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July 2, 2024

Genesis Part 28

We have been looking at the life of Jacob the last two weeks.




GENESIS 32:1-33:20

We have been looking at the life of Jacob the last two weeks. Up until this point, you would be hard pressed to find a single reason for God to have selected him to be the future father of God’s covenant nation. He cheated, defrauded, committed acts of polygamy, created jealousy and strife in his own family, failed to forgive Laban, and he was prideful. These are not exactly godly characteristics, are they? If a committee of people had been formed back in the book of Genesis to select the future father of the nation of Israel, Jacob would not even have made the short list. Yet, God chose Jacob. As Jacob returns to the Promised Land we will begin to see signs of a spiritual transformation taking place in him.

So, as we pick up the narrative in Genesis Chapter 32, the confrontation with Laban has ended peacefully. Laban has departed and Jacob and his family resume their journey. As they make their way south toward the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, they are being escorted by a band of angels.

READ Genesis 32:1-2

The translation of Mahanaim is “two camps.” One is his own camp and the other is God’s camp, the angels that he sees. The angels are there to protect Jacob and those with him. Remember that God had told Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and your [relatives], and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Being with Jacob is God’s promise to comfort, sustain and protect Jacob. The truth is that these angels have been with Jacob ever since he left Bethel years before. He just couldn’t see them. At Bethel God had told Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” It is only now that God opens Jacob’s eyes so that he can actually see the angels that God sent.

READ Genesis 32:3-5

Jacob’s mind is now focused on the family reunion he is headed to. Of particular concern is Esau. John Phillips in his commentary makes this observation about Jacob’s mindset: “Jacob had to face in full the long account he had run up with his brother so many years before. It is always that way. God cannot possibly bless us with spiritual blessings until we face our trespasses and put right, where it lies within our power, the wrongs we have done.” God’s dealing with old guilt in Jacob’s life reminds us that [God] will deal with it also in ours. Jacob knows that he must make things right with his brother. Frankly, that is a scary thought to Jacob. He remembers the way things were when he had left home.

READ Genesis 32:6-8

So, what does Jacob think will happen? He’s thinking the worst – that his brother Esau will be hostile toward him. Jacob has been dreading this for a while. Things ended very badly between him and his brother. Jacob doesn’t know what to expect after all this time. He divides his camp up so that if Esau does have evil intentions, at least a part of the group will have a chance to survive.

My question for you is this: Do Jacob’s actions here show a lack of faith in God? Just something to think about. God has told Jacob that He will be with him and strongly inferred in that is His hand of protection on him. So, I see this whole chapter leading up to the family reunion as God testing Jacob much like He had tested Abraham back in Genesis Chapter 22. How is Jacob going to react? Is he going to trust God? Early in this test Jacob appears to be relying on himself and not God. But let’s read on…

  READ Genesis 32:9-12

OK, let’s give Jacob a lot of credit here. He goes to God in prayer. He lays it all out before the Lord. He asks for God to protect him based on God’s promises to him before. I would say that’s pretty sound theology. This is actually a really good prayer. It sounds like a completely different Jacob than we’ve seen before. We haven’t heard Jacob pray like this before, have we? But let’s keep going…

READ Genesis 32:13-21

While Jacob has indeed given his problem over to God, we can see that he is still Jacob. Yes, he trusts God, but he feels (human thinking here) that it would be a good idea to maybe “soften” Esau up a bit. He plans to do this by giving him a whole bunch of gifts. As we will see later, none of this is necessary. He doesn’t need to do this. But in his mind, it’s a good idea.

READ Genesis 32:22-23

Crossing the Jabbok River brings you into the land of Edom. This is Esau’s home territory.

READ Genesis 32:24-25

The million-dollar question is: Who is this “man” that Jacob wrestles with all night? There are two schools of thought, two main views presented in most commentaries: (1) He was a special angel sent by God with a message for Jacob; (2) He is God Himself in human form, perhaps a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. The last part of v 25 says, “he touched his hip socket” and put it out of joint. Whoever this “man” is, he’s obviously no ordinary human to be able to do that.

READ Genesis 32:26

Jacob wants the blessings of God. Despite the obvious pain he must be in with a dislocated hip (no pain relief medicine), Jacob clings to this “man” with everything he’s worth. He recognizes that this “man” is from God and he refuses to let go of him until he blesses him. One of Jacob’s positive characteristics is that he has always shown a dogged determination, perseverance, tenacity.

READ Genesis 32:27-28

Jacob gets his name changed from Jacob which means “supplanter,” from his old nature as a conniver and deceiver. His new name, his new nature is “Israel” which means “God’s warrior.” I’ll comment more on Jacob’s name change here in a minute.

READ Genesis 32:29

Jacob asks the “man” his name and is ignored. Basically the man infers by his lack of response that it’s not for Jacob to know. So the mystery about who this “man” is remains. We can debate it all day long. Jacob gets what he wants. It says that “he blessed [Jacob].” And with that Jacob releases the man and he disappears.

Now, let me talk about Jacob’s name change. I looked it up: After his name gets changed here in this chapter, Jacob will still be referred to as Jacob 65 more times in the book of Genesis. He will be referred to as Israel 38 times. The question I had is why? His name change apparently represents a change in natures. So what is going on? The old radio preacher J. Vernon McGee explains it like this: “From here on Jacob is going to manifest a spiritual nature, a dependence upon God. [But this change doesn’t happen suddenly]… We are creatures of habit. [Jacob] will lapse back into his old ways many times, but we begin to see something different in him now. Before we are through with him, we will find that he is a real man of God.” What Mr. McGee is getting at is that of the 38 times the name Israel is used after his name change, 29 of those times will occur in the last several chapters of Genesis toward the tail end of Jacob’s life.

So, the change in Jacob and his nature takes a while! He doesn’t change overnight.

  READ Genesis 32:30-31

For your information, Peniel and Penuel are the same place. They both mean the same thing – “face of God.” Jacob believes the “man” that he wrestled with all night was God Himself. That lends credence to the theory that this might have been a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son, the one Person of the Godhead that has appeared in human form. But coming face to face with one of God’s holy angels can also be an overwhelming experience for sinful human beings. Case in point: earlier in Genesis when Hagar was pregnant with Ishmael and she was alone in the wilderness, an angel of the LORD appeared to her and talked to her. Her reaction was, “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me (speaking of God).” Hagar believed she saw God Himself when, in fact, it was an angel sent by God. So who the man was that Jacob wrestled with will remain a mystery.

From now on Jacob will walk with a limp due to his hip being out of joint. You could say that the change in Jacob resulted in a change in his walk, both physical and spiritual.

READ Genesis 32:32

Here Moses, the writer of Genesis adds a bit of commentary for the benefit of his readers. They would have been aware of the Jewish practice of not eating the thigh muscle. Here Moses explains that there is actually a reason behind this practice. It goes back to this event here in Jacob’s life. Well, now we’re ready for the big family reunion! Jacob can hear the rumble of hoof beats approaching in the distance!

READ Genesis 33:1-2

Here we see that Jacob is still concerned about his family’s safety. He places Rachel and Joseph, his favorites, in the very back. This is the safest place, farthest away from potential danger. He doesn’t know for sure what Esau and his army of men are going to do.

READ Genesis 33:3

Here Jacob bows before his brother Esau! This is the moment of reckoning that Jacob has been dreading for so long.

READ Genesis 33:4

This is one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. Given all of his precautionary efforts and worry leading up to this moment, it is safe to say that this is not exactly what Jacob expected would happen. But here we see evidence that God was at work the whole time. He was not only working in Jacob’s life, but apparently, He has been working in Esau’s life as well. All of those old feelings of anger have long dissipated. Jacob and Esau are reconciled!

It turns out to be a happy family reunion.

READ Genesis 33:5-10

Jacob introduces his family to Esau. He explains the purpose behind the large gift he had presented to Esau, which is, to find favor with him. Finally, Jacob gives a testimony of how God had blessed him.

READ Genesis 33:11

Even though Esau initially turns down Jacob’s gift, in the end he accepts it.

READ Genesis 33:12

Esau doesn’t want the reunion to end. Things are going so well. He is happy to see his brother after all these years. He proposes to escort Jacob’s family south to his home which is in Seir.

READ Genesis 33:13-16

Basically, Jacob says, “We travel a lot slower than you do. You go on ahead. We’ll meet you later in Seir.” But that is not the plan, is it? The truth is that Jacob has no intention of heading due south into the land of Edom. Instead his plan is to head home to the land of Canaan, in a more southwesterly direction. So as soon as Esau and his group are out of sight, Jacob and his family veer off toward the land of Canaan. They go a different way. Thus, Jacob misleads Esau.

READ Genesis 33:17-20

The name of the altar means “God, the God of Israel.” Jacob has been obedient and returned to the land of Canaan. However, God wanted him to go to Bethel, down the road a little further. If you will recall when Jacob had his experience with God on the way north to Laban’s house, God had instructed Jacob to return to “this land.” Instead Jacob purchases property and settles in Shechem. This will prove to be a bad decision. As we will see moving forward in the story Jacob’s life is anything but a bed of roses. He will soon face some of the toughest challenges of his life.

Application for Genesis Chapters 32 and 33

  • It’s one thing to know about God. It’s quite another to have a life-changing encounter with Him. Jacob has had two of these so far in his life. One took place at Bethel on the way out of the Promised Land. The other occurred at Peniel on his way back into the Promised Land.
  • Spiritual revival involves not only making things right with God but also with those we have wronged in our past.
  • In order for God to get us where He wants us to be, He must often humble us. For Jacob that involved a physical disability that he had to live with the rest of his life.
  • Whenever we find ourselves overwhelmed by life it is always a good idea to go to God in prayer.
  • God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, just submissive.

GENESIS 32:1-33:20

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