SSL 5 - Gen. 32:22-32
LAST WEEK: In Gen. 31:1-16 covered Jacob troubled relationship with his father-in-law, Laban, along with his plan to leave Haran with his wives and concubines (4), his children (11), servants, livestock, camels, and donkeys, and start the long journey back to his home in Canaan. As we saw, Jacob's decision to leave (after 20 years) was not only based on Laban's hostility and repeated attempts to cheat him out of his share of the flock, but more significantly, God's divine intervention ordering him to pack-up and go. We took way three main points of application: 1. Though it's not likely that we will encounter God by direct revelation like Jacob, God still often directs us by opening doors (or closing them). But to receive His direction, but we must be diligent to spend time both in prayer and reading His Word. 2. As Jacob finally came to realize in this lesson, only after looking back can we see how God is working in our lives. We may not see the results on a day-by-day basis, but we can look back at our lives and see how God's hands were behind all the varied actions and circumstances. 3. Husbands who love their wives will communicate their purposes and intentions to them. After Jacob explained his reasons for leaving, Rachel and Leah were 100% on board. Where there is transparent communication, it's far more likely that there will be mutual support.
THIS WEEK: We skip the first 21 verses of Chapter 32, but I will give you a brief sketch of them to provide some background for today's lesson. As we know from our former study of Gen. 27 and 28, Jacob originally left Beersheba is haste because his brother, Esau, had vowed to kill him, so as he is heading back toward him, in vv. 1-5 of this chapter, he sends messengers to Esau in order to attempt reconciliation. In v. 6, the messengers return with the news that Esau was coming to him with 400 men. Because he feared that Esau intended to kill him, in vv. 7-21, he sends messengers again with a generous (about 500) gift of livestock in an attempt to placate Esau. In v. 11, while this is going on, Jacob prayed to God, "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." At this point, Jacob has the encounter with God that forms our text for today's lesson.
Gen. 32:22-23 - HE SENT THEM OVER THE STREAM
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.
v. 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." - The Jabbok River is a major tributary of the Jordan River that intersects the Jordan 43 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. A ford is a shallow place in a river where people can wade across below shoulder height. Even so, it would have been a very difficult task to negotiate the crossing with a large flock of sheep and goats.
v. 23: "He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had" - This verse is ambiguous as to Jacob's position relative to his family, but most commentators believe that he placed himself between Esau and his family, in order to shield them from any attack.
Read Gen. 32:24-25 - JACOB WRESTLED WITH A MAN
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.
v. 24: " Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak" - There is nothing more dismal than being alone in the dark, away from home, waiting for something bad to happen. It brings to mind an image of a solitary soldier waiting for an attack by unseen enemies-It's spooky. Then a mysterious assailant grabbed him, and Jacob, instinctively, began to wrestle with him for his very life. Unknown to Jacob at the time, the "man, in this context," was a physical manifestation of God. This isn't the only OT passage where God appears as a man, as in Gen. 18 where the LORD (Heb. YHWH) appeared to Abraham as one of three men.
v. 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" - In the first two phrases, "he" is the LORD. Jacob is fighting with all his might, and he seems to be holding his own. But how could God not win against a mere human like Jacob? The most plausible explanation is that He's like a father wresting with his small son, holding back his full strength in order to keep from hurting him. Yet, when he dislocated Jacob's thigh with a touch, God demonstrated He could disable him at will.
TRUTH 1: God must break us of our self-dependence. God's wrestling match with Jacob wasn't a vision or a dream but a real physical altercation with injury inflicted on Jacob. His opponent was an angel of the LORD (some scholars say Christ in preincarnate form). We need to understand the God was the aggressor here and Jacob was defending himself. He must have been terrified-a hand grabbing him out of the dark, causing him to act instinctively, to fight for his life. The lesson we learn from this is that Jacob wasn't struggling with God to gain something from Him; God was laying hold of Jacob to gain something from him, namely, to bring Jacob to the end of his self-dependence. Jacob had schemed all his life against adversaries-his father, Esau, Laban-but in this struggle he discovered to his horror that God was his adversary, and God wrestled him into submission to show Jacob that he was his own adversary-his own worst enemy.
Read Gen. 32:26-29 - UNLESS YOU BLESS ME
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.
v. 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." - It is the "man" (YHWH), not Jacob who calls for an end to the match. The reason for ending it is that the dawn is breaking. We learn why later in Ex. 33:20, when God tells Moses, "you cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live." Thus, it appears that God wants to stop this encounter-remove Jacob from danger-before the sun rises to reveal His face. At this juncture, Jacob experiences an "ah-ha" moment and comes to realize who he's been struggling against, and true to form, immediately seeks a blessing. Earlier, in Gen. 28:14, God had given Jacob the Abrahamic covenant promise that "in you and your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed," but this time, Jacob asks for a personal blessing for himself, and he's not asking for it based on his staying-power in wrestling but because of his genuine dependence on God at this point.
v. 27: "So he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob.'" - This is a formality, since to impart a blessing requires that the one giving the blessing know the name of the one being blessed.
v. 28: "He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed" - A name change of this sort indicates the beginning of a new chapter in the person's life-a new identity and a new purpose. The word Israel (Heb. Yisrael [yis-raw-ale']) literally means "God strives," signifying that Jacob had "striven with God and men" and had prevailed, and the nation descended from Jacob would bear the name Israel. The giving of the name was, in itself, a blessing because whenever Israel's descendants hear this name, they will be reminded of its origin. However, as we shall soon see, the name "Jacob" does not disappear, but is used again often as the story continues, which suggests that Jacob's spiritual progress is not yet finished.
vv. 29a-b: "Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" - Notice that Jacob asks nicely, saying "please," which indicates he's nearly certain his opponent is God. But God deflects the question with a question, "Why is it you ask my name?" God's refusal to reveal his name is rooted in the Biblical understanding of names, where a name expresses the essential nature of its bearer. In biblical texts God reveals himself as the four Hebrew letters YHWH, which literally mean "I am" or "I am He." It's referred to as the tetragram-maton that we know as Yahweh and the latinized version Jehovah. As Judges 3:28 explains, God's name is too "wonderful" for humans to comprehend.
v. 29c: "And he blessed him there" - Then God gives Jacob/Israel the blessing he requested in v. 26. Jacob obtained his father's blessing by deceit, yet God gives this blessing fully aware of Jacob's makeup and character. And Jacob fully realizes that God knows him inside and out. Prov. 5:21 states, "For a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and the LORD watches all his paths." The miracle of Jabbok is in reality the Good News, the Gospel: that God engages us just as we are and, having named our name, preserves-i.e., saves-us and transforms us.
TRUTH 2: God's breaking process reveals to us the power of our flesh. God could have crippled Jacob in the first minute of the contest, but God allowed the struggle to continue all night to show Jacob the power of his self-will. Until God crippled him, Jacob wouldn't give-in. The point is that the flesh is hard to tame-and only God can really tame it. To make sure Jacob learned his lesson, God asked him a question: "What is your name?" Remember, God never asks a question to gain information-He already knows the answer; He wanted Jacob to confess not just his name but to confess his character. Remember his name [Heb. Yaaqob (yah-ak-obe')] literally means "heel catcher," someone who trips people up, a deceiver and trickster. A vital part of knowing God involves knowing ourselves. Until God reveals to us the power of our sinful nature, like He did to Jacob in this example, we tend to think, while not exactly perfect, we're really not so bad.
Read Gen. 32:30-32 - JACOB CALLED THE PLACE PENIEL
30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." 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.
v. 30: "So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, 'I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.'" - This is the only place where this site is called Peniel, and elsewhere it is called Penuel, which both translate in Hebrew to the "face of God." Jacob doesn't leave the encounter unmarked. He has a new name-Israel-which implies a new identity and a new beginning. And he fully recognizes that seeing God's face had nearly ended his life, and he is very grateful to be alive.
v. 31: " Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh" - This reference informs us that Jacob glimpsed God in the dim light of early dawn rather than the full light of day, which accounts for his survival. Another mark for the encounter is that he now walks with a limp. Whether this was permanent (as in Jewish tradition) or temporary isn't certain.
v. 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" - This verse is thought to have added later. There is no mention of this dietary restriction elsewhere in the OT, but it is found in later Rabbinic writings. However, to the extent it is observed, it will remind Israel, the nation, of this encounter of Israel, the man, with God.
TRUTH 3: God's breaking power reveals to us the power of our God. Before God touched his hip, Jacob probably thought they were evenly matched, but in one little tap, God put him down for the count. Jacob suddenly came to the realization that God was the lion and he was the mouse. Until God breaks us-so we walk with a limp-we have a tendency to view him as a kindly old grand-fatherly type. Under this mistaken notion, we view obedience to God as an option. We, not God, are the ones in control, doing simply whatever we think is best. Then something happens, the lion roars and in one easy swipe, he cripples us. We not only learn about His awesome power but that obedience is not an option; in fact, it's our only reasonable course of action. Some people resist God's breaking power and grow bitter. Jacob could have done that when the Lord crippled him and said, "Look at me now! You've made it so I can't run or fight!" But he didn't; instead, when the Lord said, "Let me go...," Jacob clung to Him and gave the wonderful reply, "I will not let you go until you bless me."
TRUTH 4: God blesses us when we cling to Him in our brokenness. Often our greatest victories come out of the wreckage of our greatest defeats. As soon as Jacob was crippled, he was able to hang on to God for dear life. He realized then that if God didn't bless him, he had no hope-none. He had learned that he couldn't trust in himself any longer because he was a cripple. He had to cling to the Lord, and in clinging to God in his brokenness, Jacob received the blessing-the personal one-the one he'd been scheming for all his life but had never received.