P.P.I. usually stands for ‘personal protection insurance’, the mis-selling of which has been of great interest and controversy over recent years in the U.K. Mark’s sermon on P.P.I. today had nothing to do with insurance, however, but instead looked at the pivotal point incident in Jacob’s life when he wrestled with God (Gen 32:22-32 TNIV).
In engineering terms, a pivot is the point of rotation in a lever system. A lever is a machine consisting of a beam or rigid rod pivoted at a fixed hinge or fulcrum. I’m interested in its etymology, since the word comes from the French ‘lever’, meaning ‘to raise’. When I think of a pivotal point, I tend to think of a seesaw, which is, in its most basic form, a long, narrow board pivoted in the middle so that, as one end goes up, the other goes down.
Jacob’s encounter with God in Genesis 32 was a pivotal incident in his life. Prior to this, he had been known as ‘the deceiver’, ‘the grabber’, one whose whole life had been spent in deception and selfishness. He had lied to his father, stolen his brother’s birthright and worked alongside Laban, taking what he wanted and living in a ruthless manner with little regard for anyone else except himself. He was a master con artist. The world may commend such methodology, but so far, we do not recognise anything in Jacob that speaks of righteousness and goodness. The fact that God chose him to become Israel – the name by which His people would ever after be known – gives hope to us. No one is hopeless in God’s eyes; He cna choose the most unlikely characters and through His stunning love, faithfulness and goodness, transform their lives.
At this point in Jacob’s life, everything he has ever done is catching up with him. He has lived in exile for years because Esau was so enraged with him that he wanted to kill him. Now he has had enough of Laban’s scheming and has reached the point where he must confront all he has done. He sends a bribe on ahead of him to Esau and is alone in the desert. Laban is behind; Esau is ahead. He feels he’s in a dark place, unable finally to manipulate his circumstances, powerless to control his destiny. Often, God has to bring us to this place of exhausted desperation before we will surrender and allow Him to shape our future and control our destiny.
In the midst of all this, Jacob has to spend the whole night wrestling an unknown man! It seems this encounter is more than just a human fight, for this ‘man’ (generally regarded as a theophany, or an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ) has the supernatural power to wound Jacob’s hip at a touch. Wrestling for even a few minutes is tiring and exhausting (professional wrestling usually has rounds lasting about three minutes), but Jacob had to wrestle all night. He was desperate for the man’s blessing and had to confront all his sins and surrender finally to God. Sometimes the process of struggling with God is necessary before change can occur. We have to be tenacious with God even when painfully injured; Jacob would simply not let go.
This P.P.I. with God led to great changes for Jacob. First of all, he was given a new name (the deceiver became ‘he who wrestles with God’, Israel). He receive a new blessing: God’s favour on his life meant things were never the same again. As the new day came, he saw that God works everything together for good.
Our lives, too, can be transformed by our encounters with God. Blessing often follows struggle. Life often seems messy and chaotic. We get dirty, bruised, wounded and torn in the struggle. Jacob limped for the rest of his life after his wrestling match with God, but he was changed from a manipulative schemer to a man who would forever be known as Israel. Though we may fight God in the dark of the night, a new day will come and there will be new blessing to sustain us. Surrender is not the end of the story but is actually the pathway to finding the purpose of our lives in God.