Genesis 31:1-3, “Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, ‘Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.’”
Jacob had been stirred to leave before Laban presented a deal seemingly to good to be true. That said, now that Jacob has prospered and this deal hasn’t proven to be as beneficial to his employer, contention resulted. Not only are Laban’s sons tweaked by the situation, but we read “the countenance of Laban was not favorable towards Jacob anymore.”
Understand what’s happening… Because Jacob resisted God’s initial stirring to depart from Laban on account he’d been given a deal to good to ignore, the Lord allowed his circumstances to sour so that he’d now have no choice but to leave.
Once again I find it fascinating we read, “Then the Lord said to Jacob.” Here we find Jacob in a dicy situation. Laban and his sons are starting to suspect he's been swindling them out of their wealth. Money and inheritance are on the line. Things could escalate quickly.
And yet, in facing such a situation we find no mention of Jacob praying, crying out to God, or seeking direction. What grace that God speaks to Jacob in his moment of need anyway!
Genesis 31:4-16, “So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to the field, to his flock, and said to them, ‘I see your father’s countenance, that it is not favorable toward me as before; but the God of my father has been with me. And you know that with all my might I have served your father. Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me.
If Laban said: ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore speckled. And if he said: ‘The streaked shall be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked. So God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. And it happened, at the time when the flocks conceived, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the rams which leaped upon the flocks were streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted. Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’
And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’
Then Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, ‘Is there still any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not considered strangers by him? For he has sold us, and also completely consumed our money. For all these riches which God has taken from our father are really ours and our children’s; now then, whatever God has said to you, do it.’”
Genesis 31:17-21, “Then Jacob rose and set his sons and his wives on camels. And he carried away all his livestock and all his possessions which he had gained, his acquired livestock which he had gained in Padan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. Now Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s. And Jacob stole away, unknown to Laban the Syrian, in that he did not tell him that he intended to flee. So he fled with all that he had. He arose and crossed the river, and headed toward the mountains of Gilead.”
Genesis 31:22-24, “And Laban was told on the third day that Jacob had fled. Then he took his brethren with him and pursued him for seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the mountains of Gilead. But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’”
Genesis 31:25-30, “So Laban overtook Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the mountains, and Laban with his brethren pitched in the mountains of Gilead. And Laban said to Jacob: ‘What have you done, that you have stolen away unknown to me, and carried away my daughters like captives taken with the sword? Why did you flee away secretly, and steal away from me, and not tell me; for I might have sent you away with joy and songs, with timbrel and harp?
And you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing. It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’ And now you have surely gone because you greatly long for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods?”
Genesis 31:31-32, “Then Jacob answered and said to Laban, ‘Because I was afraid, for I said, ‘Perhaps you would take your daughters from me by force.’ With whomever you find your gods, do not let him live. In the presence of our brethren, identify what I have of yours and take it with you.’ For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.
Genesis 31:33-35, “And Laban went into Jacob’s tent, into Leah’s tent, and into the two maids’ tents, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent. Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them. And she said to her father, ‘Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.’ And he searched but did not find the household idols.
Genesis 31:36-42, “Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: ‘What is my trespass? What is my sin, that you have so hotly pursued me? Although you have searched all my things, what part of your household things have you found? Set it here before my brethren and your brethren, that they may judge between us both!
These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes.
Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”
Genesis 31:43-47, “And Laban answered and said to Jacob, ‘These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock; all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne? Now therefore, come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.’ So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. Then Jacob said to his brethren, ‘Gather stones.’ And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there on the heap. Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.” Note: Idea behind both names is a “heap of witness.”
Genesis 31:48-55, “And Laban said, ‘This heap is a witness between you and me this day.’ Therefore its name was called Galeed, also Mizpah (literally “watch”), because he said, ‘May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another. If you afflict my daughters, or if you take other wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us - see, God is witness between you and me!’
Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Here is this heap and here is this pillar, which I have placed between you and me. This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not pass beyond this heap to you, and you will not pass beyond this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us.’ And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.
Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his brethren to eat bread. And they ate bread and stayed all night on the mountain. And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.”
Genesis 32:1-2, “So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is God’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim (the word literally means “two camps” or “double camp”).”
Jacob is on his way back to the Promised Land… Heading back to the home of his father Isaac. And while he’s crossed the first significant hurdle (breaking ties with Laban), Jacob knows he still has to deal with his bother Esau - who last Jacob saw wanted to kill him.
Genesis 32:3-5, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. And he commanded them, saying, ‘Speak thus to my lord Esau, ‘Thus your servant Jacob says: ‘I have dwelt with Laban and stayed there until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’”
Genesis 32:6-12, “Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.’ So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; he divided the people that were with him, the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies. And he said, ‘If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.’”
Then Jacob prayed, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
Genesis 32:13-16, “So Jacob lodged there that same night, and took what came to his hand as a present for Esau his brother: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milk camels with their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten foals. Then he delivered them to the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, ‘Pass over before me, and put some distance between successive droves.’”
Jacob brings his obvious and understandable fear to the Lord. He prays and asks for God to intervene and deliver him and his family - basing his appeal on God’s promises as laid out in His Word. And yet, following this prayer what does Jacob do? Does he trust God? No! Instead Jacob takes everything back into his own hands by trying to bribe Esau.
Genesis 32:17-21, “And Jacob commanded the first one, saying, ‘When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going? Whose are these in front of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They are your servant Jacob’s. It is a present sent to my lord Esau; and behold, he also is behind us.’”
So he commanded the second, the third, and all who followed the droves, saying, ‘In this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; and also say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob is behind us.’ For Jacob said, ‘I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.’ So the present went on over before him, but he himself lodged that night in the camp.”
Genesis 32:22-24a, “Jacob arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone…”
What a place for Jacob to be! He’s afraid. A reckoning with Esau is about to commence. His past mistakes and transgressions… Things Jacob had been running from for all these years are about to catch up with him. Jacob left alone and now he’s returning to face Esau alone.
Additionally, we’re told Jacob finds himself at a place called “Jabbok.” Ironically, this word means “emptying.” For twenty years Jacob has tried to be his own man. To his credit Jacob believed in God’s promises and so desperately wanted to see God’s work accomplished in and through his life just like his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham.
Jacob has worked, and schemed, and connived… He’s clawed his way to where he is. He’s achieved all that he has. And yet, because he failed to allow God’s work to be God’s work accomplished God’s way and in His timing, working instead in his own strength to attain a life only God could give - in the process Jacob had created quite a mess for himself.
At this juncture of his life Jacob is at the end of himself… He’s running on empty… He’s at the end of his rope… Jacob is out of schemes, out of ideas, there’s nothing more he can do!
Genesis 32:24b-26, “And a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’”
Imagine this scene. Jacob is on a crash course with his brother Esau. He’s alone. It’s dark. Jacob is desperate, exhausted, ready to give up - not to mention afraid. When out of nowhere we’re told “a Man” attacks him and a wresting match ensues that lasts until day-break. Jacob and this mystery Man go back and forth exchanging blows. It’s life or death!
This was not your typical Floyd Mayweather fight where you dance around for 12 rounds in order to avoid getting hit or for that matter a Ronda Rousey overhyped 48 second flop. This was a real battle royal. A true fist-a-cuffs. Diaz vs. McGregor going 5 in the Octagon!
In order to understand what’s happening and why, you need to first see this “Man” - the aggressor as not just any man. In Hosea 12:3-4 we’re told, “In Jacob’s strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favor from Him.” This “Man” (notice the noun is capitalized) was none other than Jesus.
Secondly, this Hebrew word “wrestled” is unique for it literally means “dust.” The implications being this was not a dream, a vision, some type of hallucination, or spiritual wrestling, but was instead an actual physical altercation that took place between Jesus and Jacob.
Additionally, it should be pointed out Jesus, not Jacob was the initiator. Jesus, knowing everything that was going on in his life, was the one who came to Jacob and went on the attack. Jesus wrestled with him all night hoping Jacob would give up, call uncle, and tap out.
On this passage David Guzik wrote, “God wanted something from Jacob. God wanted all of his proud self-reliance and fleshly scheming and came to take it, by force if necessary.”
With that in mind, this statement “He saw that He did not prevail against him” so that “He touched the socket of his hip” carries with it a much deeper meaning. Jesus wrestled with Jacob all night not because He couldn’t have beaten him. Instead Jesus allowed the struggle to continue the duration with intention. The purpose was for Jacob to yield and surrender.
It is evident, at some point during the struggle, Jacob came to understand Who it was he was actually wrestling with. In verse 30 he says, “I have seen God face to face.”
At some moment within the struggle something changed in Jacob. He goes from wrestling to clinging… From fighting off to grabbing hold… Notice when Jesus finally tells Jacob “let Me go” his reply is “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” Once again, what makes this all the more interesting is that, according to Hosea, Jacob was weeping by this point.
This phrase “unless You bless me” reveals so much about where Jacob is mentally. Up until now Jacob has worked hard to see the promises of God manifest in his life. And yet, it seems he now understands he’s really nothing apart from God’s blessing. “Unless You!” indicates Jacob came to accept the reality that without God’s involvement he really was nothing.
Genesis 32:27-28, “So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’”
As Jacob is clinging onto Jesus think of the powerful implications of this question… “What is your name?” Why would Jesus ask him his name? At first you can’t help but think about the last time Jacob had been asked that very question. You see 20 years earlier his father Isaac had asked what his name was and Jacob lied and said it was Esau. In a sense by asking him this question Jesus is reminding Jacob that he’d caused the mess he found himself facing.
Beyond this you can reason Jesus asks him such a question in order to force Jacob to admit out loud what his name was… To admit who he really was… He was “Jacob” or literally “heal-catcher.” This was his identity, his nature. He had to concede he was the problem.
I imagine it’s in this moment that Jacob let’s go and rises to his feet. The light bulb has gone off. The point has been made. The lesson understood. Jacob had come to terms with who he was. He acknowledged his inadequacy. Jacob is now at the point of complete brokenness.
Notice what Jesus then does… “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel.” First off in ancient cultures names were significant. Not only did they speak of the person’s nature - identity, but the act of naming signified authority and dominion over that person.
This is why God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah. Additionally, it also explains why God gave Sarah the name Isaac and then most notably Mary the name Jesus. And yet, it’s interesting that Jacob was the name given to him by Isaac and Rebekah. It was given specifically to represent the activities of his flesh… He was a heal-catcher.
That said… Now that Jacob had come to the point of realizing he was powerless in his flesh and had come to fully understand the power of grace, God changes his name to “Israel.”
Interestingly enough the Hebrew word “Israel” compounds two different words: The verb “sarah” which means “to rule” and “el” meaning God. The word “Israel” therefore means “God rules.” As such we understand this man was no longer being governed by his flesh (Jacob), but now by God (Israel). In accepting God’s grace he’d been given a new identity.
Genesis 32:29-32, “Then Jacob asked, saying, ‘Tell me Your name, I pray.’ And He said, ‘Why is it that you ask about My name?’ And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’ Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.”
This morning I want you to leave knowing this one thing… God isn’t Oprah or Dr. Phil. He isn’t interested in making you a better you. Instead, God’s sole desire is to make you into something brand new. The goal of Christianity isn’t the renovation of self, but a complete regeneration. The purpose isn’t life-improvements via behavioral modification, but new-life via an internal transformation brought forth through the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit!
As the Apostle Paul so glorious wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
This story of Jacob wrestling with God is incredibly significant because it illustrates for us the mechanism for how this work of transformation occurs in our lives. Consider… How did Jacob ultimately become the man God had called him to be?
Was it though his efforts, striving, scheming, planning, work, ingenuity, his flesh - the natural man - being Jacob? No! Jacob became the man God wanted him to be the very moment he reached the end of himself, was willing to admitted who he was (insufficient), stopped wresting with and grabbed hold of Jesus, surrendered his flesh to the influence of divine grace, and allowed God to transform him by imparting a new identity - Israel!
For so many years Jacob had tried so very hard when it one moment he simply became via a work of God. Friend, the key to this life as it was with Jacob is to stop wrestling with God and instead surrender. Stop trying to become the person only He can make you!
You were an enemy of God, but now you’re a child of the Most High… You were a whore, but now His bride… You showed seeds of wickedness, but now you’re an heir of the Promise… Ripped off, but now eternally blessed… You were once held captive by this sinful world, but now you’re a citizen of heaven… You were once lost, but now you’re found… Blind, but now you see… Lame, but now you run… Broken, but now made whole… You were a blasphemer, but now you’re a proclaimer… A rebel, but now a friend… Fallen, but now made righteous.
And how did any of these transformations occur in your life? Did you work hard to earn them… Scheme to procure them… Wrestle to attain them… Do you even deserve them? No, not at all! Instead, you became all of these things the very moment you came to the end of yourself, stopped wrestling with God, and accepted the reality His grace is enough!
Transformation can only come via a new identity given to you by God alone! Friend, “unless Jesus” you’re damned. Unless grace you’d remain as you are - a sinner! As we close please don’t forget Jesus came and wrestled with Jacob because He loved him and wanted to transform his life. Many of you are wrestling with God right now… But please know you’re wrestling to keep hold of a life so very inferior to the one He’s wanting to provide!
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