What if we had to flee our own country for our own safety? What if we had to return home, knowing that circumstances may not yet be safe? Imagine if, upon returning home, you knew an army was standing in your way. These are the circumstances upon which Jacob returns home after his time working for Laban. Jacob knows that Esau had vowed to murder him after the death of their fathers. He doesn’t know what to expect upon return.
In Genesis 32, Jacob sends messengers to meet Esau, and they tell Jacob that his brother is coming out to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob divides his house and prepares to die. He seems to expect Esau to fulfill the threat he made some twenty years prior. He prays to God, and someone appears to him and wrestles with him in verse 24. Hosea 12:3-4, the prophet identifies this man as an angel of God. As dawn breaks, the two are at a draw. The angel somehow dislocates Jacob’s hip, and he renames Jacob as Israel. In this, God is teaching Jacob a lesson, and He is teaching us through him.
Relating to God Through Jacob
When, in His word, we hear of God confronting man, that man represents you and me. This struggle demonstrates how a relationship with God is difficult. Up to this point, Jacob has been on a journey, and his views have turned more spiritual the longer he has been away. At this point, he has resigned himself to death. He has given up self, and the result is true blessings. Jacob once was a manipulator and a schemer. Now he is in God’s hands, and it’s in God that blessings will come.
This conflict ultimately results in a change in Jacob, and our relationship with God should change us. Jacob changed from usurper to Israel, prince of God. Likewise, we shed our old identity when we enter into our relationship with God. We displace the man of sin and become a nation of priests, heirs of God’s promise.
Victory in Defeat
A paradox exists in this struggle. Jacob receives his blessing because he prevails. Even after Jacob’s hip is dislocated, the angel says Jacob prevailed. Hosea says Jacob prevailed. He physically lost the struggle with the angel, but he prevails because of his defeat. He becomes bold in faith when he can no longer rely on self. Up to this point, Jacob has prevailed time and again by the world’s standards through carnal methods. In losing a conflict with God, Jacob wins spiritually. He now has to rely on God for his blessings.
In a way, this struggle illustrates the power of prayer. God opposes our sinful will, and we must wholly submit ourselves to Him. Like Jacob, we prevail in God’s eyes when we completely humble ourselves. Selfishly relying on our own resources, our own resources sets us as antagonists with God. It is only when we truly empty our selves and trust in Him that we can overcome.
Back in Genesis 32:11, Jacob asks for deliverance from Esau, and he reminds God of His promises. He treats his relationship with God as a bargain, and identifies God as belonging to his forefathers Abraham and Isaac. Contrast this with Genesis 33 after his teary reunion with Esau. In verses 9-11, a the brothers debate Esau’s acceptance of Jacob’s gifts. Jacob finally demonstrates his understanding of God’s role in his blessings. He recognizes God, in verse 20, as the God of Israel. God is no longer that of his fathers, but he takes ownership of his personal relationship with God.
We cannot rely on ourselves and on God. We cannot be full of His spirit and full of ourselves. Do we view God as God of our parents or grandparents? We must humble ourselves in His sight, so He can lift us up. We must defeat ourselves, so we can prevail in Him.
lesson by Tim Smelser