Humility and Orientation to God's Authority
In Genesis chapter 32 Jacob is returning to the land and he wrestles with the angel of the Lord in an extremely intriguing episode. This chapter really revolves around two elements that are going on that provide the center for doctrinal teaching that is in this section. The first has to do with Jacob's prayer which is covered in vv. 9-12. It is in this prayer that he recognizes in a perhaps more profound way than he has before the fact that God is the one who is the protector and provider for him. The second area of this chapter is the wrestling match that Jacob has with God in vv. 24-32.
In the previous lessons that we have studied in chapter 31 we focused on the principle that God is working in the life of Jacob, as He does with each of us, through a series of successive tests. James tells us that it is through the testing of our faith, i.e. the testing of doctrine in our souls, that God gives us those opportunities to apply the Word that we have learned in various situations, and as we apply the Word the Holy Spirit uses the doctrine that is in our souls to strengthen us and to produce spiritual growth and maturity. In the Old Testament, even though they did not have the Holy Spirit as the primary dynamic and power source for the spiritual life, nevertheless the dynamic of testing was still there and the opportunities to trust God. And as the Old Testament believer exercised the faith-rest drill and trusted God spiritual growth took place. So one of these areas with Jacob was clearly in this arena of people testing. But Jacob is like most of us. He doesn't learn the lesson the first time, the second time, or maybe the third or fourth time. He has to go through those tests over and over again and to learn that God really is the one who protects and provides for us, He is the source of our security and sustenance, and like Jacob, we have to learn to just relax and trust Him.
At the outset of the chapter we have a little episode that takes place in the first two verses. We could entitle this Two Camps and Two Messengers. Genesis 32:1, 2, "And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's camp: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim." One of the things that gets lost for us in reading our English text is the things that are going on in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew text is filled with paronomasias, plays on words that are designed to bring out certain points in the text. There are various words that are used in this text that are the same words that are used back in Genesis 28 as Jacob was leaving the land. So the writer of Scripture uses words that sound alike in order to bring out certain points. He uses transposition of letters in order to bring out certain points and uses the same key words that are used in order to bring out a parallel. Just as when Jacob was leaving the land and has nothing, and he is leaving because of his brother's threats to kill him, and yet God appeared to him at Bethel on his way out and promises him that He would provide for him and protect him, and bring him back to the land, now God is bringing him back into the land.
In verse one reference is made to angelic messengers and in verse three to human messengers. Then there are two camps here. This is the Hebrew word mahanaim (pl). This is why Jacob calls the name of the place in v. 2 Mahanaim, two camps. Six times in this opening section the word mahana or mahanim is used. It is used in vv. 2 & 7, twice in v. 8, again in v. 10, and then in v. 21. In the midst of this section as he talks about the two camps that he sees in vv. 1, 2, he establishes his camps and then sends messengers on ahead, and then he sends a gift to Esau. The word for "gift" is a word that is usually translated "offering." It is a play on the word mahana and it is minchah. These draw attention to the events going on inside the passage.
The focus on this first section is really on God's faithful provision and protection for Jacob during the time that he has been out of the land and bringing him back to the land. It emphasizes the principle for us that God faithfully provides for the believer down through the ages, He protects the believer in spite our stubborn attempts to provide safety and security on our own terms and to somehow gain God's blessing through our own efforts and our own manipulation. So we trust God but, thankfully I've got $20-30,000 in the bank so I don't have to trust Him too much! That is really what we see going on with Jacob and God is finally going to bring this whole issue to a head. He knows exactly what the trends of Jacob's sin nature are. Today we would call him a control freak and a master manipulator, and he is always trying to work the deal to make sure he comes out ahead, and God is going to finally going to deal with that in this section.
Jacob has a vision that takes place in verse one that seems like God opens up his vision so that he sees not only what is going on in the physical world, the natural realm, but he also sees what is beyond that. God opens his eyes to reveal to him that God is protecting him. He is surrounded by this military encamped. This is what the word mahanaim often refers to, an encampment of an army. He is surrounded by this army of angels that are there to protect him. Why would he be so concerned about being protected? Because the last time that he was home in this land he was leaving as fast as he could because his brother Esau was breathing threats of murder. Jacob has no idea of the kind of reception he is going to have from Esau and he is fearful. So at the very beginning we see this hint of what is going on in the passage, this foreshadowing, that God is reminding Jacob that God and God alone is His protection and the one who is providing for him. So Jacob saw them, and in vocabulary that is reminiscent of what happened in chapter 28 he names the place God's Camp. The phrase we see in verse one that Jacob saw "the angels of God" is a phrase that is used only two times in all of the Old Testament. It is also used in 28:12 when Jacob was at Bethel. The writer wants to draw the parallel between the two places. Furthermore, the Hebrew word that is translated "arriving" or "reaching" in 28:11 and "met him" in 32:1 is the same word. So the use of identical vocabulary is designed so that we draw this connection, that what is happening here is the fulfillment of the promise that God was making to Jacob back in chapter 28.
What we see here is that he has two camps. He calls it mahanaim, which is a dual ending in the Hebrew indicating two camps. It is a reference to the encampment of the angels and his own physical encampment. He knows from this that God is the source of his protection.
Genesis 32:3, his strategy for approaching Esau. "And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall you speak unto my lord Esau; Your servant Jacob said thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now: and I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in your sight." So he is going to entreat his brother to find out before he goes very far whether he is going to get a hostile reception. He exercises a wise and practical approach to his brother. There is no deception here, he is no being manipulative, but neither is he sending gifts at this point.
Genesis 32:6, the basic problem for Jacob. "And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to your brother Esau, and also he comes to meet you, and four hundred men with him."
Genesis 32:7, Jacob responds out of his sin nature. He is greatly afraid and distressed. The Hebrew uses two key words to describe what is going on: "fear" and "distress." But notice his response. As soon as he gets fearful, what does he do? He turns to the Lord. This is the first time we have really seen Jacob submit himself is dependence to God. This prayer in verses 9-12 is a prayer that is very similar to later lament psalms in the Psalms.
Genesis 32:9, the address: "And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, Return unto your country, and to your kindred, and I will deal well with you." He addresses his prayer to God, and specifically to God as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. The reason he does this is that he is recalling to mind the Abrahamic covenant. He is emphasizing a point here, that he is reminding God of the covenant. Then he says, "the LORD who said to me." Now he is reminding God of His promise. This is the faith-rest drill, where we go to promises in the Scripture and we remind God of what he has said to us. We call that claiming the promise where we are simply going to God and saying, God, you said this to me and now I am trusting you to fulfill that promise; I am calling upon you to act on my behalf in light of what you have promised me in your Word.
Then we have his confession, and this is the first time we see Jacob humble himself under the mighty hand of God and he admits his sin and his weakness. Genesis 32:10, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which you have showed to your servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands." The first thing he recognizes is that he is not worthy of anything. He has failed God in light of all that God has done for him. The word translated "mercies" is better translated "faithful loyal love." It is the Hebrew word chesed, which has to do with covenant love, and it has to do with God's loyalty to His covenant. The word "truth" is the Hebrew word emeth, which here should be translated "faithfulness." So we have a focus on the character of God, and whenever we face a problem in life the place to start is with the character of God. The more we expand and enlarge our knowledge of who God is and then compare that to the problem we are facing, then the problem doesn't seem to be so large any more. That is pretty much a standard procedure that is seen in the Psalms again and again.
Genesis 32:11, "Deliver me, I pray you, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children." This is his petition, his cry for deliverance. This is his petition, his cry for deliverance. This is the Hebrew word natsal which means to deliver, to rescue, to save, and it is also used to indicate deliverance of someone in harm's way. It is a common word that is used in the petitions of the Psalms. For example, it is used in Psalm 31:16, "Make your face to shine upon your servant: save [natsal] me for thy mercies' sake."
Psalm 59:1, "Deliver [natsal] me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me."
Psalm 143:9, "Deliver [natsal] me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto you to hide me."
So what Jacob is doing here is the same kind of thing that we hear the psalmists do, that when we get surrounded by our problems, our difficulties, our heartaches, then it is God and God alone who can deliver us and rescue us in time of trouble. That is indicated in numerous passages.
Then he gives the rationale in Genesis 32:12, "And you said, I will surely do you good, and make your seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude." His rationale is that this can't happen if Esau comes in and wipes us out, so he is calling upon God in light of His promise to stand as my advocate.
Genesis 32:13, "And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother." He prayed to God for God's deliverance, but maybe he could help out just a little bit! Sound familiar? Maybe if I send a little bribe to Esau and soften things. He is going to turn to God but instead of leaving it in God's hands he is going to try to help the situation out a little.
Genesis 32:16-18, "And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space between drove and drove. And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, saying, Whose are you? and where do you go? and whose are these before you? Then you shall say, They are your servant Jacob's; it is a present sent to my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us." Notice how controlling Jacob is. He is going to make sure everybody says the right thing at the right time. He is still the master manipulator. Jacob is really saying that maybe he could still solve this whole problem by doing it his way. The thing is he missed out on learning how God is going to solve the problem without Jacob's manipulation and cunning.
Genesis 32:22, 23, "And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had." What we come into at this point is a play on words that we miss out on in the English. First of all, the name Jacob. Then there is the name of the river, Jabbok. The difference between the two in terms of the sound is just the reversal of the b and the q in the Hebrew. Then there is this wrestling match with this man that mysteriously shows up. The verb for wrestling and these other words are designed to draw attention to the name Jacob, because Jacob is going to get a new name. So the writer is emphasizing Jacob's name for a reason. Jacob's name meant a heel-grabber. It said something about his character and the strengths of his sin nature, that in the flesh Jacob is the manipulator, the one who is always cunning and crafting new schemes to get what he wants. Here we are going to see this climax as God finally brings this to a head.
Genesis 32:24, "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." Just a little aside here before we go any further, when this was translated into the Greek, the Greek verb for wrestling is PALAIO [palaiw], and before the emperor Hadrian shut down Jerusalem and renamed Jerusalem and renamed Israel Palestine, long before the end of the first century and the destruction of Israel the Greeks called the land of Israel Palestine. It is not a play on Philistine at all, which is what a lot of people think, but the etymological derivative goes back to this word for wrestler. Palestine sounded like Philistine but it was based on the Greek verb for wrestler, the land of the wrestler, the land of Jacob the wrestler who was renamed Israel.
Now we are left with this mystery. Who is this man? Why is he called a man? Well, when does this take place? It is night; it is dark. Jacob doesn't know who is there, all he knows is there is what appears to be a man in opposition to him, and he is under assault. Jacob is strong. What has he been doing for 20 years? He has been out working with the flocks and the herds. We know that he is strong because when he first arrived in Paddam-aram he single-handedly picked up the large stone that covered the well. So we know that he was a man who was physically strong. We don't know who he is wrestling with yet, but if we read to the end of the story we know that it is God. Why is God wrestling with Jacob? And if He is wrestling with him why doesn't God just take him out at the very beginning and win the match? Why does God let Jacob seem to win or come close to winning? Probably the reason for this whole episode here is a real physical picture of what was going on spiritually for the last thirty or forty years or more in Jacob's life where he was struggling or wrestling with God and God's place in his life. All of this time Jacob has been trying to manipulate the blessing. He was trying to out-fox Esau, trying to cheat him, and then goes to Laban, and he is constantly trying to manipulate to get what God had already promised and prophesied in that original announcement when the two twins are struggling in Rebekah's womb, and God said that the older would serve the younger, and that these represent two nations. He already knows that but has been busy trying to manipulate God to get what was already his to begin with.
God in grace does the same thing with us. We are always wrestling with God in our lives, and God just doesn't hit us over the head with a 2 x 4, He doesn't win the match right away. There is grace in the process as He gives us that time to learn and to grow before God finally drives the point home that He needs to be the one who is in complete charge of our life and our thinking, and He needs to be the only and ultimate reference point for everything that is in our life. This is that point in Jacob's life. He has gone through these stages of spiritual advance and it is here that everything is going to change. We know that because at the end of this episode God gives him a new name, Israel, which means he who wrestles with God and he has prevailed against God. But in his prevailing against God, what happens? God wins. There is this ironic twist that take place in this episode. God at the very end just touches. It is a word that can mean to smite or to strike or to hit, but it also means just to lightly touch. It is not a word which tells us what the power of the touch was, and since it is God it doesn't have to be anything powerful, He can just touch that hip joint and displace it and Jacob is going to be crippled for the rest of his life as a constant reminder of who is ultimately in charge of his life. What God is showing Jacob is that Jacob has to be in complete submission to God's authority in his life before God is going to give him the blessing. God is not giving him the blessing yet. Jacob has out-foxed Esau, and has deceived his father Isaac, but God has not made the point of giving the blessing to Jacob, and it is at this point that Jacob in his wrestling with God, pleads with God to give him the blessing. It is at this point that Jacob recognizes that he must be in complete and total dependence upon God. And we never again see in the life of Jacob that old cunning manipulator that we have seen up to this point. This is a transforming event and time in Jacob's life. This is when he moves into a new level of spiritual maturity and dependence upon God. So this whole wrestling match is designed to be a picture, a training aid, as it were, for Jacob and for us of the reality that we, too, have to come to this point where just as Jacob meets God face to face and recognizes that he must make God the ultimate authority in his life, we have to come to that same point as well.
Genesis 32:25, 27, "And when he saw that he [the Lord] prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaks. And he said, I will not let you go, except you bless me." At this time the light is coming on, there is a revelation and realization on the part of Jacob as to just who he is wrestling with.
Genesis 32:27, "And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob." God knows his name, but He is bringing out this point that the name is Jacob, the conniver, the manipulator. That is his character. In the ancient world a name reflected something about the person's character and who they were.
Genesis 32:28, "And he said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed." The verb means to struggle, to wrestle. So Jacob has reached a point in his spiritual life where he recognizes that God must be the one in control. Jacob must be submitted to God as the only source of blessing.
Genesis 32:29, "And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray you, your name. And he [God] said, Why is it that you ask after my name? And he blessed him there." This is the first time that we have this stated: that God blesses Jacob.
Genesis 32:30, "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." Peniel means face-to-face. The "el" ending is the suffix for God, and "pen" is the Hebrew for face.
Genesis 32:31, 32, "And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank."
So with this we see that Jacob realizes that God is his strength, his protection, is source of security, and he is now able to relax and to meet Esau without relying upon his own schemes and manipulations. This is where we see a major turning point in the life of Jacob as he becomes Israel, and then that name, Israel, becomes significant, and later on throughout the prophets it is interesting to see how when the nation is being obedient to God frequently (but not always) the term Israel is emphasized, but when they are out of fellowship in rebellion they will be called Jacob. For example, the period of the Tribulation, which is a judgment on the nation, is not known as a time of Israel's trouble but a time of Jacob's trouble.