Jacob has escaped from Laban and his deceitfulness. But now Jacob must confront the first person he ever tricked - his brother Esau. Last he heard, Esau was set on murdering him. How would this confrontation go?
Facing uncertainty, Jacob prays. Jacob asks God to protect him from Esau. But it is more than physical harm that concerns Jacob. He also realizes that he has to make things right with Esau. He needs to offer Esau back the blessing he stole.
So Jacob decides to send Esau a huge amount of his property as a sign that Jacob is willing to relinquish his blessing back to his older brother. So his prayer is also a prayer of faith. Jacob trusts God to maintain the blessing promised to him regardless of what happens with Esau.
Apparently, years of witnessing God’s radical provision had changed him. No more tricks. Just faith.
But before his confrontation with Esau, Jacob sets up camp for the night. Sending his family and herds ahead of him, Jacob is left alone. Without warning, an unnamed man starts to wrestle with him.
Slowly it is revealed that this unnamed man wrestling with Jacob is actually God. Earlier in his life, Jacob wrestled with Esau in the womb and prevailed over him using trickery and deceit. He wrestled with Laban and tried to use trickery to prevail, but saw that God was his true provider. Now here, in this wrestling, there are no tricks just holding fast and not letting go.
Just as God wounded Jacob in life with Laban in order to humble him, God wounds him here physically. He touches his hip so that it goes out of joint. And just as Jacob learned to hold fast to God after being wounded by Laban, he holds fast to God here, literally. Why is he holding onto God? Jacob is begging God to bless him before he lets him go. Jacob stole a blessing when his father’s sight was dark. But here, Jacob begs for a legitimate blessing in the light of day.
God then blesses Jacob with the same blessing he gave to Abraham. Then, as God changed Abraham’s name, he changes Jacob’s name. It is here that God’s chosen people receive their name. God renames Jacob, Israel - which means, “He strives with God.”
Israel will live up to that name. Just as Jacob had to go through a period of exile and wrestling with others, with sin, and with God, so his people, Israel, would do the same.
From there, Jacob goes out to meet his brother Esau. He sends the parade of gifts ahead of him. But by the time Jacob gets to Esau, his brother simply embraces him. Esau refuses to accept Jacob’s gifts. So God kept his promise to Jacob by changing Esau’s heart to forgive him. Even more, by doing so, Esau is recognizing him as the true recipient of their father’s blessing.
Jacob, then, insists that Esau take the gifts, not as a relinquishment of his blessing, but as a gift of love. Esau accepts.
Where is Jesus?
This beautiful story of planning, wrestling, and reconciliation is our story as well.
We regularly formulate plans when we think about how we are going to approach God. What gives us the right to come near him? He knows everything we’ve done! We feel like Jacob about to run back into his big, bad brother Esau. So we try to figure out what parade of good deeds, excuses, or justifications we can make for why God should forgive us. But, as this story shows us, we don’t need to approach God this way.
The reason we don’t have to approach God with a parade of good deeds is that Jesus has gone before us already. He was wounded by God and won a blessing for us. He is the one who wrestled with God on our behalf. Even when we were faithless, scheming, tricksters, Jesus took the blow we deserved.
This changes how we approach God altogether. We don’t have to come to God trying to negotiate our way into right relationship with him, sending our gifts of good works ahead of us before we meet him face-to-face. Instead, God has already accepted us because of Jesus. He simply embraces us. Then we can give our gifts to him purely out of love.
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit would give you eyes to see the God who contends with us in our sin and meets with us in the person of Jesus to take our wounds and reconcile us to himself.