I went to the beach on Memorial Day with my siblings, cousins and their kids. The oldest of the children wanted to wade in the water, so I took him to the shoreline. He stood in the ocean, a few feet away from the sand and puffed up his chest as if he was Zeus (or maybe a Power Ranger). A small wave came and knocked him down. He got up, clearly upset and embarrassed, and made a fist. He started chastising and punching the water for “attacking” him. I tried not to laugh because I could tell his five-year-old ego had taken a hit. But when the waves knocked him down again, I couldn’t help it. He was not amused. I told him, “Listen, the water is a force to be reckoned with. Why don’t you just enjoy it instead of fighting it?”
He did not care for my words of wisdom so he walked away and went to build a sandcastle with his brother.
I thought about what had just transpired and it occurred to me that I have been where my nephew has been many times. I’ve been knocked down by life and I have gotten back up only to wave my fist at the “Giver of Life.” How dare you embarrass me and not cooperate with my efforts? Each time, I could hear Him cautioning me: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).
But sometimes it wasn’t enough to help me overcome my shortcomings. Sometimes I’d walk away (blatantly ignoring God) and preoccupy myself with something I knew I was good at – something that made me feel like I was in control.
Everyone likes control — some to a higher degree than others — even children as young as my nephew. Control makes us feel mighty and powerful, and unfortunately, self-reliant. Control is a symptom of pride and a recipe for destruction.
King Solomon warned, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Apostle Peter quipped, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).
David received favor when he went into battle with Goliath. He did not use his own strength. He relied on God’s power by recognizing that he was nothing without Him.
Jacob had to learn this lesson the hard way. Jacob really thought he was something. He was smart in his own eyes as he earned his keep by scheming people such as his twin brother, Esau. However, when he learned that Esau was out to get him, Jacob fled for his life. He was so afraid to return home that he finally turned to God in prayer.
According to the passage, Jacob struggled all night with an angel, who biblical scholars believe was a manifestation of Christ in angelic form before his incarnation. This “struggle” between Jacob and the angel was an aggressive form of prayer, not a physical act of violence. The angel commanded Jacob to stop holding on to him, but Jacob replied “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:27). It is important to note that this statement was Jacob’s declaration of faith and deep humility.
When the angel saw that Jacob would not let go, he touched Jacob’s thigh removing it out of joint. The pain should have thwarted Jacob, but instead it made him fight (pray) harder. Finally, the angel blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel.
Jacob’s name meant “supplanter or to hold the heel.” His parents gave him that name because he came out of his mother’s womb holding his twin brother’s heel which metaphorically implied that he would always fall behind in life.
Nevertheless, since Esau was firstborn, it meant that he would receive the birthright, which was a very important and sacred thing in those days. It wasn’t just a transfer of physical assets; it was a spiritual honor. It’s no wonder Jacob schemed his brother into selling his birthright. And he was proud of it.
This did not please God because Jacob did not act according to His will. It was not until Jacob was truly remorseful for tricking his brother and fought hard to be in right standing with God that he was given the desires of his heart; blessings and honor, hence his new name, Israel, which means “who prevails with God.”
Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day? Favor, blessings and a new name (identity) from God? Life will always push us to our own devices when we want things to go our way as opposed to God’s. But when we humble ourselves before the Giver of Life, we can prevail through failures, shame and frustration, and be lifted up.