Genesis Bible Study (God's Grace To Overcome) Transforming Jacob

Genesis 32, Struggling With God


We are looking at how God is going to transform the character of Jacob. The beginnings for Jacob are not recorded in positive light. His name means that he is a swindler. His brother says that he is a cheater and a deceiver. Jacob has taken advantage of his brother to take the birthright from him. Further, Jacob deceived his blind father to steal the blessing from him. Therefore, his brother Esau wants to kill him and this is why Jacob must run away and live with his uncle in Haran. But now Jacob is ready to take his family and return to his homeland of Canaan. Jacob leaves Haran with his family and sets his face to go to Gilead (cf. Genesis 31:21,25). But what happens at the beginning of Genesis 32 is very important to understanding everything that happens next in Jacob’s life.

Reconciliation Required (32:1-3)

The first two verses of Genesis 32 begin with the angels of God meeting Jacob. We are not told what the angels did or told Jacob. We will be able to infer what happened in a moment. But it is important to notice that there is an intervention from God at this moment. Jacob is leaving Gilead and on his way to Canaan. But God sends angels to meet Jacob. Jacob observes that this is God’s camp and calls the place “Two Camps.” This is an interesting thought process for Jacob. Jacob does not see himself as belonging to God yet. Rather, there is God’s camp (the angels of God) and there is Jacob’s camp (his family and wealth).

But then something really strange happens. Verse 3 tells us that Jacob sends messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir in Edom. Now this might not seem so strange until we remember Jacob’s situation and we look at a map. When we look at a map we can see there is no reason for Jacob to go to Edom. Edom is not on the way to Canaan. In fact, Seir in Edom is quite out of the way for a journey to Canaan. This journey to Edom is all the more strange when we remember that the last time Jacob was around Esau that Esau declared his intent to kill Jacob. This is why Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, sent him way. While more than 20 years have passed since that time, what Jacob knows is that Esau wants to kill him. So why is Jacob going to Edom and sending messengers? It is truly unnecessary to go to Canaan.

Or is this journey to Edom to see Esau unnecessary? I noted a moment ago that along Jacob’s journey angels from God have met him. We are not told what they said. But I think it is reasonable to see that God has told Jacob that he needs to look for reconciliation. God has told Jacob before he can go home, he needs to deal with this problem that has not been resolved. Jacob needs to deal with the wrongs of his past. So before Jacob can settle in the promised land, he needs to settle this open wound with his brother. This will explain much of what we see with Jacob and his interaction with Esau.

Before we move forward, I hope we can see how important it is to the Lord that we work for peace and reconciliation with all people. Paul commanded that as much as depends on us that we would live at peace with all (Romans 12:18). Jesus proclaimed that the peacemakers are blessed because they will be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9). Jesus even said that if you were on the way to worship but remember that your brother or sister has something against you that you need to stop what you are doing and be reconciled first (Matthew 5:23-24). Before Jacob can settle in the promised land he needs to work out what he has done to his brother. We need to see that before we can enjoy the promised land, we also need to work out what we have done to others and work for reconciliation.

Working Reconciliation (32:4-21)

It is clear that Jacob is terrified to meet his brother (32:7). Jacob does not think that time heals all wounds. He has his servants go ahead to him to meet Esau. Notice the message in verses 4-5. Tell him that “your servant Jacob” has been staying with Laban. Further, he has oxen, donkeys, and servants to find favor in your sight. So Jacob’s message is that he is Esau’s servant and has come bearing gifts for Esau. But when the messengers return, they tell Jacob that Esau is coming to meet you and he has 400 men with him (32:6). So now this looks like a disaster. It does not appear that Esau is happy to see Jacob and wants reconciliation. Instead, it looks like Esau has brought an army with him. This does not look like a welcoming entourage. This looks like vengeance is still on Esau’s mind. So Jacob divides his party into two groups, thinking that if Esau attacks one camp, the other camp will be able to escape (32:7-8).

What do you do when it looks like disaster is coming? What do you do when it looks like the other person has no interest in reconciliation but in vengeance? Jacob does not run. Jacob prays to God and his prayer is recorded in verses 9-12. Jacob begins his address by calling God the God of his father Abraham and his father Isaac. You have been the God for my family. Then Jacob says that you, Lord, told me to go back to my land and my people and you would do good toward me (32:9). You can really see the transformation of Jacob. Listen his humility in his prayer. He proclaims that he is unworthy of all the faithfulness and steadfast love God has shown to him. He also notes how he left his homeland with nothing but a staff and has returned so large and blessed that he can be divided into two camps. In verse 11 he asks for the Lord to rescue him from his brother and asks for this deliverance based on God’s promise. He reminds God that he said that he would do him good and make his offspring innumerable (32:12).

Verses 13-21 record for us exactly what Jacob’s plan was at this point. He creates an enormous gift for Esau which included 200 female goats, 200 sheep, 20 rams, 30 camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, and 30 donkeys. This is a very expensive gift. He gives these to his servants to take on ahead. When Esau meets them, he tells his servants to tell Esau that these are from Jacob as a present to him. Jacob is trying to melt Esau’s heart with extravagant wealth as a gift as well as calling himself Esau’s servant. It is supposed to be wave after wave of gifts meeting Esau as Esau comes toward Jacob’s family. Jacob’s thinking is plainly stated in verse 20. He is hoping to appease Esau so that he will be accepted.

Wrestling With God (32:22-32)

With the gifts prepared, Jacob takes his wives, servants, sons, and possessions and crosses over the Jabbok stream. After sending them to a distance to a greater place of safety, Jacob finds himself alone that night. But then, in the darkness, a man comes and begins to wrestle with him and wrestles with Jacob all night long. I wonder if Jacob initially thought that Esau had caught up to him by surprise and his wrestling with him. The wrestling goes on all through the night. When the man saw that he was not going to prevail against Jacob, he strikes Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. But even still, the wrestling continues. The man tells Jacob to let him go. You would imagine that it was expected that he would be let go by Jacob after dislocating his hip. But Jacob does not let go. Jacob says that he will not let him go unless he blesses him. Now the man asks for his name. He makes Jacob say his name and then gives him a new name. Your name will no longer be called “swindler” or “cheater” (Jacob). Now you will be called “he struggles with God” (Israel). But notice the full explanation of the name change in verse 28. You have struggled with God and with people and have prevailed.

This is quite a summary of Jacob’s life. Jacob struggled with his brother, Esau, from the very beginning in the womb (25:22). Jacob struggled with his father, deceiving him for the blessing. Jacob has struggled with his uncle, Laban, regarding his wife and his proper wages. Now Jacob has struggled with God. In fact, I believe it would be correct to say that Jacob has been struggling with God his whole life. This moment struggling with this angel (cf. Hosea 12:4) represents this life struggle. Jacob even understands that he has wrestled with God but his life has been spared (32:30). Jacob’s whole life has been a struggle against God and against people, but his life has not only been spared but he has also prevailed.

Now here is what I want us to think about. Why has Jacob prevailed when he struggled with God? This wrestling is to be a defining moment for Jacob. The angel clearly showed that he was stronger because he was able to dislocate Jacob’s hip. The angel is clearly the superior because he is the one blessing Jacob and changing his name. But why has Jacob prevailed through all of this? Jacob has overcome because God allowed him to overcome. God is the reason that Jacob has prevailed over people in his life. Jacob even recognized this as we saw in Genesis 31. Now Jacob also knows that the reason he has prevailed in his struggle with God is because God allowed him to overcome. He says in verse 30 that his life has been spared even though he has seen God face to face. Jacob understands that God is with him and has brought him success all of the years of his life, even though it has been a life of hardship. God has let you win. God has given you victory. God has made it so you have overcome. You have not overcome because of you. You have overcome because of God.

This is a beautiful picture of Jacob’s life and represents our lives also. There are times in your life when you have been struggling with God. There are times in your life when you have been struggling with others. You might feel like your whole life has been a struggle. But God has the power for you to overcome. But even though Jacob has struggled his whole life, what he has done is pictured in this wrestling. Jacob would not let go of God. Despite all of his hardships and struggling, he did not let go of God. God does not come to Jacob angry because Jacob has been struggling with God. God does not have a problem with you struggling with him so long as you do not let him go. All of the faithful people of God wrestling with God in their lives. No, they did not do so in a physical way like Jacob did this night. But Joseph had to wrestle with what God was doing in his life. Job had to struggle with God about what was happening in his life. Habakkuk struggled with God. Peter struggled with God. So God has brought Jacob to this moment and he will overcome. The ending of each of the letters written to the seven churches of Asia in the book of Revelation call for those Christians to be faithful to the Lord and they will overcome. If you will not lose the love the you had at the first and be faithful unto death, God promises that we will overcome. You will struggle but God will get you through.

Life With A Limp

We read in Genesis 32:31 that when the sun finally rose, Jacob is now walking with a limp. Jacob is forever changed by this moment. Jacob does not need to struggle with God any longer. Jacob has overcome because of God’s will and power. You can trust God to help when the next obstacle comes. Jacob’s next obstacle is meeting his brother, Esau. Remember that this is how all of this started in this chapter. God has told Jacob to go back to his homeland but reconcile with his brother before he gets to his home. But Jacob does not need to worry because God is with him and he will give him success. Now Jacob has a limp to remember that God is with him.

How many times has God touched us and dislocated our lives so that we will remember to hold on to the Lord for a blessing? Your dislocated life does not mean you are supposed to let go of God. Rather, you are supposed to hold on to the Lord all the more when your life is a struggle and when your life comes out of joint. God is wrestling with you in your life. But if you will not let go of him in your struggle, God will tell you that you win. You will overcome if you will follow him on the path he takes you in your life. The apostle Paul declared, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Jacob has been made weak so that he would become strong in the Lord. You will wrestle with God and he will make you weak so that you can be made strong if you will not let go.

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