3. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:
3. In utero apprehendit plantam fratri suo; et in fortitudine sua dominatus est cum Deo (quanquam nomen
4 Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us;
4 Et dominatus est cum Angelo (vel, adversus Angelum; vel, luctatus est, si quis malit, quanquam ad verbum ita habetur; sed quia sequitur
5 Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial.
5 Et Jehova Deus exercituum; Jehova memoria ejus.
In all this discourse the Prophet condemns the ingratitude of the people; and then he shows how shamefully they had departed from the example of their father, in whose name they yet took pride. This is the substance. Their ingratitude is showed in this, that they did not acknowledge that they had been anticipated, 1 in the person of their father Jacob, by the gratuitous mercy of God. The first history is indeed referred to for this end, that the posterity of Jacob might understand that they had been elected by God before they were born. For Jacob did not, by choice or design, lay hold on the heel of his brother in his mother's womb; but it was an extraordinary thing. It was then God who guided the hand of the infant, and by this sign testified his adoption to be gratuitous. In short, by saying that Jacob held the foot of his brother in his mother's womb, the same thing is intended, as if God had reminded the Israelites, that they did not excel other people by their own virtue or that of their parents; but that God of his own good pleasure had chosen them. The same is alleged against them by Malachi,
'Were not Jacob and Esau brethren? Yet Jacob I loved, and Esau I regarded with hatred,' (Malachi 1:2,3.)
For we know wish what haughtiness this nation has ever exalted itself. "But whence have ye arisen? Look back to your origin: ye are indeed the children of Abraham and Isaac. In what then do ye differ from the Idumeans? They have certainly been begotten by Esau; and Esau was the son of Isaac and the brother of Jacob, and indeed the first-born. Ye then do not excel as to any dignity that may exist in you. Own then your origin, and know that whatever excellency may be in you proceeds from the mere favour of God, and this ought to bind you more and more to him. Whence then is this pride?"
Even thus does our Prophet now speak,
Moreover, this passage clearly shows that men do not gain the favour of God by their free-will, but are chosen by his goodness alone before they are born, and chosen, not on account of works, as the Papists imagine, who concede some election to God, but think that it depends on future works. But if it be so, the charge of the Prophet was frigid and jejune. Now since God through his good pleasure alone anticipates men, and adopts those whom he pleases, not on account of works, but through his own mercy, it hence follows that those who have been chosen are more bound to him, and that they are less excusable when they reject the favour offered to them.
But here someone may object and say, that it is strange that the posterity of Jacob should be said to have been elected in his person, and yet they had in the meantime departed from God; for the election of God in this case would not be sure and permanent; and we know that whom God elects he also justifies, and their salvation is so secured, that none of them can perish; all the elect are also delivered to Christ as their preserver, that he may keep them by his divine power, which is invincible, as John teaches in chapter 10 What then does this mean? Now we know, and it has been before stated, that the election of God as to that people was twofold; for the one was general, and the other special. The election of holy Jacob was special, for he was really one of the children of God; special also was the election of those who are called by Paul the children of the promise, (Romans 9:8.) There was another, a general election; for he received his whole seed into his faith, and offered to all his covenant. At the same time, they were not all regenerated, they were not all gifted with the Spirit of adoption. This general election was not then efficacious in all. Solved now is the matter in debate, that no one of the elect shall perish; for the whole people were not elected in a special manner; but God knew whom he had chosen out of that people; and them he endued, as we have said, with the Spirit of adoption, and supplied with his own grace, that they might never fall away. Others were indeed chosen in a certain way, that is, God offered to them the covenant of salvation; but yet through their ingratitude they caused God to reject them, and to disown them as children.
But the Prophet subjoins, that Jacob
But it must be noticed, that God and angel are here mentioned in the same sense; we may, indeed, render it angel in both places; for
But we must, on the other hand, refute the delirium, or the diabolical madness of that caviller, Servetus, who imagined that Christ was from the beginning an angel, as if he was a phantom, and a distinct person, having an essence apart from the Father; for he says, that he was formed from three untreated elements. This diabolical conceit ought to be wholly discarded by us. But Christ, though he was God, was also a Mediator; and as a Mediator, he is rightly and fitly called the angel or the messenger of God, for he has of his own accord placed himself between the Father and men.
Grant, Almighty God, that inasmuch as thou slowest thyself to us at this day so kindly as a Father, having presented to us a singular and an invaluable pledge of thy favour in thy only begotten Son, -- O grant, that we may entirely devote ourselves to thee, and truly render thee that free service and obedience which is due to a Father, so that we may have no other object in life but to confirm that adoption, with which thou hast once favoured us, until we at length, being gathered into thy eternal kingdom, shall partake of its fruit, together with Christ Jesus thy Son. Amen.
Yesterday we explained how it seemed proper to call him who appeared to holy Jacob in Bethel both God and an angel; for the name, Jehovah by which is expressed the eternal power, essence, and majesty of God, could not be transferred to a mere angel. It is hence certain that he was the only true God. But it could not be, that he was simply and without any distinction called an angel; but as Christ even then sustained the character of a Mediator, he was not inconsistently called an angel; and yet we know that he is the eternal God. So this passage is worthy of being remembered, as it bears testimony to the divinity of Christ; for the Prophet clearly affirms that he is Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, and that he is so by his own power; and that he does not subsist in another, as all creatures do. Since then he is so, his sovereignty is proved, so that he is not inferior to the Father.
But he says, that this is his memorial, or remembrance. This expression has reference to men; the Prophet then means, that this wonderful and magnificent name would be well known in the world, when Christ should be revealed. The people, indeed, even then acknowledged that the true God appeared to their father Jacob; but the knowledge of a Mediator was hitherto obscure. The Prophet then seems to have respect here to the coming of Christ; as though he said, that the name, Jehovah, would be widely known to all, when the Mediator would be more clearly exhibited. But I will come now to the other parts of the passage.
The Prophet says that he
And it is a wonderful marshalling of the contest, when God on one side makes himself an antagonist, and, on the other, fights in us against his own temptations, or against all those wrestlings by which he tries our faith. Hence God is said to be overcome by us, when, by the power and aid of his own Spirit, he strengthens and renders us unconquerable; yea, when he makes us to triumph over temptations, and when we consider everything, such is the state of the case, that God will have the greater portion of strength to be on our side, and that he only takes the weaker portion to tempt and try us. There is not indeed, in this case, to be imagined by us, any such separation, as if God was divided against himself; but we know, that when he tries our faith, he comes forth as if he were a contender, or as if he challenged us to the contest. This is indeed certain. For what are temptations, or what is their object, but to afford us an occasion to exhibit, as on a field of battle, an example and proof of our strength and firmness? But this could not be done without an adversary; for what advantage would it be to fight with a shadow? or when no one engages with us? Hence God is like an adversary whenever he tries our faith; and, as it has been said before, we have this contest not with men, but with God himself. We have indeed to contend with the devil; for Paul says, that we have to fight not (only) with flesh and blood, but with mighty powers, (Ephesians 6:12.) This is doubtless true; but the Lord, at the same time, holds the first place, as that remarkable passage in Job testified, 'The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away,' (Job 1:14.) So, then, we must engage with God himself. How so? Because he tries and proves us. But he does not tempt us, as James says, (James 1:14;) for a person is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust. He does not tempt us to evil; he does not instil into us corrupt desires, which grow up spontaneously, and which are innate in our nature: but he tempts, that is, proves us, as he is said to have tempted Abraham, (Genesis 22:1.)
Since it is so, we must now wrestle with God; but for what end? That we may conquer: for God intends not to overwhelm us, while he is making known our faith and constancy of obedience; but, on the contrary, he builds a theatre, on which to show his gifts. We therefore come to the struggle with the hope of overcoming. That we may overcome, he, as I have said, not only exhorts us to be strong, but supplies us also with arms, endues us with strength, and also fights himself, in a manner, with us, and is powerful in us, and enables us to overcome our temptations. For this reason, Jacob is said to have power with God, or to have been God's conqueror.
But what the Prophet adds may seem strange, that this was done by his strength. He had power with God, he says, by his own strength. But if Israel had fought by his own valour, he could not have borne even the shadow of God, for he must have fallen. He must have been brought to nothing, had he not power greater than that of man. What, then, does this mean, that he was a conqueror by his own strength? We grant, that this strength, of which the Prophet speaks, may be ascribed to holy Jacob when he gained dominion. There is no better title, as they commonly say, than that of donation; and God is wont to transfer to us whatever he bestows, as if it were our own. It is then necessary to distinguish wisely here between the strength which man has in himself, and that which God confers on him. The Papists, as soon as any mention is made of the strength or power of man, instantly lay hold on it, and say, "If there is no freewill in man, there is no strength, or there is no power to resist." But they betray their own stupidity and thoughtlessness, inasmuch as they cannot distinguish between the intrinsic strength which is in man himself by nature, and the adventitious strength with which God endues men, and which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Prophet, when he here commends the strength of holy Jacob, does not extol his free-will, as though he derived strength from himself, by which he overcame God; but he means that he was divinely endued with unconquerable power, so that he came forth a conqueror in the contest. We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
And since this was especially worthy of being remembered, he repeats, that he had power with the angel, and prevailed. But we have already said how Jacob prevailed not indeed of himself, but because God had so distributed his power, that the greater part was in Jacob himself. I am therefore wont, when I speak of the wrestling and of the daily contests with which God exercises the godly, to adduce this similitude, -- That God fights with us with his left hand, and defends us with his right hand, that is, he assails us in a weak manner, (so to speak,) and at the same time stretches forth his right hand to defend us: he displays, in the latter instance, his greater power, that we may become victorious in the struggle. And this mode of speaking, though at the first view it seems harsh, does yet wonderfully set forth the grace and goodness of God, inasmuch as he deigns to humble himself for our sake, so as to choose to concede to us the praise of victory; not indeed that we may become proud of ourselves, but that he may be thus more glorified, when he prefers exercising his power in defending us rather than in overwhelming us, which he could do with one breath of his mouth. For he has no need of making any effort to reduce us to nothing: if he only chooses to blow on the whole human race, the whole world would in a moment be extinguished. But the Lord fights with us, and at the same time suffers us not to be crushed; nay, he raises us up on high, and, as I have already said, concedes to us the victory. Let us now go on.
The Prophet adds, that he wept and entreated:
And this ought to be carefully noticed; for here the Prophet meets all calumnies, when he so moderates the sentence, that he takes away nothing from God and his glory, though he thus splendidly adorns the victory of the patriarch. He was then
But when a temptation is at hand, we withdraw ourselves, and there is no one who would not gladly make a truce, and also hide himself at a distance from the presence of God. Inasmuch then as we desire God to be far from us, when he comes forth as an antagonist to try our faith, this praying of Jacob ought to be remembered; for though he had his leg disjointed, though he was worn out with weariness, he did not yet withdraw himself, he did not wish the departure of the angel, but retained him as it were by force: "Thou shalt bless me; I would rather contend with thee, and be wholly consumed, than to let thee go before thou blesses me." We hence see that we ought to seek the presence of God; though he may severely try us, though we may suffer much, though our strength fail, though we may be made lame through life, we ought not yet to shun the presence of God, but rather embrace him with both arms, and retain him as it were by force; for it is much better to groan under our burden, and to feel his power who is above us, than to continue free from toil, and to rot in our pleasures, as they do whom God forsakes. And we see how much such an indulgence ought to be dreaded by us; for unless we are daily sharpened by various temptations, we immediately gather rust and other evils. It is therefore necessary, in order that we may continue in a sound state, that our contests should be daily renewed: and hence I have said, that we ought to seek the presence of God, however severe the wresting may be.
'This is the house of God, and the gate of heaven,
and I knew it not,' (Genesis 28:16,17.)
When therefore the holy man thought himself to be as it were cast away by God, and destitute of all aid, when he was alone and without any hope, God is said to have found him; for of his own good will he presented himself to him, when the holy man hoped no such thing, nor conceived such a thing in his mind. Hence God had already found his servant in Bethel; and there he spake, or (that the same strain may be continued) had spoken to him.
There does not seem, however, to be any great reason why we should toil much about the Prophet's words: and some even of the Rabbis (not to deprive them of their just praise) have observed this to be the meaning, That the Lord had so spoken with Jacob, that what he said belonged to the whole people. For doubtless whatever God then promised to his servant appertained to the whole body of the people, and all his posterity. Why then do interpreters so greatly torment themselves, when it is evident that God spake through the person of one man with all the posterity of Abraham? And this agrees best with the context; for the Prophet now applies, so to speak, to the whole people what he had hitherto recorded of the patriarch Jacob. That they might not then think that the history of one man was related, he says that it belongs to all. How so? Because the Lord had so spoken with holy Jacob, that his voice ought to resound in the ears of all. For what was said to the holy man? Did God only reveal himself to him? Did he promise to be a Father only to him? Nay, he adopted his whole seed, and extended his favour to all his posterity. Since then he had so spoken to all the Israelites, they ought now to be more ashamed of their defection, inasmuch as they had so much degenerated from their father, with whom they were yet connected. For there was a sacred bond of unity between Jacob and his children, since God embraced them all in his love, and favoured them all with his adoption. We now perceive the mind of the Prophet. Let us proceed --
1 Praeventum fuisse. This is a most difficult word to render correctly and intelligibly. To prevent, in the sense of going before, is not current. The meaning here is, that they did not own that in the case of Jacob free mercy was previous to any good on his part. --Ed.
2 This is an instance in which critics, from not understanding the drift of a passage, have suggested emendations, which seem plausible, and yet take away an important meaning, as we shall see in the present case, from Calvin's explanation. Horsley takes the same view with Calvin, though Newcome does not. --Ed.