9 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,’ 10 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. 11 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. 12 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.’”
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
We live in a rapidly changing world – a world in which it is very difficult at times to just stop for a while to take a breath and gather our strength before moving onto the next challenge. At least we know that God is on the throne. He is able to help us deal with the uncertainties of life. I’ve always found the words of Hebrews 6:19 comforting: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” When we’re feeling bewildered and confused, and we’re not sure what to do next, at least we know we can turn to the eternal God to find strength and peace in the storms of life.
Although God in His very nature and being is the same yesterday, today and forever, we also soon learn that He is constantly at work in us.
In the words of Max Lucado, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Earlier this morning we sang these words: “He's changing, changing me, from earthly things to the heavenly, His likeness and image to perfect in me, the love of God shown to the world.”
If God’s ultimate purpose is for us to be with Him for eternity, His short-term purpose in this life is to transform us more and more into the likeness of Jesus.
So while God may never change, He wants us to. If you had to ask any Christian if they want to be just like Jesus, every single one of them would say, “Yes, of course.” We’re all aware of our need for Christlikeness in every aspect of our lives. This journey though, is not easy. We all have some very rough edges that God needs to file down, and that is often a very painful process.
One Christian poet put it this way, “Observe how God ruthlessly perfects those He royally elects.”
The story of Jonah is an excellent example. We looked briefly at his story at our Wednesday Communion service last week. Forget for a moment the Sunday School story of the fish that swallowed him – that’s only a small part of Jonah’s journey. If you haven’t read the book of Jonah recently, then do so. It’s only 4 chapters, but through his story we’re able to see how God works in the lives of His people. He had to teach Jonah some very difficult lessons, just as He does with us, and just as He did in the life of Jacob.
The Lord took Jacob on much more than a geographical journey. He led him on a spiritual pilgrimage – from Jacob to Israel and from selfishness to God-centredness. And this journey was not easy for Jacob, as God took him from deception to devotion. No matter where you are in your spiritual life right now, if you feel that there is something missing in your life and you’re asking God what’s next, then you are on the same journey as Jacob. Sometimes it doesn’t seem too difficult, but there are also times that you feel you’re in a wrestling match on this journey of a lifetime from self-centredness to Christ-centredness.
As we look at the story of Jacob today, my prayer is that we’ll see not only some parallels in our own lives, but more importantly, I pray that we’ll see that just as with Jacob, there is hope for us too. In the words of a bumper sticker I saw many years ago, “Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet.”
The first thing that Jacob had to do was to deal with the Esau factor. We’ve heard the story before, but just as a reminder, Esau was Jacob’s twin brother, but Esau was born first which gave him full rights as the oldest son of Isaac. We’re told that even in their mother’s womb these brothers wrestled with each other. Jacob was quite literally a born schemer. Even his name means ‘one who deceives.’ If he were alive today we would probably describe him as a rather nasty piece of work. He coerced his older brother into giving him his birthright, and as if that were not enough, he even deceived his own father (who was frail and dying by the way,) into giving him the blessing that was rightfully Esau’s. A father giving his oldest son a blessing in those days meant far more than just shaking his hand, patting him on the shoulder and wishing him well. There was a deep spiritual significance in the father’s blessing. There were no written wills in those days, so any deathbed bequests and promises were legally binding. And Jacob stole all of that from his brother, which makes Esau’s anger quite understandable. In Genesis 27:41 he says, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
So not surprisingly, Jacob flees for his life. As he is on this journey to nowhere in particular trying to stay one step ahead of his brother, God steps into Jacob’s life in the most amazing way. Despite a lifetime of lying and stealing, God promises Jacob that He will make a great nation through Jacob and He will bring Jacob back to the land that was promised to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. And so began the spiritual journey for Jacob from selfishness to God-centredness.
God changed Jacob throughout the years to become a very different man, but there remained a past to confront: the Esau factor.
Jacob knew that somewhere along the line he was going to have to face up to his past and deal with his brother and how he had deceived him.
Now we need to pause here for a moment. You’ve heard me quote this verse many times, and I’m going to do so again, because it is important: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
We all have an Esau in our past. The Esau factor is something in our lives we can all relate to, and at one stage or another, with God’s help, we need to deal with it. The crucial point is that although you may be responsible for whatever it was and also the damage it caused to the person or people you may have hurt, Jesus has paid the price for it. It is absolutely vital that we are clear in our minds about this.
If you are a Christian, you have accepted forgiveness through His death on the cross of Calvary, so you are no longer condemned for your sin, including the Esau factors in your life. But very often God wants us to face up to the consequences and fall-out of our past and teach us lessons from those things. Occasionally, as with Jacob it will mean coming face to face with Esau, but what if your Esau is no longer alive? If you’re unable to confess to that person and seek their forgiveness, does that mean it’s too late? Of course not – that’s what Romans 8:1 tells us, but God by His grace, can still teach you valuable lessons from your past. It is not God’s intention for us to be haunted by our past – that’s what satan does. But God does want us to learn from our past, or we’ll simply repeat the same mistakes. Remember, it’s all about the pursuit of holiness and Christlikeness.
God makes this gracious promise to Jacob in his dream at Bethel: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” The Lord promised Jacob the same things He had promised Abraham and Isaac, but He also told him that it was time to return home. Home to face the Esau factor.
As we can see, the changes in Jacob were real, because he obeyed God and headed home. Not surprisingly though, Jacob the schemer still had a plan. He still had plenty rough edges.
He was worried – wouldn’t you be? After all, he was now preparing to face the man who had promised to kill him. So Jacob sends messengers ahead of him. Chapter 32:4-5 says, “He instructed them: ‘This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favour in your eyes.’” This was his twin brother, but he uses words like ‘master, servant, lord.’ It’s all part of his latest plan to try and appease Esau’s anger.
But it appeared at first as if this plan wasn't working out as Jacob hoped - the messengers returned to report that Esau was on his way, along with 400 men.
How would you react? Probably the same way that Jacob did – he was terrified. Verse 7 says, “In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well.” He had God’s promise that he would protect him, but when faced with the prospect of an angry Esau along with four hundred men, he was scared stiff. The next verse tells us what he was thinking: “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.” The man was a born wheeler and dealer. Even in the middle of his latest crisis, among great fear and distress, he finds time to hatch yet another plan.
But then suddenly we are given a glimpse of the new Jacob. In the midst of all this turmoil, Jacob prays - “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.’”
Jacob is learning. At first he panicked and tried to fix things on his own, but then he stopped, sought out God’s face and prayed. But at least he prayed! Sometimes we feel guilty when we use prayer as a ‘last resort’. I’ve tried everything else, and nothing seems to work, so I might as well try praying. After all, what have I got to lose? That might well be the wrong attitude of the heart to take to God in prayer, but at least it’s prayer – at least it’s a start, and God can begin to work with that.
So we’re given a glimpse of the new Jacob here, but the old Jacob is still alive and not so well. He still sends all of his gifts to Esau and even his family on ahead of him across the Jabbok River, and he is left alone, and this is when God really starts to go to work on him.
This was the second time that God came to Jacob at night. The first was in a dream at Bethel, but now it is in the form of a man, not to talk with him, but to wrestle with him. We all know what it feels like to try and make sense of what God is trying to teach us. We know He wants us to be more like Jesus – the Bible tells us that very clearly, but we’re slow learners, and that principle may help us to understand why the pursuit of Christlikeness seems more like a wrestling match than the joy it is meant to be at times…
The story of Jacob is a fascinating one. It’s a story in which we can see so much of ourselves, and these things hardly paint a pretty picture. Yet we also God’s amazing grace at work too. There is always hope because the God we love and serve is a God of endless patience, grace and mercy.
There is also an interesting parallel between Jacob’s birth and his encounter with God that night. We’re told that when he was born he was holding onto Esau’s heel. Esau was the one who was entitled to Isaac’s blessing, but even in his infancy Jacob instinctively knew that Esau was the source of earthly riches and material blessings. Throughout his life Jacob was desperate for that blessing, and he did whatever was necessary to get what he wanted. And he succeeded; regardless of the heartache and pain he created on the way. This night though, things were very different. He was still desperate for a blessing, but by now he had learned the source of true riches and true blessings. Just as he had clung in desperation to his brother, now he clung in desperation to his Heavenly Father. I love his words in verse 26: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Sometimes you may feel that you’re wrestling with God. Things are going on in your life that you have either created by your own bad choices, or even worse, through someone else’s fault, and you feel helpless and you’ve lost control. Not even God seems to be listening anymore. Instead of giving you peace and comfort, you feel like you’re in a wrestling match with Him. If you are, the only advice I can give you is this: Don’t let go of Him. Wrestle with Him if you must, but don’t let go. Let Jacob’s prayer be yours: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Just like Jacob, you may end up with a spiritual limp as a permanent reminder of the time you struggled with God, but at least you will have been with the only One who truly understands your struggles and can give your life meaning and a purpose. And you will be wiser and more spiritually mature for the experience. We know that to be true because God doesn’t put us through times of struggle and hardship just because He feels like it. Romans 8:28 tells us this: “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” In all things – not just the good things.
Jacob’s life lesson was that real blessing comes not from schemes, but from God and His grace. Jacob needed to learn to wrestle with God before wrestling problems, and we must learn the same. Are you facing the Esau factor? What is it in your life that is preventing you from living a life totally dedicated to Jesus Christ? Take it to the Lord, and wrestle with it in prayer.
The story of Jacob’s journey of restoration reaches its climax in chapter 33. Now, instead of putting his livestock, women and children in front of him as a protective shield, Jacob strode out ahead on his own. “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)
That’s what God can do with the Esau factor in our lives.
Jacob’s testimony as he met Esau after all these years was of God’s gracious provision. The Lord went ahead, resolved difficulties, gave victory and ultimately, He gave grace. If you wrestle with God you can deal with the Esau factor as a changed person. Just look at the remarkable change we see in Jacob by the time we get to verses 10 and 11: “If I have found favour in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably. Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” The man who all his life did whatever it took to beg, borrow or steal a blessing, now offered it instead.
Jacob, who once had stolen a blessing, now gives it.
The lessons Jacob learned on his journey to nowhere finally brought him home humbled, God-dependent, and grace-dependent.
Is there someone you need to extend grace to?
That’s what Christlikeness is really all about – as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:3-5, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
If we’re ever going to learn the harsh life lessons God needs us to learn, we need to submit ourselves totally to Him first.
We must let Him work in us to remove our deceit and self-dependence. Take your difficulties to God, wrestle and deal with them, and you will be able to deal with others with the same grace given to you.
Homegroup Study Notes
All Christians agree that we are called to a life of Christlikeness.
We are to become more like Jesus in all that we say or do, yet for so many Christians it is a struggle to take even the smallest steps in the right direction.
Why do you think it is such a battle for us?
Read Genesis 32:22-30
In his early years, Jacob was self-centred and would do whatever was necessary in order to get what he wanted, yet God still used him in the most amazing ways. The promises made to Abraham and Isaac were for him also, but he still had to deal with the way he had treated Esau in the past.
How do you understand the difference between condemnation for sin, and facing the consequences of our sin?
God made it very clear that Jacob should return home and deal with the ‘Esau factor.’ As we know, the Lord went ahead of the twins, and His grace was given to both of them.
If you feel able, share with your group an ‘Esau factor’ in your life, and how you have wrestled with God as a result.
Read Jacob’s prayer in verses 9-12 and his plea in verse 26.
After all the lies and deceit in his past, Jacob asked God for protection and then held desperately onto God as he sought His blessing.
How have you experienced the undeserved mercy, grace and forgiveness of God?