Wrestling with God (Genesis 32-33)

Intro: Return to the life of Jacob, the patriarch. There is much to learn from God’s influence on Jacob. His life is a true story of how God can use both blessing and suffering to mold the character of a man to be what He desire. Jacob is a man who wrestled with God.

  • As we mentioned this morning, Jacob was a take charge person who learned to manipulate and use others to get what he wanted. Early on Jacob was truly Jacob “the grasper” who did not let go until he got what he was after.
  • After over 20 years in Padan-Aram at the house of Laban, Jacob is instructed by God (in a dream) to return to Canaan. (31:1-3) Jacob tells Rachel and Leah his plans to leave, and acknowledges the sovereign providence of God over the last 20 years. Gen 31:4-7So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, 5 and said to them, “I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. 6 And you know that with all my might I have served your father. 7 Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me… 13 – I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.'” God had kept His promise, and Jacob was still living under the vow of Bethel – “The Lord will be my God”

I. The Fear of Going Home: Even though God had commanded his return home, there were inherent dangers involved. How would Esau react to Jacob’s return? What could Jacob do to make the situation better? On the way home to Canaan, God would humble Jacob significantly and teach him the importance of trusting the divine will over human schemes. Jacob was still learning this important lesson.

A. Jacob’s efforts: Jacob schemed as he traveled about how to appease his brother.

1. He sent messengers to him who were instructed to ask for “favor” in Esau’s eyes – Genesis 32:3-53 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 And he commanded them, saying, “Speak thus to my lord Esau, ‘Thus your servant Jacob says: “I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”‘” The messengers returned – evidently without making contact with Esau – and reported that Jacob’s brother was coming toward him with 400 men (32:6).

• Gen 32:7-8So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies. 8 And he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.”

Jacob, even more fearful, divided his people and animals into two groups. The first group would bear the brunt of any assault, and the one in the rear could try to escape (32:7-8).

2. He prayed to the God of his father and grandfather to spare him, his wives, and his children; he based his prayer on the promise of future descendants that had been confirmed to him at Bethel (Read 32:9-12). Notice that his prayer is focused on the promises God made 20 years earlier.

3. He then instructed his lead servants to offer Esau animals as gifts by which he hoped to pacify his anger (32:13-21). Now that he had done all that he knew to do in preparation for the imminent encounter with Esau, Jacob was alone with his fears and his God.

II. The Wrestling Match: Jacob must have felt quite vulnerable at this point. His possessions had been forfeited and sent ahead as gifts to Esau. His family was exposed to death. Wealth, family, personal safety – all were now dependant on the care of God. This vulnerable position was the environment for God’s lesson on self-surrender. Alone and afraid, people are likely open to God as they are at no other time in life.

Note: One author calls this the “one of the most important events in the history of human redemption”.

Burton Coffman writes: “Jacob, the head of the Messianic line through whom the CHRIST would come was facing the most serious threat of his whole life. ‘If Esau had been victorious here, all of God’s plans and promises would have been defeated, and the world would never have had a Savior.’ It was this crisis nature of the situation that required and justified God’s personal intervention to establish and confirm Jacob’s faith.”

A. Read Gen 32:22-32: I am once again impressed with succinct manner in which the Bible describes such a phenomenal event. How are we to understand what happened here?

1. Is this a real event or a dream? – He woke up with a limp. Does not seem to be a dream, but an actual encounter.

2. Who is this man? Even Jacob does not get a clear answer on this question. (v. 29) Consider Hosea’s reference in Hosea 12:2-52 “The Lord also brings a charge against Judah, And will punish Jacob according to his ways; According to his deeds He will recompense him. 3 He took his brother by the heel in the womb, And in his strength he struggled with God. 4 Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, And there He spoke to us — 5 That is, the Lord God of hosts. The Lord is His memorable name.

a. Hosea says he was an angel (v. 4), and He was God (v. 3). Verse 5 may be a later answer to Jacob’s question. The Lord is His name. So Jacob wrestled with God, in the form of a man.

3. What an epic struggle! In one corner was scheming and take charge Jacob, who was used to coming out on top. In the other was God who wanted Jacob to learn the value of surrendering to God.

4. Jacob proved to be a worthy opponent, so as the day was breaking, the divine wrestler touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it. (v. 24-25) – this effectively ended Jacob’s ability to win the contest.

a. Something became clearer to Jacob. If the mere touch of a hand could cripple him, there had been some other point to the wrestling match that night than to find out who was stronger. This was God, and no human force can defy him or overpower Him.

b. As the man determined to leave, Jacob’s plea was this: I will not let you go unless you bless me” (32:26).He went from fighting to pleading for mercy from His opponent. He quit fighting and began clinging. God could have left him there, wounded and beaten. But here was a holy boldness, a holy determination that God was willing to respond to.

c. The blessing God gave Jacob was a name change. The name Jacob means “heel-grabber” or “deceiver,” but it was replaced that day with Israel (32:27-28). Israel means “one who strives with God” or, perhaps, “one for whom God strives.” He was a different man than before.

5. Jacob Prevailed: This tremendous episode also carried with it a deep spiritual awakening on the part of Jacob. He was defeated and powerless to continue, but he clung to God and would not let go until he received the blessing. It is written that “he prevailed”; but how did he do so?

a. He won by surrender and by pleading for the blessing which could come only from the grace of God, and not letting go from God until he got it. That is precisely the way that the saints of all ages have triumphed. Cling to the Lord, and never let go! ” One author wrote: “Here Jacob received the final lesson that humbled and broke down his self-will, and convinced him that he would not snatch the blessing from God’s hand, and that he must accept it as a gift of God’s grace.”

III. A Divinely Arranged Reconciliation: (Gen 33) Jacob limped back to his family, and went before them to meet Esau in person. How did Jacob approach his brother? One author summarized the steps each brother took as they came together.

  • JACOB: (1) he bowed before him seven times (Gen 33:3); (2) he called himself Esau’s servant twice (Gen 33:5,14); (3) referred to Esau as his “lord” four times (Gen 33:8,13,14); (4) dispatched ahead of time a most impressive present; (5) insisted that Esau keep it (Gen 33:8-11); and (6) declared that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God (Gen 33:10).
  • ESAU: (1) came with a company to welcome Jacob; (2) ran to meet him; (3) embraced him; (4) fell on his neck; (5) kissed him; (6) invited Jacob to keep the present; (7) offered to accompany him; (8) offered to leave a guard to protect him; (9) addressed him as “my brother” (Gen 33:9); and (10) graciously accepted the present, which in the customs of the day amounted to a pact of friendship.

A. What a scene of joy and triumph! The scene reminds us of Jesus depiction of the father and his prodigal son in Luke 15. Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord had not been in vain. He had prevailed with God and men. His approach of brokenness and submission was God’s way, not man’s. And what was implicit in that approach is made explicit twice in their exchange: Jacob said, “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord” (33:8, 15). He did the right thing that day and set an example that is too challenging for many who cannot admit having wronged others, who cannot find it in their hearts to ask pardon.

1. The meeting between Jacob and Esau was, in a sense, another wrestling match. Jacob and Esau seem to be wrestling over who will forgive the other first!

a. They fall all over each other trying to do what is right for the other. Not like bitter enemies, but old friends arguing over who’s going to pick up the restaurant check!” Rom 12:10Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 17Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Vs. 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The feud is over. A man on the run has become a man at peace, and a man once bent on murder has wept and kissed his intended victim.

B. How was this grand reconciliation affected? Did Jacob’s schemes work? Was it the expensive gifts or the emissaries of peace? No it was by the plan and design of God. It was an act of sheer mercy that made it happen. The forgiveness that comes of grace is ultimately the means to reconciliation. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

Conclusion: Moral of the story? We all need to learn to walk with a limp. It is the way God’s servants walk.

  1. This much is true. We will all have to wrestle with God about some things. If we prevail it will be because we experience some true loss and brokenness from the hand of God. Our victories are victories over ourselves.
  2. The real problem we face is the human tendency for self-centeredness, success, self-will, and self-sufficiency. Like Jacob we learn to manipulate and grasp after the things that we want.
  3. God loves us so much that He is willing to wrestle with us over this and break us so that he can pick up the pieces. We must learn to cling to Him and seek His blessing. We must follow His lead and respond with His love and mercy.
  4. Paul wrestled with God as well.To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
  5. Some of us may be unhappy with God because he has allowed weakness, hardships, and difficulties into our life. The joy we seek will come when we learn to minister, serve, and be reconciled to those around us. Start with God. Are you reconciled with Him?
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