< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Genesis 32

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Genesis 32

Genesis 32: 1-2 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

Having spent the previous night feasting before God in the “Mount of Sacrifice,” Laban rose early in the morning and took leave of Jacob’s family. With his blessing.

This starts a new era in Jacob’s life. His 20 years of serving Laban were over. He now stood on the threshold of all God had promised him – he was about to enter Canaan. All he had to do was cross the Jordan.

Remember when Jacob left home 20 years before God revealed Himself in a dream with a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels going up and down? Now, when Jacob and his family in obedience to God’s specific command prepare to reenter Canaan, Jacob is again assured of God’s presence with him by another meeting with the angels of God.

He was probably stressed and a bit worried. He had been chased by his father-in-law. And now he was vulnerable with valuable flocks and herds, his wives and little children. Not many men. They could be ambushed and robbed! And his brother Esau was living somewhere around there and they weren’t on good terms…

So he needed encouragement. And he saw another camp. Of angels. Sent by God to protect him.

There are many places in Scripture where God has sent angels to His chosen ones.

Psalm 34:7 says The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Daniel 6:22  My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.

Hebrews 1:14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Jacob named the place Mahanaim, which means two camps. This became a city and its ruins are still in existence today under the name of Maneh.

Genesis 32:3-5 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”

Jacob had a guilty conscience regarding Esau. Therefore he was afraid. But notice he didn’t go to God with the problem, he decided what he was going to do himself. Send special messengers to Seir, southeast of the Dead Sea where Esau lived to announce both his return and his wealth and to beg for Esau’s grace.

Genesis 32:6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

This news was kind of ….terrifying! Now Jacob was really scared. No one knew better then he the deep root of Esau’s grudge and determination to take revenge. 

Genesis 32:7-12  In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.” Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

Jacob plans an emergency route to escape and also prays to God a very earnest prayer which has all the elements of true intercession.

There are seven points to notice in Jacob’s prayer which should always be present in our prayers of supplication to God:

1. Acknowledgment of God’s person and our relationship with Him. (God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord) 
2. Reminder of God’s specific promise to him.  “You said to me” etc. And he reminds God that he has fulfilled God’s command to return.
3. Confession of unworthiness – By owning his unworthiness, Jacob also indirectly confesses his sin. He knows he doesn’t deserve God’s help. The reason Esau is mad at him is Jacob’s fault! But he’s praying on the ground of God’s grace, not is own merit. He spoke of God’s kindness and faithfulness He has always shown him.
4. Praise and thanksgiving for past mercies – He talks about all God has already done for him. He first crossed the Jordan alone – now he has 2 camps going back.
5. Jacob’s specific request – “Save me…for I am afraid”. He was very clear. Even though God always knows what we want we shouldn’t be vague when we ask. Instead of saying “Please make me a better Christian” say “Please give me more of a servant’s heart or more love for Your Word, or a better ability to share the Gospel. Help me find 30 minutes to study the Bible today! That kind of thing.
6. Jacob’s outpouring of his heart to God – he didn’t repress his emotion of fear. He poured out his true feelings. “I am afraid he will come attack me!”
7. Jacob’s bold claim of God’s promise to him – Jacob reminds God, “But You have said, “I will make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.” This was at the end, reminding him that God’s word, God’s purposes, God’s promises can never fail.

Genesis 32:13-21 13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.

After Jacob prayed you can see his attitude changed. He doesn’t really seem afraid anymore. Now instead of organizing an escape plan he prepares to meet Esau face to face. And the prayer may have changed how he actually felt about Esau. He seems to realize and be admitting that he owes Esau something. The gift he puts together is generous. Even sacrificial. A total of 580 animals.

Genesis 32:22-23 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.

The ford of the Jabbok is on the east side of the Jordan River midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. This is where they must reenter the Promised Land. His family is safely across now and he’s done all he can.

Genesis 32:24-32 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not 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 no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
So, suddenly a “man” appears who wrestles with Jacob until daybreak. At the end Jacob realizes this is no mere man, but God. Hosea 12:4-5 describes this man as “the Angel” – God Himself.

To understand the meaning of this passage, we need to review the character and previous history of Jacob. Since meeting with God at Bethel, Jacob seems to have deliberately reoriented his life according to his faith in god’s promises and in obedience to God’s revealed commands. He maintained his integrity as an industrious, faithful and reliable servant throughout all his bitter experiences with Laban. We don’t read that he continues to complain about his hard lot. Instead we read of his “Preoccupation with the goodness of his God” who blessed him in the midst of injustice from others.

However, side by side with these virtues, which are indispensable to the life of a true believer, we have to recognize that the most prominent feature of Jacob’s character was a strong reliance on his own resources, his astute judgment and shrewd calculations by which he seems to presume he will always succeed, even to the winning of God’s inheritance and blessing. Before Bethel he manipulated people all the time. And he didn’t care if he hurt them. He also didn’t question whether he was pleasing God or not so long as it ended the way he wanted.

Following this God chastised Jacob for twenty years through circumstances under Laban. The manipulator was now manipulated. Surely he could see the similarities.

Jacob’s prayer which produced such a change of attitude within him toward Esau must have brought also some convictions that his whole way of life and self-reliance kept him out of step with God. 

So it seems that God prepared Jacob’s heart for a new encounter with Himself after which the whole of Jacob’s character would be changed. No more schemes and lies.

We don’t know how much of this struggle was physical and how much spiritual. In any case it’s highly symbolic. When Jacob is set to enter the Promised Land (promised by God, but for which he schemed and worked) he is opposed by none other then God Himself!

God’s blessings are acts of grace. Meaning they are undeserved. In fact the Bible says that God will choose those who consider themselves weak or foolish in order that no one shall boast of how he obtained God’s blessing by the glory of his own merit.

So Jacob doesn’t recognize God first and struggles with Him, refusing to surrender. He fails to see that God had a purpose and a blessing in this encounter.

Sometimes God has to break people so He can use them. You aren’t surrendering fully to Him if you are trying to do things on your own.

In this passage, at first it looks like God doesn’t want to bless Jacob and Jacob forces Him to do so. That’s not so. God is sovereign: no man forces Him to do anything. However, God is good. He was Jacob’s God and Jacob had responded to Him in faith. Therefore if God came to Jacob, Jacob knew (once he realized who it was) that it was because God intended to bless him. Had he not been so sure of that (by his faith in God’s character) he might have given up when “the angel” told him to let go.

Jacob’s surrender brought true victory. God asked Jacob for his name which was so revealing of his old character and disposition. Jacob means “the supplanter.” He was a schemer. A cheater. God wanted Jacob to say his name so he could see clearly that the name HAD described him. But no more. God gave him a new name. Israel. And he would have power with God through prayer and power with men in daily life. (Commentators don’t agree on the meaning of the name Israel. Some say it means “God prevails” others “God rules”.)

After this Jacob has a permanent sore hip. The perfect example of God’s strength being perfect in Jacob’s weakness. Because every time he felt his hip – which would have been ALL the time – he would be reminded he had surrendered fully to God.

We can apply this to our lives when we feel that we are missing out on some of God’s promises for us. Perhaps we haven’t realized that we are trusting in our own strength, fighting the Lord Himself. 

God’s full blessing is available to us. However, in the New Testament experience, this comes through our identification with Christ’s death. We cling trustingly to Him believing he will bless us with all the glory and fruit fitted with the power of the Holy Spirit. Our old life died on the Cross with Christ. We’ve surrendered to Him and have a new life now. One of power with God in prayer and with men in service.

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