Growing Spiritually Through Crisis

Explore the Bible Series

March 16, 2008


Background Passage: Genesis 32:1-33:20

Lesson Passage: Genesis 32: 6-12; 24-31


Introduction: Again, we return to the remarkable story-telling of Genesis.In wonderful, grand, narrative the author relates the story of Jacobís struggle with the angel of the Lord and the patriarchís ďreconciliationĒ with Esau.After leaving Paddan-aram, Jacob encountered a messenger of the Lord (perhaps a theophany); then he faced the daunting task of meeting his estranged brother.As before, the text provides little interpretive material; instead, the passage merely relates the story.Genesis leaves the interpretation to the reader.Several important lessons seem to emerge from the narrative.


  1. God had a special plan for Jacob.No doubt, the poor man had made some serious mistakes, especially in regard to his relationship with his brother.Jacob had grown in grace during his years in Haran, but the failures of the past continued to trouble him. A twenty-year absence had not dulled the pain of his sinful action, and he anticipated an unfavorable, violent encounter with his brother.Christians sin.We should not expect sinless perfection.Wonderfully, Godís stubborn grace remained true despite Jacobís failure, and he proves faithful to us despite our failures.The Lord met Jacob at Peniel and wrestled with the patriarch by Jabbok.Jacob, desperate at the prospect of meeting a violent brother, persevered in his quest for the blessing of his heavenly ďopponentĒ.After a night of wrestling, Jacob finally procured the blessing of the messenger and named the place Peniel (ďthe face of GodĒ)
  2. Even though Esau was a profane man, Jacob had wronged him, and, at the time of the offence, Jacob fled from the situation rather than resolving the problem.Perhaps some might conclude that Esau, because of his spiritual state, did not deserve any apology from Jacob.However, perhaps we should conclude that Esauís ungodliness made Jacobís repentance a necessity.Put in Christian terms, Jacob had been a poor witness to his lost brother; yet, he made no effort to set things right with Esau.
  3. Remarkably, even when the two men met, Jacob still did not make things right with Esau.He sends gifts (bribes?), genuflects, and flatters, but he did not apologize for his unseemly conspiracy and lies.God softened Esauís heart, but the cordial encounter between the estranged brothers fell sadly short of true reconciliation.A far as we know from the text, these men never resolved the problem between them, and the responsibility for resolution rested with the offending brother. Jacobís failure may have set a bad example for his sons.They observed their fatherís willingness to let this situation continue, and, in time, they too engaged in deceptive behavior, a behavior pattern they must have seen in their fatherís relationship with Esau.



Lesson Outline:


I.                   Jacobís Return to Canaan (32:1-32)

A.    Jacobís brief sojourn at Mahanaim (vv. 1-2): No one knows for certain the location of Mahanaim.Most think Jacobís company camped on the east side of the Jordan River, somewhere near the River Jabbok.Two angels appeared to Jacob, but the text does not reveal their mission. Perhaps they appeared to bring comfort and reassurance to the beleaguered patriarch.

B.     Jacobís initial message to Esau (vv. 3-8): Jacobís strategy centered on sending Esau a generous gift of livestock, but Jacobís messengers returned with the warning that Esau had amassed an army of four hundred men to meet his brother.This news, of course, heightened Jacobís fear that his brother planned to make good on his pledge to kill Jacob.Anticipating a violent encounter with Esau, Jacob divided his company into two camps.If Esau attacked one group, the other might manage to escape the bloodshed.

C.     Jacobís prayer (vv. 9-12): Jacobís desperation moved him to prayer.So often, Godís people see prayer as a last resort rather than a first response.To this point in his life-story, we have little indication that Jacob prayed.We, of course, should not conclude that Jacob never prayed, but, at this juncture, the poor, despondent man turned to his only recourse, prayer.His supplication is beautiful.He acknowledged that he did not deserve Godís blessing and rested his confidence in the Lordís gracious covenant.

D.    Jacobís effort at reconciliation (vv. 13-21): Jacob devised an elaborate plan to placate his brotherís anger.First, he organized his flocks and herds in generous procession.The goats, camels, cows, and donkeys would arrive in consecutive waves, each attended by servants with a conciliatory message.In verse twenty, the text reveals Jacobís intent.He wanted to ďlift upĒ Esauís face, an expression of appeasement and redemption.This phrase may indicate that Jacobís heart was right, and, deep down, he wanted a full reconciliation with his brother.

E.     Jacobís struggle with the angel of the Lord (vv. 22-32): Jacob moved his family across the river, and remained alone.A ďmanĒ appeared to Jacob, and the two wrestled throughout the night.As morning neared, the messenger of the Lord injured Jacobís hip, but the injury did not dissuade Jacob from his intent of gaining the manís blessing.The heavenly combatant declared that the patriarch would no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, ďhe strives with GodĒ.Israel, at this point, realized he had not struggled with a mere mortal, but with God.This occurrence, of course, encouraged Jacob as he anticipated meeting Esau.

II.                Jacobís Encounter with Esau (33:1-20)

A.    The initial greeting (vv. 11): Esau, with his small army of men, came to meet Jacob.Fearful for his brotherís intensions, Jacob divided his family, and placed Rachel and Joseph on the back side of the company.He bowed seven times before Esau (some commentators think this was a common manner of greeting royalty) and drew near his kinsman.Surprisingly, Esau embraced Jacob, and the brothers wept at their reunion.Jacob introduced his family to Esau, and encouraged his brother, despite Esauís protest, to receive the generous gift of the livestock.

B.     The brothers separate (vv. 12-20): After the warm greeting, Esau and Jacob determined to go their separate ways.Some commentators wonder if Jacob still distrusted his brother and, therefore, did not want to travel with him.Whatever the case, Esau returned to his home in Seir, and Jacob settled his family near Shechem.He bought a tract of land and called the place El-Elohe-Israel, ďGod, the God of IsraelĒ.