Genesis
1-2 An Army of God 3-5 Messengers to Esau 6-8 Jacob’s Tactics 9-12 Jacob’s Prayer 13-21 A Gift for Esau 22-32 Jacob Wrestles with God
An Army of God

1Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. 2Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Jacob is on a journey back to his land. Then the past comes to his mind. The fear of seeing Esau comes back. But before he has that meeting, he has another meeting. He meets angels of God. These messengers were sent by God as an encouragement to Jacob. He may know that God is protecting him. Jacob sees them in reality. His eyes open for a look into the invisible world (cf. 2Kgs 6:1717Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.).

God searches Jacob again and again, while Jacob asks so little of Him. God has protected Jacob from Laban, when he came after him with evil intentions. Now there is a new danger and again there is God’s protection. This appearance of angels on his return to the land recalls the ladder with angels he has seen on leaving the land. Also then the vision was an encouragement to him. God then told him that he would keep him wherever he went and that he would certainly bring him back to the land (Gen 28:1515Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”).

“Mahanaim” means “two camps” or “two companies”. Jacob sees a company of angels in front of him and a company of angels behind him or he sees a company of angels to his left and to his right. In any case, he is surrounded by God’s protection and he does not have to be afraid.


Messengers to Esau

3Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my LORD Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; 5I have oxen and donkeys [and] flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my LORD, that I may find favor in your sight.”‘“

Jacob doesn’t have Laban behind him anymore, but he still has Esau in front of him. To justify himself for and to test the attitude of Esau, Jacob sends messengers to Esau. They must tell him that Jacob was not a vagabond, but that he has lived with uncle Laban all the time he was absent. He also says that he has become rich, so that he does not have to ask for Esau’s favor. He does not come home as a ‘lost son’.


Jacob’s Tactics

6The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”

Despite the encouragement of God, we see how little trust there is with Jacob. When the messengers come back with the message that Esau is coming with four hundred men, he becomes very scared. His conscience speaks for he has tried his brother and he knows that Esau wants to kill him. The message from the approach of Esau seems to say that Esau has not changed his view of Jacob. Jacob takes his own measures again. He calculates his chances and attunes his strategy to them.

There is nothing against taking measures, as long as they are taken at the instigation of a command from God and not out of fear of what might happen. In the latter case, it is self-willed action, on which one relies more than on God. Faith does not plan plans, but trusts.


Jacob’s Prayer

9Jacob said, “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 relatives, and I will prosper you,’ 10I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff [only] I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. 11Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me [and] the mothers with the children. 12For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”

Jacob uses God as a kind of emergency aid. He prays when need is high, but only after his own initiatives to avert evil. In the appeal he makes to God as the One Who has instructed him to go back to his country and his family, something of a reproach may lie to God. It may seem that it is God’s guilt that he is in this situation.

His attitude in verse 1010I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff [only] I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. is beautiful by the way. In it he acknowledges the favor and faithfulness of God in his life so far. He left as a lonely man and now he has become so rich that he has become two armies. He alludes to the two armies of angels he has seen in verses 1-21Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him.2Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.. For the expansion of his family and possessions, he gives God the honor.

In his fear of Esau, he called to God to save him. He told God what Esau was planning, that is, what he thought Esau would do. He foresees a ruthless slaughter among his family, in which the mothers and their children are not spared. The conscience of a person who does not fully trust God also sees the death in threats.


A Gift for Esau

13So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16He delivered [them] into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.” 17He commanded the one in front, saying, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these [animals] in front of you belong?’ 18then you shall say, ‘[These] belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my LORD Esau. And behold, he also is behind us.’” 19Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, “After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; 20and you shall say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.’” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” 21So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.

Even after his prayer Jacob continues to take precautions. This shows that he doesn’t really trust that the LORD is able to protect him. Jacob and also the people must learn that salvation from danger is done by faith in God and not by giving a gift to an enemy to appease him.

The attitude he adopts towards Esau is that of a backstabber. This is the result of an impure conscience. He calls himself “your servant” before Esau (verses 4,18,204He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my LORD Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now;18then you shall say, ‘[These] belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my LORD Esau. And behold, he also is behind us.’”20and you shall say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.’” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”). If there had been fellowship with God, he would not have to be afraid. But for that to happen, there must be a Penuel in his life.


Jacob Wrestles with God

22Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30So Jacob named the place Peniel, for [he said], “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.

After all his preparations to escape from a (supposed) disaster, for which he fears at the meeting with Esau, Jacob remains alone. That is the moment for God to act with him personally. Jacob must learn that not Esau, but God is his real opponent. There occurs a wrestling (Psa 18:2727For You save an afflicted people,
But haughty eyes You abase.
). God – in the form of an angel – cannot win from him because Jacob does not want to bow. Until he dislocates the socket of Jacob’s thigh. In the socket of the thigh is the power to walk.

In Hosea 12 we read how Jacob won: by weeping and seeking God’s favor (Hos 12:4-54Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed;
He wept and sought His favor.
He found Him at Bethel
And there He spoke with us,
5Even the LORD, the God of hosts,
The LORD is His name.
). A person only does this when he is at the end of his strengths. And that is the way God allows Himself to be overcome. It is like with the man we see in Romans 7. He also does everything in his own power, until he exclaims: “Wretched man that I am!” (Rom 7:24a24Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?). Then comes the victory: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25a25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.). The wrestling is over as soon as someone sees that God has long since prepared liberation, for it was brought about by Jesus Christ. Whoever sees this will immediately thank God for it.

God meets Jacob in the dark. When God comes to Abraham, it is during the day (Gen 18:11Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.). That is not to wrestle, but to have fellowship with him. It is not Jacob’s wrestling with God, but God’s wrestling with Jacob. After God has touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip (verse 3232Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.), Jacob’s wrestling with God turns into a clinging to Him. Jacob does not want to let Him go, but to receive a blessing from Him. Jacob later remains the limping Jacob. That’s how he goes to Esau, that’s how he stands before Pharaoh. It is a constant reminder of his absolute dependency on the blessing of God.

In asking for a blessing, Jacob acknowledges his Superior in the Wrestler. The wrestling lasts until the dawn. When God’s wrestling with us approaches its end, when we have finished our resisting, and when we are overcome by weeping and searching His favor, the dawn in our lives begins. Then we have found our “Penuel”, like Jacob here. Penuel means ‘face of God’.

Not only has the dawn come, but the sun rises upon Jacob’s life – compare his departure from the land, where the sun has set (Gen 28:10-1110Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran.11He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.). As the awareness of one’s own weakness increases, so does the awareness of God’s greatness. That is the wonderful result of Penuel. It is to be desired that this is or becomes the experience of every child of God.

At Penuel Jacob is given a new name, “Israel”, which means ‘prince of God’ or ‘warrior of God’. After this the names Jacob and Israel are used alternately in his history. If the name Jacob is used, it generally looks at the weak Jacob who arranges things himself. If the name Israel is used, we see him acting in the power of faith, depending on God. This is not the case with Abraham. After Abram got his new name Abraham, there is no longer any mention of Abram.

When using the name Jacob, God reminds us that the believer needs His discipline as long as he lives on earth because he still has the flesh with him. His discipline can be corrective, but also preventive. In any case, His discipline is a proof of His grace.

The effect of God’s wrestling with Jacob on his posterity is that they are impressed by the event at the Jabbok and therefore do not eat the sinew of the hip. However, they haven’t learned the real lesson. The people of Israel as a whole still accounts entirely on their own – intellectual and military – strength. In this way we can also be impressed by a truth of God and show it in an outward attitude, without it really touching us from within and affecting our whole lives.


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