Summary: On the way to meet his extranged brother Esau, Jacob experienced a strange encounter with a "man," who Jacob identified as God himself.
WRESTLING WITH GOD
Please turn to Genesis 32.
Having made a covenant of peace with Laban, his nettlesome father-in-law, Jacob traveled southward through the country east of the Jordan River. The “angels of God” met him there. Their purpose seems to have been to set up a meeting between Jacob and his twin brother Esau. Jacob had a high degree of anxiety because of the trickery Jacob and his mother Rebekah had used on Isaac years earlier to gain the blessing that would define Jacob’s place in history. Jacob had good reason to fear his brother, before whose wrath he had fled twenty years ago.
Now Jacob is on the final approach to an encounter with a brother who might still be angry enough to kill him.
Many years later, Jacob’s distant grandson, King Solomon, wrote,
A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city. Prov 18:19
Consistent with that pearl of wisdom Jacob sent a message to Esau, 3 times referring to Esau as “my Lord,” and 4 times referring to himself as “your servant.”
The messengers return with ominous news: “Esau is coming with 400 men to meet you.”
(v7) Jacob divides his entourage into two parts, hoping that if one part is attacked, the other will escape.
Jacob then prays for deliverance from Esau’s wrath, reminding God of the blessing that had long ago been spoken by Isaac –
Read Gen 32:9-11 (Jacob’s prayer)
(v13-14) Jacob prepares for the next day’s encounter by sending gifts ahead by his servants – “two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.”
(v22-23) Then he sent Leah and Rachel - the wives he had earned from Laban – and their servants and children across the Jabbok River, along with everyone and everything except himself.
Jacob was now alone. But not for long.
Read Gen 32:24-31
II. What are we to take away from this story?
Is it more than a strange and interesting tale - something that we need to understand and take to heart?
The story is remembered and mentioned hundreds of years later by Hosea (12:4), suggesting that it is not merely an interesting although forgettable passage among Jacob’s many experiences. It has long-lasting meaning.
To try and understand the meaning of this episode in Jacob’s life, we will take it by parts and then attempt to put it all together and get a grasp of what God was doing.
I. Examination of the story and its meaning
It is sandwiched within the story leading up to Jacob’s meeting with his brother Esau, who he had not seen for years.
A. A man appeared, and wrestled with Jacob until daybreak.
First, who was “the man?”
Wrestling, it seems, was the man’s idea, for the bible says “the man” wrestled with Jacob.
But who was he?
Josephus says the man was a phantasm, which would be an illusion borne of the imagination, or a spectre, which is a ghost or apparition. Jacob did not imagine, or dream that this encounter happened.
My translation of this passage in Josephus’ account says he was “an angel,” which is very different from a product of Jacob’s imagination.
But Josephus didn’t write his record until the story was about 1800 years old.
Jacob, on the other hand, lived it, and identified the visitor as God himself, and was amazed to have survived the encounter.
I don’t see how either Josephus or we are in a very good position to disagree with Jacob, who had wrestled with whoever he was - all night.
It appears to be beyond question that Jacob wrestled with some manifestation of God.
B. The man, or God, did not prevail over Jacob.
The two combatants were Jacob and God. How could Jacob endure for a moment in such a contest?
Not “could not” but “did not” prevail. God wanted Jacob to win!
This was a trial for Jacob, not for God.
The trial related to Jacob’s present circumstances—his meeting with Esau—was at hand.
Would Jacob survive tomorrow’s meeting with Esau because of Jacob’s tactical maneuvers or would Jacob survive because he was the heir of God’s promises?
That, I believe we shall see, was the trial Jacob wrestled with that night.
C. Jacob is injured in the fight. The man “touches” his hip socket, dislocating the joint.
It therefore appears that the wrestling was in some degree physical, for when the man could not - or did not - prevail, he “touched” Jacob’s hip socket and dislocated it.
The thigh muscle is one of the largest and strongest in the body.
God touched Jacob at the point of greatest supposed strength – Jacob’s skill at manipulating things for his own advantage. God took that away and replaced Jacob’s strong suite with God’s own strength – BUT Jacob was left with a limp, perhaps to remind him not to revert to reliance on his own strength.