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RETURNING TO FACE ESAU
As Jacob continues his journey we are told that the angels of God met him (v.1). It was not God Himself as yet who met him, but the angels were no doubt intended as an encouragement for Jacob to be diligent to return all the way to the Lord's place for him. We may wonder in what way they appeared, but Jacob recognized them as "God's host," and names the place "Mahanaim," meaning "two camps." Jacob had not yet learned that his interests ought to be merged with God's interests, therefore he considers God's "camp" separate from his. This has its unhealthy influence over his actions soon after, when he divided his own company into "two bands" (v.7). How much better it would have been for him if he had prayed the prayer of the Psalmist, "Unite my heart to fear Thy name" (Psalms 86:11). It is always because our hearts are not undividedly devoted to God that we resort to divisions among the people of God.
Jacob realizes that in returning he must meet Esau again. Twenty years previously Esau had spoken of killing him, and he had no knowledge of whether Esau's attitude had changed. He sends messengers to Esau, telling him of his long sojourn with Laban and that he had acquired livestock and servants. He even takes a place of subservience to Esau, calling him "my lord," and asking that he might find grace in Esau's sight.
The messengers bring back word that Esau is coming with four hundred men to meet Jacob (v.6). They say nothing as to whether Esau was glad to hear of Jacob or not; and Jacob is thrown into a panic. He is so frightened that, instead of first appealing to the Lord, he divides his company into two bands, thinking that one band may escape if the first is attacked by Esau. Of course such human reasoning was not God's leading. God does not divide His saints in order to sacrifice one part of them for the protection of the other. He loves all His saints, and has no intention of sacrificing any of them to the enemy. But what of ourselves when trouble of any kind threatens us? Though every believer surely knows that our only true resource is in the Lord, yet our first impulse is to try something to relieve us, rather than going first to the One who can really help.
After Jacob had resorted to his own planning, then he prays, addressing the Lord as the God of Abraham and of Isaac, the One who had told him to return to his own country, where God would deal well with him. But where was Jacob's faith to absolutely believe that God would deal well with him in his own land? He ought to have had perfect confidence that God would do this, for God said He would. However, he has learned more than he had when he made his vow at Bethel. He had thought then he would prove fully worthy of whatever blessing God would give him. Now he confesses, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and all the truth which You have shown Your servant" (v.10). At least he is giving up the self confidence that he had before expressed, though he has not yet learned to have total confidence in the living God.
But he has nowhere else to turn, and he earnestly entreats the Lord to deliver him from Esau, his brother (v.11), for he admits he is afraid of Esau, that he might kill him and his wife and children. "For you said," he adds, "I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea" etc. He was virtually saying to God, "You said this, but now Esau might kill me, and what will happen to your promise?" Did he need to plead with God to keep His promise? He did make an error, however, in saying that God had told him he would make his seed as the sand of the sea. God had said this to Abraham (ch.22:17), but to Jacob He had promised a seed "as the dust of the earth" (ch.28:14).
After prayer Jacob goes back to his planning as to how he can protect himself from Esau (vs.13-20). Of course he finds afterward that his planning was totally unnecessary. He sets apart 560 animals altogether as a present for Esau, apparently in about six droves with some distance between each. He gave the driver of the first drove instructions as to what to say to Esau when he met him. He expected Esau to inquire as to who the man was and to whom the animals belonged. In reply he was to tell Esau that they belonged to Esau's servant Jacob (why not Esau's brother?), and Jacob was giving them as a present to "my Lord Esau." When Jacob knew that the Lord had told Rebekah "the elder shall serve the younger" (ch.25:23), it is sad to see him taking this place of unseemly subservience to Esau. Of course, because of his previous supplanting of Esau, he was moved by both conscience and fear.
Each succeeding driver was given similar instructions, for Jacob assumed that by this means he might appease any antipathy of Esau (v.20). This is the natural conception of human beings, and they constantly use this method in seeking any proper relationship with God, as though God is going to be influenced by man's giving him presents of things that God has in the first place created! But God is not looking for gifts from men. Rather, He desires their hearts. The droves went on before Jacob, and he lodged that night in the camp (v.21). However, he did send his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons over the brook together with his possessions (vs.22-23).
Now God designed matters so that Jacob was left alone. It was time that Jacob was wrestled with, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. No doubt this was the Lord Himself in bodily form, which required an unusual miracle. Certainly the Lord could have subdued Jacob immediately, yet the wrestling continued for hours. However, this was intended to be a significant lesson for Jacob, and for us. The Lord had actually been wrestling with jacob all his previous life, and Jacob had not surrendered: he continued to struggle against God's dealings with him. How could he properly learn until he had yielded himself to God? His planning, then praying, then going back to his planning was only consistent with his previous character of self confidence rather than confidence in God. He was struggling, yet hardly realized his struggle was against God.
Finally, because Jacob continued to struggle, the Lord simply "touched the hollow of his thigh," putting it out of joint (v.25). He could have done this before, but had given Jacob opportunity to submit without any drastic action. Usually, however, we require some hard measures before we learn to truly submit ourselves to God.
Jacob was rendered unfit to wrestle any more, but he was still clinging to the Lord, who told him, "Let me go, for the day breaks." The Lord could have easily left at once, but He gave opportunity to Jacob to say what he did, "I will not let You go unless you bless me" (v.26). At least the faith of Jacob was real, though it was weak. He knew he needed the Lord's blessing, though he had acted inconsistently with a spirit of unquestioning faith and dependence on God.
The Lord then first requires Jacob to confess his name by natural birth. But Jacob ("the supplanter") must have his name changed if he is to receive proper blessing from God. Only when the flesh is touched and shriveled does Jacob receive the name Israel ("a prince with God"). By nature he was Jacob, but by the grace of God he becomes Israel.
God said of Jacob that he would be named Israel because he had "struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed." It certainly does not mean that he had defeated God in wrestling, for he actually prevailed only when he was crippled and therefore clung dependently to the Lord. This dependence on God would enable him to prevail with men too. This will prove true in the future for the nation Israel also; and the same proves true for every believer today who has been brought down to a place of clinging dependently to the Lord. May we know this place well.
Jacob wanted to know the name of his adversary in wrestling, but he is only answered by the question, "Why is it that you ask about my name?" Jacob would not earn that name properly until he was in the place of God's name, that is, Bethel, "the house of God." It is only in God's way that we really know God Himself (Exodus 33:13). He had begun the trip back to Bethel, but he was not there. Yet the Lord blessed him where he was (v.29). After this, until he reached Bethel, he was not called "Israel" at all, for he did not learn quickly to act in the princely dignity becoming to that name. But we are all slow learners.
Jacob called the place "Peniel," meaning "the face of God," saying he had seen God face to face and his life was preserved (v.30). What he understood by this we do not know, but whatever he saw of God was concealed by a human form. Still, he realized the Lord was involved in this encounter, and he would remember it.
As he passed over Peniel we are told "the sun rose upon him." This is in designed contrast to chapter 28:11, when he had left Beersheba: "the sun was set." The night of darkness in our lives passes only when the flesh has been crippled (or judged) and we learn to cling only to the Lord. The sun (typical of the Lord Jesus) and we learn to cling only to the Lord. The sun (typical of the Lord Jesus) rises on our vision in a living, practical way. But Jacob remains crippled (v.31).
The children of Israel were impressed enough by this to take the outward action of abstaining from eating meat from the hollow of the thigh of the animals they slaughtered. but it was only outward. How little in all this history have they learned in spiritual reality to put the flesh in the place of self-judgment. Similarly, after being established in the land, they could go to Gilgal and "multiply transgressions" (Amos 4:4), rather than have the serious lesson of Gilgal impressed upon their souls, the lesson of the sharp knives of circumcision cutting off the flesh (Joshua 5:2-9).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 32". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany