In Genesis 32-33, Jacob the schemer, the manipulator and the deceiver finally learns that he must contend with God, not with man.
In the 20 years since he last saw Esau, Jacob has learned the importance of being reconciled to his brother. Jesus taught this as well. (Matthew 5:23-24) Now, on his way to reconcile with Esau and full of fear because of the way he treated Esau earlier, the invisible spiritual reality that surrounds all of us all the time becomes very real to Jacob. It is interesting that Jacob had encounters with angels both upon leaving Canaan (Genesis 28:10-22) and upon returning to Canaan (Genesis 32:1-2, 22-32). The Bible makes clear that there is a supernatural reality that surrounds and directly intervenes in our physical reality on a continual basis. We do not often see it, but it is there. As we cultivate spiritual eyes, we can actually see it more frequently and more clearly. Jacob is becoming God’s man. True to his old nature, Jacob makes elaborate contingency plans for his meeting with Esau. (Genesis 32:3-8, 13-21) But those were not necessary, because the humble prayer that emerges from his new nature (Genesis 32:9-12) changes Esau’s heart. (Genesis 33:4)
Let’s look more closely at Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32:9-12.
- This is the first time that Jacob addresses God with His personal name of Yahweh (translated LORD). (Genesis 32:9)
- Jacob quotes God’s Word back to Him. (Genesis 32:9, 12) I believe that God LOVES to hear us quote Scripture back to Him when we pray in the same way that a parent loves to hear his children repeat things that he has told them to do. It shows that the words are getting through.
- Jacob, the schemer, the deceiver, the manipulator FINALLY acknowledges that he is not worthy of the grace God has given him (Genesis 32:10)
- Jacob confesses his need for God to intervene and save him from the wrath of his brother. (Genesis 32:11). Notice that the request of God comes at the end, after Jacob has approached the Lord personally, with a clear understanding and appreciation of God’s revealed will and an acknowledgement of his (Jacob’s) utter unworthiness. Our prayers would be much more effective if we would approach the Lord in this way.
So, what about Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32:22-32? If you think about it, Jacob’s entire life has been about wrestling, specifically wrestling for a blessing. He came out of the womb with his hand on Esau’s heel. (Genesis 25:26) Then he wrestled with Esau for his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) and his blessing (Genesis 27). Then he wrestled with Laban for his wife and his livelihood. (Genesis 29-31) Now, he has finally come to realize that God is the One with whom he must contend, and the only One who is able to give him the blessing that he has desired his whole life. In the moment when Jacob finally understands this, he is determined to not let go of the Lord without His blessing. (Genesis 32:25-26) When the Lord does bless Jacob, he changes his name to Israel, which means “God fights.” Jacob has finally learned, in the midst of his reconciliation with Esau, that he doesn’t have to strive – that the Lord will fight for him. (Genesis 32:27-29)
How are you learning this lesson?