Wrestling Jacob

There’s a story in the book of Genesis of a man named Jacob wrestling with an unknown heavenly traveler.  We are told it’s the middle of the night and that they wrestled “until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24) but as the story opens we are left to imagine why Jacob is so eager for the contest. In the struggle, his “hip is put out of joint” (32:25) and he is lamed but still, despite the overwhelming pain and his opponent’s superior strength, Jacob refuses to let him go – at least until he’s been given the name of this traveler. Jacob had apparently guessed that this man was far more than he appeared to be.

You have to remember that Jacob has had quite a checkered past up to this point: he had villainously deceived his dying father and tricked him into giving him a dynastic blessing and he had stolen his brother’s inheritance. He was, in short, a liar and a cheat.

But by this point in his life, he had turned a corner, given up his old ways and committed himself to the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac. Despite his great pain, he knew he had to get something good, a blessing, from this visitor from heaven whose strength was far greater than his, as well as his name, because that in itself meant that Jacob would at least know him enough to call on him, to secure his relationship with him.

Charles Wesley took this story and its outcome and wrote a song about it, a song about gaining something – or Someone – far greater than any pain we endure.

 

Wrestling Jacob¹

by Charles Welsey (1742)

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Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new, unutterable Name?
Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;
To know it now resolved I am;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

’Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then I am strong
And when my all of strength shall fail,
I shall with the God-man prevail.

Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair;
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if Thy Name is Love.

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

My prayer hath power with God; the grace
Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face,
I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

I know Thee, Saviour, who Thou art.
Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;
Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.
But stay and love me to the end,
Thy mercies never shall remove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The Sun of righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in His wings,
Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee
My soul its life and succour brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

 


¹The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House. 1989. pp. 386–7. For online source see – Google Books: “Wrestling Jacob”

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4 thoughts on “Wrestling Jacob

    1. Wonderful, isn’t it? Isaac Watts once said that Wesley’s poem was “worth all the verses” he’d ever written and Watts is the guy who gave us songs like “Joy To the World” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

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