Prevailing with God
November 6th, 1955 @ 8:15 AM
PREVAILING WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-6-55 8:15 a.m.
In the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis is a story in the life of Jacob, Israel, and it is referred to in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hosea. In Hosea, the third and the fourth verses:
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him . . .
And the story it refers to is in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis, the twenty-fourth to the end of the chapter:
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when He saw that He prevailed not against him, He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as He wrestled with him.
And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaketh." And he said, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me."
And He said unto him, "What is thy name?" And he said, "Jacob."
And He said, "Thy name shall be called no more ‘Jacob,’ but ‘Israel’: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."
And Jacob asked Him, and said, "Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name." And He said, "Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name?" And He blessed him there.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: "for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved."
And as he passed over Penuel –
that’s Peniel spelled a different way –
And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because He touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
Now that is the story upon which is based this morning message on Prevailing with God.
The story begins back there in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis and the forty-first verse. Jacob, through his subtlety and through his chicanery and aided and abetted by his mother of whom he was much the favorite [Genesis 25:28, 27:1-17], Jacob stole Esau’s blessing [Genesis 27:18-29].
And in the forty-first verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Genesis, it reads: "And Esau hated Jacob . . . and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob’" [Genesis 27:41]. Esau was the older of the twins [Genesis 25:24-25], and Esau, though Jacob himself was a vigorous man as you shall see in a moment, yet Esau was the more vigorous [Genesis 25:27]. Esau was an outdoor hunter; and in his wrath, because Jacob had stolen his blessing through subtlety and cunning and craft, Esau hated Jacob and said, "My father is old and will soon die, and after his death, I will slay my brother Jacob" [from Genesis 27:41].
Then, having heard that, Rebekah, the mother of Jacob, sent her son away to Padanaram up there where Abraham had come from and where Abraham’s brother’s family still lived [Genesis 27:42-28:5]. She sent Jacob there to flee for his life [Genesis 27:42-45].
And now twenty years have passed [Genesis 31:38, 41]; and in those twenty years, the bitter, implacable, enmity and hatred of Esau for Jacob has grown daily. Then, to the surprise of Jacob, a command comes from God for Jacob to leave Haran and to return back to Palestine and back to Esau [Genesis 31:3, 11-13].
The thing filled the soul of Jacob with bitter consternation and fearful agony [Genesis 32:7] for he knew that sworn oath of his brother Esau that he would slay him. And yet the command comes from God for Jacob to return to Canaan, the Promised Land [Genesis 31:3]. So Jacob gathers all of his flocks, and all of his herds, and his family, and his children, and Jacob turns his face toward the Promised Land [Genesis 31:17-18].
Then, in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis, having sent messengers to Seir, to Edom – which is the other name for Esau – to find out how it is that Esau shall receive him [Genesis 32:3], the messengers return to Jacob, saying, "We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee and four hundred men with him" [Exodus 32:6].
In the thirty-third chapter of Genesis, the first verse: "Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men" [Genesis 33:1]. It must have looked to Jacob like four thousand armed men. Esau doubtless had promised them, his soldiers, a victory and that they would have the spoil of the prey. And there was Jacob in the presence of his brother, no one around him but his wives and his children and what few handmaidens and servants that were taking care of the flocks. It meant certain death and destruction. Jacob faced the obliteration of his whole family and everything that he possessed.
Now, he’s still a schemer. He’s still a swindler. He’s still a trickster. He’s still a supplanter; he’s still Jacob. So he makes some smart ruses by which he seeks to placate his brother [Genesis 32:20]. He takes five different groups of presents – two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats [Genesis 32:14] and sends them with servants. Then after that, two hundred ewes and twenty rams [Genesis 32:14], and he sends them a little later. Then he sends thirty milk camels with their colts [Genesis 32:15], then he sends them a little later. Then forty cows and ten bulls [Genesis 32:15], and he sends them a little later. Then twenty she-asses and ten foals [Genesis 32:15], and he sends them a little later. And they’re to meet Esau and his army one-by-one [Genesis 32:16], and they’re to say, "This is a present from thy servant Jacob and it is sent unto my lord Esau, and behold he is behind us" [Exodus 32:17-20].
Then having sent all of his presents – five of them, spaced in between – then having sent over the Brook Jabbok, a swift running mountain torrent, having sent over his family with their mothers and the children and with their handmaidens, Jacob is left alone [Genesis 32:21-23]. And there by the River Jabbok, the evening overtakes him, and on the morrow he is expecting certain death, the destruction of him and his family.
So while Jacob is there by the river, facing an inevitable tragedy, and the evening comes on, there comes up to him a stranger – Man he’s never seen before. And the Man accosts Jacob, and Jacob refuses to acquiesce. And Jacob attacks the Man, and the Man resists Jacob. And they wrestle there all night long [Genesis 32:24]. Now this man Jacob: he’s not as strong as his brother Esau yet himself a supple and lithe and cat-like fellow. He’s able to wrestle and apparently has done it before with success.
With craft and cunning, he feigns to yield. Then he springs back like a cat; and they tug, and they pull, and they wrestle to no end. And in desperation, Jacob thinks, "Who is this strange, unknown Man? He can stand better than any Man I’ve ever seen stand." So with impetuousness and with renewed energy, Jacob wrestles again, and he struggles to no end and to no avail. This Man will not be bound, and the Man is not able to overcome Jacob [Genesis 32:25].
So after all night long in their wrestling, this Man, unknown and unnamed, resolves upon His superhuman powers, and He touches with His hand the thigh of Jacob – that great hip joint where the big bone of the leg sets into the socket of the hip. He touches the thigh of Jacob; and when He does, the leg shrivels [Genesis 32:25]. The socket comes out of its joint. That great sciatic nerve is paralyzed. When the leg shrivels, there’s no more wrestling. When that iron sinew comes apart, resistance is over. When that sciatic nerve shrivels and is paralyzed, resistance is done. Wrestling is past.
Did I say so? Nay. The wrestling is more wonderful and unusual. This time, Jacob is clinging. He’s holding steadfast. He’s a suppliant now. He’s crying. As Hosea said: "He wept, and made supplication unto the Angel" [Hosea 12:4].
And Jacob cries, "I’ll not let You go. I’ll not let You go" [Genesis 32:26].
But the Angel says, "But I must go. The day breaks and the Lord calls me back to the courts of glory."
"Nay," said Jacob. "I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me" [Genesis 32:26].
And the Angel said to him, "What is thy name? Who are you really?" [fromGenesis 32:27]
And Jacob, broken, is honest and contrite. "My name? My name is Swindler. My name is Trickster. My name is Cunning. My name is Craft. I am of the earth, earthy. My name is Jacob – ‘Supplanter, Cheater’" [from Genesis 27:36, 32:27].
And the Angel says, "Your name is Swindler? Cheater? Trickster? Cunning? Supplanter? No, not anymore. Not anymore, Jacob. Not anymore, for thy name from now on shall be called ‘Israel, a prince of God’: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed" [from Genesis 32:28].
He took the kink out of his nature. He took the twist out of his soul. He took the swindler out of his life. He was no more a cheat. He was a prince of God. And the blessing came when Jacob was broken, when he was lame, when he was crippled, when he clung to the Angel and cried, "I’ll not let Thee go till Thou bless me" [Genesis 32:26] – when he wept and made supplication.
Isn’t that always true? With God, we have power and prevail when we weep, when we cry, when we’re broken, when we’re pleading, when we’re clinging, when our heads are bowed. The blessing comes when we’re crippled, when we’re hurt.
And the next day, "Jacob halted upon his thigh" [Genesis 32:31]. He was permanently lamed. By that I would suppose that Jacob didn’t know that he was crippled for life until the next day when he started to walk beyond the River Jabbok to meet his family and his children: "He halted upon his thigh."
That’s a new thing under the sun: this Jacob limping, this Jacobhalting upon his thigh. Men had never seen that before – not Jacob, not this swindler, not this cheater, not this trickster, not this supplanter, not this Jacob. They’d never seen him limp before, but he does. He halts upon his thigh; he’s not like he used to be. He’s crushed.
He’s not like he once was; he’s broken. He’s not like he used to be; he’shurt. He’s not like he once was; he’s in pieces now. He’s not proud anymore. He’s not smart, crafty, cunning anymore. He’s just plain like an open leaf on the page of a book. He’s just humble, praying, pleading, clinging – Jacob, Israel.
And Esau saw him: this man with a stern countenance, this man who has sworn in his heart, "The next time I see Jacob, my brother, I will slay him!" [Genesis 27:41] And with four hundred armed men [Genesis 33:1], there he is riding furiously to meet his brother and wipe his name out of the race of mankind, to destroy his family and his children, and to give all of his flocks and his herds to his soldiers.
And Esau looked upon his brother. I tried to visualize that. I have wondered how it would be if a thing like that happened to us. Suppose there was a brother that you hated and had sworn to slay him, and the day had come for you to lift up your hand and to strike him down.
When you raise your hand for the blow, you look, and your brother was already down [Genesis 33:3]. No weapon in his hand. No curses on his lips. No hatred in his eyes. No bitterness in his soul. He’s already down. And when he walks to meet you, he hobbles. He limps. He’s crushed, and he’s broken.
And a miracle, a miracle: and Esau, when he saw him, Esau – "Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept together" [Genesis 33:4].
And then I’ve tried to imagine those four hundred soldiers looking on. I’ve just tried to think of that: those four hundred armed men who had come with Esau to see the destruction of this cheater and swindler, to see his name wiped off the face of the earth, and they going to share all of the spoil whereby God had increased him. I can imagine those four hundred men looking on, and there Esau is with his arms around his brother, embracing him, kissing him, and weeping with him [Genesis 33:4].
"Well, Preacher, what was the title of that sermon?" That title of the sermon was Prevailing with God. "Preacher, what is the message of the sermon?" It is this: we never are able to prevail with God until we come to the end of our own sufficiency, our own strength. As long as we’re able with ourselves, we not able with God. As long as we’re strong in ourselves, we’re not strong with God. As long as we look to ourselves, we not looking to God! And as long as we try to do these things in our own strength, we’ll never do them in the strength of God. But when a man comes to the end of his way, then God has an opportunity to carry on in God’s way.
When we are weak in ourselves, then God has an opportunity to be strong in Himself. As the Lord said to the apostle Paul, "For my strength is made perfect in weakness" [2 Corinthians 12:9]. The man who has power with God is a broken man. The man who has power with God is a crippled man. The man who has power with God is the man who pleads, who is a suppliant, who weeps, who intercedes, who begs.
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
Yea, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed: when he wept, and made supplication unto Him.
Who – who really prays? He really prays who prays with a broken heart [2 Corinthians 12:7-8]. Who knows the power of God? He really knows the power of God who comes to the end of his own sufficiency and finds himself cast upon the mercies of the Lord [2 Corinthians 12:10]. Then a miracle happens. We’re strong. We prevail. The Lord God is our defense and our refuge. He is our advocate and our champion. He fights our battles for us. We don’t need to fight. He carries His will through. We don’t need to do it. Just yield. Let Him have His way.
No longer smart guy; no longer crafty fellow; no longer supplanter; no longer Jacob, but Israel, "for as a prince thou hast power with God, and hast prevailed" [Genesis 32:38].
May we pray? Our Lord, it is not our thought that we would speak of these things and not seek to do them ourselves; that we would talk about prayer that prevails and then forget to pray; that we would speak of this incomparably blessed, blessed story that changed the heart of Jacob and not remember ourselves that in ourselves we have what one poor, little, human, mortal could do, but in Thee, we have all that God could do.
Dear God, help us not to try to remake our own lives, to solve all our own problems, to fight our own battles. We lose when we do. Help us, Lord, to let God fight for us. Help us to let God make the decision for us. Help us, Lord, to yield the issue of life to Him and just to rest in the confidence and the assurance that the Lord is adequate, all-sufficient love, all-sufficient grace. All that we need in time and eternity, all is ours in His gracious hands. Help us, Lord, to pray in humility, to look up to God, to bow down before Him; and in this prevailing supplication, may the Lord answer and help. And we’ll thank Thee in Jesus. Amen.
We’re going to stand and sing "Close to Thee" – one of the songs my mother sang so much when I was a boy as she worked in the kitchen. And if there’s somebody here to give his heart to the Lord or somebody to come into the church, while we make appeal this morning, would you come and stand by me? Anywhere, trusting Jesus as your Savior or coming into the church, while we sing the song, you come while we stand and while we sing.
PREVAILING WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Jacob’s journey from Haran to Canaan
Fear of Esau from earlier threat
Jacob broken crippled from wrestling with angel
Esau loved Jacob, met him as a loving brother
Prevailing with God requires God, not us
Example – Cranmer