Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau (32:1-23)
God Wrestling with Jacob at Peniel (32:24-32)
Peniel. This event in Jacob’s life is a very difficult one to understand. In Hosea 12, the Lord recalled this lesson from the life of Jacob, and the way He applied it to Israel helps us to understand what happened historically. Both houses of Israel were turning to other supports; Egypt, etc. This is very similar to the way Jacob was trusting in his own plans to save his family from Esau. The Lord compares Jacob’s actions with the angel to what Israel ought to do; to turn to God. Hosea also reveals an added detail about Jacob; “he wept and made supplication”. When the angel touched Jacob’s thigh, he had no more strength. Yet he continued to hang on until the dawn. Even though Jacob had no more strength, he still clung to the angel, weeping and making supplication. Hosea explains that the prevailing was through weeping and supplication. A mere man such as Jacob could never overpower an angel. He didn’t “prevail” by overpowering the angel, but by clinging to him. It was God’s grace that gave Jacob the strength to hold on.1This is what Israel and Judah should have done, and what we should do as well, when the Lord “touches” us so as to make us realize our own weakness.
25 And when he saw that he did not prevail against him, he touched the joint of his thigh; and the joint of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled with him. v.25 The Angel saw that Jacob was not giving up, and that he was prepared to wrestle in his own strength until the sun arose. Jacob needed to feel his own weakness. So He touched the joint of Jacob’s thigh (probably the hip joint?), and the thigh bone was dislocated. Jacob was no match for the Angel before this anyways, but after his hip was dislocated, he would have felt his weakness in a marked way. The Lord will sometimes allow trials in our lives so that we will feel our own weakness, and need of His grace. In the case of Jacob, this physical handicap would remain with him for the rest of his life, as a continual reminder of his need.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the dawn ariseth. And he said, I will not let thee go except thou bless me. v.26 Apparently, the Angel – who was really Jehovah in angelic form – did not want Jacob to see him in full daylight, because of some affect it would have on Jacob. He told Jacob to let him go, but Jacob refused; “I will not let thee go except thou bless me”. Jacob was at the point in his soul where he could not live without the blessing of the Lord. He wanted it badly. Jacob in this sense is the opposite of Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal of lentils. Jacob valued God’s blessing, and even more at this occasion, he clung to it; “he wept and made supplication” (Hosea 12:4). We need to come to this point in our own souls where we realize that live apart from God’s blessing (in a spiritual sense) is not worth living.
27 And he said to him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob [‘supplanter’]. 28 And he said, Thy name shall not henceforth be called Jacob, but Israel [‘prince with God’]; for thou hast wrestled with God, and with men, and hast prevailed. vv.27-28 The Angel asked Jacob, “What is your name?”. Jacob had been asked this question before; by his father Isaac when he deceived him. What was Jacob going to say now? “And he said, Jacob”, which means ‘supplanter’. He recognized what he was by nature. It is then that God gives Jacob a new name; “Israel”, because he was to be a ‘prince with God’. It is a sign of dignity before God and men. We see this dignity especially in Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh. Here was a poor Hebrew shepherd, limping into Pharaoh’s court, to stand before the highest reigning monarch in the world. Jacob, at that time, was so aware of the dignity that God had given him that he could bless Pharaoh, knowing that the less is blessed of the greater (Heb. 7:7)! As believers in Christ, we too have been brought into a special place of dignity; we are sons of God! In our spiritual growth, we cannot enjoy the privilege of sonship until we see our ruined condition, and realize the grace of God.
29 And Jacob asked and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, How is it that thou askest after my name? And he blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [‘face of God’] — For I have seen God face to face, and my life has been preserved. vv.29-30 The narrative does not immediately call Jacob by that name; not until he goes to Bethel (ch.35) and God reveals Himself as Almighty. In ch.32 God can reveal Jacob’s name, but not His own name. Jacob wanted to know His name, be there is more work to be done before that was possible. Here God appeared to Jacob, but it was not communion, as with Abraham in Genesis 17 and 18. Nevertheless, God blessed Jacob in that place, and he named it ‘face of God’.
31 And as he passed over Peniel, the sun rose upon him; and he limped upon his hip. 32 Therefore the children of Israel do not eat of the sinew that is over the joint of the thigh, to this day; because he touched the joint of Jacob’s thigh — the sinew. vv.31-32 As Jacob left Peniel, the sun rose over him. It symbolizes the brightening up of a new era. Yet Jacob carried with him a reminder of his encounter at Peniel; “he limped upon his hip”. This was something that his children remembered for many generations to come, such that “the children of Israel do not eat of the sinew that is over the joint of the thigh”. It was a sign of Jacob’s weakness, and but the children of Israel missed the point. If only they had learned the moral lesson which it represents! Instead they went about “to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). This verse is an illustration of 2 Cor. 3:13-14, which says that, until this day, when the Jews read the Old Testament, there is a veil on their hearts, not allowing them to see Christ. Sometimes when the Lord allows a trial in our lives to humble us, we can focus on the outward affliction and miss the lesson the Lord has for us. This is to miss the benefit of the trial. But as an application of not eating the sinew, we ought not to feed on that which has humbled our brethren.2 An example of this is Peninnah in 1 Samuel 1, who seemed to feed on Hannah’s barrenness.
- It was grace that gave him perseverance and to prevail, but in a way contrary to man’s thoughts; not in any degree Jacob’s goodness, wisdom, and power, but God’s faithful mercy. Hence He touched the hollow or socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that it became out of joint. This would render powerless the strongest; but it was not so here. His grace enabled Jacob to hold on. – Kelly, William. Jacob.
- An application shared by Bill Brockmeier.