And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. — Genesis 32:24-25
Sometimes God must get us to a point of total submission before He can answer our prayers. Wayne Butler, now a pastor, experienced this when he was praying to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As he sought God earnestly in prayer, he eventually reached a point of complete yielding to whatever he felt God asked of him. “God had me on His terms,” he relates. “If He told me to raise my hands, I did it. Before that, I would say, ‘I don’t need to raise my hands,’ and my progress in prayer would get stuck until I obeyed what I felt God was requiring of me. Eventually I realized that He wanted to see if I really was willing to do anything. One time God told me to sing. There was another person praying near me, so I fought it. God kept saying, ‘Sing,’ so finally I did. I couldn’t even finish the first verse, because God began to bless me for obeying.
“On the last Sunday of a camp meeting, I thanked and praised God for everything that He had already done for me. Then I felt like I was hit by a wave. It went through my whole body, and I knew it was the Holy Spirit. He took control of my tongue, and I spoke in a language that I did not know. It was the witness that He had filled me with His Holy Spirit.”
Like Wayne, Jacob had to become fully yielded to God. Through the years, Jacob had always tried to help God. He had relied on his own schemes and maneuvering to accomplish what God had promised — unnecessary manipulations since God is well able to fulfill His promises in His own way and time. However, in our text today, Jacob was at the end of himself and his own self-effort, and was desperate for something only God could give. Exhausted and helpless under the mighty hand of God, his submission was complete. In desperate dependence he cried out, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Jacob’s inner man underwent a tremendous change that night. The man who had once been an ambitious deceiver became Israel, the prince who struggled with God and prevailed.
Like these men, we must meet God on His terms. We do not want to resist and struggle when God shows us something we need to do, or tries to deal with our innermost character. Rather, we want to submit willingly and let Him work in our lives. He will reward our submission and obedience with His blessings.
Today’s text contains one of the most significant episodes of Jacob’s life. Fearful of reuniting with his brother, Esau, he spent the night wrestling in prayer, and had an experience that changed him forever.
After Jacob and Laban parted, the angels of God met Jacob. The name Mahanaim means “double camp” or “two camps,” indicating Jacob’s camp and the angels’ camp. Although it is unclear exactly why these angels appeared, they may well have been there to assure Jacob of God’s protection. Jacob knew that years before, when he had been fleeing from Canaan, Esau had been plotting his death.
The tone of Jacob’s initial message to Esau was one of humility. The request to “find grace in thy sight” (Genesis 32:5) may have been a way of asking for forgiveness. Esau lived in Edom, which was south and east of the Dead Sea. He had been married to his two Hittite wives for over fifty years and to his Ishmaelite wife for twenty years, so his family was large. Isaac had foretold that Esau would “live by the sword” (Genesis 27:40), and aggressive actions were possibly common to Esau and his entourage of four hundred men.
The Bible does not say what Esau’s intent was, but the report of the messengers made Jacob fearful and he divided his household and belongings into two bands. Then he prayed and reminded God of His promises, gratefully acknowledging how God had helped and blessed him.
Next Jacob organized a gift of livestock, which was delivered to Esau in installments. Jacob hoped this valuable present would “appease” Esau. In the original language, the word translated appease in Genesis 32:20 meant “cover,” showing that Jacob was seeking to atone or obtain forgiveness for his past actions toward Esau.
The Jabbok was about twenty-four miles north of the Dead Sea and flowed into the Jordan River. Jacob sent all of his possessions and his family across this brook and lined them up in procession for the next day. Alone on the north side of the Jabbok, Jacob wrestled with a man until dawn. Many scholars believe he wrestled with the Lord himself, for Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). The thigh is vital to strength, and having it out of joint not only caused much pain but also disabled Jacob, yet he held on for a blessing. However, the sought-for blessing could not be given until he confessed his name. Jacob meant “supplanter” or “heel catcher” and was typical of his early life. Israel meant “one who prevails with God.” Jacob named the place Peniel (or Penuel), which meant “face of God.”
Genesis 33:1-17 tells of the meeting of Jacob with Esau. Jacob organized his family by groups from the least to the most beloved, and then he went ahead of them to meet Esau. His bowing seven times indicated submission and showed the same honor that people of his culture gave to kings. The progression in verse 4 — the description of how Esau ran, embraced, fell, kissed, and wept — depicts an emotional and joyful reunion.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The early history of the chosen race
4. Jacob’s encounter with Esau (32:1 — 33:17)
a. Jacob’s vision at Mahanaim (32:1-2)
b. Jacob’s anxiety (32:3-21)
(1) His message (32:3-8)
(2) His prayer (32:9-12)
(3) His plans (32:13-21)
c. Jacob’s wrestling at Peniel (32:22-32)
d. Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau (33:1-17)
The examples of Wayne and Jacob can encourage us to submit ourselves fully to God and trust Him to work in our lives.