In this series, we’ve been looking at a character in the Hebrew Bible, a guy named Jacob. In the previous post, we left Jacob about to cross over the border of his brother, Esau’s land. He had deceived his brother 20 years before, and when Esau found out, Esau threatened to kill Jacob. Jacob fled for his life, and the twins didn’t talk again for two decades. Jacob’s life and fortunes had changed dramatically in the ensuing years. Now he has a large family and great wealth through vast herds of animals. On his way home with his family and property, he arrives at Esau’s land. Jacob gets word that Esau is on the way with 400 men, coming to confront Jacob. So Jacob prepares a huge gift of numerous animals, hoping to smooth the way with Esau. He sends the gift ahead to Esau. Before we find out what happens when Esau receives the gift, something else occurs. Read Genesis 32:22-32 to learn about this surprising event.
Jacob wrestles God! Or should we say it as a question: Jacob wrestles with God? What is going on here?
Look at verse 26. Jacob has refused to give up this wrestling match, even after God wrenches his hip. Jacob will not let go, saying to God, “unless you bless me.” Sound familiar? Jacob determined to get a blessing? Where have we heard this before? 20 years earlier when he stole his father’s blessing that was supposed to go to Esau!
In verse 27 God asks him a question, “What is your name?” That should sound familiar too! Again, go back 20 years earlier when Jacob entered his father’s tent, and Isaac asked him, “Who is it?” And what did Jacob say? He lied. He said, “It is your son Esau.”
Back to chapter 32, what will Jacob say when God asks Jacob his name? Now he tells the truth. He says his name, “Jacob.” He is a changed man. The deceiver has become a man of truth, a man who wrestles with God.
Wrestling leads to relationship. God is relational, not distant and uninvolved. He wants us to wrestle with him.
The physical act of wrestling is not the focus of this passage, though. Jacob’s determination is the focus. Jacob was always a wrestler, even in the womb, grasping his brother’s heel. But it is his determination that is really the important point. Early in his life, it was a determination that was focused on his own concerns, a selfish determination. He was quite willing to connive and deceive in order to get what he wanted.
But God intervened, even to this selfish man, and Jacob learned to be determined for God. When he wrestles God, he is still determined, but his determination is modified by truth. He tells his name truthfully.
God is so pleased. Look at verse 28. “You have a new name. Israel. You struggle with God and men and overcome.” That is where the name of the nation of Israel comes from. The word Israel means, “he struggles with God.” Isn’t that interesting? The name of the nation is about relationship with God. Israel’s name signifies what God wants, a relationship where his people wrestle with him and don’t give up!
The next morning, Genesis 33:1 tells us, Jacob looked up and saw his brother, Esau, coming with 400 men! What happens when the two estranged brothers face each other after 20 years?
He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.Genesis 33:3-4 (NIV, 1984)
It is a beautiful reconciliation. That’s what God can do! He is in the business of redemption and reconciliation when we submit ourselves to the transforming work he wants to do in our lives.
Throughout the rest of chapter 33, we learn that Jacob continues his journey to his home land, honoring God. In chapter 35 he settles in land of Canaan where he honors God. Jacob called the place Bethel, which means House of God. God confirms the blessing, as well as Jacob’s new name, Israel, reminding us that his family will be the beginning of a nation. Jacob sacrifices to God there.
We’re not done with Jacob’s story. Next week we’ll learn more about him, but through the lens of his son, Joseph. Tomorrow, we’ll conclude this first Characters series by looking at what we learned through God’s work in the life of Jacob. For now, reflect on what we saw today. Jacob wrestles with God and reconciles with Esau. Can it be said of you that you are wrestling with God? It might at first sound like a bad thing, to wrestle with God. But as we saw in Jacob’s life, it was the evidence that his determination had changed focus from self to God, thus leading to reconciliation with his estranged brother Esau. How do you need to wrestle with God?