August 23, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART III: HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB (Gen. 25:19-36:43)

 

Topic #D:  JACOB'S RETURN TO CANAAN. (Gen. 31:1-33:17)                

 


  Lesson III.D.8: Jacob Receives a New Name. (Gen. 32:22-32)

 

 

 

Genesis 32:22-32 (KJV)

 

22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.

23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 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.

26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Though Jacob’s one thought was meeting Esau, he had to meet God first, and in his solitude he finds God, in the form of a man, and he wrestles with Him.  But it was not Jacob wrestling with God (“a man”, “an angel”), but God wrestling with him.  The divine aim was to overcome Jacob’s self-centeredness, and his resistance was only overcome by divine action breaking down his opposition.  When Jacob realizes his helplessness, he ceased to wrestle and began to cling to his adversary, and then came a fourfold blessing: a new name (v. 28); a new character (v. 28); a new power (v. 28); and a new experience (v. 30). Then followed gratitude (v. 30) and Glory around and within (vs.  31, 32).

 

Commentary

 

22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.

23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

 

We come now to the second great spiritual crisis in Jacob’s life.  Jacob and his family were camped at the time by the “JABBOK,” a river which cuts down through a deep valley from the eastern highlands to the Jordon River about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  At the “FORD” it is 10 yards wide.  It is sometimes difficult to cross; but in summer it is very shallow.

 

Jacob, unable to sleep, waded the “FORD” in the night-time by himself; and having ascertained its safety, he returned to the north bank and “SENT OVER” his family and servants, while he remained behind, to seek again, in silent prayer, the divine blessing on the strategy he had set in motion.

 

A comparison can be made between Jacob’s current crisis and one that occurred at Bethel some 20 years earlier. At Bethel he saw the ladder, at the “JABBOK” (now called “Wadi Zerqa”) he saw the Lord; at Bethel he became a believing man, here he became a broken man; at Bethel he became a son of God, here he became a saint of God. He came away from Bethel with a new spring in his step; he came away from the “JABBOK” with a lasting limp in his walk.  At Bethel he died to his sin; here he died to self.

 

 

24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

 

Now we see Jacob very much “ALONE.”  “AND JACOB WAS LEFT ALONE,” we read.  His wealth had already gone on before him, his family, his fortune, and his servants had all been sent away.  And now “JACOB WAS LEFT ALONE,” at least it started that way.  No human helper could be at his side in the agonizing struggle which was about to take place.  Most of us hate to be “ALONE,” so we pack our schedule with “stuff” to do, because we dare not be left with absolutely nothing to do but face God.  Yet there is nothing we need more than to be left alone with God.  God has arranged the circumstances so that He could get Jacob alone at a moment when he felt completely helpless. 

 

But if Jacob was truly alone he was also very much alive.  In the darkness a man, who is identified as God in verse 30, “wrestled” with him.  In the Near East law cases were sometimes settled by an ordeal or test.  One mode of this was combat by wrestling.  “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.” That is, the unknown assailant was getting nowhere with Jacob.  The old, carnal, stubborn, fighting, self-sufficient, unyielding Jacob was very much alive.  The battle went on all night.  Let’s make one thing clear at the beginning—Jacob is no wrestler.  That night he was alone because he wanted to be alone, and he wasn’t looking for a fight.  No details of the fight were given, for it was just the preamble to the most important part, the dialog.  Yet the fight was real and physical. 

 

How long, do you suppose, before Jacob realized he was really wrestling with God Himself, or that his assailant was none other than the second Person of the Godhead, who had come to confront him with his desperate need for full and unconditional surrender to God?  God meets us at whatever level He finds us in order to lift us to where He wants us to be.

 

The writer of this passage,no doubt, was thinking of physical wrestling.  Like the men of his day, he had not grasped the idea of the purely spiritual nature of God and could only conceive of Him in a materialistic way.  Today, God is thought of and spoken of, as pure spirit, a condition of being which is hardly possible for us to understand.  This story dramatizes the consequence that comes to every soul that has tried too long to evade the truth about himself.

 

 

25 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.

 

Then we see Jacob who was greatly changed.  That night was the climax of 20 years of God’s patient dealing with Jacob.  We are in such a hurry; God never is.  We can have instant everything today—instant meals, instant entertainment, instant transportation,instant communication—but we cannot have instant holiness.  God takes His time to bring us to spiritual maturity.  He never crowds us or overwhelms us; He always waits and draws (attracts, pulls, lures, entices) us to Him.

 

We see Jacob, now, a man broken by God, no longer fighting but just holding on“WHEN HE [the angel of the Lord] SAW THAT HE PREVAILED NOT AGAINST HIM [Jacob], HE TOUCHED THE HOLLOW OF HIS THIGH; AND THE HOLLOW OF JACOB'S THIGH WAS OUT OF JOINT, AS HE WRESTLED WITH HIM.” The hollow of the “THIGH” is the hip socket and, of course, nobody can wrestle with their hip socket broken. All Jacob could do now was hold on.  But honestly, is anyone really strong enough to hold on to God?—it was the Lord who strengthened Jacob with grace to wrestle on against Himself—for fear that he might be overcome and condemned!

 

So why is God wrestling with Jacob?  God has been doing that all Jacob’s life, trying to turn Jacob into the man God wants him to be, but failing.  Here is God trying again but succeeding only by cheating, which means the victory is hollow. Perhaps one reason God appears as just a man is that this makes it a fair fight.  If God overwhelms us only through making use of His superior strength, it’s a victory which doesn’t mean much.  God has to “win us,” as we say.  We have to want to yield to God’s purpose and God’s vision for us if the change in us is to be authentic, but Jacob does not want to heal, and never does (v.  26).

 

So why does God touch “JACOB’S THIGH?”  Because the “THIGH” and its bone is the largest and strongest of their kind in the body.  The man is deliberately crippling Jacob at the point of his greatest strength.  The point to be made here is very simple; the Assailant gave Himself the advantage.  When he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, “AND THE HOLLOW OF JACOB’S THIGH WAS OUT OF JOINT,” it was a symbol of the fact that Jacob was in the grip of a power which his self-assurance could not deal with.  Jacob knew that from this day forward he could never walk in lofty arrogance again. 

 

 

26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

 

LET ME GO, FOR THE DAY BREAKETH” seems to have its origin in the old belief that spirits could walk the earth only during the darkness, and that when the day began to break they had to go back to the place of shadows from which they had come.  There is also the opinion held by some that the angel’s desire to depart before daylight expressed God’s concern that Jacob may perish through beholding His face unobscured by the darkness.  At this point, I would like to express my opinion that if Jacob had perceived that he was to fight God, he would never have engaged in the fight, let alone have continued all night.

 

During the struggle Jacob suffered a dislocated hip, but he prolonged the combat by insisting that he would not stop “EXCEPT THOU BLESS ME.” It is evident that he was aware of the identity of the One he wrestled—and, believing that His power, though far superior to a human’s, was limited by His promise to do him good—he determined not to lose the golden opportunity of securing a blessing.  Jacob needed help desperately, but before he got it he had to confess the sin which was symbolized by his name, “heel-catcher,” or “deceitful one.” Yes indeed, Jacob is a person who keeps fighting with God in order to stay the man he is—he likes his sins, as many of us do—and he will not change until he surrenders his life to God.  In the end God lets him do that because even God cannot force people to change.  God can only make them limp.

 

There is a basic difference between Esau and Jacob.  With all his faults, deep down in his heart where the ultimate issues of life are decided, Jacob wanted the blessing of God; Esau never did.  Thus, we see a broken Jacob clinging to the Lord and confessing.

 

At Bethel, God had promised to bless Jacob; and from a material point of view, the promise was fulfilled, for Jacob was now a very wealthy man.  But there’s much more to the blessing of God than flocks, herds, and servants; there’s also the matter of godly character and spiritual influence.  During that “dark night of the soul,” Jacob discovered that he’d spent his life fighting God and resisting His will, and that the only way to victory was through surrender.  He found out that you do not get anywhere with God by struggling and resisting.  The only way that you get anywhere with Him is by yielding and just holding on to Him.  Abraham had learned that, and that is why he said amen to God.  He believes God, and he counted it to him for righteousness.  Abraham reached the end of his rope and put his arms around God. Dear reader, when you get in that condition, then you trust God.  When you are willing to hold on, He is there ready to help you.  As A. W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.” God conquered Jacob by weakening him.

 

 

27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

 

“WHAT IS THY NAME?” the heavenly visitor demand.  Didn’t the Lord know Jacob’s name?  Of course He did.  The Lord didn’t ask the question in order to get information, because he certainly knew Jacob’s name and that Jacob had the reputation of being a schemer and a deceiver.  “WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” Meant, “Are you going to continue living up to your name, deceiving yourself and others; or will you admit what you are and let Me change you?  In the Bible, receiving a new name signifies making a new beginning (Genesis 17:4-5, 15; Numbers 13:16; John 1:40-42), and this was Jacob’s opportunity to make a fresh start in life. But once before when Jacob was asked that question he had said “I am Esau!” But now he is a broken man, and he cried out, “My name is Jacob!” Jacob!  Cheat!  Supplanter!  One who “takes hold of you by the heel!” or, as we would say today, “one who twists your arm!” “Oh, Lord,” cried Jacob, “you know me.  I’m Jacob.  I am a cheat, and a liar.” That was all God wanted.  He simply wanted Jacob to be broken in His presence, seeing himself as he really was, confessing all that he was by natural birth.  “I am Jacob!” Now God could work on him, and fix him.

 

And as far as the church is concerned, it shares in Israel’s relationship with God, for we too are Jacob, we are Israel.  We are a people whose nature is to struggle with God to avoid becoming the people we could be, and should be, and that God wants us to be.

 

 

28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel [the first occurrence of the name Israel in the Bible]: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

 

This man, broken by God, could only now be blessed by God.  God breaks us in order to make us new and so we are fit to serve Him.  “THY NAME SHALL BE CALLED NO MORE JACOB, BUT ISRAEL: FOR AS A PRINCE HAST THOU POWER WITH GOD AND WITH MEN, AND HAST PREVAILED.” The name “ISRAEL” (“one who strives,” or “one who prevails with God”) is a name which is greater than those of the great men of the earth, and itcomes from a Hebrew word meaning “to be chief.” This name is significant for several reasons, but especially because the man who now enters Canaan, the land of blessing, is not the same man who left it 20 years before, a man who could cheat his brother, deceive a blind father and outwit an unscrupulous uncle.  The man who now entered Canaan was “ISRAEL,” God’s “PRINCE,” the man who had learned that the heart of God could be taken by storm if surrender and supplication are the means employed.  The new name Jacob received that day was a token of a new nature, so long dormant but now to be triumphant in his life. The change of name, as with Abraham and with Sarah, indicated a change in status as well as a changed inner being.  Remember what the Spirit said to “him that overcometh”: “I . . . will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written.” (Revelation 2:17).

 

If Jacob’s new name, “ISRAEL,” means “one who strives,” (as noted above)—then it is the better interpretation, and the one intended by the wrestler who blesses Jacob—and the name fits well with Jacob’s character as one who, throughout his life, struggles with God.God later confirmed Jacob’s new name: “God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." So he named him Israel” (35:10).  This confirmed the name he had been given before (Genesis 32:28); and by this confirmation signifying, that as he had prevailed over his brother Esau, and escaped his hands, so he should prevail over all that rose up against him, and opposed him.

 

Briefly, the explanation given here is that Jacob had gained power because he prevailed.  He lost the battle but one the victory!  By seeking God’s blessing and finally being weakened and forced to yield, he had become a “God-empowered prince.” Like Paul, who had his own battles to fight, Jacob became strong only when he became weak (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

 

 

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

 

After this crippling touch, Jacob’s struggle took a new direction.  Now crippled in his natural strength he became bold in faith. With holy boldness Jacob asked his visitor to tell him His name.  He wanted to know Him better.  “TELL ME I PRAY THEE, THY NAME,” he said.  In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself to men predominantly by His names.  For instance, this is one way that Abraham grew in his knowledge of God.  It was not presumption therefore on Jacob’s part to ask the stranger His name; it was faith.  If he was Israel, then Israel he would be!  “What is your name?” he asked.  The Lord did not tell him, because Jacob already knew who had broken and blessed him.  But, in response to Jacob’s faith, the midnight wrestler added another blessing to the one already given.

 

In the narrative there is portrayed a spiritual experience through which Jacob passed at a critical moment of his life, and in which he received the final lesson that humble and broke down his self-will, and convinced him that he could not snatch the blessing from God’s hand, but must ask for it as a gift of grace.

 

 

30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

 

Jacob was not quite sure who was struggling with him until the end of the match, though he had strong suspicions that it was God Himself.  He then arose and testified to his new understanding by calling the place Peniel (v. 30), or Penuel (v. 31), meaning “face-to-face with God”: “AND JACOB CALLED THE NAME OF THE PLACE PENIEL [“the face of God”], FOR I HAVE SEEN GOD FACE TO FACE, AND MY LIFE IS PRESERVED.” He thought that seeing God’s face would bring death, but it actually brought him a new life.  It was the dawning of a new day for Israel/Jacob.  He had a new name, he had a new walk (he was limping); and he had a new relationship with God that would help him face and solve any problem, if only he would exercise faith. 

 

A sense of awe and amazement swept over Jacob’s soul.  He had seen God!  He had looked into the face of God in one of His rare preincarnate appearances in visible form.  And his soul was thrilled.

 

The prophet Hosea calls Him “GOD,” and “THE ANGEL”; and says that he pleaded with Him to keep him safe when he makes contact with Esau.  We cannot, therefore, doubt what Jacob, Moses, and Hosea believed concerning Him who wrestled with Jacob. “In the womb he grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there” (Hosea 12:3-4). It was the second Person in the sacred Trinity, who was afterwards God manifest in the flesh and who, dwelling in human nature, is called “Immanuel.”

 

 

31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

 

The chapter ends with Jacob branded by God and bearing in his body from this day forward, the “slave-brand of Jesus Christ.”  “HE HALTED (stopped, ceased his movement) UPON HIS THIGH,” but he had no reason to look upon it as his reproach—that is, to bear in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17)—yet it might serve as did the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh, to keep him from being lifted up with the abundance of the Revelations. JACOB’S “THIGH” had been thrown out of joint, and henceforth he was lame.  But the lame Jacob was to be a better man than the Jacob who had not been lame.  It often takes hurts to make better men.  A man who has conceit and self-sufficiency may have to be humbled before he is fit to play his right role.

 

We picture him crossing the Jabbok, leaning heavily on his staff and limping into the camp where his wives and children were waiting anxiously in the morning light.  “Wives! Children!” he would call, and they would come running, staring at a different Jacob.  “What happened?” They would ask.  “Why,” he would say, “I met God last night and I shall never walk the same again.” From here, Jacob moves on into a new phase of his life, blessed but yet humbled by a permanent limp.

 

 

32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

 

His own new physical disability was to be a constant witness to him that the battle had indeed been real.  His descendents were also to memorialize the incident by abstaining from eating the thigh, or sciatic muscle/tendon, of animals which they used for food.  This practice was not founded on the Law of Moses, but is merely a traditional practice.  The sinew is carefully extracted; and where there are no persons skilled enough for that operation, the Jews do not make use of the hind legs at all.

 

The narrative portrays a spiritual experience through which Jacob passed at a critical moment in his life, and in which he received the final lesson that humble and broke down his self-will, and convinced him that he could not snatch the blessing from God’s hand, but must accept it as a gift of grace.

 

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