JACOB WRESTLES WITH GOD
PROVERBS 3:5, ESV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
GENESIS 31:1-7, NIrV
1 Jacob heard what Laban’s sons were saying. “Jacob has taken everything our father owned,” they said. “He has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 Jacob noticed that Laban’s feelings toward him had changed.
3 Then the Lord spoke to Jacob. He said, “Go back to your father’s land and to your relatives. I will be with you.”
4 So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah. He told them to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s feelings toward me have changed. But the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength. 7 But your father has cheated me. He has changed my pay ten times. In spite of everything that’s happened, God hasn’t let him harm me.
Jacob worked for his uncle Laban for twenty long years. During the first fourteen years, he worked without being paid. This was part of the deal he made with Laban after being tricked into marrying both of his daughters. For the last six years, Laban paid Jacob with his unwanted and leftover animals. However, God grew Jacob’s small flock of spotted sheep into a huge herd, way bigger than Laban’s. As his uncle grew more and more jealous of Jacob, God appeared. He let Jacob know that it was finally time to pack up his big family and huge herds and return home to see his mom and dad.
+ What did Jacob say about Laban to Rachel and Leah? (vs. 7)
+ What caused Jacob to run away to his uncle home 20 years before? (see Gen. 27:41)
GENESIS 32:1-5, NIrV
1 Jacob also went on his way. The angels of God met him. 2 Jacob saw them. He said, “This is the army of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.
3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau. Esau lived in the land of Seir. It was also called the country of Edom. 4 Jacob told the messengers what to do. He said, “Here’s what you must tell my master Esau. ‘Your servant Jacob says, “I’ve been staying with Laban. I’ve remained there until now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys and sheep and goats. I also have male and female servants. Now I’m sending this message to you. I hope I can please you.” ’ ”
To make his way back home, Jacob needed to retrace the same steps he had taken 20 years earlier. Back then, he was running for his life from a brother who wanted him dead! If he wanted to get back home, Jacob was forced to pass through the land where his angry big brother was now living. I’m sure he wondered, “Is Esau still angry after 20 years? Will he squash me like a bug the second he sees me?” But Jacob didn’t have to walk this dangerous path alone. God promised to be with him every step of the way. To remind Jacob of this, God sent angels to appear to Jacob as his journey began.
+ What did Jacob say after seeing the angels? (vs. 1)
+ Who did Jacob send his messengers to? (vs. 3)
GENESIS 32:6-12, NIrV
6 The messengers came back to Jacob. They said, “We went to your brother Esau. He’s coming now to meet you. He has 400 men with him.”
7 Jacob was very worried and afraid. So he separated the people with him into two groups. He also separated the flocks and herds and camels. 8 He thought, “Esau might come and attack one group. If he does, the group that’s left can escape.”
9 Then Jacob prayed, “You are the God of my grandfather Abraham. You are the God of my father Isaac. Lord, you are the one who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives. Then I will give you success.’ 10 You have been very kind and faithful to me. But I’m not worthy of any of this. When I crossed this Jordan River, all I had was my walking stick. But now I’ve become two camps. 11 Please save me from the hand of my brother Esau. I’m afraid he’ll come and attack me and the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely give you success. I will make your children as many as the grains of sand on the seashore. People will not be able to count them.’ ”
When his messengers returned from meeting with Esau, it seemed like Jacob's worst nightmare had come true. Esau was headed straight for him and there were 400 men marching with him! Jacob quickly split his family into two groups for their safety. Then he did what everyone should do when they're scared out of their minds: he prayed! Jacob told God, "You sent me on this journey. Now angry Esau's army is coming to kill me!" God had promised to grow Jacob's family into a nation as uncountable as the sand. But that couldn’t happen if Esau’s men wiped out Jacob’s family!
+ To keep his brother from attacking, Jacob prepared to send him a gift. Look through verses 13-14 and find what Jacob sent to Esau.
GENESIS 32:22-25, NIRV
22 That night Jacob got up. He took his two wives, his two female servants and his 11 sons and sent them across the Jabbok River. 23 After they had crossed the stream, he sent over everything he owned. 24 So Jacob was left alone. A man wrestled with him until morning. 25 The man saw that he couldn’t win. So he touched the inside of Jacob’s hip. As Jacob wrestled with the man, Jacob’s hip was twisted.
After delivering expensive gifts to Esau and sending his entire family across the river, Jacob was all alone. That night, something incredibly strange happened. Out of nowhere, a stranger started wrestling him! The two men grappled all night long, but neither side could make the other give up. We don’t know if there were body slams or choke holds. But with just one touch, the stranger knocked the top of Jacob’s leg out from its normal place. Not only did this hurt like crazy, Jacob’s leg was now totally useless! But Jacob still wouldn’t quit. He kept on wrestling with only one working leg!
+ What part of Jacob’s body did the man knock out of place? (vs. 25)
+ Do verses 22-25 tell us the identity of this stranger?
GENESIS 32:26-31, NIRV
25 26 Then the man said, “Let me go. It is morning.”
But Jacob replied, “I won’t let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will not be Jacob anymore. Instead, it will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and with people. And you have won.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you want to know my name?” Then he blessed Jacob there.
30 So Jacob named the place Peniel. He said, “I saw God face to face. But I’m still alive!”
31 The sun rose above Jacob as he passed by Peniel. He was limping because of his hip.
The Bible never tells us the exact identity of the stranger Jacob wrestled with all night long. And yet, Jacob’s words after the battle give us an important clue. He said, “I have seen the face of God.” Whether Jacob wrestled with God himself in the form of a human or perhaps one of his angels, we don’t know for sure. However, we know for certain that Jacob left the wrestling match with God’s blessing and a brand new name: Israel. That name means “he struggles with God." This new name would be a perfect picture of the history of Israel, the nation that would grow out of Jacob’s family.
+ Jacob refused to let go of the stranger until... what? (vs. 26)
+ What did Jacob name that place and what did he say? (vs. 30)
GENESIS 33:1-11, NIRV
1 Jacob looked and saw Esau coming with his 400 men! So Jacob separated the children. He put them with Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the servants and their children in front. He put Leah and her children next. And he put Rachel and Joseph last. 3 He himself went on ahead. As he came near his brother, he bowed down to the ground seven times.
4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob. He hugged him and threw his arms around his neck. He kissed him, and they cried for joy. 5 Then Esau looked around and saw the women and children. “Who are these people with you?” he asked.
Jacob answered, “They are the children God has so kindly given to me.”
6 Then the female servants and their children came near and bowed down. 7 Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel. They bowed down too.
8 Esau asked, “Why did you send all those herds I saw?”
“I hoped I could do something to please you,” Jacob replied.
9 But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”
10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I’ve pleased you, accept this gift from me. Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God. You have welcomed me so kindly. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you. God has given me so much. I have everything I need.” Jacob wouldn’t give in. So Esau accepted it.
Not long after his all-night wrestling match finished, Jacob saw the scary sight of Esau and 400 of his men marching straight for him! After hours grappling with a heavenly stranger, Jacob prepared for another battle with his earthly brother. He lined up his family into three groups and had them bow low to the ground. They did this as a way to say to Esau, “Please don’t hurt us! We don’t want to fight!”
Straight away, Jacob learned that God had done something wonderful inside his big brother’s heart. Twenty years before, Jacob had fooled his father and stolen Esau’s blessing. Back then, Esau had been ready to wipe his baby brother, the blessing burglar, off the face of the earth!
But when Esau ran to his long-lost little brother, he didn’t want to hurt him; he wanted to hug him! The night before, Jacob had prayed that God would rescue him from Esau. I bet he wasn’t expecting God to answer that prayer with a happy and hairy hug from his big brother!
What lessons can we learn from the strange story of Jacob’s midnight wrestling rumble? There are many, but we’ll focus on Jacob’s new name. Instead of Jacob, which meant “trickster” or “deceiver,” he would now be called “Israel.” That name means “he struggles (or wrestles) with God.”
Israel was a good name for Jacob. His life was like a back-and-forth wrestling match with God. Because of his own tricky schemes (and sometimes the tricky schemes of others), Jacob found himself in all sorts of trouble. But time and time again, God yanked him out of those troubles and brought him out safely on the other side.
Following God can feel like a wrestling match. Some days, we live like God’s in charge (which he is). Other days, we live our lives like we’re the boss (which we are not)! This struggle can make our hearts feel like they’ve been body-slammed. But when we feel like giving up, we should do what Jacob did during his wrestling match.
No, he didn’t perform a backbreaker or come flying off the top ropes to elbow-drop his opponent. With only one working leg, all he could do was hang on for dear life and say, “I’m not letting go until you give me your blessing!”
This is exactly what we need to do with Jesus. No, we shouldn’t try to body slam the Son of God! Instead, we should hold onto him for dear life. That means our hearts should totally trust in Jesus to save us. Like Jacob refused to let go until the heavenly wrestler gave him his blessing, we should believe in Jesus and say, “I’m not going to ever let you go! You’re the only one who can save me from my struggle with sin!”
+ What did the two brothers do after hugging? Why do you think they did that? (vs. 4)
+ Jacob told Esau, “Seeing your face is like” ... what? (vs. 10)