Catching Up With the Past – 4

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Scripture Text – Genesis 32-34

As we study Jacob’s actions during this crisis time in his life, we’ll see illustrated the conflicts all of us occasionally experience between faith and fear, trusting God and scheming, asking God for help and then acting as though we don’t even know God. The lessons that Jacob learned are going to demonstrate to us that a crisis doesn’t make a man; it shows what a man is made of.


Please read Genesis 32:22-32 for the background to this section.

It was dangerous to ford the river at night, but Jacob would rather hazard the crossing than risk losing his loved ones; so he moved his family to what he hoped was a safe place. Having forgotten about God’s army, he wanted something between his family and his brother’s army. Jacob devised his own “two camps.”

Now Jacob was left alone, and when we’re alone and at the end of our resources, then God can come to us and do something in us and for us. Note the three encounters Jacob experienced that difficult night.

Jacob met the Lord. British essayist Walter Savage Landor called solitude “the audience-chamber of God,” and he was right. When we’re alone, we can’t escape into other people’s hearts and minds and be distracted; we have to live with ourselves and face ourselves. Twenty years before, Jacob had met the Lord when he was alone at Bethel; and now God graciously came to him again in his hour of need (see Hosea 12:2–6).

God meets us at whatever level He finds us in order to lift us to where He wants us to be. To Abraham the pilgrim, God came as a traveler (Genesis 18); and to Joshua the general, He came as a soldier (Joshua 5:13–15). Jacob had spent most of his adult life wrestling with people—Esau, Isaac, Laban, and even his wives—so God came to him as a wrestler. “With the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd.” – Psalm 18:26.

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. As A.W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.” God conquered Jacob by weakening him.

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Jacob met himself. More than anything else, Jacob wanted the blessing of the Lord on his life; and for this holy desire, he’s to be commended. But before we can begin to be like the Lord, we have to face ourselves and admit what we are in ourselves. That’s why the Lord asked him, “What is your name?” As far as the Genesis record is concerned, the last time Jacob was asked that question, he told a lie! His father asked, “Who are you, my son?” and Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn.” – Genesis 27:18–19.

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.

The new name God gave him was “Israel,” from a Hebrew word that means “to struggle”; but scholars aren’t agreed on what the name signifies. Some translate it “one who wrestles with God” or “God strives” or “let God rule.” The explanation in Genesis 32:28 is that Jacob had gained power because he prevailed. He lost the battle but won 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 battle to fight, Jacob became strong only when he became weak (2 Corinthians 12:1–10).

When God rules our lives, then He can trust us with His power; for only those who are under His authority have the right to exercise His authority. While at home, Jacob had served himself and created problems; and for twenty years he served Laban and created further problems, but now he would serve God and become a part of the answer.

Once again Jacob gave a special name to a significant place, this time Peniel [same as Penuel, Genesis 32:31], which means “the face of God.” He thought that seeing God’s face would bring death, but it actually brought him 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. The great test was about to come, for Esau had arrived on the scene.

Now Jacob was ready for the third encounter: to meet Esau.

To Be Continued

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Adapted and modified excerpts from Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Authentic, “Be” Commentary Series.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, NKJV © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About Roland Ledoux

Pastor of Oasis Bible Ministry, an outreach ministry of teaching, encouragement and intercessory prayer from the Holy Bible, the written Word of God and author of the ministry website, For The Love of God. He lives in Delta, Colorado with his beautiful wife of 50+ years and a beautiful yellow lab whom they affectionately call Bella.
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