Our text comes from the book of Genesis, Chapter 32, verse 26. To understand this cry that Jacob uttered, we need to look at the historical background of the events that led to his heart-felt prayer. Jacob had been commanded to return home to his father, Isaac. Genesis 31, verse 3:
Then the LORD said to Jacob, Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.
Jacob gathered his family and his possessions together and started on his return journey to his father, Isaac. On the way, the angels of GOD met him, and when Jacob saw them he said,
This is GODs camp! And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
The name Mahanaim
means two camps. Jacob was reassured by the realization that GODs angels encamped around him and his company, just as they had accompanied him twenty years earlier, when he fled from his angry brother, Esau. Now that he was returning home, Jacob realized that he had to face his brother. So he sent a message of reconciliation ahead of him. To his dismay his messengers returned with terrifying news; Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men! That was a plain threat of attack. Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed, and pleaded with GOD for protection and mercy.
He took all the protective measures he could think of, and then settled himself to pray through the night. Why had everything suddenly gone so wrong? Had not GOD promised to be with him? How was he going to escape the wrath of his brother? Suddenly in the darkness someone seized him! In his terror, Jacob fought back, and that wrestling match lasted until dawn. Genesis 32, verse 24:
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. This mysterious person was obviously not out to overwhelm Jacob, but he did dislocate Jacobs hip as they wrestled together. Now all that Jacob could do was to cling with weeping and supplication. Through the terror and the pain, he sobbed out his prayer that we referred to earlier.
I will not let you go, unless you bless me.
Did not his angelic opponent have the power to free Himself? Of course He did, but His compassion held Him captive to Jacob, who had cast himself on His mercy.
So he said to him, What is your name? And he said, Jacob. And He said, Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with GOD and with men and have prevailed. So this wonderful and mysterious person blessed Jacob and left.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen GOD face to face, and my life is preserved. He was fully aware that this Man who struggled with him all night, who crippled him but also blessed him, was no mere human, not even an angel, but GOD!
Nearly a thousand years later, GOD referred to this dramatic event in the Book of the Prophet, Hosea. Hosea 12, verses 3 to 5:
He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength, he struggled with GOD. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept and sought favour from Him; he found Him in Bethel and there He spoke to us – that is, the LORD GOD of Hosts, the LORD is His memorial!
What follows is a command directed at us to do the same. Verse 6:
So you, by the help of your GOD, return; observe mercy and justice, and wait on your GOD continually. Are there not with us, even with us, sins against the LORD our GOD? Do we not observe Yom Kippur, recite Selichot, and ask forgiveness for ourselves? Sometimes, like Jacob, we know what it is to experience GODs correcting hand in our circumstances, or even in our persons. It is never comfortable, and too often we are reduced to tears through our distress. But GOD does it to bring us to the place of total dependence upon Him, and in order to bless, as with Jacob.
The moral is: always pray, and never despair. Daniel, the Prophet, prayed for three weeks before his answer came. Nehemiah, who rebuilt Jerusalem, prayed for four months, from Kislev to Nisan, before his prayer was granted. We too, should say with Jacob,
I will not let you go, unless you bless me. And like Jacob, we shall find that with the blessing, comes peace and mercy and the removal of the crisis that threatened us. It remains for us to inquire, On what basis does GOD bless those who pray to Him? Is it any righteousness of our own? Our good deeds, or the merits of our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Listen to the Words of the Tanakh in Psalm 89, verses 15 and 16:
Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound; they walk, O LORD, in the light of Your countenance. In Your Name, they rejoice all day long and in Your righteousness they are exalted.
It is abundantly clear from this and similar texts, that we need a GOD-given righteousness to cover our imperfections, and enable us to walk in the light of GODs countenance. This righteousness is not of mans making. It is the gift of GOD. Isaiah 61, verse 10:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall be joyful in my GOD. For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Righteousness is the gift of GOD! It follows that all may have it, who ask for it, on His terms. As to what His terms are, we are told in Isaiah 53, verse 11:
By His knowledge, My righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. It is through trust in
Mashiach Tsidkeinu, Who paid the debt and the penalty for all our sins! Let us pray with Jacob,
I will not let You go, unless You bless me!
Shall we pray: Avinu Malkeynu, give us that faith that enabled Jacob, to hold on in faith until we get the blessing. We pray in Messiahs Name. Amen.