Genesis Chapter 32Facing Esau
As Jacob and Laban parted it says the angels of God met Jacob (32:1) and when he saw them he said, "This is God's camp!" and called the place Mahanaim, which means "two camps". Jacob sent messengers to Esau telling them of their approach and requesting his favor. The messengers returned to Jacob and said that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, and Jacob was afraid and distressed. So he divided his people in two so that if Esau attacked, one will escape. Then Jacob prayed:
"O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,' I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, 'I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude." (Gen. 32:9-12)So Jacob stayed there and he took a present for Esau: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, and 20 rams, 30 milking camels and their calves, 40 cows and 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys and 10 male donkeys (32:13-15). He gave these to his servants to drive with space between each, and give to Esau as a gift. He did this because he wanted to appease Esau so he would be accepted. But then Jacob spent the night in the camp.
Wrestling with God
The same night that all this took place Jacob took his wives, two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He sent everything across and he was left alone.
A man then wrestled with him until the breaking of the day, and when he saw that he didn't prevail against Jacob, the man touched Jacob's hip socket (32:24-25). Then the man said, "Let me go for the day has broken." But Jacob said he wouldn't unless he blessed him (32:26). Then the man renamed Jacob, Israel, "for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." (32:27-28) (Israel means "He strives with God" or "God strives") The man wouldn't tell Jacob his name, and he blessed Jacob there, and Jacob called the place Peniel (which means "the face of God") and said, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." (32:30) Then as he passed Penuel the sun rose upon him as he limped because of his hip. This is the reason that the people of Israel don't eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because the man touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.
Reflections on Genesis 32
Jacob has three encounters here, two immediately (the "angels of God" and "a man" with whom he wrestled), and one that is delayed (his brother Esau). Jacob was clearly afraid of Esau, and in order to go back to the land he was promised, Canaan, he had to cross paths with his brother. This struck fear into Jacob's heart. Jacob sends his family and all his possessions ahead of himself and is left all alone.
As the sun sets it appears that he has no hope, it's as if the sun is setting on his life. This is a good illustration of how the Lord often works in our lives. He strips away everything we hold most dear, the idols of our hearts, and He shows us that He is most worthy of our affection and praise. In the face of fear and imminent danger we are humbled and we have no one to turn to for help, save Christ alone.
This being said, there's something more specific going on here. God is still creating a chosen nation through whom He will bring a Messiah to save His people from their sins. Jacob had no hope, and he had every reason to believe that Esau would avenge how he had wronged him. Is God's covenant choice of Jacob and his posterity in trouble of being fulfilled? Yahweh is driving Jacob to depend upon Him alone, and He does this by wrestling with Jacob throughout the night. His wrestling with this "man" indicates that he now has a desire for God that he didn't have before, one that is awakened by the trial he faces. He will not let go of God throughout the night until Yahweh has blessed him. This awakening is fueled not by his fear though, but by his faith. Jacob has been scheming, fighting, lying, deceiving, and running his entire life. He's always been struggling, and by all appearances he has struggled against men, but in this wrestling match it becomes evident that his real struggle has been against God. This is the climax of Jacob's lifetime of struggle. He is struggling with God.
So who is this "man" that Jacob is wrestling with? Hosea 12:3-4 says:
"3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. 4 He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us[.]"On one hand this was a "man", yet it was more than a mere man, but an "angel", and even more than a mere angel, this was "God" himself! And in the process Yahweh became not only the God who was covenanting with Jacob, but Jacob began an active pursuit of God by the faith of his fathers. Jacob was afraid of the wrong persons his whole life. He should have been fearing God, and it's God who approaches Jacob here, and God shows His strength by touching Jacob's hip to give him a limp (proof that this was not merely a dream). How do we know it's God here? Verse 28 identifies this "man" as God. Also, in verse 30 Jacob says, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." It doesn't mean that Jacob actually saw God's face, but it's Hebrew idiom to say that he has had an encounter with God, in person. This does make it clear that this is God that he is wrestling with.
Now, as the sun rises (vs. 31), as the day breaks, it appears that Jacob has hope, and that the sun is rising on a new dawn in Jacob's striving with and for God. No longer is Jacob identified by his given name, but as Israel. No longer is he identified by his relationship to man, rather Yahweh. He persevered in grasping not after men and the things of this world, but by holding tight to his God in the midst of a "dark night of the soul". He clung to Yahweh by faith, and by his actions, and indeed God blessed him. God preserved His chosen people through Jacob. He ended up bringing about a Messiah who perfectly clung to Yahweh in a way that Jacob could only dream of, Jesus Christ. Now if we we cling to Jesus Christ by faith, and by turning from our sins, we can be blessed with reconciliation to God, justification by faith alone, and God setting His covenantal love on even us through pouring out His wrath on His Son, Jesus Christ, in our place. The dark night that our souls face is God's eternal wrath in hell, and we must cling to Jesus Christ by faith, so that the dawn of salvation might shine upon us, even as the sun rises each and every morning. Indeed, God's mercies are new every morning through Jesus Christ alone!
Lamentations 3:22-24: "22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'"