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January 22nd, 2022
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gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

Many of us experience struggles in life. In a study of Jacob in the Old Testament, there are parallels and answers that we may find helpful. Before they were born, there was so much conflict between Jacob and his twin brother that their mother called upon God in desperation (Genesis 25:22-23). Even during birth, Jacob held onto the heel of Esau, and their early years were marked with vying for favor. 

Things got so bad Jacob had to flee his homeland (Genesis 27:43-45), and spent years with Laban, who became his father-in-law. They had their differences, and Jacob joined in conflicts as well between his wives and their handmaids. Finally, the time came when Jacob determined he should return to Canaan. 

Since Jacob‘s first miraculous encounter with God (Genesis 28:10-17), some positive changes in his life had become noticeable. When the time came for him to return home, he and Laban had a tense stand-off before coming to a shaky agreement (Genesis 31:48-54). 

At this point in the story, the Bible tells how Jacob again had a divine encounter. “Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. And when he saw them, Jacob said, ‘This is God’s camp’” (Genesis 32:1). The name he gave the place means “two camps”. He was able to see the camp where the angels were, but in the meantime his own camp was still caught up in preparations for the day of reckoning with his brother. 

It had taken years of exile, but Jacob reached the point of humbling himself to his older brother. He sent messengers to Esau, giving them the exact words to say, which identified himself as Esau’s servant. Seeking peace, he was making the first move, no longer wanting the dominance of the birthright or the blessing he’d deceitfully taken. Instead, he seemed satisfied with the personal blessing God had given him at the staircase (Genesis 28:13-15). 

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In Genesis 32:6-8, the messengers returned with distressing news that Esau was coming to meet him, but bringing 400 men. Underlying his fear was perhaps guilt. Jacob again made plans, this time to divide everything and sacrifice part, in order to buy time so that at least half of them might escape Esau’s supposed attack. 

Verse 9 then begins the first real prayer we find by Jacob. Still moving ahead with his own preparations, the prayer was at times begging, sometimes demanding, but it did show signs of spiritual awareness. Jacob selected a huge tribute or offering for his brother: three groups with hundreds of head of livestock each, that would be sent ahead with the same message. “‘These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a gift sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us’” (Genesis 32:18). 

Here was the servant Jacob acknowledging his older brother as superior, no longer claiming any rights, but accepting responsibility for his family and to his God. Meanwhile, he took his wives, their maids, and the eleven children across the stream, along with whatever he had left, where they would wait in safety. 

Returning alone to his camp, after all the elaborate strategies, Jacob had exhausted his resources. It was at that point a man appeared, identified twice as God (Genesis 32:28, 30), and the two wrestled until daybreak. Could it be that through his years of interpersonal struggles with so many people, Jacob’s problems had been spiritual ones? It was God all along with whom he’d been wrestling. 

Even the movement of the sun bracketed this journey of transformation. When God first met Jacob at Bethel as he fled for his life (Genesis 28:11, 12), the sun had set. But after years of being cheated by Laban, Jacob’s change was remarkable on his trip to meet Esau. The scripture points out that the sun rose as he wrestled with God. 

God could have won the contest at any time through the night, but Jacob persisted and demanded a blessing. God touched the socket of his thigh, dislocating the source of a wrestler’s strength. Then, instead of answering the appeal for a blessing, God asked, “‘What is your name?’” Jacob was forced to answer, in effect, I’m Jacob, the deceiver, the liar, the cheat - laying it all out to the one he wrestled with. There was no way in his current condition he could become the leader of a great nation. But God’s next words brought grace and hope. “‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have contended with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (Genesis 32:28). 

There were still details to work out with Esau, as we’ll see next week. But in order to face his brother, Jacob first found victory before God through confession, and reconciliation, and rejection of his own self-centered nature. May each of us do the same. He named the site Peniel, the place where he’d seen God’s face and his life was delivered. The chapter ends as the sun rose, with Jacob limping on his bad hip, a constant reminder that in his weakness God is strong. 

 

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