James H. McConkey

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’” Gen. 32: 24-32.

THERE are four or five great truths that stand out in this story of Jacob as the lofty peaks of a mountain chain rise above the chain of which they form a part. The first is,

Great Selfishness

We have no evidence that Jacob's life during the years just prior to this was one marred by any heinous sin. We do not know that it had broken out into any gross forms of self-indulgence, which brought any special judgment of God upon him. But it seems to have been like the lives of many other children of God: a life which was simply lived for self; a life such as the world about us lives, and from which world we do not seem to be very different as we ourselves live it. "Well,” we say, "if there was nothing more to smirch Jacob's life than mere selfishness, that does not seem to be much.” But that was enough. When you recall what this name “Jacob” means, you will realize what selfishness means in the life of a child of God. He was called “Supplanter.” And the Holy Spirit could scarcely have chosen a word that would more clearly express what selfishness does than this— that the self-life is the supplanter of the Christ-life. Is it not enough that selfishness supplants the power of God? The man who lives a purely selfish life has no power in prayer; no power in testimony; no power in work for the unsaved; no power for God in the community about him.

Is it not enough that selfishness supplants the peace of God? For the fret and care of trying to serve two masters — of being called by God's name and yet trying to live in God's world just as the worldling is living — this gives a man no peace. “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God,” said Augustine, “and our souls are restless till they rest in Thee.” And until a child of God's life rests in God and in God alone, he will not find that peace of God which God wants to give.

Is it not enough that selfishness supplants the love of God? For the two cannot co-exist? God is utterly unselfish. God is love — lover of others. And when we live a life that is purely a life of self, the love of God cannot fill our hearts, and flow through those hearts to others.

Is it not enough that selfishness supplants the purpose of God? The selfish man sits in his cushioned pew and worships God in his way. But to enter into the purpose of Christ for a lost world; to share the agony of Christ for lost souls; to join in the intercession of Christ for the giving of the Gospel to this dark world; to become a partner in the purposes of God — that never enters into the life of selfishness. Is it not enough that selfishness should supplant the life of God in this way?

Moreover God has set His stamp upon selfishness as the supreme foe of Himself. There are three deadly enemies of God: the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are in the world, but God tells us not to be of it. We may resist the devil, and he will flee from us. But we must renounce the self within, if God is to have the complete victory in our lives. Over the door of the Inferno one saw: “All ye who enter here abandon hope.” Over the portal of Christian discipleship is written: “All ye who enter here abandon self.” Some one has well said: “There is a cross and a throne in every heart. We may put Christ on the throne and self on the cross. Or we may put self on the throne, and Christ on the cross.” Selfishness is indeed the supplanter of God in the soul. God always dwelt in the tabernacle in His Shekinah glory and presence. Yet there was a veil that hid Him from those who entered there with Him. So God is always dwelling in the heart of His child, but the veil that darkens, and mars, and limits the manifestation of His presence is the veil of the flesh — the self-life within us. Wherefore when God, who is absolute and utter unselfishness, meets a child of His, like Jacob, given up to selfishness, there can be but one issue. God enters into controversy with that life of selfishness. And thus we next behold

A Real Struggle

For as we read on in the narrative we find that

God Was Striving With Jacob.

“God striveth,” the margin of the Revision puts it. We do not read it so. But God does. Listen: “And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man (the God-man) with him (Jacob) until the breaking of the day. And when He (the God-man) saw that He prevailed not against him (Jacob) He touched the hollow of his (Jacob's) thigh: and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint.” This is God's story. How clear it is! There was a man wrestling against Jacob all the long night. And Jacob's wrestling was a resistive wrestling. It was not Jacob wrestling with God for a blessing. It was God wrestling with Jacob to break down and put away from his life the things that were hindering the ever present and ever gracious purpose of God to bless His child with the greatest possible measure of blessing. How much more consistent with the nature and love of God is this! A love which is more eager and willing to bless His children than they themselves are to be blessed. “God striveth.” How this God of grace strives with the sinner! How He strives with that unceasing inner voice of the Spirit in the soul! How He strives in the tender entreaties of loved ones! How He strives in all the vicissitudes of life, death, suffering, affliction, and the like! Tenderly, patiently, lovingly through all the long, rebellious, weary years of rejection does God strive to win the soul of the sinner from death to life. But let it be noted that in this instance

God Was Striving Not For a Soul But For a Life

For a man may be a child of God, yet not a dedicated one. He may give up his sins, yet not himself. His soul may be saved, but his life unyielded to God. Jacob was such a child of God. He had been saved long ere this. God was not striving for his soul. He was striving for his life. He was striving to win him away from a past which had been lived for self, to a future which should be lived for God and His glory.

If you turn to the margin of James 4: 5 you will find a beautiful rendering which reads like this: “That Spirit which He made to dwell within us yearneth for us with jealous envy.” What a picture of the Holy Spirit dwelling within God's child! Like a wife who, when she sees her husband giving his affections to any other than herself to whom they solely belong, feels her heart go out in jealous, wifely envy for those affections. Or like a mother who, when she sees her boy giving up his life to reckless, out-breaking sin, burns with earnest, jealous longing for that life that is yielded to evil-doing. Just so, when the Holy Spirit comes into one who has been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, who has been redeemed as a precious possession for God Himself, and then sees such a life going out toward the world, toward its frivolity, its foolishness; that self-same Holy Spirit is filled with godly, jealous yearning for that life. There is a godly, jealous envy for the years which the world is stealing away while He yearns to redeem them; for the talents which are being wasted while He is yearning to use them in His kingdom: for the soul which the world is staining and marring while He is yearning to conform it to the glorious image of His Son. And hence the mighty striving of the Spirit for His own.

That is exactly what occurs in your life and in my life. How often has the Holy Spirit yearned for us, pleading with us to give that life to Him, to turn away from the world, to turn away from its emptiness, to give ourselves as a burnt-offering to God, that Jesus Christ may have His own blessed way with the life He has bought with His own precious blood. That is God's picture of this struggle — a God of love struggling to break down in His child's life the thing that was hindering Him from having His full and perfect way of blessing, and power, and ministry through that child. And we need only look within to see that this carnal mind — this self-life — is the supreme foe struggling against God, to hinder and baffle the mighty purpose of God in our lives.

God's Child was Resisting

That was what Jacob was doing. All the night long he was fighting a desperate battle against God. There was no gleam of spear, no clash of sword, no hissing of dart. But the fiercest fight of Jacob's life was on and on to the death. We can almost hear his hard, quick breathing. We can almost see the set teeth; the straining, writhing body of the wrestler; the desperate countenance fixed in its purpose of resistance. With every atom of power and persistence within him, Jacob was resisting God — the God who wanted to bless him! And so do we. God strives to wrest from our hands the poison draught of pleasure, which the world puts to our lips, and we resist Him. God tries to overthrow some secret idol that we are worshipping, and we resist Him. God would take from our grasp some edged tool of Satan, behind whose glitter death lurks for us, and we resist Him. God takes us by the hand to lead us away, in love, from the snares and pitfalls, which the lusts of the flesh spread for our unwary feet, and we resist him. And then as we battle against the Spirit of God there comes into our lives the next crisis, which came into Jacob's at this point. There was

A Great Breakdown

“He touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh: and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint.” Jacob broke down under the hand of the mighty wrestler. We said to a physician friend one day, as we were chatting about this: “Doctor, what is the exact significance of God's touching Jacob upon the sinew of his thigh?” He replied, “The sinew of the thigh is the strongest in the human body. A horse could scarcely tear away the limb, pulling it straight. Only as he twisted it could he tear it apart.” Ah, I see. God has to break us down at the strongest part of our self-life before He can have His own way of blessing with us.

We talk about surrender. We talk about surrendering all. But when it comes to the core of the matter, “all” usually means some one supreme point of issue between us and God; some one strong citadel in which the self-life is entrenched; some one key point which God must carry by assault before He can have His way with us. That great thigh sinew — like the trunk on which a tree stands as the storms assail it — like the column on which a great house stays its massiveness; that great sinew straining all night against God — bringing to bear all the resistive power of the wrestler against God — God touched that and broke him down. Just so does God deal with us. That pride — God touches, and breaks it down until the self-life is humbled in the dust. That money the Christian businessman is piling up until covetousness is eating into his heart like a canker — God touches it, and it takes wings and flies away. That idol which self is worshipping — God touches it, and like Dagon, hurls it to the ground, maimed and mutilated. That strength in which self revels — God lays His finger upon it and withers it, and self is brought to helplessness. Ah, we do not know how to deal with the self-life. But God does. And He takes away the thing upon which it feeds, and robs it of the power upon which it depends, and cuts away the props upon which it stands, until it lies in helplessness at His feet.

Here is a Christian businessman. He has been redeemed. His mouth is full of praise and joyful testimony at the first. But he goes out into the world. He begins to live just as the worldly man lives. It is all gaining and no giving; it is all hoarding, and no spending and being spent for God. It is all for self and none for God. He keeps on in this path. And by-and-by his lips are sealed in the testimony meeting. You hear no voice of prayer from him. His conscious communion with God is broken. By-and-by coldness steals into his heart and he becomes a powerless man. And then some day a strange thing happens. Something comes along and sweeps away the wealth. Some idol is touched and it withers. Perhaps the strength is laid low; perhaps sickness befalls. The furnace and the crucible are put to work. And people wonder why that man's life is in such a place of affliction. But God does not wonder. God knows what He is doing; what he is permitting. And when that man, prostrate and broken, is brought to the end of himself in helplessness, you will see a new thing. Into that man's life come transformation, power, blessing, and a new and living walk with God, all because God has broken him down at the point of his self-life that was holding him for self and the world. God has to rob some men of about all they have, before He can get them for Himself. As long as it is God and something, we cling to the something. But when it becomes God or nothing, then we turn to God because there is nothing else left. There are some lives that turn to Him simply and sweetly in the fullness of devotion from the beginning. There are other lives, which God has to deal with as He dealt with Jacob. Often, what we will not yield God has to take; what we will not give up God has to break up. A godly woman used to say: “God has not only pulled me up by the roots, but He seems to be shaking the dirt off the roots.” “Take me, break me, make me,” seems to be the prayer some of us have to pray, before God has His perfect way with us.

A Great Victory

The Victory of Love: The Love that Will Not Let Us Go.

How gladly would Jacob have broken away from that mighty grasp. How quickly would he have fled away into the darkness and the night if he could have. But the unseen wrestler would not let him go until He had conquered him — because He loved him. A kind-hearted surgeon is pressing the keen knife into the cancer, which is eating out our life. He holds our struggling hand with steady grasp. He will not let us go, however much we are suffering. We look up into his face and cry out, “I suffer; let me go.” But he says, "I will not let you go until I have my way of blessing with you. I will not let you go—because I love you.” Another loving hand is pressing a bitter potion to our lips. We cry again, “I do not like it; let me go.” A loving voice answers: “A deadly poison is burning in your veins. This is the antidote for it. I will not let you go — because I love you.” Even so do we look up to God and cry: “Why do you keep me in this fiery furnace! Why do you let these heavy burdens oppress me? Why do you suffer me to be so sorely and constantly tested and tried? Why do you not relieve me? Why do you not let me go?” And the voice comes to us: “I will not let you go until I have won you for Myself. I will not let you go until I have purged you of your dross. I will not let you go until I have humbled and crushed to the earth the self-life, which is the deadliest foe to My life and power within you. I will not let you go because I love you, and am seeking to win you from that which is empty, hollow, and unsatisfying, to that which is full, and rich, and blessed in Christ Jesus."


But had not Jacob prayed all night? Not he. He had striven all night; and against God. But it was only when the thigh-collapsing touch of God came that Jacob clung and prayed, and was victorious. For the birth-place of prayer is helplessness. Prayer comes to its own; enters into its lawful heritage of mighty power only with men who have reached the end of themselves and are clinging to God. Power in prayer did not come to Jacob while he strove in his own strength, but when he clung in his own helplessness. What poor humans are we, that God must needs let us be driven into the stress of necessity and helplessness because in no other way can He constrain us to betake ourselves to prayer to Him! Yet it is even so. Do we pray when the wind is a-beam, the skies fair and our ship running free before the breeze? Nay, but when the mast is overboard, the rudder gone, and the ship in the rough—than we pray. Do we pray when our loved ones are in prosperity, health, and strength? Nay, but when the sober-faced physician shakes his head, and says he has done all he can, and death’s shadow settles down over the chamber of a precious one—then we pray. Strength is self-reliant, and thinks it needs no God. But weakness is driven to God-reliance and there learns the secrets of the prayer life. Helplessness begets dependence—dependence lead to prayer; and prayer brings power. Out of our own insufficiency into God’s sufficiency, by the pathway of prayer, is the secret of power. Wherefore self-strength may be worse than weakness. For the weak man learns to cling and prayer. But the strong one stays self-centered and misses God.

Taken from Life Talks by James McConkey