Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!
For His Power is Perfected in Weakness
By Richard Allen – November 28, 2022
How well I remember this old hymn as a young Christian sitting in church. While I did have some vague notion of its intent, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to Lean on the Everlasting Arms of God. To most Americans and prosperous people in the industrialized world, “leaning” is a foreign concept. We are self-made, resilient people with a “can-do” attitude and “true grit,” we don’t lean, we fight and conquer until we attain a victory! But such is not God’s way. It is a hard concept for us to fathom, but like another old hymn said: “The Way of The Cross Leads Home.” It’s by dying to self, and seeing that we are powerless apart from God, that we obtain His favor and blessing. Understanding this Biblical concept is key to understanding why God allowed Jacob to wrestle with Him, especially after patiently bearing with Jacob through his years of grabbing. Here’s what happened to Jacob as he once again executes his plan – this one to appease his brother’s anger. If that wasn’t possible, then he planned to safely escape Esau’s vengeance. Here’s the narrative of Jacob’s encounter with God in physical form:
“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’ The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:24:31).
I remember as a young Christian reading a commentary entitled: “Gleanings in Genesis” by A.W. Pink. In his book Pink interprets the verse in a way that lines up with what actually happened – i.e. Jacob loses in the end. As Jacob’s name says: He had wrestled and grabbed his whole life, first extorting his birthright and covenant blessing by deception from his brother Esau, then wrestling with Uncle Laban – winning both contests! Now the Angel of the Lord reveals to him that his name would now be “Yisrael” (Hebrew spelling), that is – one who had grabbed and wrestled his whole life, yet now understands that it is God who Commands and rules! I do like this interpretation of the name of Israel in Genesis 32, because it’s theologically right, but I’m just not sure it’s the right translation of the text. Most scholars agree that Israel means: “One who wrestled with God and Men and has prevailed.” If this interpretation is right, the question has to be asked: “In what way did Jacob prevail with God in wrestling with Him at the River Piniel? Was it just the Angel of the Lord acknowledging that Jacob was a grabber and a wheeler dealer from the start?
While Jacob dared to wrestle with God, even holding his own for a while, by the end of the contest Jacob is seriously injured with a dislocated hip that would be with him to the end of his life, a constant reminder of his own weakness in the flesh, and of God’s immeasurable power. Jacob seems to have finally learned the most important lesson of his entire life: “To be blessed by God would require him to stop wrestling and start cleaving and leaning.” It was in God’s school that Jacob had learned this new approach: To gain favor with the Almighty necessitated him to see his own weakness in the flesh and cleave to God in faith! It’s the only way Jacob, or any of us can prevail with God! Surely as Jacob grew older – that bad hip caused him to “lean on his staff” (Hebrews 11:20). And “leaning” had to be a constant reminder that cleaving and leaning were the way to succeed with God. As Genesis 32 closes, it gives us an important clue about Jacob the “grabber’s” new modus operandi:
“So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh” (Genesis 32:30-32).
This understanding of the name, Israel, allows most scholarly interpretations of the Hebrew text to stand: That Jacob had prevailed with men and God, yet at the same time it helps us see that the way Jacob prevailed with God was by cleaving to God in faith. Jacob, now Israel, had learned to “cleave to God” in faith! This is the lesson that all of us need to learn and heed. Paul the Apostle told us as much in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 where he explains his own weakness in the flesh:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:2-10).
There are many other examples of this type of “cleaving in faith” with reckless abandon. We see many examples of this in scripture. One of my favorite verses shows this cleaving in faith by a young Moabitess named Ruth, who held fast (cleaved) to her Jewish Mother-in-Law Naomi, claiming that only “death would part them” (Ruth 1:14-18), and became a part of the very lineage of Jesus Christ through her faith (Matthew 1:5). We also see this type of cleaving faith by the Canaanite Woman whom Jesus healed:
“And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:22-28).
Jesus’ disciples also show us what cleaving in faith toward the Savior looks like. After Jesus had spoken hard things, many of His followers turned back from following Him. And when Jesus asks if they would also go away:
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life’ ” (John 6:68).
As we consider all the individuals I’ve mentioned – Ruth, Paul, the Canaanite Woman and Peter, (and many more in the Bible), we realize that they all had one thing in common: They could not be dissuaded from following God because of hardship, physical pain, racial animosity or even the taunts of the crowd. They were hungry for God, and no number of trials, humiliation, pain or other setbacks would deter them in their pursuit of the Most High. This was the experience of the man whose name was changed to Israel! He had been a grabber who used his wiles and skills as a wheeler-dealer to turn trying situations into success – all the way until he wrestled with God! And through his wrestling with God, he was changed by God into a godlier and more patient man.
We should also see that Jacob’s wrestling with God had a spiritual dimension to it. Regardless of the failings we may see in Jacob, it’s clear that he was hungry for a relationship with God! And even after being incapacitated with what was to be a life long hip injury, his only concern was to hold on until God blessed him! Most who are seriously injured in a conflict withdraw and run away in fear. But those who belong to Jesus Christ have the same tenacity and hunger as Jacob, now Israel. We see these same frailties and hunger in the Apostle Peter. After hearing some hard things from Christ where many withdrew from Jesus and “walked with Him no more” – we hear Peter say: “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” In other words, it’s you Jesus, the Son of God whom we need. Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). One final question yet to be answered – why would God bear with the likes of Jacob, wrestling and striving with him for years? I hope to answer this question as we re-cap the big lessons Jacob learned and apply them to the lessons God has for His Children today!
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “How to go from a Grabber to a Leaner in 147 years.” (Blog date October 24, 2022)
1.) How I behave toward others will come back on me with a vengeance.
2.) If I’m to fulfill God’s purposes, I will need to do things God’s way – and not through
3.) Even if I act in the flesh using human means, God can still use my poor choices for His
Purpose and Glory.
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “What Goes Around, Comes Around.” (Blog date October 31, 2022)
4.) Reciprocal Providence is a great teacher in the hands of a Sovereign God. Scripture may
not tell us, but Jacob couldn’t have missed the irony of his own deception and violation
of his brother’s birthright coming back on him.
5.) In our sin and weakness we may start out “grabbing, wheelin’ and dealin,” yet in God’s
faithfulness and chastening over time, we learn to trust Him – and see that our lives are
not in our own feeble hands. They are under His Sovereign control from cradle to grave.
6.) God patiently bears with the weaknesses of His children, as we struggle to learn from
life as we live it, in three ways: From our own sins, from the sins of others toward us and
general mistreatment from the world’s system.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “Down By The River.” (Blog date November 14, 2022)
7.) Even if we don’t see the obvious signs, God is always with His children, working “all
things together for their good and His purposes,” behind the scenes. From an eternal
perspective – He has our back!
8.) God restrains our adversaries, limiting their ability to harm or cause His Eternal Purposes for us to fail.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape.” (Blog date November 21, 2022)
9.) Just because we are stepping out in faith – trusting God to accomplish something difficult that He’s clearly directed us to do – doesn’t mean that we are passive, waiting for His provision. We should do all we morally and rightly should do, to accomplish His purpose.
10.) It’s clear from Jacob’s life that his personal experiences were used by God to chasten, instruct and change him into the man God wanted him to be.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” (Blog date November 28, 2022)
11.) God allows His hungry children to wrestle and to pursue Him, knowing that He will accomplish His good purposes in their lives through the providential circumstances of their strife.
12.) In wrestling with God, He will always triumph in the end – yet change us for the better. His ultimate goal being that we learn to Cleave and Lean on Him. It’s the secret to winning in this life and the next!