Genesis 32:23-33
Jacob's Bout

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

The Man With The Name Jacob

1. In continuing from last week, today as well we've read a story of the character named Jacob.

2. So now, we are told a quite interesting story in relation to the origin of the name Jacob. Please look at Genesis chapter twenty-five and beginning with verse twenty-one. He was the twin to his elder brother Esau. It seems from the time the twins were in their mother's womb they were already fighting for first place. Even when they were born, it was Jacob the younger brother who comes out clutching at Esau's heel as he came out in the lead. In Hebrew they say "aqeb" for heel. When this is in the verb form, it is "to grab the heel," and when we say it in our language, it will have the sense of "tripping someone up or trying to get in somebody's way to spoil what he or she might be trying to do" or "to beat someone one to it." The name Jacob is explained as originating from those terms.

3. They say, "Names and nature often agree." The character Jacob, according to his name, is pegged particularly as "a person who trips other people up and is out to best them." As a matter of fact, what Jacob did was that he got the best of his brother Esau, deceived his father Isaac, and usurped the birth right and [the right to the] blessing [as the eldest son].

4. But, when Jacob had taken possession of all that he hoped for, he became deeply hated by Esau. Esau set in his heart to make certain to kill his brother. Jacob found that out, and so he wound up fleeing from Esau to Haran, his mother's home town, where his life in flight would actually extend to twenty years. During that time, he was deceived by his uncle Laban many many times [as] he worked at hard labor for him. From chapters twenty-nine to thirty-one, [we] are given a depiction of the day to day life of Jacob while at Laban's, and you may please read it [some time]. While he lived working so hard for so long since his escape, he took on a wife and family, he acquired a lot of cattle, and he turned into a wealthy and a very large family.

5. At last the time came when it was proper for him [with his family and wealth] to return back to his home town. In a dream, the Lord told Jacob to "Leave this land right now, and return to your birth place." Jacob and his family obeyed the leading of the Lord, and went away from Haran. However, there was still a huge problem that still remained unresolved. Yes, there was. Reconciliation with Esau had still not been made.

6. He sent a messenger up ahead to his brother Esau. Then, the messenger returned with news that Esau was heading towards him. What's more, he told him that Esau was bringing along with him four hundred roughnecks. Jacob began to tremble. Then, [we have] the words that Jacob prayed recorded in chapter thirty-two beginning in verse ten.

7. He said, "O Lord, God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, you have told me, 'You will return to the town in which you were born. I will bless you.' Please save me from the hand of Esau. I am afraid of my brother. He is coming to attack me and beginning with me he may kill the mothers and our children. You once told me, 'I will surely give you blessings, I will make your descendants so many that they will be uncountable like the sand on the seashore.'," (32:10-13).

8. This was how Jacob sought God in prayer. But, then again, he had pondered the method by which he obtained [things]. Since he had been racking his brains at full tilt tripping people up and getting the best of them so far, he rigged up some measures to get through this crisis. As gifts for Esau, he chose goats, sheep, camels, cows and the like from out of what he owned. Then, turning the different herds and flocks over to his servants, he built a parade of gifts. He decided to have his servants say, "These belong to your humble servant Jacob, and they are gifts that he offers to his master Esau. Jacob will be coming right after this."

9. "Jacob thought by having the gifts go ahead of him, he would pacify his brother, and when they met face to face later, he might have a pleasant welcome," (verse twenty-one). That's what the Bible says. Thus, the biggest problem for Jacob was "meeting face to face with" his brother Esau. Therefore, he took measures so he could "meet face to face with" his brother. He tried to resolve and remove the problem of his brother's anger.

10. Likewise, when problems lie right there in front of us, we also adopt measures trying to solve the problems. We intend to resolve and remove the very problem. But, the Bible is always asking us what is the real problem. The biggest problem that had to be solved for Jacob did not exist between him and Esau. It was between him and God. Today's passage of scripture is showing this point.

I Will Not Let You Go Until You Bless Me

11. Please look at verses twenty-three onward. "That night, Jacob got up and crossed the crossing of Jabbok taking along his two wives, his two concubines, and his eleven children besides them. Guiding all of them and letting them cross the river and passing over his possessions as well, he remained alone afterwards. At that time someone wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. But, seeing that he was not beating Jacob, he hit the joint of Jacob's thigh, and while they wrestled the joint of the thigh separated. 'Let me depart already. Because the night is turning to dawn,' said the man, but Jacob answered 'No, I will not let you go until you bless me.'," (32:23-27).

12. A truly strange story is given in the Bible. The text says, "someone," but who was this someone? It was like a man, it was like an angel, it was even like God if we go by the words after it. We don't know for sure. Yet, whoever it may have been, the experience of Jacob that night is depicted with this type of expression. As you recall, as Jacob was passing the night filled with worry and fear, the experience of that night was to Jacob none other than a wrestling [match] with someone -- in effect ultimately a bout with God.

13. So, what in the world happened during that bout? Jacob's hip joint dislocated, which was because he was beaten by the opposing player. He was beaten and weakened. So far to this point Jacob had been strong. He was strong enough to pin down his opponent. Yet, Jacob was beaten and weakened. What do you make of when his hip was dislocated? He couldn't help but pull his own leg along [instead of pulling other people's legs]. He couldn't fight anymore even if Esau did attack. He couldn't even flee. It was checkmate.

14. In this way then, when God deals with a person and comes into his or her life, and when God wrestles with someone, the person is given a weakness in that battle. When God beats a person he makes him or her weak as per his grace. The human being might be thinking that he is defeating even God so far, but then he or she is weakened in a complete way. The person gets to the point where he or she cannot even fight or flee on one's own power. What should one do at that moment in time? What did Jacob do? Jacob was clinging hard. He clung on and said, "I will not let you go until you bless me." He just steadfastly pursued the blessing of God in this way. He realized [something:] his relationship with Esau was not the problem, rather, even before that, his relationship with God was the problem.

Your Name [Will Be] Israel

15. When Jacob was clinging to [and hanging on to] the man and wouldn't let him go, the man asked him, "What is your name?" He answered, "It is Jacob." As I mentioned before, the name Jacob is derived from a word with the meaning of "tripping someone up or trying to get in somebody's way to spoil what he or she might be trying to do" or "to beat someone one to it." "I am Jacob [the trickster]." -- The answer that he gave must have also been an acknowledgement of how he had been living his life to this point. "I am Jacob. I am the one getting the best of everyone else. I have been outfoxing other people like that, I have been pulling myself forward that way; that's me. By my own [deceitful] power, I have tried to carve open a future for myself; that's the kind of person I am. It's true. In this same way, I have pondered various ideas on how I might get passed this crisis on my own power again. I devised a plan. But, now I am a man with a dislocated hip. I can't even run away on my own strength." But that was the name Jacob, the name that expressed his way of living and his break.

16. But, when he answered "I am Jacob," that man -- that is, God -- said to him, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, you will be called Jacob from here after; for, you have wrestled man with God and won," (verse twenty-nine). Jacob was given a new name. He wasn't a Jacob any longer. He was Israel. It is a difficult issue what the name "Israel" means and how this word exactly originated, but here in this passage it is explained as "you have wrestled man with God and won." What a surprising statement! It was Jacob there, who had been beaten and weakened, who could no longer trip people up to get the one up on them or best them out, but could just hang on. Yet, to this kind of Jacob God said to him, "You are really Israel. You are a true winner."

17. The place where he had experienced this incident was called "Jabbok's Crossing," (verse twenty-three). Jacob named that place "Peniel." It means "the face of God." This is explained as being because Jacob said, "Even though I have seen God and met him face to face, I am still alive."

18. As we saw earlier, the biggest problem for Jacob was in meeting face to face with Esau. At least that's what he used to think. But, actually, the opponent that he had to face, before facing Esau, was God. Just as coming face to face with Esau meant a crisis to Jacob, even more than that, coming face to face with God meant a crisis. -- Because it meant death for a sinful human being to come directly before God. But, "Even though I have seen God and met him face to face, I am still alive." This is tantamount to saying, "I have been forgiven." The blessings of God are given along with his forgiveness. Even more than being forgiven by Esau, this indeed was the most important thing for Jacob.

19. Then, [the story] continues with a deeply impressive depiction that "When Jacob passed Peniel, the sun arose upon him." He was dragging his foot. He was beaten by God and given a weakness. But, the dark night of worry and fear was gone. He was walking in the light of the morning for real. The later Israelites would experience this same kind of morning themselves on countless occasions. It is the same for the church as the new Israel. When that is where we live, we too will always be guided out of the dark night into the morning light as persons changed from Jacob to Israel.

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