From Genesis 32-34
Jacob is about to face his brother Esau again. On the night before they meet, he wrestles with a strange man till dawn. He later finds out it was God. God renames him in light of the event. Have you ever wrestled with God?
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Jacob has just left Laban and now he faces another challenge. His brother Esau. Jacob greatly fears Esau so he sends a number of gifts in advance to appease Esau and test his motives (Gen 32.1-21). Our passage starts in the midst of this. Jacob meets a strange man.
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. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. (Gen 32:22–24)
‘Wrestle’. Wrestling in martial arts involves a lot of rolling around on the ground, trying to overpower and outmaneuver a person into submission. In practice or competition, all someone need do is tap out to stop the fight. In real fights bones can get broken, eyes can get gouged out, groins can get torn, a person can get choked to death. Wrestling is tiring. They wrestled all night.
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.” (Gen 32.25-28)
‘Hip out of joint’. Jacob has been injured. But he still won’t let go, because he wants a blessing. He already has been blessed in the past, but he wants more so he doesn’t give up.
‘Your name’. He gets renamed by the LORD. He is no longer Jacob – ‘he deceives’. His descendants shall evermore be named by his new name. Israel means in Hebrew ‘God strives’.
What does it mean to wrestle with God? To seek more of his blessings?
Not only has he strived with the LORD, he has prevailed. Not over him, but rather he has won the blessing he so earnestly sought.
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.” 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. (Gen 32:29–32)
‘Your name’, ‘Peniel’. Jacob in return asks God what his name is. The LORD asks him why and blesses him. Jacob then calls the name of the place ‘Peniel’, which means ‘face of God’. The face communicates the inner emotions of the heart. For Jacob to see the LORD’s face meant for God to reveal himself to him. To seek someones face means to seek their favour.
Have you seen God face to face? What does he look like?
33 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. (Gen 33:1)
Following Jacob’s wrestling incident with the LORD he turns to face Esau. The wretling match forms an ‘ABA’ structure with Jacobs narrative.
A: Esau was coming and he posed a threat. Jacob and his family could all die. Two possible outcomes are presented. One way lead to probable death, the other to life.
B: Jacob strived with God for a blessing. The LORD’s blessing included his life and the life of his family.
A: When they meet Jacob finds out that Esau has forgiven Jacob and they are reconciled.
Story of Israel
The underlying meaning of Israel, the name by which all God’s people go by (cf. Gal 6.16) is to strive for the LORD’s blessing. Well known people like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Daniel and others live up to the name Israel. They wrestled with God in their own ways and sought his blessing. God speaks to us through them. In different ways all these wrestlers with God speak about the coming Christ.
Story of Jesus
In Gen 32.30 Jacob says, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’. He saw the LORD face to face. When many see the LORD they fear death (e.g. Isa 6.5). Jacob recognised he has seen the LORD yet has not died. Rather he has been blessed and delivered from the danger Esau presented.
We also have seen the LORD – In Jesus.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (Jn 1:14–18)
When God’s people see Jesus they see the Father.
Continue to strive through him to receive the LORD’s blessing. He will richly reward you.
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