Description / Transcription
Almighty God and merciful heavenly Father, we humbly submit ourselves and fall down before Your throne, asking You from the bottom of our hearts that the seed of the Word now to be sown among us may take such deep root that neither persecution nor the worries of life could choke it out, but as the seed is sown may it fall upon good soil and bring forth 30, 60, even 100-fold, for Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from Genesis as we continue our series through the first book of the Bible. I invite you to turn in your Bibles and follow along as I read from Genesis chapter 32, Genesis 32. Genesis 32, beginning at verse 1 through the entire chapter.
“Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim. And Jacob sent[b] messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. 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.’” 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.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.””
“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,’ 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. 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. 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.’” So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.”
“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.” 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?’ 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.’” 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, 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.” So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.”
“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. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 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.” 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. 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.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 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.”
When I was a junior in high school, I was taking an Honors American Literature class and the major requirement of the class, not surprisingly, was to read a lot of the classics of American literature. This was a year-long class and we had to read 800 pages. That was a lot, still seems like a lot even now, 800 pages and you had to get your books approved by your teacher and make your way through 800 pages of American literature. Well, being, I don’t know, lazy, didn’t want to go looking for multiple books and have to go and get each book approved by my teacher, so I went to our high school library and I found the fattest book I could of American literature, 800 pages, The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. It was a very dark nine months for me.
I read the whole thing. I even went and checked this week on Amazon and sure enough, there it is, published by Doubleday 1966, 832 pages. It’s still there if you have such an assignment. She said, “Okay, Edgar Allan Poe counts.” So I read every poem and every short story that Edgar Allan Poe has written and I turned out okay, I think.
One of the things you realize in reading great literature, and especially poetry and those sort of short stories, is how deliberate the author is with his devices. I’m not a great aficionado in poetry, some of you maybe are, and you can read a poem and think it’s just an author writing words that seemed good to him or her, but when you look at the best poetry, you realize there’s quite a rhythm, literally, and there are certain structures and certain meters and certain ways that things are supposed to be put together. There are certain ways in which plays or short stories develop, and it’s not that they follow just a cookie-cutter template, but they realize there are certain things that they’re trying to do, and they don’t pick their words by accident.
It’s not just something that English teachers do to students to go find these things that really weren’t meant to be there, but in fact the authors, especially the masters, the classics, chose their words very carefully. Probably if you know Edgar Allan Poe, you know “quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore'” and all of the nevermore and lost Lenore and the bust of Pallis and lore and all the words and all of the imageries from some biblical, some classic allusions come together in that famous story, and you’re right to pay attention to the words.
All of that is to make a case when we come to the Bible for paying careful attention to the words. Moses is the author, of course there’s the inspired divine author even above and behind Moses, and it isn’t that we’re looking for some sort of secret code, but in particular one of the reasons why it’s so important for pastors to learn the original languages, if at all possible, the Greek and the Hebrew, is you can see some things that are sometimes hard to come out just in the English translation.
I want to show you four words, or in some cases pairs of words or a series of related words, four words and I’ll give you the Hebrew and you’ll have to take my word for it, but you’ll even see them in the English, four words or sets of words that point out four really important ideas in this passage. Hopefully, the takeaway will not just be, “Well, that was interesting. I learned some Hebrew words that I’ll now forget,” but that as we zero in on these words and what Moses is doing to play on these words, you’ll see something of the important themes and then how they apply to us. So four words or sets of words.
Here’s the first one, and you go back to verse 1, “Jacob went on his way and the angel,” so it’s translated there in English, “angel,” it’s the Hebrew word “malachim,” malachim, it means angels or messengers. It works the same way in Greek, “aggelos,” you can hear our word “angel” there, which means angels or messengers.
So in verse 3, “And Jacob sent messengers,” the exact same Hebrew word that you have in verse 1. Now the ESV is fine to translate it this way because we think of these divine messengers as angels, and then these earthly messengers in verse 3 just call them messengers, but it is “malachim,” the exact same Hebrew word.
There’s a connection between these malachim that appear to Jacob in verse 1 of chapter 32 with the malachim, the angels of God, who appeared to Jacob earlier in chapter 28.
So keep your finger there. Turn back to chapter 28, verse 12, Jacob’s dream, and he dreamed, Genesis 28, verse 12, “and he dreamed and behold there was a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven and behold, the angels of God,” the malachim, “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
This expression “angels of God” only appears twice in the entire Old Testament, and you just heard them, 32:1, 28:12, angels of God. Only twice in the whole Old Testament. So obviously we are meant to see some connection. If you were here through the Genesis series, you should be making this connection, because what happened in chapter 28? Remember you have all of the conflict with the family and Jacob’s brother Esau is going to kill him and so his mom says, “You need to go, you need to go up to Haran in the north and you need to go stay with your uncle Laban.” On his way out of the Promised Land to Haran, who appears to him but these angels. The angels of God appear to him as he leaves Canaan and goes to Haran.
Well, now come back. Remember where we are in chapter 32. He’s gotten the flocks and the herds, he’s encountered Laban, they averted the crisis, he’s on the very brink of reentering the Promised Land, and so again to mark out his departure from the Promised Land and now to mark out his reentry into the Promised Land, God meets him there with these malachim. In chapter 28, Bethel, house of God. Here he calls it “mahanaim,” which means “two camps,” as we’ll see.
So these messengers, these divine messengers, come and meet Jacob just like they did when he left the Promised Land, they meet him as he comes back to the Promised Land, verse 1, and then verse 3, Jacob sends out his own malachim to his brother Esau. Jacob is trying to do the same thing that God just did for him, sending messengers to him, now he’s sending messengers out. Why? Well, it’s very obvious, because he’s afraid of Esau. They haven’t seen each other, these brothers, in 20 years. Last time he saw Esau he had tricked him out of the blessing and out of his birthright, and Esau was steaming hot mad, he literally wanted to kill his brother. Twenty years later he’s quite nervous that he’s going to encounter Esau again.
So he sends his messengers ahead to the southern region Edom, Seir, and he gives them this message. Look at verse 4. He collapses 20 years of life with Laban into this one sentence: “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau, ‘This is your servant. I’ve sojourned with Laban, stayed until now.'” That’s 20 years. What have I been doing, brother? I went to Laban and I’ve been with him this whole time.
But that’s not all he says, because notice verse 5. He mentions oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, female servants. This is how you measure wealth in the ancient world. So he would be saying, “I want you to tell my brother I’ve got houses, I’ve got boats, I’ve got Hummers, I’ve got a big family, I’ve got a Fortune 500 company. I want him to know what God has done for me.”
Now why does Jacob do that? Is he just bragging? No. He’s doing it because it’s a not-so-subtle hint before you come and try to kill me, you might want to know that I’ve grown fabulously wealthy and I can do something for you. Mention all of the things that I have because perhaps I’ll be able to give to him a substantial gift.
We’ll see more of the gift in just a moment.
He calls himself, verse 4, “My lord Esau, your servant Jacob.” Maybe that’s just typical, that part of the world, ancient history, just way of speaking very kindly to one another. You could put a negative spin on it and say this is Jacob cravenly, desperately pleading for mercy, “You’re my lord, I’m your servant.” Or you could put a positive spin and say maybe Jacob has recognized something of his own position, that he is the older brother, Esau, and Jacob, he is the younger brother, and in that context he is lord, he comes to him as his servant.
But Jacob hears back from the messengers, verse 6, the malachim, they return to Jacob and they have what sounds like troubling news. Esau, they encountered him, and he has 400 men with him. You need to know that 400 men is the typical Old Testament way of saying a unit, a regiment, a militia. Several times in 1 Samuel we read that David is with 400 fighting men. So this is a military regiment, or so it seems. 400 men. He’s got a regiment with him.
Jacob is fearful. This does not look good. My brother wanted to kill me, he’s coming up to meet me. He has 400 men.
But Jacob. What have we learned about Jacob? He’s ever resourceful, always relying on himself and his smarts, and so he’s got a plan. Part of sending these messengers out ahead is that he divides the camp so that Esau cannot kill everybody at once and he’s going to devise this elaborate plan that one after another will come with gifts and gifts and gifts until finally Esau says, “Okay, okay, enough, all right. I’ll be nice to my brother.” He has a plan.
What I want you to just notice with this first word pair, it’s the same word, angels and messengers, is how Jacob is deliberately trying to take matters into his own hands. Okay, God sent me these messengers, great, great to know that you’re here, God, but now I gotta do something and send out my own messengers. Because one of the big lessons that Jacob has to learn here is that his ultimate hope is not in himself and his smarts and his brains or his brawn, but in God. But right here, at the beginning, he’s still thinking, “I gotta, God sent me messengers, I gotta send some messengers. I gotta take care of this. I gotta find a way.”
Just like Jacob always has done. Hasn’t he always figured out a way to get out of the mess that he’s in?
Some of us are like this. Always certain that we got it figured out. Always reliant on ourself. Sometimes it’s God’s mercy to us to show us that we’re not quite as indispensable as we think. Everyone is indispensable until you say no, isn’t that the saying? And then they go on and they figure something else out.
Have you ever had it that you were sick for a big meeting, you absolutely could not miss this meeting, but then you got sick and you did. Or your plane got delayed and you absolutely were the most important person to be there at that event. Or your computer crashed and you can’t check e-mail for two days. Or you got COVID and you had to be in quarantine for a week and it seemed like the most important meetings and acquisitions of your entire life.
Well, if you’ve had that experience, and most of us have had something like that, what happened? Well, usually life went on. People figured things out. I wasn’t that important. God was still in charge. He still found a way to do it without me. I thought everything would fall apart if I wasn’t there, and you know what? They just went to the next person on the list and he did just a fine job.
Jacob needs to learn some of that. Right now he’s thinking, “God sent me messengers, I gotta send out messengers. I gotta find my way out of this predicament.”
Which brings us to the second Hebrew word, pair of words, related. Go back up to verse 2: “This is God’s camp! So he called that name of that place Mahanaim.” In Hebrew, most words have a three consonant root, so there’s three letters that for really the root of Hebrew words. The word for “gift” or “present” has the three letters transliterate them into our closest English equivalent would be M, N, H, the Hebrew word “minchah,” it means gift, it means present.
It’s the same three letters that are put together here, and you can see it in English, Mahanaim. The “-im” is just a plural, meaning two camps. He calls it two camps, probably because it’s pre-figuring that Jacob’s going to divide his possessions into two camps and because in this moment there’s an earthly camp and God has met him with these angels of Elohim and it’s a divine camp, so there’s two camps. Heaven comes down and meets earth, Mahanaim.
This is related to this word “minchah” meaning present. Minchah, present, gift, occurs several times in these verses. You can look over at verse 13, several times, a present for his brother Esau. Again in verse 18, they belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. In verse 20, again, “I may appease him with the present that goes on ahead of me.”
Jacob is looking to kill him with kindness. He wants to send these gifts at various intervals.
Again, you can put a negative spin. He’s just trying to do a crass bribe, assuage his own guilt, or perhaps there’s also an element of newfound generosity. It is an expression of Jacob’s contrition? Or is it simply a cowardly, conniving way to escape his brother’s wrath one more time? Maybe it’s a combination of both. Whatever the plan, it is quite a plan. 550 different animals. Some people say it’s a bribe, other people say, “Well, this is Jacob expressing to his brother, ‘I am returning something of the blessing that I cheated you out of. Remember, I got the blessing from you. You were supposed to get it, but I swindled it out of you. Well, God has blessed me beyond my wildest imagination and so it’s only proper that I would give back to you some of the blessing that God has given to me.'”
This is an extremely lavish offer. Drove after drove is to meet Esau. We’ll see in a couple weeks, chapter 33, that it turns out to be unnecessary, but Jacob doesn’t know that yet. What he wants is that his messengers would come and they’d approach Esau and he’d some to one drove, “Here’s gifts, my lord, from your servant Jacob.” What’s this? They’d go on a little farther, another one, “here’s more gifts.” Where’s Jacob? He’s back there. More and more gifts so that by the time as their caravans pass, and Esau finally meets Jacob at the very back, not quite a study in bravery here, but at the very back he’s paved the way with 550 animals, surely these gifts will make way for some kind of reconciliation.
You see again that Jacob is mirroring God. God send malachim, Jacob sends out malachim. God shows up Mahanaim, Jacob decides he must send out a lot of minchah, gifts.
But notice in the middle of this desperate scheme, in the middle of this desperate scheme, Jacob does something crucial. He prays. In fact, it is the longest recorded prayer in Genesis. You see it there, verse 9 through verse 12, and it’s quite a good prayer.
Notice how Jacob pleads with God based upon his own promises. God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac. He’s reminding, establishing this covenant relationship. Lord, you said…
I hope you, this is a good way to pray. This is why we pray Scripture, we pray God’s words back to Him, not that God forgot what He said, but we’re saying, “God, I trust you, I believe Your promises, You told me,” Jacob says, “You told me to come back to the land and I’m doing it, and You promised that You would do me good. You promised to bless me. Well, here I am and my brother’s got 400 men and it doesn’t look like blessing is coming my way.” He prays.
Too often I am guilty, maybe you’re guilty of this, I am certainly guilty of this, I turn to prayer as a last resort instead of my first and best option. Ever hear people say, “Well, all we can really do is pray.” No, no, you can pray! It’d be better to say, “All I can do is, you know, I guess, I could, you know, e-mail, I guess I could plan, but what I can really do that will make a difference is I can pray.”
Isn’t it the case so often, we come to some difficulty in life, you’ve got a relational problem, your job stinks, you’re sad all the time, you’re, and we start thinking of all the ways that we can make it better. That’s okay, God gives us a brain and He gives us ways to do it and sometimes He uses good counselors, sometimes He uses a different job, sometimes He uses medicine. He uses all sorts of things. But so often we try all of that and if that doesn’t work, well, I guess I should pray.
Jacob here is beginning to change. In the midst of all of this scheming and planning, he stops and he prays the longest prayer we have recorded in Genesis. Yes, Mahanaim, yes, I send out minchah, but more than just that I need God.
Which leads to the third key word. The word in Hebrew is “panim,” translated “face.” This word, or a version of it, occurs, depending on how you count it, at least seven times in this passage. Verse 20, verse 21, twice again in verse 30.
Look at verse 20, because here you see the emphasis and the play on words here. Look at verse 20: “You shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us,’ for he thought I may appease him.. ” Now look down, the ESV has a little footnote, you can see Hebrew “appease his face,” so that literally the word “face” there with “the present that goes ahead of me,” now that’s a Hebrew expression that again has the word “face,” “that goes ahead of my face, and afterward I shall see his face,” third time, “perhaps he will accept me.” You see the footnote there? You go down again. Literally in the Hebrew, “he will lift my face.”
So Jacob says, “I will appease his face with the present that goes ahead of my face, afterward I’ll see his face, maybe he will lift up his face.” Four times.
The irony with all of these faces is that Jacob is too scared at this point to face up to his brother Esau. And the further irony, he’s afraid to face up to his brother but God is about to face up to him.
He names the place, go over to verse 30 at the end of the chapter, Peniel, or Penuel. There again, remember the Hebrew word “penim.” You can see it there in English, face, “for I have seen the face of God.” That’s what Peniel or Penuel means, it means “the face of God.” It’s the second of three places that Jacob names on his journey from Haran to the Promised Land. He names Mahanaim, he names Peniel, and in chapter 33 he’s going to name Succoth.
God confronts him in this famous scene in the middle of the night. It’s like God confronting Moses. We don’t know if it was at night, but perhaps it was, before his dangerous meeting with Pharaoh. Remember Exodus chapter 4 when God confronts Moses because he hasn’t circumcised his son, and his wife has to say, “What are you doing, hubby?”
Well, similarly, before he has this dangerous meeting with Esau, God confronts him in the middle of the night and Jacob wrestles with a man. It’s a physical man. It’s a physical altercation. Some people say, “Well, he’s wrestling with a demon, or it’s just prayer, or it’s just a spiritual vision.” No, physically wrestling. How do we know it’s physical? Because he physically walks with a limp after it’s done. Physically got hit in the hip socket. It’s called a man elsewhere in Scripture, it’s referred to as an angel.
Listen to Hosea 12, speaking of Jacob: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed. He wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel and God spoke with us, the Lord of God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name.” So Hosea there calls it an angel.
Jacob says, “I have wrestled with God. I’ve seen the face of God.” So this is the Angel of the Lord, the angel who is a physical, visible manifestation of God Himself.
Some even conclude that this is the pre-incarnate Christ, that’s what John Calvin said. Don’t know if we can know that for certain, but whatever it was, it’s some visible manifestation, physical manifestation, the Angel of the Lord, which is the Lord Himself. He comes face to face with God.
Now notice, God’s presence does not mean for Jacob a profound sense of ease and euphoria. We sometimes speak of the presence of God. Like it’s what the Eagles were singing about, that peaceful easy feeling. Just, oh, God’s presence, oh, just. Well, maybe. But the two times that we’ve had God encounter Jacob it hasn’t given him much of a peaceful easy feeling.
In fact, God has been hostile to Jacob’s agenda. I hope you know that. When you pray, “God, I want to see Your face, God, I want to know Your presence,” the presence of God to Jacob is not some warm, squishy feeling. Jacob’s response to the presence of God is first of all, “I didn’t die. I’m alive.” Now he may be also thinking about what’s coming, that this is pre-figuring that God is going to have mercy on me, and as I look at certain death with my brother Esau, I’m going to live. God will have mercy. That’s part of what he may mean, but certainly at least one aspect of it is right now, in this moment, face-to-face with God, I’m alive.
Perhaps Jacob is learning more than he even realizes. He is staring death in the face. The possible death from his estranged brother, and the death here from the Angel of the Lord but yet God blesses him, verse 29, “and there He blessed him.” We’ve seen blessing over and over, ever since chapter 12, every time the patriarch turns around, it’s blessing.
But it’s striking, isn’t it? At this moment of greatest peril, where Jacob fears for his life, his brother is coming with an army to kill him and his wives and children and flocks and herds, at this moment when God blesses him yet again, He does not bless him with more wives or more children or more flocks, or more camels, He blesses him with more God. God showed up with God.
Jacob may have thought, “Okay, I’d like a blessing. An army of warriors, you know, arrow-proof vest perhaps. Maybe Thor’s hammer, does that exist yet? Something that would be a real blessing.” God says, “No, no, no, not this time. It’s not something that you can carry with you. It’s not something in your retinue. It’s something even better. You’ll see me face-to-face.”
We need to remember this. Jacob wanted a certain kind of blessing, and he got the blessing, perhaps not the one he wanted, but the one he needed.
What is the blessing you are really looking for? Is it the blessing you really need? So often, I’m like this, too, God, it’d be great, make this hard situation go away. God, it’d be great, make this sad thing disappear. God, I want that. That’s blessing, right? Bless me.
And God sometimes does it that way, but what if the blessing we really need is the blessing of God Himself. “I’ll show you more of Me. You’ll get to know Me better. Is that blessing enough? To see My face and live.”
There’s a final word. Three words, here’s the fourth word, and related words. It’s the word “Jacob.” The center of gravity in this whole episode is the name change from Jacob to Israel, and there is a very deliberate play on the name of the patriarch. His name in Hebrew “Ya-aqob.” Now notice the place where he’s at, the ford, the river here, verse 22, is Jabbok, and what you wouldn’t know unless you knew Hebrew, is that the verb in verse 24, “he wrestled,” is “ye-abeq.” Remember I said the Hebrew words have a three-letter root? So this one, if you put it into English equivalents would be Y, or J, Q-B. So you hear that there in the English word “Jacob,” but you also have it in the place “jab-boq,” and you also have it in the activity wrestling, which is the word “ye-abeq.” So to put it in just some very crass Hebrew, Jacob ye-abeqed at the yab-boq. There’s a deliberate play on words.
Why? Because we’re focusing in here on this man Jacob because he needs to lose his old name.
Now it’s not literally that he’ll never go by Jacob again. There’s another episode later on in Genesis where he gets Israel again, so it’s not that you couldn’t ever call him Jacob. But in a sense of his identity, at least what that name represented, he needed to shed that name and get a new one.
You see verse 27? “And he,” the Angel of the Lord, “said to him, ‘What is your name?'”
It’s not because God doesn’t know who he is. He wants to hear Jacob speak his name one more time. Why? Because remember what his name means. The angel says, “Who are you?” He says, “I am heel-grabber. I am cheat.” That’s what his name means, Jacob. “I am the one who supplanted my brother.” He needs to own up to that one more time. He has been a trickster his whole life; twice he deceived his brother. He went, and although Laban tried to play foul with him, he got the best of Laban. Now he returns to his homeland. He’s a wealthy man, and once again he’s self-reliant, “I can figure this out, I can trick my way out of this. I’m going to send droves with lots of gifts. By the time he gets to me, problem solved.” And God is saying in the midst of this, “No more Jacob.”
A lot of us don’t realize who self-reliant we are, but it’s only because we’re not desperate at this moment. When you are desperate, and some of you are this morning, then you realize how self-reliant we normally are. When you lose control, when you lose a sense of being able to manage the situation, when you lose your ability to plan and plot your way out of the mess, then you realize, I realize, how normally self-reliant I am. God says, “No more Jacob. It’s time to become Israel.”
Israel means “God strives,” or “he strives with God.” Both were true, and both would be true over the years to come. This struggle with God was the story of Jacob’s life. Again, notice, Jacob comes out on top. He receives blessing once again, Jacob, this time with God Himself, he goes into the pit and he comes out with blessing. But he doesn’t just come out with blessing, he comes out changed.
His strength is still there. Remember we saw a few weeks ago how strong Jacob was? When he gets all the testosterone flowing when he sees Rachel? Ah hah, can move this stone all by myself. I don’t need multiple people. This is a strong guy. We see his strength wrestling to the break of day.
God uses those qualities, his strength, his belligerence, his tenacity, that he doesn’t give up. He uses all of those natural abilities that Jacob has and yet they need to be turned, they need to be twisted, and they need to be in a manner weakened.
He needs some of his natural strength to be crippled, crippled in strength, empowered in faith, because he needs to be rid of this self-sufficiency. He needs to see, “Jacob, it’s not your plan that will succeed. It’s your prayer.”
He struggles with God. That’s who Jacob is. That’s who God’s people will be. That’s who we are. We wrestle. We struggle. We fight against God. But here it means at least a good thing. You wrestle with God until you get a blessing.
This being, this God in the flesh man, cannot overpower Jacob so He gives Jacob the worst injury you could have as a wrestler, He gives him a wrenched hip. But it’s a severe mercy, because it’s only in embracing this weakness that Jacob now will truly live.
Did you notice it’s only after he gets the weakness that he gets the blessing? What God wants Jacob to see more than anything else is simply this: God’s promises are not changing, but Jacob is. He emerges from this episode weaker, yet in a way stronger. He’s still shrewd, he’s still passionate, but he’s more prayerful, increasingly aware of his dependence upon God. Now he’s going to get stuff wrong for sure, but God is in the process of giving him the blessing he truly needs, which is not ultimately the blessing of prosperity, but the blessing of change, of transformation.
How did Jacob move from this conniving younger brother to now a flawed but increasingly faith-filled patriarch? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. Doesn’t usually. He had to be rebuked by God. He had to work two decades for his scheming father-in-law. He had to deal with warring wives. He had to encounter a brother who earlier wanted to kill him and now looks to be on the warpath. He was cheated, deceived. He was often afraid. But 20 years later, here’s the point, 20 years later God is still God, Jacob is becoming Israel.
Here’s what you need to know this morning, as we close, because no doubt some of you here this morning know all too well, you’re confused, you’re hurting, you don’t like what’s going on in your life. Maybe you’re like Jacob at the beginning of chapter 32 and I got a big, fearful thing coming ahead. I got a big, hairy Esau and 400 men staring me down. And you wonder has God changed? No. But maybe you are.
We often come at God, “What are You doing? You let me down. I don’t know about Your promises. I don’t know what You’re up to. God, You changed. You didn’t used to be like this, God.” God wants Jacob to learn, and He wants us to learn, again and again, God says, “I’m not the one who will change, but I do love you enough that I want you to change.”
Who are you? I’m the heel-grabber. Nnn nnn, nnn nnn. No, that’s old. You’re Israel.
He wrestles with God, strives with God, blessed by God, tenaciously holding on to God in faith.
So for all of us who are in Christ, we know the blessing of having been forgiven by Christ, but not just forgiven of our sins, but transformed that we can change and no longer be enslaved to our sins. God has not changed, but He is very much into the business of changing us.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we give grace for Your Word. We pray that You would be at work in our lives, often painful, but You are a friend to sinners and You love us. So do the hard work. Don’t leave us where we are, change us from Jacob to Israel. Give us a limp, if need be, that we may learn to trust You more. In Jesus’ name. Amen.