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A New Destiny Revealed
a commentary on Genesis 32
Welcome back! This week’s Biblit is a commentary on Genesis 32, where we see the next segment of Jacob’s life! This passage is filled with fear, strategy, and an epic wrestling match! As always, I highly encourage you to read the passage yourself when you have the time! I will recap it here in this week’s Biblit! Let’s start with the context:
If you recall where we left off last week, Jacob fled Laban and took all his wives, servants, and possessions away from the unjust ruler. He began the journey back to the promised land by direct orders from God. Laban was upset Jacob did this in secret and took off to catch up with them. Once Laban caught up to Jacob, the two men had a heart to heart and Laban was able to say his official goodbye. Then Jacob and his family were free to continue on their journey. This is where we pick up today!
The conflict with Laban ended, but Jacob now faces a new challenge. Remember Esau, Jacob’s twin brother? The last time we saw Esau he wanted to kill Jacob for stealing his birthright and blessing. That’s one reason Jacob fled to Laban in the first place more than 20 years ago. Jacob remembers Esau’s hatred and begins to fear an encounter with him.
On their journey, they have to pass through Edom, Esau’s country. Before they enter, Jacob decides to send some servants up ahead to check it out. He tells them:
“This is what you are to say to my lord 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, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” (Genesis 32:4-5 ESV).
Jacob’s words here are interesting and reveal his heart. He calls Esau ‘lord’ (rather than a brother) and himself ‘servant.’ He is humbling himself in Esau’s eyes to gain favor and show respect. This also reveals Jacob’s fear since he (though younger) is the one that received the birthright and blessing. If we recall, the prophecy, given to Rebekah, stated that Esau would serve Jacob. Yet here we see Jacob referring to himself as the servant. This is not to say Jacob is giving up the birthright or anything like that. I just want to highlight Jacob’s fear and respect for his brother, Esau.
The servants come back and inform Jacob that Esau is coming with 400 men! Shoot, that sounds bad! Unfortunately, the servants do not relay the demeanor of Esau’s coming. Is he angry and seeking to kill Jacob, or is he coming in peace? The servants do not say.
Jacob assumes that if Esau is coming with 400 men, he’s coming for war! He takes evasive action and divides his people and possessions into two groups. Jacob thinks that if Esau attacks one group, the other can escape.
Next, we see Jacob do something he should have done in the first place. Pray. His prayer is a really cool one to read. He does a couple of interesting things in his prayer:
He tells God that he is afraid. He confesses his weakness to God, something I often try to hide from God.
He prays all of God’s promises back to him with boldness. He “reminds” God that He called Jacob to the promised land, and that God promised his descendants would prosper in that land.
Jacob also comes into this prayer in a humble state. Jacob tells God that he is unworthy of all God’s goodness.
It’s a great prayer and I believe shows some spiritual growth in Jacob. After the prayer, though, Jacob jumps right back into action!
He puts together a gift (or peace offering) for Esau. He sends about 550 animals ahead for Esau and informs the servants to tell his brother: “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.” (Genesis 32:18 ESV). Jacob puts all his eggs in his basket and hopes that the gift will appease his brother.
Now Jacob waits for his plan to work, but in the midst of waiting, he has an interesting encounter.
Jacob sends his family across the ford of the Jabbok and he is left alone. Jacob then takes part in an epic all-night wrestling match! Some “man” (as it says) wrestles with Jacob all night. Around daybreak, the man recognizes he cannot overpower Jacob and touches his hip (a wrestler’s power joint), wrenching it out of the socket! This causes Jacob to walk with a limp for the rest of his life! It’s probably excruciating at the moment as well! Does Jacob give up? NO! He keeps going. When the man asks for Jacob to let him go, Jacob denies it until the man blesses him.
After this insane match, we see the man do something even more extraordinary! He changes Jacob’s name to Israel! When Jacob asks what the man’s name is, he simply responds “Why do you ask my name?” The man blesses Jacob/Israel and then leaves. Jacob/Israel calls the place he wrestled, Peniel, which means “face of God.”
Super interesting passage right? An epic wrestling match with God? What does that mean for us or for anybody? What does any of this really mean? Well, let’s break it down and see what we find!
If we recall way back in Genesis chapter 28, Jacob flees from Esau, scared for his own life. It is at this time that he has the epic revelation from God during the famous “Jacob’s Ladder” dream. In today’s Biblit, we see something similar. Jacob is still afraid of Esau, but needs to pass through his country. Once he takes matters into his own hands (yet again) he has yet another epic encounter with God! This time taking the form of a wrestling match. Now, a few side notes about the match that could be interesting:
The “man” Jacob wrestles with is God. Jacob calls the place Peniel, which means “the face of God.” He also declares that he has seen God face to face and lived. However, we also know that God took the form of a human to wrestle with Jacob.
This leads to another question: why couldn’t God defeat Jacob? The reason (I believe) is that when God took the form of a human, he put aside his own power to teach Jacob a lesson. He humbled himself to meet Jacob where Jacob was at.
What lessons could Jacob have learned in this epic match? I believe there are a couple of characteristics worth pointing out:
Jacob has great perseverance! Even when his hip was wrenched, he still fought and persevered! If God had totally obliterated him in the beginning, then he never would have been able to learn about his perseverance. Just as God tested Abraham’s faith with Isaac for Abraham’s sake, so Jacob had to persevere for his own sake! It is a glimpse into the perseverance of Israel, Jesus, and Christians. A theme Paul talks about a lot in his letters.
Jacob has a hunger for God. When the “man” asks for Jacob to let him go, Jacob responds, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob desires and hungers for the Lord! This is something admirable we have not seen in Jacob that often!
What happens to Jacob? God changes his name to Israel. Just as with Abraham, God shows Jacob that his destiny is changing. Jacob was the name given to a trickster, but Israel is the name given to the father of God’s nation. The meaning of Israel is “to contend with, strive.” Jacob shows perseverance with God just as the nation of Israel will face much perseverance. God changed his name and thus took away his immature, trickster ways, introducing a new identity! This leads to the main point and application.
Just like God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, God has changed our names too! For Jacob, it was an epic wrestling match, but for us, it was Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus died and took our sins and the punishment from God. He sacrificed himself, the perfect, for us, the unholy and filthy. We once had an identity like Jacob, perhaps a trickster, liar, or a thief. Now we have an identity in Christ and our destiny is changed forever because of it!
Jesus did not just die for our one and only salvation! We also gained sanctification! A process of growth towards holiness! This is our new destiny: to be holy! Take time to think and reflect on the beauty of this truth. We have a new identity in Christ, our name has changed, and our destiny has as well!