The Turning Point in the Life of the Patriarch Jacob
By Richard Allen – November 21, 2022
My readers should know by now that I’m the kind of guy who can get a song lyric or movie scene stuck in my head – and it lasts for years! One such song lyric is from a 1972 pop tune by Jim Croce called: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” It’s a silly song, about a mythical pool hustler named Big Jim Walker, whose tough-guy reputation in New York was such that people were afraid of him. So the chorus rang out: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind. And you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim.” You get the picture, the song is meant to warn the foolish not to provoke a fight with Jim, a man who was stronger and your superior. You just don’t “tug on Superman’s cape.”
We left the Patriarch Jacob at the River Pineal doing just that – wrestling with “the Angel of the Lord.” To quote one of my favorite preachers, Vodie Baucham “You can’t box with God, your arms are too short!” Since all of this is true, let me ask: “What was Jacob thinking?” I will reflect more on that question shortly, but for this week’s Blog, I’d like us to focus on the radical transformation that Jacob had, and was still experiencing over the prior 20 years – culminating in his physically wrestling with God in human form. Genesis chapter 32 starts with Jacob on his way back home, after the terse agreement he’d made with Laban – meeting God’s messengers, that is, His God’s Angels at Mahanaim:
“Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, ‘This is God's camp!’ So he called the name of that place Mahanaim. And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’ And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.’ Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, ‘If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape’ ” (Genesis 32:1-8).
Jacob is no doubt emboldened by the presence of these messengers (angels) from God, and so he sends messengers of his own to prepare his approaching encounter with Esau. Jacob’s feelings of dread and guilt must have weighed heavily on him. Having stolen Esau’s birthright and blessing, Jacob knew he needed to make amends. He’s also aware that over the past 20 years God had prospered him. He had come to Laban with nothing but the clothes on his back and the staff in his hand (Genesis 32:10). He was returning to his home a wealthy man. His humble prayer to God now reveals a different man with a broken and thankful heart. He had learned to depend on God’s providence and power for his well-being and not his own ability to ‘grab-and-wheel-and-deal.’ Here’s Jacob’s prayer of submission:
“And Jacob 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 kindred, that I may do you good, I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.’ But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude’ ” (Genesis 32:9-12).
Contrary to the self-made man using his human wiles to get by in life – we now see new Jacob, a humbled man, finally aware that it was God who all along had kept him, and not his own abilities as a grabber. There is an important lesson here that we should learn from Jacob. While it’s clear that Jacob was learning to rely on God, he still did what was within his power to make amends to Esau. You might wonder why? Like many young Christians, I had a poor opinion of Esau from the Genesis narrative and also from the passage in Hebrews that talks about Esau being a godless man:
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.” (Hebrews 12:15-17).
This is no small thing to ignore. God had long ago told Rebecca, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother that: “The older would serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). Even under Jacob’s pretense, God through Isaac had blessed Jacob and said:
“Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you” (Genesis 28:29).
Even Esau must have recognized that the God of his father Isaac was with his brother Jacob and not with him. Esau did not yearn for the God of his fathers, nor was he part of God’s eternal plan. Jacob on the other hand was the chosen covenant heir of Abraham’s promise, and through his offspring (Christ): “Would all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:14). As Esau greets his brother’s vast company of wives, children, servants, herds and flocks – Esau was clearly amazed that God had so blessed Jacob and had been with him during his sojourn with Uncle Laban. But just because Esau was a godless man, he still deserved fair and honest treatment as well as respect at the hands of his own brother. Believers are not given license to deceive or steal from unbelievers – just because we may deem them unholy before God. As he returns, I honestly believe that Jacob’s actions toward his brother were not condescension or more scheming, but genuine repentance and humility toward someone he had wronged. Jacob’s prayer and his actions afterward show that a deep change had been wrought in Jacob’s heart and character.
But here Jacob sat alone at the River Pineal, having sent his wives, children, servants, herds and flocks across the Ford of Jabbok. And without any real explanation – we’re told that an unannounced guest came to meet him:
“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’ Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’ The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:24:31).
Talk about an amazing encounter with the God of Heaven! While Scripture doesn’t give us all the answers we’d like, it does let us know that for some reason God was willing to condescend to Jacob’s human frailties and wrestle with him in a human form – all night. What is even more amazing is that God held back his power to the point where Jacob, a master grabber from way back, appears to be holding his own. Scripture later tells us that this man was clearly God in human form, matching strength for strength yet would not overpower Jacob. Then this manifestation of God in a Theophanic form (probably the Angel of God’s Presence) touched Jacob’s hip, putting it out of joint to show that He could overpower Jacob at any point. With this kind of power, the outcome of this wrestling match was never in doubt. Then we observe that after being crippled by the Angel’s mere touch, Jacob was no longer wrestling to win – he was just “holding on for dear life,” or should we say – cleaving tightly that he might receive God’s blessing! When the Angel finally speaks: “Let me go for the day breaks,” Jacob refuses saying: “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Talk about hutzpah, what gall for Jacob to make demands of God. And yet, Jacob still gets his way! What is going on?
This encounter with God led to Jacob’s name being changed from grabber to Israel. He would no longer be called Jacob the Grabber, but rather, Israel: “one who has struggled with God and men and has prevailed.” The verses telling us that Jacob’s name would be changed are also confusing – to say the least. It looks like the Angel of the Lord is saying: “You’ve been a grabber from the start, and now you are even grabbing with Me, your God – and you are winning. So, I’ll give you the name Israel to honor your prowess, to proclaim that you are the master grabber, who triumphs over men and God.” It’s clear why God asks Jacob “what is your name.” God knew his name full well, but he wanted Jacob to once more say that he was the “Grabber.” That make sense, but why does God give him the name Israel: “One who is able to wrestle with men and God and come out on top?” Let me first apologize, but this interpretation just doesn’t fit with our understanding of God – nor does it contextually fit with what actually happened.
In my next Blog, we’ll hopefully answer: Why was Jacob able to: “Tug on Superman’s cape,” that is – wrestle with God Almighty – and how did he still prevail? These are questions worth our asking and answering!
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “How to go from a Grabber to a Leaner in 147 years.” (Blog date October 24, 2022)
1.) How I behave toward others will come back on me with a vengeance.
2.) If I’m to fulfill God’s purposes, I will need to do things God’s way – and not through
3.) Even if I act in the flesh using human means, God can still use my poor choices for
His Purpose and Glory.
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “What Goes Around, Comes Around.” (Blog date October 31, 2022)
4.) Reciprocal Providence is a great teacher in the hands of a Sovereign God. Scripture
may not tell us, but Jacob couldn’t have missed the irony of his own deception and
violation of his brother’s birthright coming back on him.
5.) In our sin and weakness we may start out “grabbing, wheelin’ and dealin,” yet in
God’s faithfulness and chastening over time, we learn to trust Him – and see that
our lives are not in our own feeble hands. They are under His Sovereign control
from cradle to grave.
6.) God patiently bears with the weaknesses of His children, as we struggle to learn
from life as we live it, in three ways: From our own sins, from the sins of others
toward us, and general mistreatment from the world’s system.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “Down By The River.” (Blog date November 14, 2022)
7.) Even if we don’t see the obvious signs, God is always with His children, working
“all things together for their good and His purposes” (Romans 8:28), behind the
scenes. From an eternal perspective -- He has our back!
8.) God restrains our adversaries, limiting their ability to harm or cause His Eternal
Purposes for us to fail.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape.” (Blog date November 21, 2022)
9.) Just because we are stepping out in faith – trusting God to accomplish
something difficult that He’s clearly directed us to do – doesn’t mean that we are
passive, waiting for His provision. We should do all we are morally and rightly
required to do, to accomplish His purpose.
10.) Believers are not given license to deceive or steal from unbelievers – just because we may deem them unholy before God, we are still to treat them with decency
because of their humanity and being made in God’s image.