Genesis 32 ~ 20080406 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
4/06 Genesis 32 Jacob's Preparation
God has been at work in Jacob. And Jacob has come a long way. He has taken some spiritual leadership in his home; he has taken the initiative to obey God; he has acknowledged that God is the one to be credited with any good that has come his way. He admits that his scheming and deceiving hasn't secured anything. He has recognized God's presence with him even through the most difficult and painful years of his life. He honors God as awesome – one to be reverenced and feared.
Jacob had secretly fled from his uncle Laban. When Laban found out, he gathered his troops and pursued Jacob. He meant to harm Jacob, but God prevented him. They made a covenant and agreed not to cross over to each other. Jacob had essentially closed his back door of escape, and now he had to move forward.
There are some interesting parallels between Jacob's situation and the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. Jacob was enslaved in a foreign land. He desired to return and God told him to go. He left with great possessions taken from his master. He fled in haste and was pursued. He was delivered by divine intervention. His return was prevented by a barrier. He faced great danger entering the promised land.
He did not know what lay ahead. Twenty years ago, Jacob left home fleeing for his life. His mother promised to send word for him to come home when his brother's rage had subsided. That message never came.
It doesn't say that as Jacob went on his way, he ran into a bunch of angels. It says that the angels of God came out to meet Jacob. This word typically means to meet with the intent to harm, or to strike, as if the troops of God were coming out against Jacob. When Jacob was fleeing home, the angels of God appeared to him, and he named the place 'Bethel' – the house of God. Now he sees the army of God assembled and he names the place 'Mahanaim' -two camps. In the last chapter, we had the camp of Laban come against the camp of Jacob. In the next chapter, we will see the camp of Esau coming out against the camp of Jacob. In this chapter, Jacob will divide his people into two camps. And here we have the camp of God and the camp of Jacob. This is a chapter of tension and conflict. Jacob was used to running from his problems. Today he has to confront his problems face to face.
If Jacob was simply wanting to return to Bethel to keep his vow to the Lord, he could have tried to sneak over without alerting Esau to his presence. Esau was in the south part of the land, near Mount Seir. Instead Jacob makes a point to send word to Esau. Jacob addresses Esau as his 'lord' and refers to himself as 'your servant'. And Jacob wants to let Esau know that he is not returning empty handed looking for handouts – he is simply looking for grace from Esau. He doesn't mention anything about the circumstances of his departure twenty years earlier.
This would be most unsettling information. Jacob sent word to Esau, and Esau does not send word back. Instead he is coming, and with 400 men. Obviously Jacob's guilty conscience is troubling him, and he is sure that Esau has been nursing his rage for these twenty years and is now coming to get revenge. Jacob is not prepared to defend himself. So he quickly devises a plan. He divides his people into two groups. That way, while Esau is busy slaughtering one camp, the other camp might have a chance to escape. This is a rather grim plan. Jacob is greatly afraid and distressed. So he turns to God for help. Remember, Jacob has not been a pray-er. Jacob is resourceful and independent. He always seems to have a plan to get himself out of trouble. He is self-reliant; self-sufficient. He has no need of divine assistance. Until now. This time he turns to God. And this is the longest recorded prayer in the book of Genesis! And this is a great model prayer!
Jacob addresses God with reverence and respect, as God who has entered into covenant with Abraham and Isaac his father and grandfather, and who has now made promises to him. God had been faithful to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, and he has given command now to Jacob, and Jacob is in process of obeying. God had told him to return to his country and kindred, and Jacob is now in the country and has sent word to his kindred, and his brother is coming to meet him. God had promised to do him good, so Jacob is calling on God to remember his promise.
Then Jacob humbles himself and acknowledges his unworthiness. Jacob admits his smallness and insignificance. He recognizes his smallness and yet God has been large in mercy and loving kindness toward him. Jacob had an acute sense of his own sin and a consciousness of his own unworthiness. He received God's grace as truly undeserved. And yet God gave it. God has indeed proven himself faithful through all the years. Jacob was a homeless guy with a stick, and now he has become two troops, and he gives God all the credit.
Then he presents his request, and it is simple and straightforward – save me! Rescue me! Deliver me! And Jacob is honest with God. I fear him. I'm afraid he is coming to do me harm, so I'm crying out to you for help. And Jacob is finally not just thinking of himself – he makes an appeal for the mothers with children – there are women and children in danger.
And Jacob boldly calls God to account to hold true to his promises. He prays '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.”’ Jacob is praying God's word – reminding God of what he said and banking on his promises. This is a great way to pray! Address God with respect and thanksgiving; humble yourself as an undeserving recipient of his grace; cry out to God to rescue you; call on God to keep his promises to you. Jacob prays, and then Jacob acts:
Earlier he sent word to Esau that he had “oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants”. Now he sends 580+ head of livestock, adding camels into the mix. And he staggers the livestock with a servant following each group to announce that the gift is from Jacob to Esau, and Jacob will follow. This is an extremely generous offering, and it was clearly staged to pacify Esau's anger. Jacob has asked for God's help, and now he is taking action. We might be tempted to think that Jacob is trying to manipulate the situation again, but I think he's simply taking a wise course of action.
God had blessed Jacob abundantly, but Jacob did not cling to his wealth; he used it and gladly gave it away to secure the friendship of his offended brother. This, I think is what Jesus told us to do:
Jacob is seeking to appease Esau with presents so that when he sees his brother face to face he will be accepted.
This is an amazing scene. Jacob is alone. That in itself is amazing for a guy with two wives, two girlfriends, eleven kids, and a booming business with lots of employees. Jacob is alone at a desperate point in his life. He has some time to himself to think. Time to contemplate. Time to reflect on his past and his future. He's afraid of what might be in store for him tomorrow. Jacob is about 97 years old now, he's all alone and some guy jumps him out of nowhere! They roll around in the dust fighting. But Jacob is tough! He's the guy that moved the big stone covering the well all by himself just to impress Rachel. Now he's fighting for his life! And it seems to be an even match. They brawl all night long and nobody comes out on top. Jacob is holding his own. At this point, Jacob has no idea who he's fighting.
Jacob has held his own all night long, and so the mysterious man dislocates Jacob's hip with a touch. The man asks to be released, but Jacob, now maimed, is clinging to the man and refuses to release him. Hosea gives commentary on this incident:
Jacob is beginning to realize who it is that has accosted him in the middle of the night, and he demands a blessing from him. Jacob is now broken, but he perseveres in his request for a blessing. So the mysterious figure asks for his name. Remember the last person that asked Jacob who he was? His blind father Isaac. And remember Jacob's answer? 'I am Esau your firstborn'. Now Jacob has to answer – I am deceiver. Trickster. At the heels.
The mysterious stranger tells him 'no longer Jacob – one who is at the heels to trip up; but Israel – one who strives, one who contends, who perseveres'. Jacob is a man who has striven with men. He struggled with his brother in the womb. He bought his birthright and stole his blessing. He contended with Laban for twenty years and walked away a wealthy man. Now he realizes that he has been fighting with God. God has humbled himself to come down and meet him at his level and match his strength.
We come to find out that this is the pre-incarnate Jesus that jumps Jacob in the middle of the night and beats him up. Why? Jacob is scared and alone and we think he needs a hug, but Jesus shows up in the dark with a tire iron and attacks him. Why? Jacob was used to running away from his problems, and now his hip is dislocated and he can no longer run. Jacob is self-sufficient and always relies on his own strength, and now he is incapacitated and has to cling to God for help. God was preparing Jacob for what lay ahead. Jacob could no longer rely on his own strength. He had to be broken. God had promised to bless Jacob, but God could not bless the sin of pride in his life. So Jacob had to be broken before he could be blessed. Jacob had to become a man of faith who trusts in his God and not in his own flesh, so his flesh had to be broken. God had indeed injured Jacob, but the injury was a blessing.
Is Jacob bitter? Jacob is a broken man. He walks with a limp. He now has a physical handicap. Is he angry with God? No! Jacob is grateful. Jacob names the place 'Peniel' which means 'Face of God'. Jacob recognizes that God who had wrestled with him all night had the power to crush him. Jacob was a sinner who deserved a crushing blow from the divine hand, but instead he received a blessed injury that would force him to cast his confidence on the God who had promised to be with him and bless him and protect him. Jacob walked with a limp, but that limp was a blessing that forced him to cling to God in dependence and trust. Jacob has had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and he comes away a changed man; a broken man, but a man who has experienced God's love in a profound way. He has experienced God's faithfulness to his promises.
How is God wrestling with you? What are you holding on to? Will you allow him to break you? We must be broken before we can be blessed. Are you clinging to Jesus?