************ Sermon on Genesis 32 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on February 16, 2014

Genesis 32
Genesis 32:26
"Limping Home with God"

All his life Jacob has been fighting against those around him. He fought with Esau in the womb and during birth (Gen 25:22-26). Later, he took advantage of Esau to secure the birthright (Gen 25:29-34). He struggled with a blind Isaac to secure the blessing (Gen 27:1-29). After he arrived in Haran, he had all sorts of difficulties with Laban, his sneaky father-in-law, in the matter of wives and wages (Gen 29 & 30). No matter the source of his battles, Jacob relied on his own wits and cunning and strength.

What did Jacob gain by all his struggles and fights and quarrels? He gained no more and no less than what God promised to give him out of grace. God had announced before birth that "the older will serve the younger" (Gen 25:23); that the birthright and blessing belonged to Jacob. God promised to bring Jacob back to the land of Canaan and to give it to him and his many descendants (Gen 28:13-15). God promised Jacob prosperity and blessing (Gen 32:12). God promised Jacob protection and security (Gen 28:15). In other words, Jacob's struggles and schemes and worries and plots were all useless and worthless, a big waste of time.

O Jacob, when are you going to learn to rest on God and His grace? O Jacob, when are you going to learn it is all of grace? O Jacob, when are you going to learn your efforts are worthless without God's approval?

After the sermon this morning we are singing "Amazing Grace." Listen to stanzas 3 & 4:
The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
Jacob was not able to sing these stanzas until the day God wrestled him to the ground. What am I saying? I am saying Jacob was a slow learner. It isn't until today's Bible reading that he learned. It isn't until he wrestled with God that he learned to rest on God and His grace.

I Depending on Self
A Let me remind you of the setting of our Bible reading. It has been twenty years since Jacob fled home and the wrath of Esau by going to Uncle Laban. A lot has happened during those twenty years. Jacob has gained two wives and two concubines. Jacob has gained eleven sons and at least one daughter. Jacob has gained flocks and herds and become very wealthy. As I already indicated, none of this happened without struggle.

Twenty years later, Jacob was again fleeing for his life. This time he was fleeing from Uncle Laban. We looked at this story last time. Remember how Jacob waited until Laban was checking up on his flocks and herds? Only then did Jacob take off with the children, wives, camels, livestock, and all the goods he had accumulated (Gen 31). It took Laban seven days of hard travel to catch Jacob. And, when Laban did catch him, it was only the grace and warning of God that kept Jacob safe (Gen 31:24,29,42).

So, Jacob fled from Esau and Jacob fled from Laban.

Jacob's encounter with Laban ended well. But what about Esau? Last time we looked, Esau was mad and plotting revenge and planning to kill Jacob (Gen 27:41,42). Last time we looked, Rebekah had counseled Jacob to stay in Haran until she sent word it was safe to come home (Gen 27:43-45). Look through Scripture; no matter how hard you look you will not find a message from Rebekah to Jacob that it was safe to return home. Telling us what? Telling us Esau was still angry and still wanted revenge.

We don't find a word from Rebekah. We do find, however, a word from God. It was the Lord Who told Jacob it was time for him to go home and face the music.
(Gen 31:3) "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you."

B Now, Jacob could have returned to Canaan without having contact with Esau. Jacob was way up north in Haran and moving south to the Promised Land. Esau, on the other hand, was way down south below the land of Canaan in Edom. The two brothers could have avoided each other. For years they could have avoided each other.

But Jacob knew past sins and mistakes could not be ignored as if they had never happened. They must be dealt with properly before progress can be made. True repentance requires more than sorrow and regret; it also requires an attempt at reconciliation. Jacob was once blind to his sins. Clearly, the Spirit was convicting Jacob, and he felt guilty about wronging Esau.

So, Jacob attempts to reach out to his brother. He sends messengers telling Esau that he was on his way home. Jacob let Esau know it was not just a quick weekend visit. He was coming with cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, menservants, and maidservants. In other words, he was coming home for good (Gen 32:4-5).

Did you notice how Jacob talked about himself as well as Esau? Jacob described himself as "your servant" and Esau as "my lord." Jacob asked for Esau's "favor." Proud Jacob was humbling himself. Furthermore, Jacob's words show he was giving back what he stole so many years before – the right of the firstborn.

Jacob's actions are instructive as we face conflict in our own lives. Admit past sins and mistakes. Humble yourself. Go out of your way to seek reconciliation. Be willing to make restitution.

C The messengers return. There is no reply from Esau. Instead, there is only bad news: "Esau ... is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him" (Gen 32:6). This does not sound like a heartfelt welcome home from a brother who has forgiven and forgotten. Instead, it sounds more like a small to medium sized army, brought to take revenge on Jacob (cf Gen 14:14).

According to Scripture, Jacob was "in great fear and distress" when he heard this. He was scared stiff. The first meeting of the two brothers in twenty years was not going to be filled with hugs and kisses and other signs of affection. Jacob now knew that.

Put yourself in Jacob's shoes (or sandals). Imagine the thoughts that would be racing through your mind. What is Esau going to do? What will happen to my children? What about my wives? What will happen to my hard-earned wealth and possessions? What will happen to me? Is it going to hurt? Will life ever be the same again? That, and a dozen other questions, must have swirled through Jacob's mind.

D So what does Jacob do? What would you do if you were in Jacob's situation?
(Gen 32:7-8) 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."
Do you see what Jacob was doing? He was relying on himself, his ingenuity, and his old tricks again. To his way of thinking they had served him well during a lifetime of struggles.

"Then Jacob prayed ... save me ... from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children" (Gen 32:9,11). In the light of what he just did, Jacob's prayer seems a bit insincere. As more than one person has said, "There are no atheists in a foxhole." Or, as one woman put it, "Well, I guess there's nothing left to do now but trust in the Lord." What a foolish old lady! Trust in the Lord should be first, not last. Jacob's prayer is a desperate prayer, the kind of prayer a man makes when he has nothing else he can do! He was in need of God's protection now more than ever, and without it he was probably going to be killed.

Look at the last thing Jacob decides to do. Even though he has just prayed for God's protection he also sent his brother a gift, a bribe, to leave him alone. In the ancient Near East, people gave presents to a great man before a visit. But Jacob's gift is excessive. He offered hundreds of animals (Gen 32:13-21). Jacob approached Esau in the same way pagans approached their gods. Seeing them as capricious and vindictive, pagans offered sacrifices to get on the good side of their deities. Likewise, Jacob hopes to buy off his brother. Jacob's attempt to buy off his brother shows how little he trusted God to keep him safe as he returned to the Promised Land. And, he is far too willing to give up the blessings the Lord brought to him in Haran.

II Depending on God
A Now, let's go back to the beginning of the passage. Do you remember how our reading started?
(Gen 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.

This is now the second time God has given Jacob a vision of angels. The first time occurred at Bethel, right after he was fleeing from Esau. The second time occurs here in the hill country of Gilead, as he was about to meet Esau. It is no accident that both incidents are accompanied by visions of angels. Through the angels God is pulling back the veil, so to speak, so that Jacob will recognize God's presence. Here was not only the camp of Jacob but also the camp of God.

So, what is God's message? God is trying to get across to Jacob that he does not need to resort to slippery strategies in the face of obstacles. Instead, Jacob should trust in the unseen forces of God. Just as God protected Jacob against the wrath of Laban, so he could trust God to protect him against the threats of Esau. As the psalmist put it:
(Ps 34:7) The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

This is a tough lesson for us all to learn. How often do you and I take account of the unseen forces that are working behind the scenes to establish God's plans? We are easily overwhelmed by the opposition we can see, and we so easily forget the unseen hosts of the Lord. Like Elisha's servant, we need to have our eyes opened to see past the horses and chariots of our earthly opponents to the horses and chariots of fire that are all around us (2 Kings 6:15-17). If only we really understood, with Elisha, that we shouldn't be afraid because "those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Or, to put it in the language of the Apostle John, "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1Jn 4:4). Armed with that assurance, we should be ready to take on the world for God. We must never forger that the hosts of heaven fight for the people of God in the war of the seed of the woman against the offspring of Satan. In accordance with God's sovereign will, they keep watch over us to help promote our final good.

But Jacob, he is deaf and blind to all this. So, he continues to rely on his own wits rather than on God. Up to this point in his life, Jacob's song has been
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
'tis me hath brought me safe thus far,
and me will lead me home.
O Jacob, when are you going to learn to depend on God?! If this was a baseball game, Jacob just had strike one.

B Earlier, I mentioned Jacob's prayer. In this prayer Jacob reminds God of His promises: "I will make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted" (Gen 32:12). Jacob also mentions the "kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant" (Gen 32:10). Jacob came to Haran with nothing but the clothes on his back and a staff in his hand but now he is so wealthy he has become two groups.

So, Jacob knows what God can do. Jacob has seen God's blessings. Jacob has experienced God's protection.

O Jacob, if only you believed your own prayer. But he didn't. If this was a baseball game, Jacob just had strike two.

C Jacob' prayer left something to be desired. But this does not mean it went unheard and unanswered by God. God answered Jacob's prayer in a strange way, a very strange way. Jacob sent everyone and everything across the Jabbok River. He was left by himself. And under the cover of darkness God wrestled with Him. Because of the darkness, Jacob had no idea the man he was wrestling with was the Almighty.

God wrestled with Jacob. Isn't this odd? The idea of God engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Jacob sounds ludicrous. Why would God do this? And, why would God wrestle with Jacob all night long? And, why did God withhold His full might? And, why didn't God simply and immediately pin Jacob to the ground until he cried "uncle."

God wrestled with Jacob and Jacob wrestled back. For a whole night they went back and forth. Not once did Jacob even think of throwing in the towel. Not once did Jacob think of surrendering. He wasn't going to quit. He wasn't going to put himself at someone else's mercy. So on and on it went. Finally, the Almighty had no choice but to show Jacob He is boss. And the way God did this is almost silly. God could have proved His dominance by doing a spectacular throw, or by slamming Jacob to the ground, or by pinning down Jacob's shoulders and sitting on top of him. Instead, God used a light touch of the hand, a simple little touch, a delicate little tap, and Jacob's hip was wrenched from its socket. One little touch and Jacob limped until the day he died. One little touch and Israel's eating habits were forever changed (Gen 32:32). If was only after this touch that Jacob realized he was wrestling with God.

What happened next? "Let me go, for it is daybreak," said the man. What would you have done in Jacob's situation? Let me tell you what you would do. You would have kept hold of your opponent. You would have hung on to him. You have to or you would fall because of your useless hurting leg.

Jacob is no exception. Let Him go? How can he? He's not even sure if he can crawl. Let Him go? He doesn't dare. So Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Gen 32:26b). Is this strike three? Absolutely not! Jacob just hit a home run right out of the park.

Do you know how long God waited to hear these words from Jacob? Forty years – that's how long God waited. All along God wanted Jacob to cast himself on the Lord's mercy. All along God wanted Jacob to trust Him. But Jacob refused. So God, in the wrestling match, reduced Jacob to a state of total and complete dependence. Jacob had to cling to God or he would fall. Jacob finally realized he had to depend on the Lord. He finally learned to trust in the Lord.

Is God wrestling with you? Do you, like Jacob, attempt to live by your own strength? Do you operate by the same outlook Jacob did: trust no one; fight your own battles; depend on your own wits and cunning and strength? Or, do you live and die by grace? Are you able to sing the words of our song?
The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
he will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
'tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.

Jacob finally put his trust in the Lord. He was blessed. In honor of this, Jacob was given a new name. His old name, Jacob, means "grasping and deceiving." His new name, Israel, means "God fights." In the history of the nation of Israel, the Lord fought with and for His people (Ex 14; Jer 1:13-19). Jacob's new name hints at this future.

Israel. God fights. We are being pointed forward some 2000 years to another "man" wrestling with God. I am talking of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is the new and perfect Israel Who has struggled with God and with man and has overcome the cross, the grave, and all the forces of darkness. So, we have nothing to fear.

After this the "man" disappeared. As the sun was rising Jacob painfully limped from that place. He called the place "Peniel," saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared" (Gen 32:30). Jacob finally learned to trust in God. Have you?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page