Jacob Wrestles with God
Comments for Study 21
Memory Verse 32:28
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>1. As Jacob drew near to his home country, what problem loomed larger and larger? (27:41) Could he return to where he had been? (31:51-53) How do you think he felt about his life situation now?
>2. What happened on the way? (32:1) Why? How did Jacob respond? (2) Do you think he found relief?
Genesis 32:1-2 "Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is the camp of God!" So he named that place Mahanaim.
* "Jacob also went on his way" -Jacob and his father-in-law, Laban and Laban's sons departed ways. They had made an oath at a pile of rocks they had set up saying that they would never go into each other's territory as the LORD as their witness. Also, Jacob could not go back because the Lord told him to return to "the land of his fathers and to your relatives". (31:3) Jacob and none of his family would ever go north. To the east was the impassable Arabian desert and beyond that Ur, the land the LORD called his ancestors out of. To the west was the Canaanites and the Mediterranean Sea. To the far south west lived his ageing father, Isaac. His mother had died and he did not know it yet. Directly to the south lived his brother, Esau who had vowed to kill him (27:41-42). As far as Jacob knew Esau still wanted to kill him for their mother had never sent Jacob word as she had promised, that Esau's anger was gone. (27:45)
* As the old saying goes, "Jacob was between a rock and a hard place."
* Jacob was anxious for several reasons: Esau was coming with 400 men, he hadn't seen his family in a long time, he wanted to get away from Laban, and his mother had not sent his word that his brother's anger was gone (27:45).
* "the angels of God" -Being able to see the angles was to remind him of his former oath, the LORD's words of protection (28:20-22), how God had blessed him and would be with him (31:3, 2 Kings 6:15-17). Psalms 34:7 states, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." And Hebrews 1:14 says, "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?"
* "Mahanaim" -Jacob was in the promised land, Canaan lie just across the Jordan, and his father's tent was over two hundred miles (300 km) south west. Mahanaim means, two camps.” Its a city somewhere in the hill country of Gilead on the tribal borders of Gad and eastern Manasseh (Josh. 13:26,30). It was a Levitical city (Josh. 21:38). It served as a refuge twice: for Ish-Bosheth after Saul's death (2 Sam. 2:8-9), and for David when Absalom usurped the throne (2 Sam. 17:24-27). During Solomon's administration, the city served as a district capital (1 Kings 4:14). German archaeologists locate it at Tell Heggog, half a mile south of Penuel, while Israelis point to tell edh-Dhabab el Gharbi. (Holman Bible Dictionary)
* Jacob must have thought about the mistakes he made against his brother and before his friends and what they had thought of him. Like him we too may see our old friends and worry about what they will think of how we was in the past and how we are after believing in Jesus and living a life of repentance.
* Doing the right is not always easy. Yet the Jesus promised, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:20)
* God forced this on him to mold his character. Hebrews 12:4-12 says, "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees."
* Nowhere does the Bible say that Jacob told those with him, including his wives why he was doing all this in preparation to meeting his twin brother. They must have wondered what was up.
>3. When Jacob sent word of his coming to Esau, what was Esau's response? (3-6) How did Jacob interpret this response? What did he do?
Genesis 32:3-5 "Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: "This is what you are to say to my master Esau: 'Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.'"
* "Jacob sent messengers ahead of him" -This could not have been his sons for the oldest was twelve or thirteen. These must have been servants that he had hired as verse five indicates he had.
* "to his brother Esau" -Jacob's plan to deal with Esau was three-fold; these messengers, prayer, and sending gifts.
* "Seir" -South of the Dead Sea. Over two hundred miles (300 km) south from where Jacob was now. "Place name meaning, 'hairy' and thus thicket or small forested region.” A mountain range which runs the length of biblical Edom, leading at times to an equation of Edom and Seir. Parts of the range are almost impassable. The highest peak is about 5,600 feet about sea level. The region was home to Esau and his descendants (Gen. 32:3; Josh. 24:4). Some documents found in Egypt seem to make Seir and Edom two different tribal habitats, and it is possible that at times in its history the area was ruled over simultaneously by several local clans. The sons of Seir represented an early Horite clan from the region. (Holman Bible Dictionary)
* "my master Esau... you servant" -At birth the LORD gave an oracle that the older, Esau would serve the younger, Jacob. (25:23) Also, Jacob had received a blessing from Isaac stating, "...Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you..." Also, the Lord had promised to be with him and protect him. Jacob must not have placed much wait on all this. He took all precautions to deal humbly with Esau.
* "I have... " -Jacob is apparently telling Esau that he has obtained much that he doesn't need all the blessings that he "stole" from Esau by getting the birthright.
* Is it good and wise to take precautions even when God tells us that he will be with us and protect us? A question that we all must search in our hearts. Everyone seems to have a different response. How did the LORD react to Jacob's precautions? He paid a personal visit.
Genesis 32:6-8 "When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, "We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him." In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, "If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape."
* "When the messengers returned" -The travel there and back by foot would have been around three or four days. They may have taken camels which would have been quicker.
* "and now he is coming" -Esau left as soon as he heard his brother was going to enter Canaan.
* "four hundred men are with him" -Esau must have pulled these men from his household and neighbor's household. This was a very large group of men, especially from the area that Esau lived. The only way to interpret this was that Esau meant harm to Jacob. (1 Sa. 22:2; 25:13, 30:10)
* "in great fear and distress" -Some may see Jacob's actions here as weak faith and they might be right. However, I know that I would be just as afraid as Jacob. If so, then I need the LORD's personal touch to my soul, to my being to strengthen me too. Jesus continually told his disciples, "Do not be afraid." Fear is a human reaction that only Jesus' words can stop.
>4. Study Jacob's prayer in 9-12. What was his one request? On what did he base this plea for God's help? Did he find peace and freedom from fear through his prayer? Why?
Genesis 32:9-12 "Then Jacob prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,' I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, 'I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'"
* Jacob's first recorded prayer since he left Bethel. All his life Jacob had worked to ensure his security and well being. Now, after he obtained all that he thought would give him those things, he realized that they did not live up to his expectations. (Jer. 30:10, 33:6, 46:27)
* "O God" -Elohim, the singular/plural word translated God.
* "O LORD" -YHWH in Hebrew also known as Jehovah or Yehowah. YHWH was the LORD of the covenant to the nation Israel. (Note: The Jewish original manuscripts do not have the vowels for Israel revered the name and did not speak or write it completely.)
* "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness" -The sincerity of his humility cannot be doubted. God had brought him to a place where he had to make a choice; turn to him in humility, or trust in himself once again. Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."(John 14:1)
* "unworthy" -Jacob did not confess his deceptions directly. Yet saying he is unworthy can be considered his confess and repentant heart.
* Jacob's prayer was based on the word of God that he had received.
>5. What did Jacob do to appease Esau? (13-21) Did this solve his fear problem? Why?
Genesis 32:13-21 "He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau:
14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams,
15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.
16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, "Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds."
17 He instructed the one in the lead: "When my brother Esau meets you and asks, 'To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?'
18 then you are to say, 'They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.'"
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: "You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him.
20 And be sure to say, 'Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.'" For he thought, "I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me."
21 So Jacob's gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp."
* "He spent the night there" -Mahanaim
* The "gifts" were very costly, nearly 580 beasts. Most commentators say correctly that this was given to soften Esau's mood. Perhaps there is more to it than that. It could be seen as a payback for the deceitfully and unkindly obtained birthright. Jacob was saying, "Esau, I'm sorry. I was wrong. I did not act fairly and kindly to you in your time of need. I didn't need to do what I did. The LORD has blessed me. I took from your inheritance when you were in need. In the end I didn't need it. Here is a payback for my errors. Please accept it and forgive me."
* "I will pacify him" -Pacify is "kipper" in Hebrew meaning atonement.
* "went on ahead of him" -That is they were sent to the south.
* "but he himself spent the night in the camp" -Jacob remained on the north side of the stream for Mahanaim is on the north side of the stream. (See map.)
>6. Describe the wrestling match that occurred that night. (22-26) Who was Jacob's adversary? (28) What was significant about Jacob's being alone? Why did he demand a blessing? What do you think he wanted?
Genesis 32:22-26 "That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
* "That night Jacob got up" -The night started in verse 13, thru 20, 24 and 31. It was a very busy night. He got little sleep. I picture him pacing and laying in bed with his eyes open, heart pounding, and his mind racing.
* "the ford of Jabbok... stream" -Jabbok is a place name meaning, flowing.” Its modern name is Nahr ez-Zerqa. Its a short fifty mile (60 km) tributary of the Jordan, joining the larger river from the east about fifteen miles north of the Dead Sea. Its a lush area of fields, oaks, shrubs, and almost tropical vegetation. In biblical times various sections served as the western boundary of Ammon, the boundary between the kingdoms of Sihon and Og, and a division in the territory of Gilead. The existence of numerous tells points to a dense population in the Jabbok Valley in ancient times.
* "crossed the ford" -the Jabbok is a fast moving river that is not easily crossed. A ford is a shallow area of a river or stream that makes it possible for a person and animals to cross to the other side. I've read that this ford is knee high to a horse at times.
* "took his... and crossed the ford... So Jacob was left alone" -With daylight quickly approaching Jacob went to the north bank of the stream with his family on the south, in between him and his brother's advance of four hundred men. Jacob put his family in between him and danger, a cowardly act. None of the commentaries I've read has any comments on this except Alfred Edersheim who says it was a time of solitude (a bit to romantic of a word for Jacob's nervous acts). In contrast Jesus is the loving and brave shepherd who protects his own. He said, "The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice... I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me" (John 10:2-4, 11-14)
* One thing good is that Jacob obeyed God and kept his promise to Laban, he did not retreat.
* "a man wrestled with him" -One of the several occasions of Jesus' incarnate manifestations in Genesis as Jacob himself testifies (30). The garden of Eden with Adam was the first. One of Abraham's three visitors was another. Why the special visit? Jacob was so afraid that not even the visible presence of angles comforted his fears. The loving LORD himself needed to pay Jacob a personal visit in the form of a man. As the incarnate LORD approached nervous Jacob, being surprised Jacob jumped him in fear and an adrenaline rush. This turned into a wrestling match for Jacob would not stop the struggling. The wrestling event was prophetic of the nation of Israel and all of God's people's (including the church) struggle with Jesus until he pacifies us with his touch.
* Hosea 12:3-5 says, "In the womb he grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there--the Lord God Almighty, the Lord is his name of renown!"
* "till daybreak" -Why not into the day? Because Esau would arrive in the morning and Jacob needed to change before the encounter with his brother.
* "When the man saw that he could not overpower him" -Some have asked me, "How can this be if he was God?" My answer, "Wasn't Jesus fully God and fully man with flesh and bones? (Heb. 2:17) Wasn't Jacob strong enough to move the stone over the well at Nahor all by himself? (29:10)"
* "he touched the socket of Jacob's hip" -In continuing the statement just made, "Did not the man he wrestled with over power him with a miraculous touch in the end?" So then, what was the point of letting the match go on for so long? For the learning benefit of Jacob. Since nothing else, not words of encouragement and angles calmed Jacob's fears, a personal miracle was needed to open his spiritual eyes and fan into flame his faith. Jesus is gentle and wise with each of us. How many have claimed being in between a rock and a hard place and coming to know Jesus more? If someone else tells me they don't understand this I hope I remember to tell them, "You obviously haven't come to a point in your life as blessed as this. Pray that you do. You'll never forget it and always thank him for it."
* "his hip was wrenched" -As a constant reminder that God allowed him to win for a while until he learned to trust in God. Every step that Jacob (Israel) would take would remind him of this event, the lesson the LORD taught him. When the sun rose on the new day Jacob would know that the event was real; not a dream, not a vision.
* "unless you bless me" -When Jacob realized who it was he had a last flash of his old character. However, different that his youth; this time he acknowledges that God is the source of blessing.
* Jesus taught, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it." (Luke 16:16)
>7. What is significant about the change of Jacob's name? What is the significance of this event in Jacob's life?
Genesis 32:27-28 "The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."
* "Jacob" -meaning "deceiver", "supplanter", and/or "struggling with men.".
* "Israel" -meaning "he struggled with God", "prince (sarah in Hebrew) with God (El in Hebrew)", and "he that perseveres". For the nation it means, "the people struggling with God" and "a nation of rulers". Later, God confirmed Jacob's new name. (35:10) The name is prophetic in the fact that at Mt. Sinai God called them a nations of priests (Ex. 19:6), and Apostle John wrote, "and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." (Rev. 1:6) In my manuscript The Believer's Future - Hope that Inspires I write about how believers will rule with Jesus during the Millennium.
* "and have overcome" -Jacob had come to a new point in his life.
* Jesus taught, "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8) Luke tells us the meaning of this is, "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up." (Luke 18:1)
Genesis 32:29-30 "Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.""
* "Why do you ask my name?" -The man Jacob wrestled with asked his name, and so Jacob returned the question. Why? Jacob knew that the one before him had unique divine powers. Morris wrote in The Genesis Record, "He well realized he had been experiencing a unique encounter with the divine presence, but never had he met God in this form before. He had seen and heard God in dreams and visions, but here was an actual physical person with whom he had been struggling. Was this actually Jehovah, the God of his fathers, to whom he had so often prayed? From what He had said, and from what Jacob had sensed, it must be. An yet, could God actually assume a physical human body? The Angel responded by a rhetorical question, "Why do you ask my name?" Jacob already knew who it was. He had been earnestly praying to Jehovah, and Jehovah had answered his prayer in this most remarkable way, an experience neither he nor his children could ever forget." The name was not given, hidden for the time. Moses, the penman of Genesis also asked his name hundreds of years later and got an answer.
* "then he blessed him there" -Jacob asked and received. The words of the blessing is not given but can be understood it was the same as earlier blessings.
* "Peniel" -meaning "the face of God."
* "and yet my life was spared" -Even in the ancient past many knew that no one could see the pure and holy God and live because we are sinners. (Ex. 33:20, 1 Tim. 6:16) Why? Because purity can not allow impurity to be in its presence; if it did it would not be pure. As Apostle John wrote in his gospel, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it."
Genesis 32:31-32 "The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon."
* Not eating that part was not a law, just a custom.
>8. Describe Jacob's meeting with Esau. What is the significance of this meeting? Why did he say that seeing Esau's face was "like seeing the face of God"? (33:10)
Genesis 33:1-3 "Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother."
* "He himself went on ahead" -Jacob was a changed man.
* "bowed down to the ground seven times" -showing great respect and humility; no hostel intentions.
Genesis 33:4-5 "But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. "Who are these with you?" he asked. Jacob answered, "They are the children God has graciously given your servant."
* Peace had been obtained.
* "God has graciously given" -recognition where it is due
Genesis 33:6-7 "Then the maidservants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down."
* "bowed down" -All honored Esau. The oracle therefore is yet to be fulfilled.
Genesis 33:8-11 "Esau asked, "What do you mean by all these droves I met?" "To find favor in your eyes, my lord," he said. But Esau said, "I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself." "No, please!" said Jacob. "If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need." And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it."
* "To find favor in your eyes" -A subtle way to say he needed to find favor after what he had done.
* "like seeing the face of God" -Meaning an experience of joy, humility, and revelation.
* The exchange became and/or was the norm of hospitality among the peoples of the Mideast.
Genesis 33:12-15 "Then Esau said, "Let us be on our way; I'll accompany you." But Jacob said to him, "My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir." Esau said, "Then let me leave some of my men with you." "But why do that?" Jacob asked. "Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord."
* Jacob's excuse was weak, but accepted.
* Jacob didn't want four hundred men hanging around. I wouldn't either.
* Jacob fully intended to stay away from his brother. He did not want to and did not need to be subjected to his brother.
>9. Why did Jacob settle at Succoth? Why was this not good in God's sight?
Genesis 33:16-20 "So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth. After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel."
* "went to Succoth" -on the north side of the Jabbok very near where he was now.
* "he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock" -Jacob stayed for a while in the this beautiful lush area.
* "the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city" -on the western side of the Jordan. Abraham stayed near this area when he first arrived in the land. (12:6)
* "he bought... the plot of ground where he pitched his tent" -something neither his father or grandfather had done. Bad would come from this.
* "El Elohe Israel" -meaning in Hebrew; El = God, Elohe = the God of, Israel = his new God given name. Two significant things with this statement; first for the first time he called God his God; second, this is the first time he used his new name.