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A. JACOB WRESTLES WITH GOD (Please read Gen 32:1-32).
Jacob sees a host of angels.
Jacob’s confrontation with Laban and his brothers was, mercifully, now something of the past, but such a conflict renders one emotionally depleted and the meeting with Esau was still ahead of him. For that reason his Heavenly Father thought it well to open his eyes so that he could see the host of angels who had continually been following and protecting him, as he was travelling down below.
Angels are of course invisible spiritual beings, but are able to appear to man in whichever form would best fit the circumstances. To Abraham they had appeared in human form (Gen 18), but here, to Jacob, they appeared as an army of heavenly beings (32:1,2), to give him courage for the future, letting him know that Esau would not be contending with his small group of people only, but with a heavenly host of mighty angels. For that reason Jacob called that place Mahanaim, “Two camps”: Jacob’s camp consisting of his people and livestock and God’s camp of angels. (See also Ps 34:8; 91:11; Heb 1:14 and 2 Kings 6:17). When we are under way at God’s command, we are continually under the protection of the Almighty.
(A text which the Lord often gave me, is Heb 13:5, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” WEB.)
Bad news: Esau is on the warpath and heading your way.
Jacob then sent messengers ahead of his laager to prepare Esau for his return to Canaan. He possibly also wanted to let him know that he had accrued an abundance of property and was not on his way to lay claim to his heritage, which he had left behind. Esau had, in the meantime settled in the region of Seir, later known as Edom.
The messengers returned within a very short while, bearing the unsettling news that Esau had already come to know about Jacob’s return (possibly from travelling merchants) and was on his way to meet him, accompanied by 400 men (32:3-6). That definitely was not a welcoming party. Esau had nurtured the grudge for the injustice he suffered because of Jacob for 20 long years and just hearing his name mentioned, caused a burning urge for retribution to flame up within his heart. At that time he had sworn that he would kill him and now the opportunity to do so, had come. He was out to crush him.
(Family grudges and feuds sometimes run for many generations; also between tribes and nations and many innocent people of later generations who hardly know anything about the original quarrel, suffer because of it.)
Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
Notwithstanding the vision of the host of angels that were continually accompanying and protecting him, Jacob was overcome by anxiety on receiving this upsetting news. Right away he divided his camp into two laagers and let them camp out of sight of one-another so that, should Esau destroy the one camp, the other would at least be spared. At that, his clever human devised plans of wrapping the skins of kids around his arms and laying branches in the troughs, dried up. Only One could deliver him from this dilemma and so he turned to God in prayer.
A petition that makes sense.
He based his petition on three grounds: That God was the God of Abraham (The God Who had made certain promises to Abraham), that he, Jacob, was not returning to Canaan (and to Esau) by his own accord, but was doing so at God’s command and, thirdly that the Lord had also made personal promises of protection and blessing to him at Bethel and that He had kept His promises and everything which he (Jacob) now owned, was given him by God; why then would the Lord now allow him to be stripped of all these things, including his life; that would not make sense?
God so much appreciates it when we lay before Him irrefutable truths and well-grounded arguments flowing from a humble heart as was the case with Jacob as seen in his words, “I am too unworthy for all the goodness and mercy which you had shown to your servant …. “ In other words, “Lord, my plea rests on righteousness, yet I am pleading that You will do it for me by grace”.
Wave upon wave of heart-softeners.
After having spoken to God, Jacob did whatever was practically within his reach by sending ahead peace offerings to show his submission and regret, hoping to soften Esau’s heart (32:13-21) and what a multitude of presents he sent! It was not just a half-hearted show, but a convincing flood of benevolence. Sometimes we have to pay a huge price to make peace with others or to keep peace with them. We then do what we can and trust God to do that which we cannot.
A spiritual battle fought in human strength.
When evening fell, Jacob let his wives, children and other people cross through the Jabbok, but he remained behind – probably to have a further period of uninterrupted prayer. Then something incredible happened. Suddenly a man emerged from the darkness and lay hold of him. He had no weapon in his hand, therefore seemingly, his intention was not to kill him forthwith; he wrestled with him as if he wanted to overpower him physically. Jacob must have been totally taken by surprise. What was the intention of this stranger’s attack on him? There, however was no time to be spent on thought, for he had to defend himself with all his might. Jacob probably was strong and hardened, used to protect his sheep against onslaughts from both man and animal and did not only resist him, but tried to overpower him and bring his attack to an end and to compel him to give a reason for his behaviour. But it was not as easy as that, because the more vehemently Jacob fought, the more power his attacker put in to resisting him, so that it became an evenly matched struggle that continued hour by hour.
As the struggle raged, Jacob must have kept on asking himself what then could the reason be for this meaningless attack and he came to the conclusion that his opponent was no ordinary man, but was a heavenly being and that the wrestling match between them, was a combat for life and death which was linked to his conflict with Esau; if he was able to overcome this man, he would also be able to overcome Esau; if not, Esau would gain the victory.
Towards daybreak Jacob was at last gradually gaining the victory over the stranger. The stranger then requested him to let him go for the day was dawning. Jacob, now` in control of the fight, but also totally convinced that the visitor was from heaven, refused to let him go and decided to cash in on the opportunity to compel Him to bless him, before He would let him go. This was a totally new turn of events which the Stranger could not allow, so, applying His supernatural power, He hit Jacob so hard on his hip bone, that it went out of joint.
The power of the flesh is broken and the spirit takes over in fighting the battle.
Suddenly the odds were reversed. In great pain and with only one leg to support him, Jacob realized that he had lost. But now it was abundantly clear to him that this wrestling match was orchestrated by God and that he had to overcome this Man and compel Him to bless him, or else Esau would overcome him the next day and would destroy everything that was dear to him. But he could no longer overpower him because his power as a man was totally broken. He was now desperate, but did not give up on the wrestling match; he only changed his strategy. While clinging helplessly to his Opponent to support himself, he cried and pleaded (Hos 12:4) to bless him, because without that blessing he would not survive. His physical battle had changed into a spiritual battle of faith. He was clinging like a drowning man to the Person that could save him. The Stranger then asked him what his name was and when he acknowledged that it was “Deceiver” (Jacob) He blessed him spiritually by giving him a new character which He described by the name, “Israel” (Contender with God) because he had wrestled with man and with God and had gained the victory.
A spiritual victory; a new man emerges.
What had really happened here? God had used Jacob’s conflict with Esau to bring him to a point of complete brokenness; a total distrust in his own ability to promote his life by means of manipulation and deceit, and a complete trust in God to manage his life for his own good. This probably was the most important moment in Jacob’s life and a glorious victory for God’s grace and wisdom to lay lame the sinful character of man so that, by His Holy Spirit, he could ascend to the throne of his heart transforming him into a new being that would display the character of the Heavenly King, his Father. A trembling deceiver had knelt in the dark of night on the near side of the Jabbok and a victorious soldier of God had walked out on the other side in triumph the next morning. Jacob’s greatest need was not to be delivered from the hand of Esau: that the angels could have done for him in the twinkling of an eye, but to be freed of his old Adam nature that had given rise to the conflict with Esau, that was his problem. Now Jacob reached a new crest in his spiritual development that would lead to a worthy, dignified patriarch for God’s people, Israel.
(Irrespective of the matter for which we are praying, God lays hold of every moment during which we are in intimate contact with Him, to change us into His image.)
By way of elucidation:
- In Old Testament times, the Angel of the Lord (Jesus Christ in the New Testament) sometimes appeared to people in humanly form to give them instructions, to encourage them and to make promises to them. That this Man was God Himself (the Son of God) is confirmed by the fact that He had blessed Jacob and that Jacob himself declared it (32:26-30).
- This physical struggle of the Man with Jacob, was to him an extremely unique experience, but also reveals to us to what lengths God is willing to go and how much time He is willing to devote to us, even entering into battle with us, to cleanse our unholy characters.
- The Angel had of course limited His power to afford Jacob, by way of a physical struggle, the opportunity of coming to the point of realizing his total inability to cope with the challenges of life, but also of reaching a new peak in his faith in the power and love of God.
- The human beings over which Jacob had gained victory by faith, were possibly, primarily, Laban and his brothers and Esau the next day,
- When God starts a new spiritual work in a person’s life, He often begins with the physical or material aspects, and from there proceeds to the spiritual level. Hard and fearful circumstances are often good to prepare the heart for a deeper work by the Holy Spirit.
- The Lord, the Omnipotent, can overcome us in the blink of an eye but does not do so; no, He affords us just sufficient resistance that we may fight ourselves to exhaustion in our rebellion against Him. Then, when we are gasping for breath in our endeavour to have our own will, He graciously delivers us from this inner force (or law, as Paul calls it) with one blow. He sets us free from this sinful power that is causing us, and those that surround us, so much pain and distress. In that moment we learn to cleave to the Lord Jesus, then we cry out and plead, and suddenly experience a deliverance we had never known before.
In summary: The blessing for which Jacob was fighting and had received that night, although he did not realize that at that stage, was primarily the breaking of the power of sin (of his own will) and the imparting of the ability to allow God to let His will and Spirit rule his life. The old nature would henceforth limp and the new nature in Christ would lead. From this new position of authority he would be able to meet Esau in humility but without fear. Jacob had now laid down the weapon of deceit and had taken up the weapons of the Spirit which Esau would not be able to withstand.
Are you and I willing to do likewise; spending a night or nights in wrestling with Jesus to be delivered from the power of our old nature and to proceed into the future in His power?
B. JACOB IS RECONCILED TO ESAU AND SETTLES AT SUCCOTH (Please read Gen 33).
Jacob was now no longer afraid of Esau and walked ahead of his people to meet him. As they were drawing nearer and nearer to one-another, he bowed down before his brother whom he had wronged so terribly; yes, he bowed down not only once, but seven times, up to the point where they met with one-another. A wonder of Godly grace was enacted: the heart of the avenger, Esau, was suddenly broken and he approached his brother not with a drawn sword, but with outstretched arms and hugged him, with tears coursing down his cheeks. It was not even necessary to discuss the old controversy, because God had already done the work of reconciliation in their hearts and all that now remained, was to weep with joy for once more seeing one-another.
Esau declined to accept the gifts because the Lord had also blessed him to become a rich man, but Jacob insisted to demonstrate his sincerity and in order that the livestock would always be there for Esau to see, should the old grudge again flair up in his heart.
Keeping a distance.
Jacob also, humbly but firmly, declined Esau’s offer to accompany him to his home at Seir, because, after the night during which God had done such a deep work in his heart, he knew that although he and Esau were blood brothers, they did not have strong spiritual ties and would never live together happily and in peace. He also was deeply conscious of the calling of God on his life and had to go where God lead him. Just as when Lot and Abram had separated and when Abram had to send Ismael away in order that he would not inherit and live with the called Isaac, God intended to build from the descendants of Jacob a unique nation and in this, Esau and his offspring would be a continual hindrance. Jacob, therefore, settled at Succoth, then moved further away to dwell at Shechem (33:17-19).
Children of God must, as far as possible, live in peace with one and all, yet at the same time, be very careful of establishing close friendships with them, because such relationships may be detrimental to their relationship with God and to the fleshing out of His plan in their lives.
At Shechem Jacob built an altar and called it, “The God of Israel is God,” (33:20). The purpose of the altar was to enable him to continually bring sacrifices of praise to God because his heart was flooded with gratitude. The name he gave to the alter is significant. He did not call it “The God of Abram and Isaac is God”, but “The God of Israel is God” that is, “My God, is God.” The Lord (Jesus) with Whom he had wrestled all through that night, had now become very personal to him.
(How personal is Jesus to you and to me?)
C. DINAH AND THE SHECHEMITES (Please read Gen 34).
Walking away from God’s protection.
Dinah, daughter of Lea, went forth to get to know the girls of the land. It was highly uncommon for a young lady, at that time, to venture into a foreign city all on her own. Maybe she was rebelling, because she was the only daughter and her brothers received all the attention. Due to the enmity between Jacob’s two wives, Rachel and Lea, the bond between members of the families were weak which resulted in each member acting independently of the rest; everyone for him or herself. If she really had a desire to explore the nearby city, she could have requested her brothers to accompany her, but it rather seems as if she had run away from home. Possibly she did not only want to see the girls of the city, but wanted to be seen by the young men of the city.
Caught in the devil’s snare.
Unfortunately, she was more successful that she had intended to be, because Shechem, the son of Hamor, the ruler of that city, not only noticed her, but was so captivated by her beauty, that he immediately courted her and eventually, carried away by his sexual passion, raped her. His conduct was impulsive and disgusting and even his later declaring of his love for her, could not remove the injustice done to her. (Passion is of God but may only be allowed to have its way within the walls of a marriage founded in Christ.)
Shechem did not only sin towards Dinah, but also against the families on both sides and this had serious and painful consequences for all of them, much more than he had foreseen. Sexual misbehaviour always leads to shame and serious, painful suffering.
Hamor and Shechem went a long way in their efforts to put right this injustice by having themselves circumcised, but their motives were not altogether pure. The first reason for doing so, was that Shechem could marry this girl of his dreams, and secondly, there was the expectancy that they would share in Jacob’s riches of livestock and other property.
Why did Simeon and Levy react so drastically? Jacob’s family saw themselves, and rightly so, as set aside by God, consecrated to be his nation, but did not understand that, to be set aside by God, did not mean that they were better than other people. They should at least have admitted that Dinah also had to bear some of the blame, for did she not, after the incident, remain at Shechem and not returned to her parent’s home? Furthermore, they should have taken into account that their own family were not all that unblemished of character and that unholy sexual desires lurked within them. As will be seen, Ruben, later on, had intercourse with his father’s concubine and Juda slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, under the impression that she was a harlot.
Like father like son.
Once more, too, we see the sinful line of deceit coursing its way through this family in that Simeon and Levi persuaded the Sheschemites to circumcise themselves in order that they could kill the menfolk of Sheschem while they were in pain because of the circumcision. There is a saying, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” Their father had spent a night at the Jabbok, wrestling with God, but they had not yet done so. These were two very violent men who did not hesitate to murder all the menfolk of Sheschem. At his death, Jacob would later curse them instead of blessing them (Gen 49:5-7). Jacob’s other sons too, were not without blame and should legally be seen as accomplices after the act, because they looted the desolate city, taking everything for themselves: women, children, livestock and other possessions.
This truly was a blotch on the name of the Jacob family. Had Jacob raised his children properly in the fear of the Lord? His parents had not been good role models for him and he and his wives, in turn, were not good examples for their children to follow. But this was no excuse for the sons’ behaviour: they had become grown men and should have walked the narrow road of righteousness, although they had not been well trained to do so.
A person must never blame others for his own misconduct. Everyone must accept personal responsibility because God will keep each one personally accountable for what he or she did.
Once more, we note clearly that even the children of believers come into this world with sinful hearts and can only become children of God by being born again.
D. JACOB CLEANSES HIS PEOPLE AND RELOCATES TO BETHEL (Please read Gen 35:1-8).
A double scandal leads to a thorough cleansing.
Jacob, of course, was very upset because of what happened and also feared that the other in dwellers of the land would take revenge on them. (This time, at least, he himself was not the scape goat.) Yet they did not flee from Shechem, but waited on God to command them to move away from this area where they had defiled their name and to settle at Bethel. In so doing, the tension in the community would be diffused.
Before departing, Jacob came to the conclusion that it was time to interrupt all the farming activities and to thoroughly cleanse everyone in his camp. He realised that all kinds of unclean behaviour had stealthily seeped into the camp and commanded that all the idols and earrings (that possibly were worn because of superstition) be delivered to him. This certainly would not have happened without a measure of protest and sour facial expressions, especially from amongst the ladies, but after the camp had been cleansed from end to end, Jacob buried all these items under the oak tree outside of Sheschem. He could not burn them, because many of these were made of silver and gold. (As mentioned earlier on, some of these idols were possibly lucky charms; yet they were things in which the owners trusted, instead of placing their trust in God.)
After this Jacob commanded that each and every one were to wash themselves properly and put on clean clothes. This was a symbolic act, pointing to the cleansing of their hearts. (In that dusty country where man and livestock lived very closely together, the men would also have done well with such a thorough cleansing.) And so, after a couple of days, they stood there like children on their first day at school, shiningly clean before father Jacob who scrutinized them carefully but also with appreciation.
Don’t touch My people!
Now they were ready to enter into a brand new future and the moment when they packed their belongings and got moving away, a remarkable thing happened: a fear from God came over all the in dwellers of the land so that they did not pursue Jacob and his people to take revenge on behalf of the Sheschemites. This was God’s response to Jacob’s people’s spiritual humbling of themselves.
“When a man’s ways please Yahweh, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Prov 16:7, WEB).
E. GOD AGAIN APPEARS TO JACOB (Please read Gen 35:9-15).
Having arrived safely at Luz, that is Bethel, with all his people, Jacob builds an altar for the Lord, because that is the place where the Lord first met with him as he fled from his brother.
Here the Lord again appears to Jacob, blessing him and confirming His promises as well as his new name, Israel (39:9-12).
The Lord’s grace over His children is immeasurably great, He does not chastise them according to the measure of their iniquities, but forgives them, placing their debt on the account of His Son Jesus Christ Who settled the full account on Calvary. Notwithstanding all their shortcomings, the Lord uses them, often in key positions in His Kingdom, and on top of it all, He rewards them for that in the hereafter.
Always remember and praise God for what He did for you.
It is also interesting to note that Jacob had often erected memorials in places to be remembered for what God had done for him there, even anointing some of them with oil.
Oh, how short are our memories and how quickly we forget the great things the Lord did for us. A diary or notes in the margin of one’s Bible can be of great help.
F. DEATH OF DEBORAH, RACHEL AND ISAAC (Please red Gen 35:8-29).
It is interesting to note that Rebecca’s maid, Deborah, was no longer part of Isaac’s household but had joined that of Jacob. She passed away while they were in the vicinity of Bethel (Gen 35:8). Rachel passed away at a later date, on their way to Bethlehem. It happened when she was giving birth to her second son, Benjamin (35:16-20).
Jacob was notified that his father, Isaac, was nearing the end of his life and went to visit him at Hebron. Esau also travelled there and so the two brothers, together, took leave of, and buried him (35:27-29).
The Lord was remarkedly good to Isaac by affording him the joy of seeing his two sons reconciled before his death and to hear of the great blessings God had bestowed on them. He also knew where he would be buried. As a young man, he had been willing to sacrifice his life as a burnt offering in obedience to God and to his father on an altar on the mount of Moriah. Was God not perhaps rewarding him for his sacrifice, by keeping him in life up to the age of 180 years, 5 years longer than even his father Abraham had lived? What a beautiful and blessed end!
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you.” (Ex 20:12, WEB)
Now we can take a deep breath after all the stress we experienced while accompanying Jacob on his life’s journeys up to this point. For him, there would still be several mountain ranges to cross over, rivers to pass through and tears to be shed before he too could, leaning on his staff, shuffle over the finish line.
G. JACOB’S CHILDREN (Please read Gen 35:23-26).
We already commented on his 12 sons in section two, but it is good to note and remember their names because we will still be hearing much about them and their descendants. They were:
With Lea: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun.
With Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.
With Bilhah (Rachel’s maid): Dan and Naphtali.
With Zilpah: (Leah’s maid): Gad and Asher.
Jacob’s daughter (with Lea): Dinah.
These twelve sons became the patriarchs from which God built His people, Israel (30:21-22). They were Jacob’s contribution to God’s earthly kingdom to be.
H. IMPORTANT PEOPLE, FROM GOD’S VIEWPOINT.
Apart from chapter 36, which lists the descendants of Esau, the rest of Genesis, 14 chapters in all, center around Jacob’s son, Joseph. It is also interesting to note that 39 of the 50 chapters of Genesis, are concerned with God’s dealing with just three people, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but what a wealth of teaching we receive through them.