Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 26 2019 - Genesis 32:1-32 – Wrestling Jacob

Jacob is returned a wealthy man with large flocks and herds and servants and with eleven sons born to him by his two wives and their two handmaids. On his way home the angels of God met him (Genesis 32:1); the angels who accompanied him when he left home were with him also on his return journey to ensure that he is kept safe in accordance with God's promises.

But Jacob is afraid that brother Esau will still be angry with him and intent on doing him harm. Soon he learns that his brother is coming to meet him with 400 men (32:6). Jacob is now very afraid.

First he takes practical action, dividing all that he has between two camps so that if Esau destroys one, the other will be left to him. Jacob then turns to God in prayer, "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… Please deliver me from the hand of my brother … for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, and 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.'" (32:9-12).

Note that Jacob knows that he has nothing to plead with God except the promises that God has given him. Tricky Jacob has come to the end of his own resources. He knows that he is not deserving of God's blessing, but that God has promised to bless him, and he clings to these promises and lays them out before God. He places all his confidence in the unfailing love and faithfulness of his covenant making and covenant keeping God.

Jacob sent his wives and family and all that he possessed ahead of him to meet up with Esau. Now alone, in the evening, Jacob began to follow them. But he was met by a 'man' who laid hold of him and wrestled with him all night long. It was as if someone was seeking to prevent his return to the land the Lord had promised him.

As dawn broke, the 'man' touched Jacob's hip and it was put out of joint. Still Jacob would not let him go but demanded that this 'man' whom he now recognises in some sense to be divine, should bless him. The blessing Jacob receives is to be renamed Israel – one who wrestles with God.

Jacob imagined that Esau was the only one standing between him and the possession of all that God had promised him. The night of wrestling taught him that if he was to inherit the promises he must deal with God himself – he must, as it were, wrestle the promises from God's hand. God would have Jacob to know that it was not good enough for the blessing to have been pronounced over him by his father, he must be serious about seeking it from God himself.

But note how gracious God is in dealing with Jacob. Like a father wrestling with his young child, Almighty God wrestles with Jacob and allows him to have the upper hand for the greater part of the contest. Only as dawn breaks does he show his power by disabling Jacob with a single touch. Jacob is marked by his encounter with God.

Jacob's new name will not be his alone; it becomes the name of the people of God – the children of Israel. They are a people who wrestle with God.

God of Jacob, thank you for those times when you bring me to the end of my own devices, for you have taught me that when I am weak, then I am strong – for I am dependent upon your help. Thank you for your many great and precious promises. Teach me to make your promises the foundation of my prayers. Teach me what it means to wrestle with you and refuse to let you go until you bless me. May I be someone who is marked by my encounters with the living God.

Peter Misselbrook