Genesis 32


Genesis 32:  Jacob’s Return. Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! 

Having left Laban behind, Jacob’s journey and thoughts turn toward his return to Canaan and meeting with Esau – face to face.  

As it was at Bethel, Jacob is met in some fashion by the angels of God. Consider the following:  Jacob was greeted by angels when he was fleeing from Esau 20 years ago and going to meet Laban; now he is greeted by angels as he is fleeing from Laban and going to meet Esau.  A reminder from God that He, God, is with Jacob coming and going.  

But also a reminder that after 20 years, Jacob still finds himself either running from someone or something – only to run into someone or something. We cannot run from God and we cannot run away from who we are.  

Jacob’s story is such a rich source of illustrations and  examples. It seems Jacob turns to God only in troubling times, in adversity and desperation. Surely the Bible tells us:  “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” ( Psalms 56:3)   But can we come to a place in our walk with the Lord where the following would be true:  “ Behold God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid.” ( Isaiah 12: 2)   Or “ The Lord is my light and my salvation- whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?” ( Psalms 27:1-2)  

But we can see by the actions that Jacob takes- he is imagining the worst. Esau, his big brother, may have always been someone Jacob feared physically. For we will see in this story Jacob is terrified and dreads this meeting with Esau. I believe his actions also reveal that Jacob realizes what he did to Esau and how he did it was wrong. But before Jacob faces Esau- he must, as we all must, honestly face God. 

I wonder- do you and I have someone or something in our lives- we dread facing? If you are facing a struggle or battle in your life- your real struggle may be with the Lord. And although you may go for some years without facing that something or someone-  God  will not leave this issue unresolved, but will in Him timing see that we deal with it- as we are about to see in the story today.  

In verse 3, after seeing the angels, Jacob begins to make preparatory actions for this long dreaded face-to-face meeting with Esau. In verses 3-5, Jacob sends messengers ahead with carefully worded greetings. The messengers were instructed by Jacob to call Esau, Master, and refer to Jacob as ‘your servant’.  The meaning behind those words were evident- Jacob is telling Esau, I come with no political agenda to exert control or authority over you. Then there is a brief explanation of where he has been for the last 20 years- with Laban. He also lets Esau know he has cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, menservants and maid servants- in other words, I have substantial possessions- so I am not coming to take anything away from you  by right of the blessing. Jacob says through his message to Esau- I have come to find favor in your eyes. Jacob wants to set the stage for peaceful negotiations.   

In verse 6, the messengers we return to inform Jacob – ‘ your brother Esau is now coming to meet you with 400 men.’. 

In verses 7& 8, Jacob is thinking the same thing you and I are thinking—this does not sound good. Jacob reacts with fear and distress. His imagination goes immediately to the worst-case scenario- Esau is coming to attack us. He divides his people into two groups. His thinking is if Esau attacks one group- the other group can have an opportunity to escape.  

But in verse 9, we see that Jacob’s fear and distress drive him to his knees in prayer. Let us carefully review and observe this prayer of Jacob’s. God has shown us in the story of Jacob, what an imperfect sinful, manipulative man Jacob is. If Jacob can pray effectively, the surely there is hope for us. Remember Paul said these were written to teach us. For if Jacob can get his prayers answered, it is of great encouragement to us. For God is the same today as He was in the day of Jacob. If God is faithful to answer the prayers of a schemer like Jacob- there is great hope for schemers like you and me.  

Jacob, like us, has some clear promises from God, in other words Jacob has the Word of God. Already we have seen that Jacob is fearful, because he ‘ imagines’ the worst. Fear is the companion of doubt and uncertainty. They are attacks of the enemy- they are at the root of the spiritual battle we wage.  We are told in 2 Corinthians 10- “ the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension( imagination) that sets it self  up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive the thoughts to make it obedient to Christ.” ( 2 Cor. 10:4-5)  Remember every action we take began first as a thought; that is why it is a battle for the mind. 

Do you see that we have access to the same mighty weapons that Jacob used to pull down this stronghold? Let us understand what a stronghold is. A stronghold is an area of sin that becomes a part of our lifestyle. It may be a harmful habit involving drugs, pornography, or sexual sins. This stronghold may be an attitude of  loneliness, inferiority, pride, worry or doubt. These strongholds use a whole arsenal of rationalizations to support these positions. But the knowledge and reasoning on which these habits or attitudes are built directly oppose the truth of God’s Word. We have prayer and the Word of God-these are our mighty weapons to pull these strongholds down. It is in prayer that battles are won and lost. We can ask God in faith to tear down these strongholds and He will do it. Then we must renew that part of our minds with the truth of God’s Word or we will be subject to those lies again. Therefore it is essential that we learn to pray.  

Jacob is outnumbered- he is weak, Esau is strong. Esau is many, he is few- at least in the eyes of the world. Jacob has done everything he knows to do physically and in his own strength. Now realizing he is no match, that he is powerless – he calls upon the Lord. 

The Prayer or Jacob: Verses 9-12. 

First notice the prayer of Jacob is very specific. Protect us from the hand of my brother.

It is also the prayer of a desperate man- who realizes the outcome does not depend on him but on God. Let us carefully consider this prayer:

First Jacob states the purpose of God. Jacob says to God- it is You, God, who said to me to go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you to prosper.  Jacob is saying back to God what God has said to Him. This is the essence of praying back to the God the Word of God. Jacob is saying to God I am where I am- because I am following your directions. Remember this- where God guides He provides.  

Notice also,  how Jacob is humble. God gives grace to the humble. Jacob confesses he is not worthy of all God’s kindness and faithfulness that God has shown to him.  Having observed Jacob’s life, his deceitfulness and manipulating ways, we would certainly agree he is not worthy. ( For me this is a great encouragement- for like Jacob I consider myself unworthy of God’s kindness- but that is what Grace is and why we call it Amazing. ) 

Jacob then does something, we need to do. Look back and see what God has done. Jacob declares as he looks back, I left home with a staff and now I have returned 20 years later with all of this, You have given me.   

The Jacob pleads with God as a desperate, fearful man to protect him and his family from the violence of Esau.  

Then Jacob boldly reminds God of God’s promises to him, Jacob. That is always a potent argument with God to take Him back to His promises.  


( Verse13-21)Now Jacob arises from this prayer and prepares a gift for his brother Esau. He arranges for his servants to bring these gifts of herds in sections- so that Esau with each gift will hear the same message: this is a gift from your servant Jacob sent to my lord, Esau. Were these gifts meant as a bribe or as a gift of goodwill?  Not sure. But I believe Jacob arose from prayer more confident and having succeeded in convincing himself as he recalled the promises of God. These promises of God reminded Jacob not of who he was- but WHOSE he was.  For at Bethel, Jacob had experienced a personal relationship with God. He became a believer. Now Jacob will be broken.  We need to realize the two go together. For when we are weak, when we realize we are powerless- then we become strong in the Lord. 

(Vs. 22)After sending the flocks Jacob remains behind with his family to await the arrival of Esau in the morning. He takes his two wives , his two maid servants and all of his children and crossed the stream, Jabbok. Then Jacob was left alone- evidently to spend the night in prayer and we are told of a strange occurrence- a wrestling match until daylight.  

Sometimes we wrestle with something in the dark that we cannot clearly see until the light of day. Those problems that keep us awake at night- might not really be the problem we are wrestling with- only a symptom of the deeper root of the problem.  

Some think the wrestling match is a spiritual allegory- but that does not explain Jacob’s dislocated hip which was physical. Since the Pre-Incarnate Lord had met with Abraham in the desert and eaten lunch and two angels appeared as men in Sodom and Gomorrah- we know this physical encounter can be taken literally.  

Jacob wrestles with this unseen, unknown man through the night until daybreak.

Verse 25 tells us “ when the ‘man’ saw that he could not overpower him(Jacob), he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”  If this is the Pre-Incarnate Lord, or even a mighty angel of the Lord, how could a mere man not be overcome by the mighty angel or the Lord Himself?  Simple answer is God allowed Jacob to struggle with Him. But clearly by touching his hip and dislocating it, God shows He was in control all the time. Jacob would never walk the same again- he would always walk with a limp a reminder of this night.  

In doing so, God teaches us that perseverance  in prayer is an important and necessary element. 

When this ‘man’ tells  Jacob to let  him go- Jacob refuses  to give up until this man blesses him.

Then the Lord ( I believe this is who this man is) asks Jacob his name.  Jacob answers- I am Jacob.  What does the name Jacob mean?  Heel grabber- supplanter, deceiver, a cheat and a liar.  Jacob has confessed who he is. For the last time he was asked his name by his father, Isaac, he lied he was Esau.  

Now that he has admitted who he is and was. This was all God wanted. God simply wanted Jacob to be broken in His Presence and see himself as he really was. A natural born sinner born with a name that described his nature- a cheat and a liar.  

His name was changed that early morning by the brook Jabbok, from Jacob to Israel. This new name marked a new beginning and Jacob, now Israel, would never walk the same.  

There seems to be a pattern in our walk with the Lord. There is salvation which occurs at once and forever. But then begins the ongoing process of sanctification- the molding and conforming in the image of God’s son. Our walk begins and it should be different than it was before. For the Lord delights to order our steps. 

It is clear that God has shared with us in His Word prayers of biblical characters. By searching the scriptures and these prayers we can find those real people in real situation like ours and see how they prayed effectively.  Remember these things were written to teach us.  

Let us summarize what we see in this story are the elements of effective prayer and how they relate to us in our situations.  

  1. A right relationship. Jacob’s right relationship began with God at Bethel, where the God of his fathers became Jacob’s God. Can you look back to your own Bethel experience?
  2. Knowing God’s thoughts. God had revealed His will for Jacob in dreams, visions or in some way the spoken word. He has revealed His thoughts to us in His Word with the Holy Spirit to teach us and even pray for us. Saturate your mind with God’s word and you will begin to think like God.
  3. Pure heart. We must confess all known sins. Sin means divided loyalty. God will not trust His Power and Authority to anyone not completely yielded. Jacob surrendered to the Lord- he gave up at Jabbok.
  4. Pure motive The true desire to know God’s will in any given situation. We can make our requests and petitions known to God –  but realize the point of prayer is not to have God do our will- but for us to have our will aligned with His. Not my will- but Thy will, Father, prayed Jesus in the Garden.
  5. Persistent confidence in the faithfulness of God. Pray until we receive an answer. Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened. These instructions speak of a persistence.


If you are a believer you have the right relationship with God- you can call on Him as your Heavenly Father.

You and I are commanded to study to show ourselves approved- spending time in the Word and saturating your mind with the word of God. By studying His Word we will come to know what God’s will is.  

Then confess your sins- now with a clean heart you will have a clear mind and a clear mind will produce the right motives.   

Let’s think about something for a minute- if Jacob had the promises of God that He, God was with Jacob and would watch over him wherever he went and bring him back to this land  and prosper him- why was he afraid and in distress?  Because the enemy, satan had a stronghold in Jacob’s mind. The stronghold was based on a lie- that Jacob’s situation was unchangeable- he would be defeated and destroyed by his brother Esau. But this was contradictory to the will and promise of God.  

Remember the battle is the Lord’s.  

So let us remember the following truths:  

Remember your position in Christ. We have been raised from the dead with Christ and are seated with Him in heavenly places. ( Eph. 2:6) We are to therefore set our minds on things above, not on things on earth. (Col 3: 1-2) He(Christ) is head over all rule and authority.( Col 2:9-10)  I am in Christ and Christ has authority and rule over satan. The enemy will retreat before the authority that comes from Christ. You and I can bind the enemy on the basis of our position in Christ.  

Rely on God’s provision. His provision is His Grace. I am not talking about saving grace but the grace, the unmerited, undeserved favor of God that gives us power we need to live victorious lives.  James 4: 6 states: “But He gives us MORE GRACE. That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In other words the grace that God gives you to tear down the strongholds is far greater than the power that set up those strongholds.  

Obviously we want to know- how do we obtain this grace that is greater?  And the word of God tells us:  Submit yourselves therefore  to God. ( James 4:7) Surrender to the Lord. Completely yield to His power – quit trying to do it in your own strength- it hasn’t worked and it never will. That is why as a 32 year-old man- I had to confess I was powerless over alcohol.  

How do we plug into this power?  We disconnect from what had not worked- self effort and plug into Christ’s power. “Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.” ( James 4:8) Drawing near results from spending time in God’s presence in prayer, worship and study of His Word.  

Repent of our sins.  James 4: 8-9 says: “ Wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve mourn and  wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  We need to get serious about our sin.. confession is cleansing and Godly sorrow leads to repentance. God’s word is telling us- sin is no laughing matter. 

Then having done these things we can resist the devil. We can resist only by knowing and using the Word of God. (Matthew 4) 

For example when the enemy comes with the lie that you will never be able to change – your rebuttal is ; I am a new creature in Christ. When the enemy tells you that you will never be free- tell him it is written, if Christ sets you free – you are free indeed.  

It is time to claim your new identity.

It is time to draw on the inexhaustible provisions that God has provided.

It is time to send the enemy packing and tear down the strongholds.  

You wrestle not with flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ( Ephesians 6)  

Let’s get ready to rumble! 

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14