Community Group Study “Genesis: Wrestling with God”
Read Genesis 32:1-33:20
Having departed from Laban’s land, Jacob is now on the pathway home and is approaching Seir, the place that Esau calls home. When we last saw Esau we were told that Esau comforted himself from Jacob’s theft of the family blessing by plotting ways he could kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41-42). Jacob, being proactive, sends word to Esau that he will be passing through with a gift for him, reminiscent of a conquered people paying tribute to a greater kingdom. Jacob likely thought he could buy back his brother’s favor and make up for the blessing he stole that sent him on the run in the first place. The messengers come back with a vague word simply saying that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men (Genesis 32:6-8). This is not the news that Jacob wanted to hear and he is now forced into a place of acting in his fear or out of his faith. Essentially he realizes just how helpless he really is.
The events that take place next points us to how God breaks his people down to bring them to faith and build them up into people who look to God for their blessing.
All the hardship over the last 25-30 years of Jacob’s life have led to this moment. Jacob, for the first time, prays to the LORD.
Read Genesis 32:9-12 (this is actually the longest recorded prayer in Genesis!)
Jacob begins this prayer by declaring truth about God as revealed by God himself. Next, Jacob confesses that he is unworthy of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness; specifically naming how helpless he actually is. All throughout Jacob’s life God had been faithful and gracious to Jacob beyond what he deserved, now he is admitting it instead of living as if he can be blessed by his own efforts. Jacob then petitions God to deliver him from what he fears most in this moment: Esau. Finally he concludes his prayer by reminding God of his promise to do him good. This prayer is filed with praise, confession, petition and promise; and it brings out what’s been lying dormant in Jacob’s heart… his humble need for God. The self-sufficient achiever has come to an end of himself and finally truly looks to the LORD.
Jacob next takes his divided camp and crosses the Jabbok river, which is about 30 miles north of the dead sea meaning he is close to home. The thought here is that whichever camp was not attacked could escape and go into the Promised Land fulfilling God’s call for him to go home (Genesis 31:3). Night comes and Jacob ends up alone, which somewhat highlights how he has lived his life in conflict and striving against people for most of his days. It is at this point that God takes him further down the valley of humility.
The scripture starts out purposefully ambiguous. We’re told “a man” meets Jacob and wrestles with him throughout the night until daybreak. The intentional word play here give us insight into Jacob’s life of conflict. “Jabbok”, “Jacob” and the Hebrew word for “wrestle” all look and sound similar in the text showing us with three different words what’s really at the heart of Jacob’s life. Genesis 32:25 tells us that this man did not prevail against Jacob so he touched Jacob’s hip to put it out of socket showing us a glimpse into this man’s true power. Yet even though Jacob was wounded he did not give up, he clung onto this man all the more and called out what he had been seeking after in this fight… “I will not let you go until you bless me!”
Jacob’s whole life, summarized in a sentence. This mysterious man replied back with a question that cut Jacob to the heart, “what is your name?” This should make us recall Genesis 27:18-19 where Jacob was in the midst of deceiving his blind father and claimed the name of his brother Esau in order to get the blessing that was meant for Esau. The events of Genesis 27 set Jacob’s life on a free fall of desperation as he lived 20 years on the run from his angry brother and now as he is coming back into the Promised Land. Jacob is on the verge of seeing his brother again whom Jacob presumed still wanted to do him harm and he is once again asked “who are you?” or “what is your name?”. The man is essentially saying, “if you want blessing, tell me who you are”, “own your identity, your striving, your sin”. And such is the life of any who’d come to true faith in God. We must confess our helplessness, our need for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and own up to how unworthy we are in our past pursuit of meaning and value.
Who was this man wrestling with Jacob and why does Jacob look to him for blessing?
Jacob understood this encounter as a wrestling with God. Genesis 32:30 tells us that Jacob claims to have seem God face to face. Likewise, this man renames Jacob “Israel”, which means “strives WITH God”. Jacob holds onto this man because he realizes who he is and that the blessing of this man is the blessing he should be seeking after, because this man is God. Hosea 12:3-4 says that Jacob strove with God in his manhood and strove with an angel meaning that it is likely that this person who showed up was an “angel of the LORD” which is the same designation we had when God showed up in human form to talk with Abraham back in Genesis 18:1-15. God took on a human form to show Jacob just how much he has been striving for meaning, value and blessing in his life and Jacob finally comes to a place where he realizes his need to seek blessing from God.
In the process of owning his past identity, Jacob is given a new name and a new direction. He is named “Israel” (strives with God) and his new direction is to walk with God… just now with a humble limp as he depends on God in his weakness.
The sun comes up and Jacob looks up to see Esau coming toward him. It is hard to imagine what would be going on in Jacob’s head, but he sees Esau running toward him (Genesis 32:4). However, instead of grabbing ahold of him to kill him, Esau Embraced Jacob and wept on his shoulder. What happens next is more like a family reunion than a conflict between two angry brothers. They share stories of how they have been blessed, where they are heading and they leave with peace.
Jacob began this encounter with a plan of action to appease Esau, yet in prayer he turned to God his true hope, who must have been doing a secret work in Esau’s heart over those 20 years. Truly God has blessed this restless achiever and deceitful schemer with his grace bringing him to a place of humble trust.
Main idea: Jacob, having been a man of restless action, comes to an end of his self sufficiency and goes to God in a prayer of weakness. Likewise all who follow Jesus are brought to a place of humility where they realize their need for the grace that God has provided for us in Jesus.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Genesis 32:1-21
What conflict enters the story and how does Jacob respond to it?
Focus on Genesis 32:9-12. What does Jacob believe about God? How does Jacob demonstrate helplessness and trust? Does this seem new to Jacob’s character and if so, how?
Read Genesis 32:22-32
This is probably one of the strangest accounts in the book of Genesis. The text begins somewhat vague and moves towards giving us clues about what is really happening.
How has Jacob’s life been marked by a pursuit of blessing and why does he ask this “man” to bless him? (It may be helpful as a group to define blessing and what Jacob had been looking for throughout his life).
Why does God have Jacob own his identity by asking him his “name” in the text? This will be the first time in the Bible Jacob answers this question truthfully and says that his name is “Jacob”.
How does this narrative model what it looks like to place our faith and trust in Jesus? How does it speak to the need to daily surrender our lives and pursue humility in Christ?