Genesis 32: Jacob Fears Esau

1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

-The name Mahanaim in Hebrew means “two camps” and here is a possible location: . The fact that Jacob calls this two camps rather than one camp, the camp of God, reflects still what we discussed last chapter. Jacob sees himself as his own independent entity apart from God. Even though he recognizes His power and His providence, Jacob still sees him as “a god” that has taken favor on him. He does not see who God actually is and the reason He does these things for him. This brief mention doesn’t tell us much of what Jacob saw and who these “angels of God” are.

3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4 instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. 5 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.’” 6 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.” 7 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, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

-Jacob does not trust God and fears his brother over what happened twenty years ago. Jacob may have had this fear every day since then and may have kept him at Laban’s as long as it did, rather than just Rachel. His whole desire for Rachel from the beginning could have been an escape for him to focus on his future with her rather than his past with Esau. As we’ve talked about in a previous chapter, you do not focus on the past or the future, you focus on the present. Not giving sight to the present presents you with all sorts of problems in the one place you actually live. It is the one area we can control. God has written our plans and controls our future and the past cannot be changed. We can only do something about the present. Jacob is so terrified that even though he fought and bickered with Laban for as many possessions as he could, he was still willing to surrender all of it to prevent his brother killing him. With God, there is nothing to fear. Even with obvious angels appearing with him, Jacob still does not understand that God doesn’t just want to bless him, but is in complete control of what is about to happen.

9 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,’ 10 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. 11 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. 12 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.’”

-We are finally seeing a change in Jacob. As he is giving into fear and realizing his helplessness, he is finally starting to see that without God, he is nothing. This is an incredible step that he admits that he is not worthy. This is a man who was so full of himself he relied on his cleverness to trick his brother, his father, earn the woman he wants, cheat his father-in-law, and to even make deals and manipulate God. Now he realizes his place and shows humility. He is now at the point that he is ready to be a righteous man of God. This is the same point that we reach as Christians when we are ready to be saved by admitting our sinful nature, that there is nothing we can do, and we need Jesus in our hearts.

13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 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.” 17 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?’ 18 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.’” 19 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, 20 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.” 21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

-Even though Jacob had such a humbling prayer, this is not a bad thing or shows that Jacob does not actually believe God will help him. God wants us to trust Him to work in all things, but that does not mean that we live as monks and do nothing. What Jacob is doing is exactly right. He prays and admits to God he is scarred and does not know what to do but then after prayer does his best to fix the situation whichever way he can. This what God wants of us. God has given us a brain, a body, gifts, abilities, desire…all for us to live, think, and make decisions on this Earth. He wants us to do things by our own strength. The difference is that we must acknowledge the source of that strength. All our abilities our from God and to Him be all the glory. To not use our own abilities to solve problems is denying the gifts God has given us. Christians today when faced with a problem should do exactly what Jacob is doing: pray and ask for help admitting that you do not know what to do and need God, and then do the best you can. God is faithful to answer and will pick up the slack. God makes up for what you cannot do on your own.
Jacob Wrestles with God
22 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. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had.

-the Jabbok is a smaller river that bleeds into the larger Jordan river located here: . Jacob split his camps, sent everything ahead as gifts, and even sent his wives ahead so that he was left alone. This way, he is maximizing his chances for survival. Esau would probably assume he is protected in one of the camps or in some kind of group, not alone. Alone, Esau might not recognize Jacob since it has been 20 years. Jacob was 70 when leaving home so would be 90 at this point so he was certainly already a grown man but perhaps he grayed or changed his facial hair. Either way, Jacob is still Jacob and even though he has reached a new level of faith, he is still clever and devious. He calculated for his best chances for survival.

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 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. 30 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.”

-For the third time so far in the Book of Genesis, we are given a very bizarre interruption in our story that seems unexplainable on its surface. Who was this man and why does Jacob say he saw God face to face? We were told about angels being at the camp in the first verse but we aren’t told if it was one of them. Once again, as with the other bizarre inclusions, this is another appearance of Jesus. We’ve talked before that God the Father appears in the form of fire but God the Son appears in the form of a man. This “man” wrestled with Jacob all night. The word in Hebrew translated to “wrestle” is “abaq” which truly does mean “wrestle, grapple”. This isn’t just some metaphor, the Son of God in the form of a man was literally, physical wrestling with Jacob and he did so all night. When it says that the man “did not prevail” it is not saying that He was to weak to win a wrestle match with Jacob, this was a lesson that Jacob needed to understand. Jacob was truly “wrestling” with God trying to be his own god and do his own will. Jacob has had a lifetime of relying on his own cleverness and crediting himself and his good behavior for everything good in his life. Jacob was being shown that he has always fought God, rather than let go and let Him lead in his life. His wrestling resulted in multiple children by 4 different women, an strained relationship with his father-in-law, and a twin brother who may just be about to kill him. Had he not wrestled with God from the beginning, his life may have gone smooth with only one wife and no on hating him and wanting to kill him. This man had to finally tough his hip socket and cause him permanent physical injury to get him to understand that he can never prevail against God. And while Jacob cannot prevail against God, God will also not crush him. Verse 25 does not say the man “could” not prevail, just that he saw that he “did not”. God the Son is subservient to the Father and does not know everything at all time like the Father does. God the Son may not have done God the Father’s intention and did not know whether Jacob would be crushed or not. So God the Son saw that he did not prevail (because it wasn’t in God the Father’s will) not that he couldn’t prevail. He then asks Jacob to let go and Jacob said he will not let ago until being blessed. Jacob is demonstrating real faith because he knows that he cannot win in this situation and will continue “holding on” to God until he is blessed because he knows God will. This is like the verse Hebrews 11:6 which states, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Jacob was now showing such a strong level of faith that he now knew that God would bless Him because that is who God is. Having achieved this level, God now gave him a new name and called him “Israel” which in Hebrew means “God prevails”. Interesting that He says Jacob had striven with God and men and prevailed but gave him a name that means that God prevailed. This is because they are one in the same. Jacob and God are not “two camps” they are one camp. Jacob’s success is dependent on God’s will being accomplished. This wrestling match, while physical did indeed happen as written, is also metaphorical for the wrestling that we do in our own lives with God on a daily basis. We instinctively want to live by the flesh but must recognize that doing God’s will is what helps ourselves anyway. We are the same camp. It is us men who want to see ourselves as different camps from God. The name “peniel” means “facing God”.

31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 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.

-The people of Israel do indeed to this day not eat this part of an animal and will not eat the hind legs at all if they cannot remove this part. Even though this wasn’t included in part of the law Moses handed down, it was still considered part of the law and something that must be done. This is not written as a commandment by God, but the fact that this is stated is enough for most to consider that it might as well be a commandment because it was included in scripture. This is a tradition so that the Israelites could always remember the same thing Paul, who was also very clever, was taught by God, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was given a “thorn” in his side to remind him that he is not mighty but God is. Israel was given the same lesson and this is also symbolic for the lesson the nation of Israel should remember for all time. God prevails, as their namesake states, and that when they are weak, He is strong!


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