Summary: Here, God empties Jacob of his NATURAL effort and teaches Jacob to trust Him completely.
What images come to mind when I mention the word wrestling? For some, it is an image of a High school wrestling match. Others happily envision Dad wrestling with his son. And a few of us think of the theater of “professional wrestling” with Iron Rings of death and tag team death matches.
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports known to man. A recent discovery in Egypt bears witness to the ancient sport of wrestling. The discovery was an ancient scrap of papyrus, with Greek writing describing a wrestling match. The manuscript dates back to 200 AD, and is the oldest recorded document concerning the sport of wrestling actually mentioning the Olympic games.
Wrestling is pure exertion.
Every muscle of your body is drained.
It is a uniquely ONE on ONE event with no one but your opponent. It is NOT a team sport.
In Genesis 32, the most significant TURNING POINT in Jacob’s life.
This chapter marks the end of a period in Jacob’s life that began at Bethel in Chapter 28. Jacob is visited by angels in both chapters. The chapters mark the beginning and ending of Jacob’s journey to Padan Aram and his flight from Esau. Now, Jacob is returning to face his greatest fear, and it is here that God speaks to him again, this time with life changing impact.
Here, God empties Jacob of his NATURAL effort and teaches Jacob to trust Him completely.
Matthews writes, “The significance of the passage lies primarily in Jacob’s discovering the freedom and enduring grace of God.” K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27–50:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 539.
Summarizing this passage, Arthur Pink adds, “To [bring us to an end of ourselves] He lays His hand on us, and makes us conscious of our utter helplessness.” Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 294.
I. Jacob is Face to Face with his Greatest Fear.
After 20 years, JACOB RETURNS to face ESAU.
His journey is ATTENDED by ANGELS. Genesis 31:55–32:2 "Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home. "Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. "When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim."
Mahaniam means “Double Camp.” It may have reference to the fact that Jacob was surrounded by angels. Angels were BEFORE HIM and BEHIND HIM!
BUT HIS FEARS were with him
Esau is coming with 400 men. (Gen. 32:3-6). This report brought great fear to Jacob. 32:7 “In great fear and distress...” (NIV)
The NLT states it simply, “Jacob was terrified at the news.” (NLT)
It is now that Jacob prays. “Save me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me.” (Genesis 32:11)
This is ONLY the SECOND recorded prayer in Genesis! The First was by Abraham’s servant in Gen 24:12 (regarding the search for a wife for Isaac).
In order to understand the struggle in Jacob’s heart, let’s examine the sequence of Events:
1. Jacob leaves Laban
2. Angels minister to Jacob (32:1-2)
3. Jacob sends messengers to Esau (32:3-5)
4. They return with news that Esau is coming with 400 men (32:6)
5. Jacob divides his family into two groups (32:7-8)
6. JACOB PRAYS to God (32:9-12)
7. Jacob sends his servants with gifts (32:13-20)
8. Jacob sends his family away (32:21-23)
9. He is left alone at the Jabbok (32:24)
II. Jacob has Arrived at the Point where God is his ONLY HOPE.
He is Desperate.
He is ALONE.
Notice that GOD initiates the encounter!!!
Genesis 32:24 “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”
Jacob does not know who this is!! Is it Esau? A “hit man?” from Esau?
What does is mean to “wrestle with God?”
There is an interesting Wordplay taking place with the names and locations here:
(1) The brook “Jabbok” is pronounced “yabbok”
(2) “wrestled” is pronounced “ye-aqob”
(3) and “Jacob” is pronounced “ya-aqob”
The Hebrew text is drawing our attention to the fact that something major is about to take place. In today’s vernacular, one might introduce this event with the shout, “Are you ready to RUMBLE?”
At first, Jacob was not wrestling to get something from GOD. God was wrestling with Jacob to get something out of JACOB! The initial encounter begins with the angel!
Wrestling with God means to contend with him in prayer and petition. It means coming to God in desperation, begging him for his assistance. We know that this was the result for Jacob, for we read commentary on this event in the book of Hosea. "He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there—" Hosea 12:4