Genesis 32-35
(He Wrestles with God)
January 10th


Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

- Genesis 32:24 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

These chapters continue the story of Jacob and his family as they travel back to Jacob’s homeland and experience joy and sorrow along the way.

In chapter 32, Jacob sends a messenger to his estranged brother, Esau, as he makes his way back home. He is afraid of Esau, whom he had deceived (and who had pledged to kill Jacob), so he sent many gifts and prayed for protection from God.

While on the way to meet Esau, Jacob found himself alone on the bank of a river. He may have been pondering running away again, but spent the night wrestling with a man who is presumed to have been God in person. At the end of the night, Jacob asks the man for a blessing, so the man gives him a new name:

    The man said, "But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it's Israel (God-Wrestler); you've wrestled with God and you've come through."

    - Genesis 32:28 (MSG)

Jacob and Esau finally come face-to-face and reconciled with each other. Chapter 33 notes that Esau “ran to meet him and embraced him (Gen 33:7 - NIV).” Jacob was relieved that all was forgiven and he had nothing to fear. He offered gifts to Esau in gratitude. Esau declined but eventually accepted Jacob's gift.

Jacob decides to settle his family in Shechem, but chapter 34 records that this location became a scene of great tragedy. A prince of the land raped Jacob’s daughter, Dinah. Two of her brothers (Simeon and Levi) avenged her by killing all of the males of the city and captured their families and possessions. Jacob was angry at the excessive use of force because of the potential retribution from other cities.

In chapter 35, God told Jacob to return to Bethel, where he had seen the Stairway to Heaven. Meanwhile, God dispatched “a terror” to the other cities so that they could not pursue his family. God spoke to Jacob again to rededicate his new name, Israel, and to re-assure him regarding the inheritance of the land of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac.

Jacob’s family hit the road again. While en route to their next destination, Rachel give birth to Jacob’s twelfth son, Benjamin, but died in childbirth. She was buried in Ephrath (now called Bethlehem), where her tomb can still be found. Jacob finally reached his home where he saw his father, Isaac, one more time before he died.


Reflection and Application

The idea of wrestling with God as Jacob did might be appealing to some of us. Perhaps there have been times when we have been so disappointed with God that we called out to him in frustration or anger, and would have liked to have had the opportunity to challenge him face-to-face.

We witness endless disasters on a daily basis as evil-doers take advantage of defenseless people and innocent people die in our own country and all around the world. On the worst days we might feel compelled to helplessly cry out, “Where are you now, God?” And then we may shake our heads in disbelief over his lack of intervention, and possibly lose our faith altogether. I believe that God welcomes this type of dialog – he welcomes any dialog with us (if we are angry with him, then we must believe in him). If we choose to believe in God and accept his mercy, then we have to trust that there are reasons he lets these tragedies take place.

Sometimes good things happen unexpectedly, like the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. Esau forgave Jacob in the way that God forgives us, unconditionally. God wants us to forgive others in the same way. The likelihood of reconciliation seemed more plausible given the new attitude of Jacob. He was a changed man after his encounter with God. He may have been planning to run away from the meeting with Esau, but God caught him, wrestled with him, and gave him a new name. As a consequence, he was no longer greedy, but was generous. He was not proud, but was humble. He approached Esau with gifts and an attitude of servitude. In a sermon on Jacob's encounter with God, the Rev. Gregory Doll reminds us that we too are changed people after our own encounters with God, and encourages us to find time alone in which we can experience the presence of God and allow him to change us(1).

Jacob’s sons were not forgiving or patient after the crime committed against their sister. But who could blame them? Their only sister was defiled. They were hot with rage and were not willing to wait for God to bring justice against the perpetrator, so they took justice into their own hands.

Hundreds of years later, after the Exodus, Moses organized a judicial system for the wandering tribes of Israel, but there was no such system in place at the time of Jacob’s life on earth. People did have a sense of what is right and wrong because we have a conscience that comes from God. The basic rules are documented in the Ten Commandments, but those principles have been embedded in our souls since the beginning.

God wants us to trust that he will deliver justice in his time and way and that those who have broken his laws will ultimately receive their due. I believe that he would discourage us from appointing ourselves as judge, jury, and executioner, particularly when there is a judicial system based on his set of laws. There are consequences if we take revenge into our own hands, as Jacob’s sons find out later.

The set of Jacob’s male offspring was complete with the birth of his twelfth son, Benjamin. These twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.


The people of Israel proudly defined themselves according to their respective tribes for many generations after the birth of Jacob's children. They conducted a census by tribe following the Exodus, then organized themselves politically by tribe before and after the kings of Israel, and kept track of their heritage even up until the era of time recorded in the New Testament.

For example, Matthew documents Jesus's genealogy back to the tribe of Judah so that his Jewish audience would know that he had come from their family (Matthew 1:1-17 - NIV). The Apostle Paul references his heritage from the tribe of Benjamin, to validate his purity as an Israelite, but also notes it means nothing compared to the relationship with Christ:

    Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God[d] and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

    If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

    Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

    - Philippians:2:2-7 (NRSV)

In the spiritual culture of Israel, it is not only the patriarchs that are honored. They also honor and remember Rachel as an important matriarch. In a lament over the exile to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah notes the weeping of Rachel over her lost children:

    “Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel (Rachel) weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not."

    - Jeremiah 31:15 (KJV)

Even today, thousands of years later, the Jewish people continue to maintain her tomb in the place where it is assumed that Jacob buried her, as described in chapter 35. Rachel's Tomb is one of the main tourist attractions in Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem. One description of the tomb can be found at Chabad.org, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of Jewish heritage and culture ("Rachel's Tomb").

As we continue to read through the Bible we will see how the sons of different mothers and their descendant tribes had different fates and we will see the tribes mentioned for the last time in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, when John is shown the new city of Jerusalem: “It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 21:12 - NIV).”

For an artistic interpretation of Jacob wrestling with God by Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883), click the following link: "Jacob Wrestling with God"

Click the play button below to hear a complete audio version of Doll's sermon on Jacob:

"Despicable Me," Genesis 32:22-32
Sermon by Rev. Greg Doll



Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What are the injustices in our world that bother you the most?
    2. What are the actions that we can take that are consistent with God’s commands and are a reasonable response to injustice?
    3. If God were to call you today and give you a new name, what do you think he would call you and why?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to be aware of injustices and take appropriate action.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    The people of Uganda

    Footnotes

    (1) Doll, the Reverend Gregory, "Despicable Me (a sermon on Genesis 32:22-32)," January 23, 2011, Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 36-38 (Joseph Sold Into Slavery)

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