I. Righting Wrongs (verses 1-6)
Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.” Jacob experiences the reality of that verse when he comes to Mahanaim, the camp of angels and the camp of God. The presence of the angels and of the Lord would have certainly brought reassurance and safety to Jacob, and it also reminded him of God’s promises to him. As in the case of his dream in Genesis 28, when Jacob was in need of comfort and hope, the Lord drew near. The temptation looms large to rely on our own strategy and strength when we face overwhelming obstacles and opposition, but the Lord’s message to Jacob here is certainly, “You can trust Me!”
Jacob initiates contact with Esau. He wants to make right what is wrong, to settle his conscience and do what is pleasing to the Lord. Jacob’s message to Esau was very conciliatory. He voluntarily takes the subordinate place in the relationship. He knows there are risks involved, but Jacob believes God and pursues reconciliation with his brother rather than mere preservation of his family. When Esau comes out to meet Jacob, he brings with him 400 men. Is it a welcoming committee, or is this a military movement?
- Repentance includes making right all wrongs. It is not merely inward sorrow for sin, but outward restitution and restoration, when possible. Are you walking in repentance? As the Lord has convicted you of your sin, have you sought to make right all wrongs and make biblical restitution wherever possible? The grace of the gospel enables us to do this, even when it is risky and difficult.
II. Planning and Praying (verses 7-21)
Jacob becomes afraid, assuming the worst, and he goes on the defensive. He divides the camp and prepares a peace gift. While scheming strategy alone had been Jacob’s M.O. for the majority of his life, that was not the case here. He is planning, but he is not relying solely on his ingenuity and clever craftiness. Instead, he prays, trusting God to deliver him rather than trusting in his own scheming. Specifically, he pleads the promises of God (v. 12). He recognizes his own unworthiness and he finally realizes that in God’s economy, greatness is a gift to the humble, not a goal grasped by the proud. Prayer, as well as implemented plans, are used to fulfill God’s purposes.
- God had dropped Jacob into the midst of circumstances that would get his attention refocused on the proper priority. Sometimes, God’s appointed means of grace in our lives is putting us in positions resulting in fear and anxiety, so that we will turn again to Him.
III. Blessing Wrestling (verses 22-32)
Before Jacob met with Esau, he first needed to meet with God. This mysterious interaction, veiled in obscurity, was initiated by God. Jacob was not wrestling against God but was wrestling for help and forgiveness from God. While we read that the Man with whom Jacob wrestled “had not prevailed,” it is not because He could not outmatch him; rather, it was because the Man would not outmatch him. Jacob was in a struggle that he could not win, and yet he was determined not to lose. Finally, he prevails, and while he leaves with a limp, he also emerges with a blessing.
- What we see pictured in Jacob’s encounter physically is what happens spiritually in earnest prayer: pleading for mercy, begging God for help, determined to receive a blessing. Do you see your need for God’s help to the point that you are driven to earnest prayer? What are the things you can be earnest in prayer for this week?
- Jacob had been chosen by God prior to His birth (c.f. Gen 25:23). But he still needed to be brought into a life-altering encounter with God, an encounter that would result in a radical change in Jacob’s life. In this encounter, he received a new identity (i.e. “Israel”) and he received outward evidence (i.e. a limp). In the same way, none of us are born Christians but must be changed and transferred into a new kingdom. Have you changed families? Have you been given a new nature that is seen outwardly in the way you live your life? Does your life suggest that you have been thoroughly changed because of the work of Christ in and for you?