

3. The full possession of his glory—

[The answer which God gave to Jacob’s prayer is more fully recorded in a subsequent chapter. There, after declaring plainly who he was, “I am God Almighty,” he promises, “The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed after thee [Note: Genesis 35:11-12.].” This was typical of that better inheritance, to which all the Lord’s Israel are begotten, and for which they are reserved [Note: Hebrews 11:16; 1 Peter 1:3-5.]. And thither shall the prayer of faith carry us: for “God will never leave us, till he has done all for us that he has spoken to us of [Note: Genesis 28:15.],” and brought us to “his presence, where there is fulness of joy, and to his right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore [Note: Psalms 16:11.].” Hear the dying thief preferring his petitions; “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom!” And now hear the Saviour’s answer; “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise [Note: Luke 23:42-43.].” Thus he speaks also to all who seek him in humility and faith. It is curious to observe how often, without any apparent necessity, he repeats this promise to us. After saying, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst,” he repeats no less than four times, “I will raise him up at the last day;” and repeatedly also adds, “He shall have everlasting life; he shall not die; he shall live for ever [Note: John 6:35-58.].” And whence is all this but to assure us, that, “Whatsoever we ask in prayer, believing, we shall receive [Note: Matthew 21:22.] ;” yea, that he will “give us, not to the half, but to the whole, of his kingdom [Note: Mark 6:23.] ?”]

Let me add in conclusion,

1. A word of inquiry—

[What resemblance do we bear to Jacob in this particular? I ask not whether we have ever spent a whole night in prayer, but whether we have ever wrestled with God at all; and whether, on the contrary, our prayers have not for the most part been cold, formal, hypocritical; and whether we have not by the very mode of offering our prayers rather mocked and insulted God, than presented to him any acceptable sacrifice? Say whether there be not too much reason for that complaint, “There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to lay hold of Thee [Note: Isaiah 64:7.] ?” Dear Brethren, I know nothing which so strongly marks our departure from God as this. To an earthly friend we can go, and tell our complaints, till we have even wearied him with them; and in the prosecution of earthly things we can put forth all the energy of our minds: but when we go to God in prayer, we are straitened, and have scarcely a word to say; and our thoughts rove to the very ends of the earth. The prophet Hosea well describes this: “They have not cried unto me with their heart. They return, but not to the Most High: they are like a deceitful bow [Note: Hosea 7:14; Hosea 7:16.],” which, when it promises to send the arrow to the mark, causes it to fall at our very feet. O let us not fancy that we are of the true Israel, whilst we so little resemble Him whose name we bear, and bear as a memorial of importunity in prayer. The character of the true Israel ever has been, and ever will continue to be, that they are “a people near unto their God [Note: Psalms 148:14.].”]

2. A word of caution—

[On two points we are very liable to err; first, in relation to the fervour that we exercise in prayer; and next, in relation to the confidence that we maintain. Many, because they are ardent in mind, and fluent in expression, imagine that they are offering to God a spiritual service; when, in fact, their devotion is little else than a bodily exercise. “Whoever has made his observations on the way in which both social and public worship is often performed, will have seen abundant cause for this caution. In like manner, the confidence of many savours far more of bold presumption, than of humble affiance. But let it never be forgotten, that tenderness of spirit is absolutely inseparable from a spiritual frame. When our blessed Lord prayed, it was “with strong crying and tears [Note: Hebrews 5:7.]:” and when Jacob wrestled, “he wept, and made supplication.” This then is the state of mind which we must aspire after. Our fervour must be a humble fervour; and our confidence, a humble confidence. And whilst we look to God to accomplish all things for us, we must at the same time use all proper means for the attainment of them. Jacob, though he relied on God to deliver him from his brother s wrath, did not omit to use all prudent precautions, and the most sagacious efforts for the attainment of that end [Note: –8.]. So likewise must we “labour for the meat which the Son of man will give us [Note: John 6:27.],” and “keep ourselves in the love of God [Note: Judges , 1.],” in order to our being “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.].”]

3. A word of encouragement—

[It is said of Jacob, that “God blessed him there [Note: 9.],” even in the very place where he lamed him. Thus shall you also find that your greatest discouragements are only a prelude to your most complete deliverance. To his people of old he said, “Thou shalt go even to Babylon: there shalt thou be delivered: there shall the Lord redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies [Note: Micah 4:10; Jeremiah 30:7.].” Go on, therefore, fully expecting that God will interpose in due season, and that your darkest hours shall be only a prelude to the brighter day [Note: Isaiah 54:7-8; Psalms 30:5.].]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 32:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-32.html. 1832.

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