This week’s reading: Genesis 32:1-32
As Jacob and his family, with all their accumulated wealth, including herds of animals as well as servants, leave Laban and his land behind, they journey towards the home Jacob left about 20 years prior. He has successfully escaped his father-in-law, but Jacob now faces a more formidable foe, his brother Esau. We will read how Jacob struggles with his Faith in God, but how God is always Faithful. He has promised Jacob security and will make sure to bring him safely through whatever obstacle comes his way. All that’s left is for Jacob to wrestle with that truth and come to really believe it. We are in Genesis chapter 32, reading all of it, that is verses 1 through 32. Now listen to the change in the heart of Jacob as he humbly prays for God’s protection:
“Then Jacob prayed, ‘O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, “Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper.” I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.”’” Gen 32:9-12 NIV
Deepening Faith. Remember we are working our way through the Book of Genesis this year, and so we read several weeks ago about when Jacob first came to the realization that God was with him. (see Gen 28:16) It is so vital for the believer to at least begin to understand that the real Presence of our God is indeed with us through every type of event in life. Whether this is the frightening, the exciting, as well as the everyday mundane things of life, God’s Presence is always as close as a heartbeat and a prayer. It is this becoming aware of God’s nearness to us that provides for a sense of peace and stability in our days. After all, what can’t we face if God is really with us? It also helps us to feel reassurance of God’s protection when we face circumstances we dread. This is where we find Jacob. Having left the home of his father-in-law, and as he returns to his own homeland, Jacob must go through the country where his brother, Esau, now lives. Jacob sends some of his men into Esau’s territory to let his brother know, after being away for 20 years, Jacob is coming back home. Jacob shows great humility in this message as he refers to Esau as “my lord” and to himself as “his servant.” He also let’s Esau know about all the wealth he has accumulated, meaning that he requires no aid from his brother, nor does he have any need to make a claim to their father Isaac’s property either. In essence, Jacob is telling Esau, you can have the birthright back if you want it. These servants though, return to Jacob with a troubling report that leaves Jacob shaking in his sandals. They say, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” (Gen 32:6) In other words, Esau is coming to deal with you and he is bringing an army with him. Understandably, Jacob is terrified, even though God has promised that He will protect Jacob along his journey. While Jacob has begun living by Faith, he needs a deeper level of Faith to face this ordeal. Jacob cannot help but wonder if Esau is still looking to get even with him for his deception then fleeing from his revenge. Jacob cannot help but sense that his life, as well as that of his wives and children, are in imminent danger. Jacob cannot help but be filled with anxiety and fear. This is human nature. He knows God has promised to be with him on his journey home, yet don’t we all need reassurance that God’s Presence is really with us? As I read above, Jacob begins by reminding God of what He has promised Jacob, but then he needs a little more encouragement. It is also a good idea for us to pray back God’s own words to Him as a reminder, not so much to Him, but to us of what God has promised. Like Jacob, God has promised every believer His enduring Presence. Like Jacob, God has said He will protect and provide for the needs of those who follow Him. But like us, Jacob needs to deepen his Faith in God so that he may really believe what God has promised. God knows his heart and his need, of course, and so God sends His Angels, and then later comes Himself, to put Jacob’s heart at rest.
Two camps. First God’s Angels appear to Jacob to let him know he is not fighting this fight alone. God really is with Jacob in this tangible way and will indeed protect him. Listen to this excerpt from McLaren’s Expositions: “he calls the name of that place ‘Mahanaim,’ two camps. One camp was the little one of his down here, with the helpless women and children and his own frightened and defenceless self, and the other was the great one up there, or rather in shadowy but most real spiritual presence around about him, as a bodyguard making an impregnable wall between him and every foe.” You see, when we fight, we are never to fight alone. In life, there always exists two realms that are supposed to be interconnected. One is our physical world around us. That which we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch, as well as what we think, feel, want and any outward actions as a result of those. These are the things that are in our power to work with, influence and change. This is our camp. Yet there is another camp, a more powerful camp, that is all around us too. God grants Jacob a glimpse into it so that any doubts will begin to leave him. This we often refer to as the spiritual realm. These are the things we cannot change for they are based on our unchanging God. So we are to connect with this camp and allow God to change us so we may live as if we live in both camps. This requires knowing that God is really with us. Often, when we do not realize God is here, we begin to allow fear and doubt and anxiety and so on into our camp, that is into our thoughts, emotions and actions, because we believe that we are in “this” alone. Jacob has experienced enough to know that God is with him. God has poured out blessings upon blessings in his life. God has appeared to Jacob and given him direction and insights that he would never have had otherwise. Jacob knows God is with him…yet I say again, don’t we all need reassurance that God’s Presence is really with us? Think of this phrase: God is really with us. Often we are quick to casually say that we believe God is with us. We enthusiastically sing at church and proclaim a hearty hallelujah that our Emmanuel is indeed God with us…but do we live a life that reflects we really know God is with us? My Friends, there is knowing, then there is knowing that we know, yes? Jacob knows, but has to dig deeper so that his confidence does not waver as he faces this next potential enemy. Do we have to do the same thing? Do we have to dig in deeper with God so He may grow our Faith and remove any doubt that He is really with us? We will see below how Jacob goes about getting the courage to step out in this deeper Faith, knowing in reality that God will truly protect him. But you and I may not have the same miraculous encounter that will leave us with that same type of reassurance, so what do we do? First, as with all spiritual things, we must choose to believe. Faith comes before anything else in the spiritual camp can be ours. For instance, when we decide to place our Faith in God’s Grace, trusting in God’s Provision of Jesus for our Salvation, then we are saved. By Grace through Faith is how we receive Salvation. (see Eph 2:8) Sadly, the opposite is also true. If we never choose to place our Faith in God’s Grace, never trusting in God’s Provision of Jesus for our Salvation, then we will never be saved. God has already provided for Salvation, but we must receive this incredible blessing through Faith. First we must choose to trust God at His Word. We must place our Faith in the spiritual camp of God. But if this is real Faith then there will be a commitment to act on it as well, or it is not real Faith at all. This is what James is talking about when he says “faith without works is dead.” (see Jas 2:17) Real Faith makes a commitment to take corresponding actions. We make the two camps come together when we place our Faith in God and then act according to that Faith. Again this is what we see Jacob doing in this whole chapter. He believes then he acts in ways that reflect his belief. And this even as he struggles. If we desire to come to a deep awareness of God’s real moment-by-moment Presence in our lives, then as I said above, we must believe He is indeed really present in our every day lives. And why can we believe this? Because God has promised every believer, that He will never leave us nor forsake us. (see Dt 31:6, Jos 1:5 & Heb 13:5) God proclaimed it and when we trust what He said, our actions show that we believe Him. If we choose to believe what God says, then we will act on what God says and our sense of peace and joy will increase, no matter what is going on. Placing our Faith in God and His Love gives us the reassurance that will help us move forward in life, even if we may still feel a bit afraid. Faith may not get rid of every fear within, but it does give us the courage to step out anyway. Hear these powerful words from Nelson Mandela, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” As we learn to place our Faith in God, then one by one, we can have victory over our fears. In the meantime, Faith gives us the power to step out anyway. Again, this is where we find Jacob. He believes and will display this belief by what he does next.
Wrestles with God. Jacob sees the Angels of God and his Faith is stirred within him. He then acts wisely by sending out some of his servants with gifts to give Esau, and with the message that Jacob was also on his way to meet him. Taking the next step of Faith, Jacob is not waiting for Esau to come charging at him, but will bravely meet him half way. This is his desire anyway. Jacob spends the rest of the night in the exercise of deepening his Faith. How? He literally wrestles with God. The Bible says, “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” (Gen 32:24) We later see that this “man” is God Himself as Jacob proclaims, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” (Gen 32:30) This would be another example of a Christophany, where Jesus manifests in a physical form before He took on our physical nature when He became incarnate at birth. Anyway, God meets Jacob where he is and a real fight begins. I have this humorous image of God placing His mighty hand on Jacob’s head, holding him steady at arm’s length, as Jacob punches away into the air between them, sincerely thinking he can win this fight. I also see the joyful smile on God’s face as Jacob simply will not give up until God blesses him. You see, God loves it when we refuse to give up on Him. Please note that Jacob is wrestling with God, not against Him. Jacob is trying to grasp the truth that God will always be with him. Jacob is struggling with his own insecurities about why God would protect this Deceiver that he was. Jacob is brawling with his own fears that Esau will destroy everything God has given him. It is a good thing to wrestle with God. Many times I will sit with God to hammer out some wrong thoughts or poor heart attitudes and God always gently continues to correct me with His truth until I submit to it. Until I decide to simply believe Him and act accordingly. This is what Jacob is doing here. He does not want to allow his great fear to stop him from doing whatever he must, and so he turns to God to hash it all out. Often when God is deepening our Faith, when He is uprooting some lies we have been believing, it really is a wrestling match. These lies have been deep rooted into our hearts and they must come out, but they do not come out without a fight. Our old self wants to hold on to the junk that causes us to act in sinful ways, but when we have had enough of the pain that sin causes, we must wrestle with God so He may deepen our Faith. We must wrestle with trying to change ourselves, and simply receive God’s help. We must wrestle with this lie that we know what is best, and simply submit to God’s wisdom. We must wrestle with trying to change things with our limited abilities, and simply surrender to God’s power. Just like God dislocates Jacobs hip, this wrestling often results in a breaking of our will and a surrender to follow God’s Will instead. It takes Jacob all night to finally say what God longs to hear each believer say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Gen 32:26) My Friends, prayer is often a real wrestling match. It is when we refuse to let go of God until He changes our hearts, that God’s blessings can be sensed, and used for His Glory and our own benefit. Once again I can envision God’s smile as He changes Jacob’s name to Israel which means “he struggles with God.” This is to remind Jacob of who he now is in God’s Grace. He is a new man. A humbled man. A man that no longer seeks to deceive, but desires to make peace. Often a new name in the Bible signifies a new heart and a new mission for that Saint. This is what happens to us at Salvation too. Our identity goes from sinner to saint, as we are given this new name “Christian” and the new mission to live for God’s Glory, not our own. With this New Nature given to us, now once again by Grace through Faith, we grow into that New Identity. The more we choose to believe who God says we are, the more we begin to act like it. So if God says we are holy, then we must learn to live lives that are set apart from this fallen world, as well as from how we used to live. We become different. We become who we were always meant to be. We become more and more like Jesus. The name change is that deepened Faith that moves us to live like we really believe God is with us. This deepened Faith helps us have the resolve to step out of our comfort zone, denying the power of fear, and moving forward with courage and confidence. And all because we have a deeper sense that God is indeed with us. We will see the results of this depth reflected in what Jacob does next, but that is for next week. Today let’s marvel at the fact that God would condescend Himself to wrestle with us and let’s praise Him for blessing us when we refuse to let Him go.
A changed man. Jacob displays his humility. Not only as he repents of his past sins, but as he seeks to make recompense towards his brother as well. Both are required when showing our Faith. Repentance is a change of heart where we are agreeing with God that we have sinned. Recompense is a change of action where we are acting according to that repentance. Jacob shows his repentance through his humbled heart. Because he repents, he knows he did a wrong thing, then he offers recompense, because he really wants to do the right thing. Apologies are wonderful, but when they are merely words, they mean nothing. Actions in accordance with that change of heart are necessary for the change to be real. If we are truly sorry then our actions will reflect our sorrow. What is in our hearts will naturally flow. Jacob is serious here, and so should we be if indeed God has changed us. This is not putting on a show. This is sincerity. This is remorse. This is humility. And this is what Jacob is showing Esau. Wisely he sends gifts to show Esau that he is repentant, that he wants to make recompense. He wants to make things right between them. The Deceiver is now the peacemaker. Yet Esau must choose how to respond to this offer. As he travels towards Jacob, with his army in toe, we will see what happens…and we will witness the power of God. It seems counter-intuitive, but every time I choose to trust God and simply humble myself, I do sense the transformational power of God in my life. Yes, many times it requires a real struggle on my part as I spend time and effort… and tears… praying to God about the situation. But when God breaks that old person in me, the way He threw Jacob’s hip out of joint, I am actually freer than I was before the fight started. I become like Jacob, a changed human, ready to trust God further, wherever He leads me. This fills me with a deeper sense of peace, joy and contentment. That is the Abundant Life. Want it too? Then won’t you join me?
Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.
<>< Peace, Diane