Lifeline: The unexpected answer


This series of prayers has genuinely transformed how I approach prayer. Previously, I used to try to avoid asking God boldly. One reason for this resistance was my understanding of God’s sovereignty, which made me cautious about making bold requests. Another reason for my lack of boldness is the fear of God rejecting my prayers. What if God says ‘no’ to what I ask for? To avoid feeling rejected, I choose to play it safe and not ask boldly. This pericope provides me with answers to these concerns.

Before that, let’s have a look into the context of this passage. I believe most of us hate uncertainty. It feels overwhelming when you are unsure about what’s going to happen. Perhaps it’s uncertainty about your job, or you’ve suddenly found yourself jobless. You’re gripped by fear, doubt, and uncertainty about your future. You might also worry about your child’s future or their schooling. Life can seem gloomy, and even though you hope for a fresh start, clouds of fear, uncertainty, and doubt loom overhead.

Uncertainty and fear – these emotions could be what Jacob felt in this pericope. Jacob is a master deceiver. First, he deceived his brother Esau to obtain his birth right and the blessing of the firstborn, using a clever trick. In response, Esau, his brother, was so mad and threatened to kill Jacob. It makes their mother to send him away on a journey. He had to run away because he took his brother’s special rights and blessings. And now, this journey of ‘running away’ from his brother comes to an end. Now he was returning to Canaan. he was going back to where he came from because God said so. He obeyed God. God has been good to him because God had kept his family and things safe from a man named Laban, in previous chapter, who was very mad.

What awaits Jacob is a jealous brother who has had around 20 years to nurture his hate. As Jacob walked towards his home, he couldn’t stop thinking about his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him. Jacob knew he would have to see Esau again and it scared him a lot. Let’s see how Jacob responds to his fear and whether he gets the result he wants from God. I will divide my sermon into three parts.

1.   Jacob’s Needs (vs 1- 8)

God knows what going to happen to Jacob. God knows the magnitude of problem that Jacob will face. But listen what God did, verse 1, 1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. But here’s the cool part: before Jacob even realizes how big of a mess he will face later on; God sends his angels to meet with him on the road. It’s like God wants to tell Jacob “Don’t worry, Jacob! I know what you need. Don’t worry!”. He graciously gives Jacob assurance that He will be with him. At this point, Jacob knew that God is with him. He said in verse 2 that 2 And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim. Jacob said, “this is God’s camp!” He knew that he was not alone, God had a camp of angels to be with him.

Let’s continue verse 3-5

3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4 instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'”

So, Jacob really wants to make things right with his brother because he knows for sure that his brother will end his life. He was so afraid, and he tried everything to make it right with Esau even he humbled himself like in verse 4, at beginning of his message he described himself as “your servant Jacob”. He was hoping that Esau would forgive him. And let’s see what happened next – verse 6.

6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” So, when the messengers came back, Jacob got some seriously worrying news – turns out, Esau was on his way to see him, and he had a whole crew of 400 guys with him. At this point, the news could be either good or bad. Esau may come to greet Jacob or to kill Jacob (spoiler alert: Esau did not kill Jacob ). However, Jacob was thinking that these 400 men would come to destroy him and his family. So often, we are like Jacob as well, where a single piece of news can feel like the end of the world even when we don’t know what will happen.

As a result, in verse 7, 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. Yes, Jacob has every reason to be afraid and distressed thinking what Esau would do to him. But he also has every reason to believe God would be with him. He forgot how God met him earlier as we read in verse 1. He even said that “This is God’s camp!”. He forgot God had special camp of angels that ready to protect him.

Jacobs was so afraid. Let’s see what he did in the midst of his fear – verse 7b-8. 7bHe divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.” When fear grips Jacob, he relies on his plans. He made a plan and forgot about God’s promise. Is that our tendency as well? When our life seems uncertain, instead of trusting God, we tried becoming God and made very detailed plan and rely on our plan.

Let’s be honest now. Sometimes we were like Jacob or maybe some of us are like Jacob right now which fear grips very hard on you. You are so afraid. Our world has plenty of stuff that can make us scared. We all worry about dying, either us or people we love. Parents, we worry about our kids, worry about bad things happening to them or to our loved ones. We worry that some drunk driver would hit and kill us. We worry about uncertainty our future. Our future kids, our future spouse, our financial. Don’t rely on your plan or your effort but trust God. Jacob’s first reaction might not be the best reaction as response of his fear. But let’s learn what he did next after that – he went to the Lord and prayed. It leads me to my second point.

2.   Jacob’s Responses (vs 9-12)


Jacob was afraid and full of fear. He was at crossroad; do not what to do. But even in the middle of this uncertainty, he managed to come to God and say prayer to God.

It is such good prayer that we all can learn. As you explore it, you might notice some similarities to what we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks. It’s a great demonstration of what we learn in the New Testament align with those from the Old Testament.

There are 4 things that Jacob did which we can learn.

  1. Praying According to God’s Word

Jacob is really scared of what happening. There is one thing that we can learn from Jacob. In his prayer, Jacob was holding onto God’s promises. He starts by saying that God of his grandfather Abraham and the God of his father Isaac. Jacob asks God for help because of the special promises God made to his family.

Then look at verse 9 and 12, he tells God twice about what He said before. 9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ In verse 9, He’s basically saying, “God, I’m doing what You told me! You asked me to return to my country.” Then he did not stop there, in verse 12, 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ Jacob is like “God, remember when You promised to make my family huge and successful? Well, now I need Your help with Esau.”

When we listen to this, it seems like very impolite prayer. It is like we try to push God. But you know what God likes it when we use His own words to talk to Him. He likes it when we remind Him of what He promised He would do for us. In other words, when we do that, we are holding on His promises, and we put our trust on His promises. That’s what prayer is about—asking God for things based on what He said.

  1. Praying in Humility

Another lesson we get from Jacob’s prayer is about being humble. 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.

He’s basically telling God, “God, I’m nothing without You. I don’t even deserve the good stuff I have got.” Jacob admits to God that he is unworthy. He knows he doesn’t deserve God’s kindness because he is sinner. He doesn’t even deserve the good stuff God’s given him – he messed up every time while God is faithful to him. Jacob shows up to God in the right attitude, knowing he cannot do anything, and he really needs God’s help. He remembered when he left the promises land, he has nothing. He remembered how God protect him from Laban.

How do you come to God in your prayer? Do you come with attitude of someone who thinking “God, I have done this and now I deserve all these blessing”. Hope we all realise that we do not deserve God’s grace and mercy. We are nothing and we deserve nothing. However, because of the blood of Jesus, we can come boldly to God as our heavenly father, and we can ask for His mercy and grace. This is one main ingredient of prayer which is humility because we have to remember that when we pray, we express our complete dependence on God. We’re like kids who rely on our caring Father for everything we need.

  1. Praying with Gratitude

Another thing we can learn from Jacob’s prayer is his prayer is full of thanksgiving.

10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Listen to this. Jacob realised his unworthy. He realised God blessed him and took care of him. He said that “I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. From one stick in his hands to two massive groups. He realised how much God blessed him. Jacob was seriously counting his blessing. How about you and me? Do we take time to count our blessings? Do you realise the job that you have now is his blessing? How about the pay check you get every month? The house that give you shelter? Do we ever stop to be thankful for all those blessings? The food we eat? The family we have. Or the church we have now. And above everything, we already have God’s greatest blessing to us – the gift of His son.

  1. Ask Boldy

He closed his prayer by boldly asking God what he wants from God. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.

He did not stop there. He also gives the reason why God should fulfil his request. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’

The Bible that we have has a lot of promises; around 3000 thousand promises. The Good News is because of Jesus, all these promises are yes and amen for every Christians.

Someone once asked a pastor what the most important part of prayer was. The pastor said, “The 15 minutes after I finish praying.” Even though Jacob’s prayer was very important, his faith in God would show in what he did right after praying. While Jacob’s prayer was indeed a good prayer, he did not want to do one crucial thing: giving up his control. Let’s examine Jacob’s response after his heartfelt prayer. Instead of surrendering to God, Jacob decided to push forward with his plan, making it even more detailed.

13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau,

14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,

15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.

16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.”

17 He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’

18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.'”

19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him,

20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.'” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.”

Right after great prayer from Jacob for God’s deliverance. Jacob once again tries to do things his way. He tried to bribe Esau, so Jacob takes control again and sends his brother a bunch of presents—580 animals altogether—all in the hopes of making things right. In the context of that time, this amount of animals would have been sufficient to cover your expenses and sustain your life for the rest of your life. It is very big gift. He’s really banking on this working. To this point, Jacob had been holding back from fully giving himself up, not completely relying on God’s promise to keep him safe.

But very often, we are like Jacob—our lips say, “Jesus, I surrender all! I surrender all.” However, in reality, we still love being in control. We don’t like letting go of that control. Jacob surrendered most of his belongings, like goats, camels, cows, and many more, but he didn’t want to surrender one crucial thing: himself.

However, God is not finished with Jacob. The answer to Jacob’s prayer came in a strange way. Jacob might want for God to simply answer his prayer and deliver him from Esau, but God had a different plan. It leads me to my last point

  1. The Unexpected Answer (vs 21-32)

21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

Jacob Wrestles with God

22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.

Later that evening, Jacob moves the rest of his stuff and his family across the Jabok river, leaving himself alone on the north bank. And right there, something mysterious happens. A visitor shows up and starts wrestling with Jacob.

Who is the man? A lot of scholars believe this wasn’t just any regular man. This is another example of Jesus showing up in the Old Testament before He came to Earth as a baby in Bethlehem. This was God appearing in a human form. I think the clue is on at the end of this pericope – verse 30 –30 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.”

One interesting thing here is the verse 24 did not say “Jacob wrestled with Him” but the verse says a man wrestled with him. What does it mean? God is the one initiates the wrestling match. Jacob wasn’t trying to get something from God; it was actually God who wanted something from Jacob.

In verse 24, it is also mentioned that Jacob wrestled with the man until the breaking of the day. Just try to imagine how intense this wrestling match must have been. It was as intense as a hardcore wrestling match. I’m aware that some of you attended a wrestling match a few weeks ago. It lasted only 2-3 hours, and I believe they were already tired and sweating.

I’m amazed by Jacob’s persistence throughout the night-long struggle. I mean, he was wrestling with a being who was God-man. But his determination is no difference from how we often act with God. Our stubbornness drives us to control situations in our own way, almost as if we’re trying to take on God’s role. Even though we’re aware of our mistakes, we’re so stubborn. We find ways to justify our wrong actions.

The question now is: could Jacob really match with God? Did Jacob have the same power as God? In reality, the Man could have effortlessly claimed victory at any moment because God is so powerful. God could have won the wrestling match anytime, but He allowed the match to continue because He had a larger purpose for Jacob. What was God’s purpose? Let’s continue with the story.

25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

God struck Jacob’s hip, dislocating it from the socket. Although I haven’t experienced this myself, based on what I’ve read, the pain is unbelievably intense. It should have injured Jacob.

God brought Jacob to the point where Jacob can not do anything. He could not fight God anymore but there is one thing he could do; 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”. Jacob said “I will not let you go until you bless me!” He could not fight anymore but one thing he could still do was hold on tightly to God.

Looking back at his history, Jacob had often relied on his own cleverness and sneakiness, thinking he didn’t need to put his full trust in God. Just look at this pericope, after Jacob prayed, he still relies on his own plan. He gave cows, donkeys and other animals to Esau instead of trusting God. However, in this moment, he found himself in a position where he could only lean on God’s blessings. At times, God leads us to the end of ourselves, where we must reach the end of our own capabilities in order to truly encounter Him.

27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

At this point, the wrestling match has finished. But there is bit funny conversation between God and Jacob. In verse 27, God asked Jacob, “What is your name?”  Ever wondered if God wasn’t aware of Jacob’s name? Of course, God knew. So, why did God even ask? Well, you see, Jacob’s name means “deceiver” or “cheat.” So, when God asked, it was like shining a light on Jacob’s past mistakes. Imagine how Jacob must have felt, a bit ashamed maybe. He answered, “Jacob.” God wants Jacob to admit his true nature. It’s a moment of raw honesty, like saying, “I’m nobody special; I don’t deserve anything.” But it is also a moment of surrender and submission to God.

So often we approach God with a sense of pride, thinking, “I’ve got this. I’m good enough.” But let’s take a lesson from today’s message. When we come before God, let’s do it with humility. Let’s be real with Him, admitting that we can be stubborn, make foolish choices, and fall into sin. It’s okay to acknowledge our weaknesses. In fact, it’s in those moments of humility that we find His strength. And let’s see what God did after Jacob surrender to God. Verse 28-32

28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

30 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.”

What did God do to Jacob? God changed his name. The meaning of Israel is “God fights”.

Let’s take a closer look at something really interesting. In the beginning of this story, Jacob is really scared about one thing: his brother Esau. He prays to God, asking for protection from Esau. Now, after he wrestles with God for a while, did God actually say, “Alright Jacob, it’s all good now. Go meet Esau, he won’t hurt you”? Nope, not at all! If you read the last part of this story, there’s no direct assurance from God that everything will be okay with Esau. But here’s the cool part: all of this, the praying and wrestling, it’s all about telling Jacob one powerful thing—“God is always with him”.

You know, whatever you’re striving for, did you ever consider that it can’t truly replace God in your life? Sometimes God holds back the very things you’re longing for to teach you something vital. Having a close relationship with God is way more valuable than any material blessing. And that’s exactly what comes out of this story of Jacob wrestling through the night. Let me put it this way: Jacob didn’t get an instant fix to his problems in that wrestling match. What he did get was a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. And that’s something we all should take to heart. Ps Yosia summarised nicely this part. He said; Because by losing the fight, Jacob received the greatest blessing one can ever receive: GOD. Jacob got God

Jacob’s victory wasn’t like winning a game. When you’re in a kind of wrestling match with God, the funny thing is, you actually win by surrendering. By not giving up, you know you have lost.

Because of this wrestle, it says in verse 31, Jacob is limping because of his torn hip socket

31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

32 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.

After that wrestling match, Jacob ended up with a limp in his hip, a permanent reminder that sometimes gaining a blessing means giving up something else. Now, think about your own life. Are you okay with the idea of letting go? Sometimes God needs to shake things up, just like He did with Jacob’s hip, to help us see the bigger picture. So, are you willing to let go of what you think you know, ready to lose control, and make room for God’s greater plan? It might just be the step that leads you to a blessing you never imagined which to have God Himself in our life.

One thing we can learn here is How a lot of time God answers our prayer differently. Sometimes, what we ask for and what God gives us might not match up exactly. Why? Well, it’s because while we often focus on our immediate needs, God’s looking at a bigger picture—His kingdom and His plan that goes beyond just what we want.

Does it mean we should not ask God in our prayer? No! We have learnt for last few weeks to ask our Heavenly Father boldly. Jacob’s wrestling match with God also carries a powerful metaphorical message about prayer. Just like Jacob wrestled with God, our prayers can sometimes feel like wrestling. When we pray, we’re not just asking for things, we’re engaging in a deeper conversation with God. Sometimes, just like Jacob, we might wrestle with our doubts, fears, and uncertainties. And in the process, our relationship with God grows stronger.

There may come a time in your prayer life when you find yourself in a wrestling match with God. You approach Him with persistent and bold requests, but His answer might be a firm no. This might leave you with a heavy heart, but there’s something to learn from Jacob in verse 26: “But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, God!'” So, remember, don’t let go of God. Keep holding tightly to Him. If you’re disappointed, share and express your frustration openly with God.

Through your wrestling in prayer, your relationship with God will deepen, and you’ll draw closer to Him. Just like Jacob’s experience in verse 30: “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

This story is the story of God’s love. Can you imagine that God reaches out in a way that lets Jacob wrestle, and amazingly, Jacob won. This wrestle brings Jacob the knowledge that God stands beside him, ensuring victory through divine guidance.

One of the struggle for us as Christian when we are in the midst of this season of wrestling, waiting or struggling is the question in our mind “does God see our cry? Does God hear us?” Imagine this story: The One who made all the stars and galaxies cared so much that He came down to be like us humans and wrestled with Jacob. Not only that, but he also intentionally became weak to win Jacob.

We can totally trust that He listens to our prayer. We can totally trust that He cares for us. Even if it seems like God’s not there, you know what, He totally is. Why? Because The Cross is the proof of His way of saying, “I’m here and I’m listening.” This story of Jacob is echoing the message of the cross. Imagine this: God cared so much about us that He actually came down to our level and became one of us. Wait a minute, and He lets himself be defeated. Nails pierce His hands and feet, and He hangs on a cross.

Why, you ask? Because Jesus fights on our behalf. Yes, you heard right—Jesus battles for us. He is wrestling with our sins, all the mistakes, bad choices, and wrong turns we make. He lets himself be defeated to get all of us. He was defeated to win all of us. He unites us to Himself. He looks us right in the eyes and says this to you, “I’m in this with you. I won’t ever walk away, and I won’t ever abandon you.” It’s as if He’s making a promise that no matter what twists and turns life may throw our way, He’s right there, by our side, no exceptions. So, my friends, when you’re feeling alone, when things get tough, remember this promise.

God is definitely not someone who doesn’t care about us. I mean, just look at the cross – that’s the ultimate proof that He loves us! The whole story of Jesus on the cross screams out how much He cares for us. It’s like a gigantic “I love you” from God. Let’s Pray.



Discussion questions:


  1. What struck you the most from this sermon?
  2. Why do you think it’s easier for you to trust your own plan than God?
  3. Explain the difference between Jacob’s prayer and Jacob’s action. Can you see the same tendency in you?
  4. Why did God wrestle with Jacob? What does God want to do in your wrestling match with Him?
  5. How does this story point us to the gospel?
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