Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.
3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 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. 5 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.’ ”
6 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.”
7 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. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”
9 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,’ 10 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. 11 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. 12 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.’ ”
13 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.
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 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.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 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.
Today we turn our attention to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson and the son of Isaac.
Jacob had two meetings with God – one at Bethel where he had a vision of the ladder. In Gen 28:11 we see that when Jacob arrived at Bethel the sun set … this might well have been a simple observation of the time of day but it might also have a poignant significance, as we shall see.
The other meeting that Jacob had with God was at Peniel, where he wrestled with God until daybreak. As he left Peniel, we read in Gen 32:31 that “the sun rose above him.” Again this might simply tell us the time of day or it might tell of an incredible restoration that took place in Jacob’s life.
The word “Jacob” means grabber or deceiver and you will remember from the biblical accounts of his life that Jacob was indeed a grabber. He was the second born of twins and at his birth he came out grabbing his brother Esau’s heel. He was, by nature, also a bargainer, he bargained with Esau for the birthright – gaining it for a bowl of stew, he bargained with Laban for his wife Rachel, he even bargained with God at Bethel. He was also a deceiver. He deceived his blind father by covering his arms and neck with goatskin in order to receive the blessing that actually belonged to his older brother.
Jacob, before his encounter with God at Peniel, was not a nice man. He was pretty much like anyone of us before God entered into our lives bringing us new birth into eternal life, and leading us on a new journey through this world.
At Bethel, the sun sets on Jacob’s life. He is on the run from his brother Esau who had threatened to kill him because he had stolen the birthright and blessing that legitimately belonged to him.
Even though the sun is metaphorically setting on his life Jacob has this wonderful dream in which God reveals to him the great and glorious purpose that he has for him. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go … I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
But Jacob is not interested in spiritual blessings – only in God’s protection against his enemies – primarily his brother Esau.
He bargains with God … “Just protect me from danger, give me food and clothes and I’ll be happy – then I’ll acknowledge you and give you a tenth of all that I have.”
In his spiritual darkness Jacob seeks only material help.
He could have the vastness of God’s purpose for his life but he was satisfied with toys.
Why is it that we always seem so much more interested in physical things than God’s gifts?
And its not just possessions; its also our status, our pride, our prospects.
What are your priorities? What do you think about most? Where does most of your money go? How do you spend your time?
God had to wait 20 years before Jacob was prepared to take his mind away from the things of the world and set it on the things above.
We saw a similar thing with Abraham, where in his hurry to have God’s promise he frustrated God’s purpose. We also, like them, often frustrate God’s glorious purpose for our lives because of the narrowness of our vision – when we like Abraham and Jacob, get taken up with things lesser than God’s highest.
In order to fulfil His promises to Jacob, God had to discipline him: severely … and this filled the next 20 years of his life.
In Abraham, God was absent for 13 years so that Abraham’s self-dependence was emptied … God waited for Abraham to become impotent.
For Jacob, God put him alongside another shrewd schemer – Laban.He tricks Jacob into marrying Leah when he thought he marrying Rachel. After having committed to another 7 years of work he eventually gets to marry Rachel only to find that she is barren.
Next he uses all the tricks of the trade – sophisticated selective breeding techniques – to get the best of Laban’s flocks and herds, and as Laban’s sons see how Jacob’s scheming has robbed them of their inheritance they plot to kill him. And as he had to run from his brother, now he has to run from his cousins.
But as he heads back to Canaan he finds himself hemmed in – Laban is chasing him from the rear and Esau is coming from the front. He makes a peace covenant with Laban at Mizpah promising that they will not enter again into each others territory. But now he faces 20 years of built-up wrath in his brother and he seeks to appease it with trickery and bribes.
Have you ever tried to bargain with God?
In your life’s struggles, have you made promises to God about how you will behave or what you will do if God would only come to your assistance. And when He has, have you?
Jacob sends abundant gifts in waves ahead of him and divides his possessions into groups so that Esau might perhaps turn away appeased without taking everything from Jacob, he even sends his wives and children ahead of him. Jacob waits on the other side of the river; Jacob is looking after No 1!
But that night he wrestled with God. We learn four things from that night that Jacob spent with God.
First he was alone. We need to spend time alone with God that He might speak into our soul.
Second he was broken by God. For twenty years God had struggled gently with Jacob, but that night God struck his hip so that his thigh was dislocated. The thigh is the strongest part of the body and it was that part that God struck. God will often strike us in the strong-points of our life because these are the dependencies that keep us from total yielding to God.
Peter thought that his strong point was his courage. God caused him to lie to protect himself against a servant girl. He thought that he was a good fisherman and so twice he fishes all night but catches nothing – until Jesus points the way. Sometimes God will take our wealth or our talents until our dependence is properly centered on Him.
Third we see that Jacob was finally desperate for God. “I will not let you go,” he says, “unless you bless me.” In Hosea 12:4 we read that Jacob wept and begged with God for a blessing that night at Peniel. This was the point that God had been working towards throughout Jacob’s life. What a different man he was to 20 years earlier. Now he had nothing – he was alone and broken, now God could bless him.
God didn’t bless him because he was defeated. Instead God says to him – You have prevailed, and so you will have power with God and with men. Because you did not give up, because you held on … I will bless you in terms of your relationship with me. You will call upon me and I will hear you.
Finally, we see that God blessed Jacob at Peniel because at last he was honest. When he went to his father to steal his brother’s blessing he said that his name was Esau. Now 20 years later God asks him his name again. “I am Jacob” he says. “I am the grabber, the deceiver, I am the bargainer.”
This was a confession – I don’t want to pretend anymore, I am a hypocrite. My life is full of sham and pretense.” It takes real brokenness to be honest to God about ourselves.
What is it about these four things – Aloneness, Brokenness, Desperation, Honesty, in terms of our relationship with God?
There seems to be a progression …
When time and circumstances hem us in, we find ourselves alone.
Loneliness and depression have the potential to leave us without hope because we have no-one else to turn to.
We need to recognise, at that point, that God waits. Like the Prodigal Son, it is the recognition of the failure of our own efforts that brings us to the place of brokenness.
It is the critical point of every one’s life – it is God or self.
And when we turn in desperation from ourselves towards God, becoming honest about ourselves and our need for God, then we enter into a brand new relationship with God – the one which He has always wanted, the one for which Jesus died.
We see that after these things that the sun now ascends on Jacob’s life. He walks in justice and truth. He walks in the way of God and becomes a patriarch of God’s people.
Does he keep talking about his experience at Peniel ? No.
His testimony does not hark back to that one experience of God because his life thereafter is filled with the Presence of God.
In Hebrews 1, where we read the great testimonies of the men and women of faith we are told in quite the simplest terms of how Jacob’s life changed.
There is no breaking open of the seas, no pushing down of walls, no raising of the dead but simply, “Jacob worshipped God, leaning on the top of his staff.”
The staff was the symbol of the miracle that God had wrought in his life – with a dislocated hip, Jacob needed a staff to walk but that walking stick was also the symbol of the breaking of his stubborn self-will. Now he worshipped God as a man whose self dependence was broken, and who now depended only on God.
At Peniel, Jacob’s name was changed from “Jacob the deceiver” to “Israel, the one who struggles with God” but God continues to call Himself – “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Our great God of mercy and grace continues to identify with self-seeking sinners. He is with us each day as we struggle to overcome the self life that rules so dominantly in each one of us.
He is the God of grace who so loves us so much that He gave His only Son so that we might have a full life in this world despite our failures; and, when this life is over, be brought into the holy presence of the Almighty, finally cleansed in the redeeming death of Christ our Lord.