Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Genesis 32 & 33 - River Wrestling and Desert Reconciliation


READING: Genesis 32-33 

BACKGROUND

Jacob had an encounter with angels at a place he named Mahanaim which means "two camps" or "two companies" This spot later became a Levitical city in Gad (Joshua 13:26). It is the capital of Ish-Bosheth's kingdom in 2 Samuel 2:8-9. David also sought refuge there during Absalom's rebellion in 2 Samuel 17:24.

He was only one hundred miles north of Edom when he sent a message to his estranged brother. Notice how he sent a messenger to Esau saying "your servant Jacob" in 32:4, 18, and 20. He was taking a risk and humbly moving toward Esau with the white flag of peace. Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed when he heard of four hundred men coming with his brother so he gave the only extensive prayer in the entire book of Genesis. It was also his first recorded prayer. He approached God humbly and reverentially and reminded God of His promises and covenant. He came in prayerful dependence.

Griffith Thomas says of this prayer:
Like a stream that emerges into day after running for a long distance underground, Jacob's spiritual life comes out now after those years at Haran; and though there is much to seek, we can see the clear marks of the work of God directing, deepening, and purifying his soul. (Genesis, p. 296)
In 32:20, the word, "pacify" (NIV) or "appease" (NASB) in Hebrew literally means "cover his face" and symbolically mean "wiping the anger from his face." Jacob wanted to "wipe the anger off of Esau's face" with the present that went before him. Jacob says, "Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me." The word "accept" in the Hebrew literally means "he will lift up my face." So, essentially it means, "I will see his face and maybe he will lift up my face." Isn't that beautiful?


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by Rembrandt
One last event completed the process of refinement that God had for Jacob. That night there was a wrestling match at the ford of the Jabbok where it enters the Jordan River midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Hebrews words for Jacob, Jabbok, and wrestle all sound very much alike. Through this wrestling match with God's angel. Jacob was transformed from "Jacob the Deceiver" to "Israel who strives with God"! He was blessed and always had a limp from then on to remind him of his encounter with God.


In Genesis 33, Jacob continued on his way to Esau in the land of Seir which is a 100 mile strip of land on both sides of the Arabah. It connects the southern part of the Dead Sea with the Gulf of Akabah.


The reunion proved not to be contentious but a reconciliation between two estranged brothers. We have seen that God had not only worked on Jacob's heart but on Esau's as well. Note the five verbs when Esau gave away his birthright for lentils and bread to Esau in Genesis 25: 


ate, drank, rose, went, despised 


and compare them to the five verbs when he reconciled with his brother in 33:4: 


ran, embraced, fell, kissed, and wept.


You can see the transformation in the verbs!


Jacob came back to the land that he had prayed he would return to in Genesis 28:21. He had vowed that if God would be with him and keep him on the journey and give him food and garments; and if he returned in safety, the LORD would be his God. So, we conclude this chapter with Jacob building an altar and calling it El-Elohe-Israel (God, the God of Israel). the LORD had become Jacob's personal God! YIPPEE!!!!!!!


In a nutshell, from these two chapters we see that, Jacob had matured spiritually and emotionally and learned to depend more on God and less on his own schemes (Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis, p. 274).


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption


According to Waltke:
Only in giving up his rights does Jacob fully become the family leader. Israel's role prefigures the role of Christ (Phil. 2:9-11). So, also God gives up His Son who humbly gives up his rights to be equal with God, to reconcile the world to himself (see 2 Cor. 5:16-21; Phil. 2:6-8). Their model of servitude is an example to the church (Matt. 5:24; Phil. 2:5). (Genesis, p. 457)
REFLECTION (from 2008)

These two chapters touched me this morning and throughout today more than any in Genesis. I marvel at God's ability to mold and transform us through life to make us what He wants us to be. He is a God of transformation, and I know that He can and does transform me!


I also rejoiced when I read of the reconciliation between two brothers who had been estranged for twenty years! Reconciliation takes time and humility and a moving toward others with the white flag of peace. I am encouraged that two brothers met and embraced and made peace. I am grateful that I have brothers and sisters-in-law in which I have peace. Sometimes, it has required moving toward them through what seemed like an expansive desert because of our differences in culture and values, but we have moved toward one another, and I live in peace on all sides in my family relationships, and this is a wonderful thing. There is one non-family relationship though that although forgiveness has been extended, I still do not think the long walk across the desert toward true reconciliation has been made, and this is what I have reflected and prayed about all day. (2011 update: many strides have been made forward in the above relationship! 2015: Total peace.)


Here are the words to Michael Card's song about Jacob's journey from Bethel to Peniel:


Asleep on Holy Ground


A stone for a pillow as hard as his head
He slept on holy ground
The dreaming deceiver, he dreamt of a ladder
With angels up and down


And the ladder was a way
The stairway was a sign
The gates of heaven opened wide
Revealing the divine


Asleep on holy ground he lay
Oblivious to the night
Inside his head and heart were full of inexpressible light
Soon he would be confronted by the friend that we most fear
Asleep on holy ground he lay
Deceitful blessed seer


The dream that he dreamt now transformed to a nightmare
As he wrestled with a man
The unearthly power of his beloved opponent made Jacob understand


That the wrestling was the way
The struggle was the sign
He limped away his lesson learned
Now Israel was defined


Chorus:


He limped away on holy ground awakened from the dream
Having learned his costly lesson from the way of the Nazarene
That pain's the path to blessing love will fight us to be found
And God remains a dream to those who sleep on holy ground


Chorus


APPLICATION


What lessons for life are there in Jacob's life for you?


Where are you in "fear or distress" in your life?


What can you add to your journal of God?


If any conflict exists between you and a relative, how might you approach him or her with God's blessing to bring about a restoration of relationship? (From Holman Commentary, p. 284)

When my husband heard me listening to Jacob coming to Esau, he said, "It sounds like they need a Crucial Conversation!" He said this because we are reading this book for our Kingdom Community. It is excellent for helping to gain value communication skills:

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High


PRAYER

Lord, I praise You as a God of transformation and reconciliation. Wrestle us to the ground and transform us into men and women of humility and peace. I thank You for first reconciling us to Yourself! I pray that You would bring about true reconciliation in all our relationships through the power of Jesus. Amen.
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