The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 18: The Night of Wrestling
While Jacob was battling for his life, the sense of his guilt pressed upon his soul; but in his terrible extremity he remembered God's promises, and his whole heart cried out for His mercy.
Review and Herald Publ. Assoc.
Though Jacob had left Padan-aram in obedience to the
divine direction, it was not without many misgivings that he
retraced the road which he had trodden as a fugitive twenty
years before. His sin in the deception of his father was ever
before him. He knew that his long exile was the direct result of
that sin, and he pondered over these things day and night, the
reproaches of an accusing conscience making his journey very
sad. As the hills of his native land appeared before him in the
distance, the heart of the patriarch was deeply moved. All the past
rose vividly before him. With the memory of his sin came also
the thought of God's favor toward him, and the promises of divine
help and guidance.
As he drew nearer his journey's end, the thought of Esau
brought many a troubled foreboding. After the flight of Jacob,
Esau had regarded himself as the sole heir of their father's
possessions. The news of Jacob's return would excite the fear that he
was coming to claim the inheritance. Esau was now able to do his
brother great injury, if so disposed, and he might be moved to
violence against him, not only by the desire for revenge, but in
order to secure undisturbed possession of the wealth which he
had so long looked upon as his own.
Again the Lord granted Jacob a token of the divine care. As
he traveled southward from Mount Gilead, two hosts of heavenly
angels seemed to encompass him behind and before, advancing
with his company, as if for their protection. Jacob remembered
the vision at Bethel so long before, and his burdened heart grew
lighter at this evidence that the divine messengers who had
brought him hope and courage at his flight from Canaan were to
be the guardians of his return. And he said, "This is God's host:
and he called the name of that place Mahanaim"—"two hosts, or,
Yet Jacob felt that he had something to do to secure his own
safety. He therefore dispatched messengers with a conciliatory [p. 196] greeting to his brother. He instructed them as to the exact words
in which they were to address Esau. It had been foretold before
the birth of the two brothers that the elder should serve the
younger, and, lest the memory of this should be a cause of bitterness,
Jacob told the servants they were sent to "my lord Esau;"
when brought before him, they were to refer to their master as
"thy servant Jacob;" and to remove the fear that he was returning,
a destitute wanderer, to claim the paternal inheritance, Jacob was
careful to state in his message, "I have oxen, an asses, flocks, and
menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord,
that I may find grace in thy sight."
But the servants returned with the tidings that Esau was
approaching with four hundred men, and no response was sent to
the friendly message. It appeared certain that he was coming to
seek revenge. Terror pervaded the camp. "Jacob was greatly
afraid and distressed." He could not go back, and he feared to
advance. His company, unarmed and defenseless, were wholly
unprepared for a hostile encounter. He accordingly divided them
into two bands, so that if one should be attacked, the other might
have an opportunity to escape. He sent from his vast flocks
generous presents to Esau, with a friendly message. He did all
in his power to atone for the wrong to his brother and to avert
the threatened danger, and then in humiliation and repentance
he pleaded for divine protection: Thou "saidst unto me, Return
unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with
thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all
the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with
my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two
bands. Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother,
from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite
me, and the mother with the children."
They had now reached the river Jabbok, and as night came on,
Jacob sent his family across the ford of the river, while he alone
remained behind. He had decided to spend the night in prayer,
and he desired to be alone with God. God could soften the heart
of Esau. In Him was the patriarch's only hope.
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. All that made life dear to him were at a distance, [p. 197] exposed to danger and death. Bitterest of all was the thought that
it was his own sin which had brought this peril upon the innocent.
With earnest cries and tears he made his prayer before God.
Suddenly a strong hand was laid upon him. He thought that an
enemy was seeking his life, and he endeavored to wrest himself
from the grasp of his assailant. In the darkness the two struggled
for the mastery. Not a word was spoken, but Jacob put forth all
his strength, and did not relax his efforts for a moment. While
he was thus battling for his life, the sense of his guilt pressed
upon his soul; his sins rose up before him, to shut him out from
God. But in his terrible extremity he remembered God's promises,
and his whole heart went out in entreaty for His mercy. The
struggle continued until near the break of day, when the stranger
placed his finger upon Jacob's thigh, and he was crippled instantly.
The patriarch now discerned the character of his antagonist.
He knew that he had been in conflict with a heavenly messenger,
and this was why his almost superhuman effort had not
gained the victory. It was Christ, "the Angel of the covenant,"
who had revealed Himself to Jacob. The patriarch was now disabled
and suffering the keenest pain, but he would not loosen his
hold. All penitent and broken, he clung to the Angel; "he wept,
and made supplication" (Hosea 12:4), pleading for a blessing.
He must have the assurance that his sin was pardoned. Physical
pain was not sufficient to divert his mind from this object. His
determination grew stronger, his faith more earnest and persevering,
until the very last. The Angel tried to release Himself; He
urged, "Let Me go, for the day breaketh;" but Jacob answered,
"I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." Had this been
a boastful, presumptuous confidence, Jacob would have been
instantly destroyed; but his was the assurance of one who
confesses his own unworthiness, yet trusts the faithfulness of a
Jacob "had power over the Angel, and prevailed." Hosea 12:4.
Through humiliation, repentance, and self-surrender, this sinful,
erring mortal prevailed with the Majesty of heaven. He had
fastened his trembling grasp upon the promises of God, and the
heart of Infinite Love could not turn away the sinner's plea.
The error that had led to Jacob's sin in obtaining the birthright
by fraud was now clearly set before him. He had not
trusted God's promises, but had sought by his own efforts to [p. 198] bring about that which God would have accomplished in His
own time and way. As an evidence that he had been forgiven, his
name was changed from one that was a reminder of his sin, to
one that commemorated his victory. "Thy name," said the Angel,
"shall be called no more Jacob [the supplanter], but Israel: for as
a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast
Jacob had received the blessing for which his soul had longed.
His sin as a supplanter and deceiver had been pardoned. The
crisis in his life was past. Doubt, perplexity, and remorse had
embittered his existence, but now all was changed; and sweet was
the peace of reconciliation with God. Jacob no longer feared to
meet his brother. God, who had forgiven his sin, could move the
heart of Esau also to accept his humiliation and repentance.
While Jacob was wrestling with the Angel, another heavenly
messenger was sent to Esau. In a dream, Esau beheld his brother
for twenty years an exile from his father's house; he witnessed
his grief at finding his mother dead; he saw him encompassed by
the hosts of God. This dream was related by Esau to his soldiers,
with the charge not to harm Jacob, for the God of his father was
The two companies at last approached each other, the desert
chief leading his men of war, and Jacob with his wives and children,
attended by shepherds and handmaidens, and followed by
long lines of flocks and herds. Leaning upon his staff, the patriarch
went forward to meet the band of soldiers. He was pale and
disabled from his recent conflict, and he walked slowly and painfully,
halting at every step; but his countenance was lighted up
with joy and peace.
At sight of that crippled sufferer, "Esau ran to meet him, and
embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they
wept." As they looked upon the scene, even the hearts of Esau's
rude soldiers were touched. Notwithstanding he had told them
of his dream, they could not account for the change that had
come over their captain. Though they beheld the patriarch's
infirmity, they little thought that this his weakness had been made
In his night of anguish beside the Jabbok, when destruction
seemed just before him, Jacob had been taught how vain is the [p. 201] help of man, how groundless is all trust in human power. He saw
that his only help must come from Him against whom he had
so grievously sinned. Helpless and unworthy, he pleaded God's
promise of mercy to the repentant sinner. That promise was his
assurance that God would pardon and accept him. Sooner might
heaven and earth pass than that word could fail; and it was this
that sustained him through that fearful conflict.
Jacob's experience during that night of wrestling and anguish
represents the trial through which the people of God must pass
just before Christ's second coming. The prophet Jeremiah, in
holy vision looking down to this time, said, "We have heard a
voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. . . . All faces are
turned into paleness. Alas! for that day is great, so that none is
like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be
saved out of it." Jeremiah 30:5-7.
When Christ shall cease His work as mediator in man's behalf,
then this time of trouble will begin. Then the case of every soul
will have been decided, and there will be no atoning blood to
cleanse from sin. When Jesus leaves His position as man's
intercessor before God, the solemn announcement is made, "He that is
unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be
filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and
he that is holy, let him be holy still." Revelation 22:11. Then the
restraining Spirit of God is withdrawn from the earth. As Jacob
was threatened with death by his angry brother, so the people of
God will be in peril from the wicked who are seeking to destroy
them. And as the patriarch wrestled all night for deliverance
from the hand of Esau, so the righteous will cry to God day and
night for deliverance from the enemies that surround them.
Satan had accused Jacob before the angels of God, claiming
the right to destroy him because of his sin; he had moved upon
Esau to march against him; and during the patriarch's long night
of wrestling, Satan endeavored to force upon him a sense of his
guilt, in order to discourage him, and break his hold upon God.
When in his distress Jacob laid hold of the Angel, and made
supplication with tears, the heavenly Messenger, in order to try his
faith, also reminded him of his sin, and endeavored to escape from
him. But Jacob would not be turned away. He had learned that
God is merciful, and he cast himself upon His mercy. He pointed [p. 202] back to his repentance for his sin, and pleaded for deliverance.
As he reviewed his life, he was driven almost to despair; but he
held fast the Angel, and with earnest, agonizing cries urged his
petition until he prevailed.
Such will be the experience of God's people in their final
struggle with the powers of evil. God will test their faith, their
perseverance, their confidence in His power to deliver them.
Satan will endeavor to terrify them with the thought that their
cases are hopeless; that their sins have been too great to receive
pardon. They will have a deep sense of their shortcomings, and as
they review their lives their hopes will sink. But remembering
the greatness of God's mercy, and their own sincere repentance,
they will plead His promises made through Christ to helpless,
repenting sinners. Their faith will not fail because their prayers
are not immediately answered. They will lay hold of the strength
of God, as Jacob laid hold of the Angel, and the language of their
souls will be, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me."
Had not Jacob previously repented of his sin in obtaining the
birthright by fraud, God could not have heard his prayer and
mercifully preserved his life. So in the time of trouble, if the
people of God had unconfessed sins to appear before them while
tortured with fear and anguish, they would be overwhelmed;
despair would cut off their faith, and they could not have confidence
to plead with God for deliverance. But while they have
a deep sense of their unworthiness, they will have no concealed
wrongs to reveal. Their sins will have been blotted out by the
atoning blood of Christ, and they cannot bring them to remembrance.
Satan leads many to believe that God will overlook their
unfaithfulness in the minor affairs of life; but the Lord shows in
His dealing with Jacob that He can in no wise sanction or
tolerate evil. All who endeavor to excuse or conceal their sins, and
permit them to remain upon the books of heaven, unconfessed
and unforgiven, will be overcome by Satan. The more exalted
their profession, and the more honorable the position which they
hold, the more grievous is their course in the sight of God, and
the more certain the triumph of the great adversary.
Find out more today how to get a special discount when you purchase a
copy of Patriarchs and Prophets.
Yet Jacob's history is an assurance that God will not cast off
those who have been betrayed into sin, but who have returned [p. 203] 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.
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 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 Saviour. None will ever perish
while they do this. 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
Jacob prevailed because he was persevering and determined.
His experience testifies to the power of importunate prayer. It is
now that we are to learn this lesson of prevailing prayer, of
unyielding faith. 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.
Those who are unwilling to forsake every sin and to seek
earnestly for God's blessing, will not obtain it. But all who will lay
hold of God's promises as did Jacob, and be as earnest and
persevering as he was, will succeed as he succeeded. "Shall not God
avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him,
though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge
them speedily." Luke 18:7, 8.
Click here to read the next chapter:
"The Return to Canaan"