This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
God’s redemptive plan is laid out for us in the Scriptures. He revealed it to the prophets, and they wrote it down. During the lives of the patriarchs, however, there were no written Scriptures. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had to trust the word of God which came to them. As to the scope of revelation, they had everything that they needed in the Abrahamic Covenant which God had spoken to all three of them in their generations. In this covenant, God had promised to make their family into a kingdom which would bless all the nations of the earth. They knew that He intended to do this, and had no reason to fear anything. Yet they were human, and had many fears. But they learned to trust God and rely on His promises.
1 Now as Jacob went on his way, the angels of God met him. 2 Jacob said when he saw them, “This is God’s camp.” So he named that place Mahanaim.
This happened just as Jacob crossed the border into Canaan. He had had a vision of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder, and now he witnessed an encampment of the host of God upon his reentry to the land. What a powerful reminder for Jacob that God was with him to protect him from all that he feared.
3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He also commanded them saying, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: ‘Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now; 5 I have oxen and donkeys and flocks and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.”’”
Jacob and Esau had not spoken since Jacob had left Canaan. Their last interaction had been when Jacob had tricked their father into blessing him instead of Esau. So Jacob did not know what to expect at this point from Esau. Their mother, Rebekah, had promised to call Jacob when Esau’s temper had cooled, but it appears that she never called for Jacob. Since she is not mentioned again after the incident of the stolen blessing, she probably died during Jacob’s sojourn in Haran, and never had the chance to recall her son.
6 The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8 for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.”
How distressing it must have been to Jacob to learn that his brother, who had previously sought to kill him, was marching toward him with a veritable army. Jacob did not know what to expect, so he made preparations in case Esau meant him harm. Then he turned to prayer:
9 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 relatives, and I will prosper you,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’”
There has been much growth and maturity in Jacob’s relationship with God. Now he expressed trust in the promises of God, and he prayed with those promises as the foundation of his petition for deliverance from Esau. He gave God the glory or prospering him in Haran, and prayed that God would protect his household from the wrath of Esau.
13 So he spent the night there. Then he selected from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on before me, and put a space between droves.” 17 He commanded the one in front, saying, “When my brother Esau meets you and asks you, saying, ‘To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and to whom do these animals in front of you belong?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘These belong to your servant Jacob; it is a present sent to my lord Esau. And behold, he also is behind us.’” 19 Then he commanded also the second and the third, and all those who followed the droves, saying, “After this manner you shall speak to Esau when you find him; 20 and you shall say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.’” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the present passed on before him, while he himself spent that night in the camp.
Having prayed, Jacob again set about doing what he could in order to appease Esau’s anger. He may have thought that the battle was going to occur the next day between his people and Esau. The battle, however, would happen that night between him and the LORD.
22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”
Hosea 12:4 identifies this man as the angel of God, who has appeared multiple times in Genesis. As they wrestled, Jacob’s persistence won him the blessing and a new name by which his descendants would be known. Coming away from the experience, Jacob was amazed that he had seen God (again identifying the angel of the LORD as being the LORD) and even more amazed that he had lived through it. Having contended with God and received a blessing, Jacob learned that since God was for him, there was no one else to fear.
31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.
Jacob’s lessons were learned the hard way. Now he bore a physical reminder of a painful lesson that God had taught him. And he would continue to learn that God’s power would be shown through his own weakness.
God is so very patient with His people. Yet how privileged we are to have the fullness of revelation that we do, for we see how the redemptive plan of God fits together. We do not know everything, nor do we need to. But we see God’s will and intention, and trust Him to bring it about. Thus, we have no reason to fear, for God will work all things for good to those who love Him and have come to Him by faith.