Today’s reading includes Genesis 32:13-34:31, Matthew 11:7-30, Psalm 14:1-7, Proverbs 3:19-20.
Jacob had been sent away by Isaac to avoid the revenge of Esau. He was away for twenty years. For twenty years, his distance physically allowed him to avoid dealing with the emotional distance between himself and his brother.
But then God said, “Go home.” God saw that Jacob’s home near Laban was no longer a healthy place to be. It was time to go home.
Jacob knew he would have to face Esau and made the first move toward him by sending a friendly message. This new, mature Jacob knew to confront with truth and peace rather than to deceitfully manipulate. But then the fear set in. He found out his estranged brother was heading his way, along with 400 of his men. Instead of ignoring his fear, or fleeing because of his fear, he went to the Lord
Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O Lord, you told me, ‘Return to your own land and to your relatives.’ And you promised me, ‘I will treat you kindly.’ I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant. When I left home, and crossed the Jordan River, I owned nothing except a walking stick. Now my household fills two large camps! O Lord, please rescue me from the hand of my brother, Esau. I am afraid that he is coming to attack me, along with my wives and children.
He sent his family on ahead in groups until he was finally alone. It took him being alone with God before he could really wrestle through who he was, who he had been, and who he was becoming.
Who was the man he wrestled? Jesus. This encounter is symbolic of our wrestling in prayer.
Did Jacob win? Yes, but Jesus led him to victory. In the night watches. Alone. There are many times we need to get alone with Jesus. Be honest. Wrestle through the fears and insecurities and doubts. He is God, the creator of your emotions, your mind. He can handle it. He knows it anyway.
Did Jacob really win? Yes, but his win was because Jesus led him to victory. Jacob had victory in this process of wrestling with God, coming boldly to the throne of grace, hoping and believing for blessing—for freedom from fear and past, for boldness to step into the future, for grace to be humble enough to reach out to his brother, though both were surely bitter. After 20 years, it was time.
After the wrestling, came the reminder of the fight. The injured hip. Some say it was injured for the rest of Jacob’s days, though there is no mention of it hurting him or handicapping him. Perhaps it was simply a thorn in the flesh, like Paul had. A reminder that God’s grace is sufficient for each day and that power is perfected in weakness. As a child, it concerned me that Jacob won over the Angel of God, who I now know to be Jesus. Wouldn’t the heavenly always be stronger than the earthly? Yes, of course. Unless the heavenly willingly lets the earthly be stronger for a season, for a great purpose. And so, it was that Jacob fought the One who would one day return to the earth through the seed of Jacob and his descendants. He let Himself be defeated for a season and for a purpose. It does not appear that Jacob felt he had actually won something, but rather that he had been allowed to receive a great honor. As Matthew Henry said, “He (Jacob) does not say, ‘In this place I wrestled with God, and prevailed;’ but, ‘In this place I saw God face to face, and my life was preserved;’ not, ‘It was my praise that I came off a conqueror, but ‘it was God’s mercy that I escaped with my life.’”
26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
When Jesus, the man, said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking,” it was not due to fear of the light, for He is the light of the world. The dawn was the start of a new day, the beginning of the rest of Jacob’s life, the first day of his new identity as Israel, the prince of God. It was time to stop the wrestling and start walking—walking toward reconciliation, walking toward the future God had for him.
When Jacob, now Israel, offered the gifts to Esau, he was relinquishing his right to act like the first-born, to exert his birthright authority over Esau. He walked forward in humility, which sparked a moment of forgiveness between them.
Esau in his own right had become confident and successful—a prince in Edom territory. He had become a tribal prince, while Jacob had just been declared a prince of God. However, Jacob submitted to Esau and gave him gifts which would normally be the right of the firstborn. Jacob treated his brother as one would treat a prince. And he could confidently do so because in his wrestling with the Lord, wrestling with his past, he had truly become a prince of God. Jacob was now Israel, meaning “prince with God.” He knew he was and the confidence that brought allowed him to reach out in reconciliation, and be generous to the point of forgoing what was rightfully his.
Now, Esau was still of an unrighteous line. Who were the Edomites? Enemies of God’s people. Ezekiel 35:5 and Amos 1:11 speak of the Edomites’ “perpetual hatred” and “wrath forever” toward Israelites. Esau became the founder of the Edomite nation on the mountains of Seir. Through his grandson, Amalek, came the Amalekites, who attacked the Israelites at Horeb as they came out of Egypt under Moses (Exodus 17:8.) The evil Haman, who tried to destroy the entire race of the Jews during the days of Queen Esther, was on Agagite. Centuries back, King Agag was the ruler of Amalek. So Agagite was another way of saying he was an Amalekite. Some historians also conclude that King Herod was an ancestor of Esau.
Jacob instinctively had the wisdom to live in peace with his brother, but not be influenced by him. But it appears they were able to forgive, reconcile, and live in peace with each other, which is further revealed by the peaceful interaction when they came together to bury their beloved father.
And think of the blessing that was for Isaac. Few things break a parent’s heart more than when their children do not love each other. Estrangement between brothers breaks apart families and especially breaks the heart of the parents. How precious was God’s faithfulness to Isaac that in the end, his Jacob came home and lived near him, both brothers reconciled and lived in peace, and both came together to honor and grieve the one that held them together—their father Isaac.