GENESIS-SERIES NR 32
Genesis 32: How to conquer God and man
I find it very difficult to believe verse 28 at face value: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
How on earth can the living God state it as a fact that Jacob had wrestled with Him (who is God) and that Jacob conquered God?! How can a human being overcome God? Besides, all Jacob’s previous struggles have failed, because all were done in the flesh – everything was in the atmosphere of self-help and negotiating with God. In exchange for this and that, Jacob will let the Lord be his God – that is what he said. In exchange for material blessings, Jacob would give 10%. In a way, Jacob made God his agent. The great misunderstanding in Jacob’s mind was that he thought he could ensure God’s blessings in his life by making use of worldly methods and means. Worldly = from fallen human nature’s intention to bargain and to earn favour. Oh yes, Jacob certainly did believe the Lord’s promise that HE (Jacob) – and not Esau – would be the bearer of the great Covenant-promises. But he did not understand that he did not need to help God to bring it about by way of all kinds of worldly methods.
And then comes that verse 28!
We have difficulty to swallow verse 28 until we realize that there is a certain TYPE of struggle/conflict that the Lord approves of and to which He is even prepared to subject Himself (to put it like that). That sounds strange, but let us examine it a little closer.
Genesis 32 is a very important chapter where the life of Jacob is concerned. He is clearly now a different person than that which we saw in the previous chapters. And now he has to meet his brother Esau face to face. Esau, from whom he had become estranged due to his deceit regarding the birthright and Isaac’s blessing. This meeting – after 20 years passed – fills Jacob with trepidation. The possibility is great that Esau is still filled with bitterness. What will happen? It could start a war!
1 THE APPEARANCE OF ANGELS (32:1-2)
When Jacob was on his way, angels of God came to meet him. Jacob could see them clearly. That is why he said: “This is the camp of God!” And he named the place “Mahanaim” which means “two camps”.
In chapter 28 we also saw that angels played an important part in the vision Jacob saw of the ladder stretching all the way up to heaven. There it was the immediate presence of God that was emphasized. God’s presence with Jacob, but also God’s presence in the promised land where he had to move to.
But in Genesis 32 the appearance of angels focused on the POWER of God. Particularly because it was so important at that stage where the meeting with Esau was imminent. However, before Jacob could reach Esau, the Lord first gave him the assurance of His power and might that far exceeded Esau‘s wrath. There was an army from God that surrounded Jacob, even if he could not see it. Thus, he would be protected. He was assured of supernatural security. Just look at how unspeakably undeserved the Lord’s grace was for this man!
2 THE DISTURBING REPORT (32:3-12)
Jacob felt obliged to make contact with Esau ahead of time. He was anxious to have reconciliation between them. Therefore he sent messengers ahead to appease Esau. Esau had to be made aware that Jacob’s entourage was big and his possessions many, and that Jacob wanted to find favour with him. Esau had to be made aware of Jacob’s goodwill and friendly intentions. Almost as if Jacob was sensitive towards Esau’s feelings, because he himself had experienced what is was like to be deceived (by Laban). Jacob had become a new person. By the Lord’s Spirit. One can see it in this message to Esau.
But the messengers brought a very disquieting report back to Jacob. Esau was coming to meet him, and he was accompanied by 400 men. Did that mean that he was hostile? Surely those 400 men could not be accompanying him for the joyride!
Jacob’s reaction is one of fear and distress. He divides the people accompanying him as well as the livestock into two groups, “camps”, because should Esau attack the one group, the other group may escape. The word for “camp” is the same as that used for the “army” of angels that he saw. Therefore, he may have thought to himself: “Perhaps THAT is why the Lord showed me the angels – to show me ahead of time how I should divide my people and animals…”.
And then Jacob prayed. It is the first real PRAYER of Jacob’s that is recorded in Genesis. And that is an indication of the change that took place in Jacob’s heart. Transformation by the Spirit. Yes, it was a prayer prayed in a dire situation. But there is definitely some evidence of humility in Jacob’s spirit. No pride and self-aggrandizement. He could not manipulate the Lord or bargain with Him in any way. He could ONLY hope in the Lord’s promises. That is all. All that remained was God’s faithfulness, God’s promises, God’s Words. That is all. And the only thing Jacob’s heart could do, was to trust upon THAT. “I am unworthy of all the faithfulness and kindness YOU have shown your servant. Save me from the hand of my brother Esau, BECAUSE YOU HAVE PROMISED and YOU HAVE SAID…” Can you see the difference between the old Jacob and the new?
3 THE REASSURING ANSWER (32:13-21)
Faith-trust which is correctly focused and which flows from the new life created by the Holy Spirit, automatically produces DEEDS/works/practical fruit. James 2 explains it clearly.
Jacob’s heart hinged on God’s promise. The Lord said. Full stop. But that does not mean that Jacob retired to his tent and passively watched how the Lord made things happen. From his livestock he selected a gift for Esau. He sent the animals to Esau in waves, each herd by itself – with space between each herd. With the intention to pacify Esau, of course. And when they eventually did meet – so Jacob trusted – he and his brother would be reconciled. Perhaps Esau would not be convinced of his goodwill by only ONE gift. But if wave after wave of livestock arrive, Esau may be convinced of Jacob’s change of heart – that is how he argued. But this behaviour also indicated that Jacob was TRULY transformed by the Lord. The fact that he was now prepared to give rather than receive. And to SERVE rather than to be served.
4 JACOB WRESTLES WITH A MYSTERIOUS MAN (32:22-32)
Why Jacob broke camp during the night to move on, we do not know. But he first sent his wives, maidservants and children across the Jabbok river. After they had crossed the river he sent all his possessions after them.
It seems as if Jacob was somehow prevented from crossing the river. A mysterious “man” wrestled with him. It appears as if this mysterious man wanted to keep him from entering the land Canaan. Strange indeed!
We must acknowledge that these events are clothed in mystery. We just do not know what exactly happened there. We can however, ascertain a few things with confidence:
The mysterious man was an angel (verse 24). Many years later the Holy Spirit confirmed it through the prophet Hosea in 12:3-4 where he explicitly states that Jacob wrestled with an angel. But Hosea added something else. He struggled with God, says the prophet. And Jacob himself confirms it in verse 30: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared”.
This “angel” is not an ordinary angel, but the so-called “Angel of the Lord” whom we also read about in other places of the OT. It is the Lord Jesus Christ BEFORE His birth, but who appeared in the visible form of a man to certain people during the OT period.
The struggle was not a dream or a nightmare that Jacob experienced, because he was limping afterward. It was very physical and true.
In addition, it was a wrestling match started by the Angel of the Lord Himself. Jacob thought that it would be Esau who would stand between him and the Promised Land and God’s blessings, but here he discovered that it was God Himself who was opposing him. But the Lord God did not overpower him. And remember, Jacob was close to 100 years old! How is it possible that the Angel of the Lord could not overpower Jacob?
We must look closely at what is written in the text. It does not say that God COULD not overpower Jacob. It says: God did not overpower him. And at that point the Angel of the Lord touched Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched. Something that means defeat for a wrestler. Suddenly Jacob was helpless. Like an athlete with a broken leg. All Jacob could do was to hold on to the Lord with all his might! We know that Jacob did exactly that, because the Lord says: “Let me go, for it is daybreak”. It appears that the Angel of the Lord did not want to be seen in daylight. He also made it appear as if Jacob had the upper hand – holding on, not wrestling, because his hip was out of its socket. But Jacob answered: “I will not let You go unless You bless me”.
This was a plea that the Lord could not refuse. A powerless man begging for mercy. A man who became like a child. Not someone who wanted to negotiate and look for material gain. But a man who discovered that the most important thing in life is to live within the Lord God’s blessing, His deliverance, acceptance and forgiveness. As it says in Proverbs 10:22 : “The blessing of the Lord is true wealth”. Yes, the Lord’s blessing has to be received from HIM by grace, without merit, while the believer clings to Him and longs for Him alone in deep dependence without trying to bribe or manipulate Him. Jacob’s greatest enemy was not Esau, it was JACOB! And the Lord could not allow him to cross the Jabbok before he was not totally broken before God. The enemy inside Jacob had to capitulate before the Lord. Jacob OFF the throne and the Lord ON the throne.
The breakthrough of these two great truths impacted Jacob’s life absolutely. That is why he had to undergo a name-change. In the culture of that time a person changed their name when a life-changing event took place inside themselves. Jacob, the deceiver, became Israel which means something like “he struggled with God “.
Verse 28 is a strange verse: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome”.
Why would the Lord God make such a statement? Does that mean that the Lord blessed Jacob based on his determination and how he cheated people in the past?
The key to understand these words is to discover that it is not a statement based on something that Jacob has done. It is a prophetic announcement. The Lord announced what was going to happen in the future. Yes, in a certain sense Jacob did overpower God. In the sense that he hung onto and clung to the Angel of the Lord in deep dependence, lame hip and all. He wept and pleaded for God’s grace, says Hosea 12:4. God was won over by Jacob. It is the same as the Canaanite woman in Matt 15 who would not let Jesus go after He rejected and refused her request because she was not a Jew. When the Lord told her: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs”. And she refused to accept NO for the answer and replied: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from their masters’ table”. Jesus could not resist that kind of faith-trust, that kind of stubborn clinging unto Him.
It is absolutely not the Jacob of before. It is now Israel – the man who overcame by being nothing. Conquered by defeat. Life by dying.
Therefore, in verse 28 the Lord promised Jacob : By overcoming ME in this way, you SHALL overcome people too – particularly your brother Esau.
It is also true for us today: The person who clings to the Lord in brokenness, and desire Him only, is the person who overcomes people also. When Jacob learned to persevere and overcome with the Lord, he could also prevail against Esau.
5 THE MESSAGE FOR US
All Jacob’s previous “victories” were nothing but disasters. It always ended in hate, bitterness, enmity of some kind. He had to learn that – God’s true blessings are received in the God-ordained way.
The Christian life is spiritual warfare. Spiritual blessings cannot be obtained in a worldly way. Therefore, Jacob was in God’s school of life. He had to learn that if the Lord is with Him, victory is assured. Because God is sovereign, nobody can withstand His will – not Esau, nobody. Jacob was therefore learning that the only way to experience the blessing of the Angel of the Lord was to hold onto Him and to be dependent on Him for the fulfillment of His promises. Something that the fallen human nature cannot do, but by the Holy Spirit it can.
The God-ordained way to wait upon the Lord and to persevere with Him is threefold:
1 I must reach a point where I deeply realize and acknowledge my own helplessness and inadequacy. 2 I must anchor my trust in that which the Lord promised in His Word that He would do. His own Word is the only grip that I would ever get on the Lord God. 3 I must stubbornly cling to the Lord to do what He has promised. For me, it must be about HIM.
Not by might or by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord (Zech 4:6).
Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh