Friday, August 17, 2007

His loud cries and tears have prevailed for us

Edmund Clowney on prayer, from
The very expressions used to describe God's self-revelation show that the initiative must come from him. Man cannot ascend into heaven to look upon the face of God, nor can he build a temple-tower to bring God down to the box of his religious specifications. This was the sin of the builders of the tower of Babel. Rather than calling upon the name of the Lord, they sought to make for themselves a name, and to build a tower that would establish communication with God on their terms. The phrase that describes the tower of Babel (the top reaching to heaven) is repeated in a different context when God reveals himself to Jacob at Bethel (Gen. 11 :4; 28: 12). The stairway of Jacob's dream is set up by God, not by men; it is God who takes the initiative. He descends the stairway to stand beside Jacob in the dream and to repeat the promises that he had made to Abraham. By God's initiative his presence is made known. Jacob marks the spot as Bethel, the 'house of God', exclaiming, 'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it!' (Gen. 28:16).

When Jacob returns to the land of the promise after his long exile in Haran, God again takes the initiative in revealing his presence (Gen. 32). Jacob fears the encounter with his offended brother Esau, but he is taught to fear rather his encounter with God. The threat comes, not from the encampment of angels that meets him as he enters the land, but from a single antagonist who challenges him: the Angel of the Lord. The desperate wrestling match that follows should be understood as trial by combat: an ordeal in which Jacob prevails even as he is crippled by the touch of the angel. Jacob emerges as the lame victor: he has seen the face of God and has prevailed to receive the blessing (Gen. 32:28, 31; Hos. 12:4). The deep mystery of this incident is illumined by its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. The touch of the Angel on Jacob's thigh has reference to his descendants. The stroke of judgment falls upon the Seed of Jacob; it is the Suffering Servant who is smitten of the Lord, but who strives with God and wins.

Jacob's struggle reflects his prayer recorded earlier in the chapter (Gen. 32:9-12). He confesses his own unworthiness, prays for deliverance from Esau, and claims the promise of blessing that God had spoken at Bethel. Jacob's victory is by faith: in his crippled condition he is no match for a human adversary, much less the Angel. Yet he clings with desperation to the Angel, claiming the promised blessing. When the Angel asks Jacob to release him because the dawn is breaking, we are not to understand that the Angel feared the dawn. The danger was to Jacob: the danger of seeing, in the light of the morning, the face of the One who was none other than the Lord. This is clear from Jacob's words after the encounter. He calls the place 'Peniel' ('the face of God') because in the dim light he saw God's face and yet escaped death.

Can Jacob's wrestling with the Angel be made a model for prayer warriors of the new covenant? Certainly not if it is torn from its context in the history of redemption, and therefore from its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. It is Christ who delivers us from the judgment threatened at Peniel. His loud cries and tears have prevailed for us (Heb. 5:7). He has endured the ordeal that accomplished our salvation, the ordeal of Gethsemane and Calvary. God's revelation at Peniel teaches the grace of his plan as he intervenes to bless the heir of the promise. Yet Jacob is not just an actor in a sacred drama. His fierce grip on the angel expresses his desperate faith. In that respect Jacob, like the host of saints surveyed in Hebrews 11, bears witness to us. We have received 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ' (2 Cor. 4:6). That light is the supreme blessing of grace. The prayer of faith lays hold of that gift with a persistence that will not be denied (Lk. 11:8; 18:5).


  1. Anyone else think that Ed Clowney looks a bit like Bob Holness of 'Blockbusters' fame?

  2. It is a horrible photo but the only one BWM has...