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Sunday, March 1, 2020

posted Mar 3, 2020, 5:26 PM by Site Administrator

THE GOD OF ISRAEL

 

Genesis 32:1-33:16

Key Verse 32:28

 

Your name will no longer be called Jacob but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

 

          First, “Save me from the hand of my brother Esau” (32:1-23). Look at verses 1 through 6. After departing from Laban, Jacob continued the journey to his homeland, but as he came closer to the land, a great burden seized his heart – the burden of facing his brother Esau from whom he had stolen his father’s blessing. It was 20 years ago when he had deceived Esau and stolen his blessing, but now he had to face the consequence of his sin. As he went on his way, two camps of God’s angels met him. Jacob should have said, “Wow!” and had the confidence in God’s protection. But he simply named that place “Mahanaim,” which means, “two camps,” and went on. Even though he met not one or two angels, but two camps of angels, nothing happened in his heart because he was completely preoccupied with the thought of seeing Esau’s angry face. In order to know if Esau still was harboring a grudge against him or not, Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau. But the messengers brought him back a terrible report, saying, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” “With four hundred men!” “Why with four hundred men?” If Esau was coming with 20 men, Jacob would know for sure that Esau was coming to welcome him. But now with 400 men! It seemed obvious that Esau was going to attack him and his whole household. So, Jacob quickly divided his whole family into two groups to save the second in case the first was attacked.

 

          Look at verses 9 through 12. Jacob prayed, saying, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’... Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.” In the past 20 years, Jacob did not pray. But this time, out of desperation, he prayed to God for help. His prayer was based on God’s promise that God would make him prosper. At the same time, he was very humble in prayer. He said in verse 10, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups.” What beautiful statements these are! A self-seeking person, Jacob, uttered such beautiful words to God, fully acknowledging and appreciating God’s kindness and faithfulness in his life in Paddan Aram. He did not take it for granted; he truly recognized that he was not worthy of God’s special grace and favor; he knew that he did not deserve such kindness from God. Those who acknowledge this - their unworthiness of God’s kindness and faithfulness - have a good foundation to build a beautiful life of faith in God. But often, people do not acknowledge it. Instead, they demand God to do this or that, as if they deserve it. Maybe, they do so, because of their Christian family legacy, or because of their service and even sacrifice for God’s purpose. When they have this kind of attitude, they complain and doubt when things do not go in the way they expected. You are serving the One True God, Creator of heaven and earth - it is great privilege and favor given to you; serving God itself is your very great reward; you are already very favored and blessed. Remember all great things God has done for you and acknowledge how much God has really blessed you. Then, out of thanks and happiness, say, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.” From there, you build a beautiful life of faith, thanking God and doing everything God wants you to do with all your heart and strength.

 

          Jacob’s prayer was very sincere, and he was very humble and thankful. Yet, even after offering such a sincere prayer, still nothing had changed; he was still so burdened. So, Jacob sent many gifts to Esau: 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 30 female camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. It was a lot of gift. He did not send them all together, but herd by herd, putting some distance from each other, and each herd was led by a herdsman, carrying Jacob’s message for Esau. So, Esau would meet 200 female goats first and ask the herdsman, “To whom do you belong, and where are you going, and who own all these animals in front of you?” Then, the herdsman would say, “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.” About 30 minutes later, Esau would meet 20 male goats and the herdsman would say exactly the same thing: “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.” Then, 200 ewes, then, 20 rams, then, 30 female camels with their young,... This would continue 9 times. In this way, Jacob thought that he would pacify Esau and that Esau would accept him favorably. Jacob did all he could to overcome his problem. Yet, still he was deeply agonized that, that night, he sent over all his family members and possessions to the other side of the Jabbok river. This action he took showed that the burden was so heavy on him that he could not bear even a feather landing on his shoulders. His agony was so great that he could not bear even his wife Rachel saying to him, “Honey, are you okay?” He could not bear even his son, saying, “Dad, aren’t you sleeping?” Everything, everyone was a burden to him. That’s why he sent them over to the other side of the Jordan river. He was then all alone, embracing such burden in his heart that night. He indeed hit the rock bottom.

 

          Second, “God’s wrestling match with Jacob” (32:24-25). Look at verse 24. It reads: “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” This man was God in a human form. God visited Jacob in a human form and had a physical wrestling match with him.

 

          Why did God have to come in a human form and have a wrestling match with Jacob? Actually God had been wrestling with Jacob for the past 20 years to change him into a spiritual person. God had a great plan for Jacob, but Jacob was not interested in God’s business at all. He was only concerned about what he wanted and what he valued; he would never give up, but pursue what he wanted until he secured it. So, God wrestled with him to break him down and change him into a spiritual person. God drove him to the corner many times, but Jacob, with his never-give up spirit and a hard working spirit, somehow overcame all difficult situations, secured what he had desired, and moved on.Now God hemmed him in again: Jacob had to go to Bethel according to his vow to God, and it was God’s will; he could not go back to Paddan Aram because he had a covenant with his uncle Laban. God had a really good chance, because Jacob really felt burdened; he was at the breaking point; but there, in that most burdensome situation, Jacob was doing something continually - dividing his family into two groups, praying to God for help sincerely, and sending many gifts to Esau to pacify him, never giving up or surrendering. But this time, God would not let him go away again; instead, God was determined to finish his mission on Jacob there. That’s why God came to him in a human form and had a physical wrestling match with Jacob; his goal was to break him down, so that finally Jacob would stop pursuing his own things but, instead, surrender, give in and accept God’s will upon his life; that is what God was doing and aiming on. For this, for the sake of changing Jacob into a spiritual person, God was willing to wear a human body and have a physical wrestling match with him; indeed, for Jacob’s sake, God went extra miles; God did this much for Jacob. Indeed, as he said in the book of Malachi, He could say, “I have loved Jacob.” (Mal 1:2)  

 

         When we think about this passage carefully, we are really touched by God’s amazing grace upon our life. While we were just concerned about our own desires and pursued our own dreams blindly, God had wrestled with us to change us into spiritual people; God has been wrestling with us so that we may stop pursuing worthless things of this world, but surrender our life to God, accept and live according to his will and purpose. How stubbornly we had rejected him so many times! How rudely we have turned our backs to him! But God had not given up on us, but continued his wrestling match with us through our family matter, school matter, job matter and relationship matter. Then, God sent us his servants who had a physical wrestling match with us, sometimes, challenging us to repent of our sins, sometimes, rebuking our stubbornness harshly, and sometimes, encouraging and comforting us. It is only because of God’s marvelous grace upon us that He has not given up on us, but wrestled with us continually that, today, we live as God’s children, enjoying God’s grace and serving God’s will. Thanks to his patience and love for us, even we could finally let go of our own self-seeking desires and turn to God; that’s how today we live as God’s covenant people.

 

         Jesus says, "My Father is always at his work to this very day." Now we see what God is doing today. He is wrestling with people to break them down and change them. So many people are like Jacob pursuing things of this world blindly, actually, fighting for nothingendlessly; they fight and fight to get what they desire, pursuing what they value, never really showing real interest in God’s will and purpose for them. Just like Jacob, even if they have the knowledge of God, even if they go to church, they are pursuing worldly things, not spiritual things, without knowing what is really waiting for them - such disastrous life, broken family, loneliness, sorrows and misery - destructive life is waiting for them, yet, they are blind; they just fight continually for what they desire. But amazingly, God loves them, so He wrestles with them to turn their hearts from the things of this world to Himself. God wrestles with them to break them down so that they may stop pursuing such things, but become spiritual people; God wrestles with them to break them down so that they may open their hearts, accept God’s great vision for their life, and live as God’s covenant people - fathers and mothers of many nations. Had not God pursued us and wrestled with us, we would have lived really a terrible life; or had God not done so, we would have perished in sin, in misery, in emptiness long time ago. The God of Jacob is a wonderful God; because of him and his wrestling match with us, once wayward people like us, no longer live a cursed life of Jacob, but the blessed life of Israel. This is the God of Jacob; this is the God of John Baik; this is the God of you also.

 

          How did the wrestling match between God and Jacob go? At first, we may think that the wrestling match would end so quickly. Since God’s intention was to have a physical wrestling match with Jacob, God wore a human body that was well prepared for a wrestling match, with big muscles, but Jacob was in a bad shape because of the heavy burden he had in his heart. He was also very old, 97 years old. But once they started the wrestling match, it lasted all night long. Actually, Jacob had no purpose to fight with a stranger; his hands were already full with his problem. His life and the life of his wives and children were in jeopardy. In this kind of situation, most people would simply ignore any other matters, or they would simply cry and cry, without knowing what to do. But Jacob even in such deep distress, once he started a wrestling match, he would not give up; he never wanted to lose any fight no matter what. That was his nature, and his fighting nature had gripped him tight that even in that situation, he was fighting. Was there any purpose for Jacob in this fight? Not at all! But he was fighting, even wholeheartedly, until daybreak. He was really weird. Or, we say that he was really an idiot fighting so wholeheartedly all night long, for no purpose. Even if God had a nice wrestler’s body, he could not overpower Jacob. So, after all night’s fight, when God saw that he could not overcome him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and it was wrenched. God cheated - it was foul play. At this, Jacob could not fight any longer; he collapsed there. 

        

Third, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel” (32:26-33:16). Look at verse 26. The man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”Thus far, through his hard work, he had collected a lot of blessings - the birthright, his father’s blessing, marriage, and wealth. But now he realized that such things were not true blessing. He realized that true blessing was not something he could collect through hard work, but something that comes from God, something he should receive from God.

 

         How did God respond? Look at verses 27 and 28. Let’s read these verses together:

 

27The man asked him, “What is your name?”“Jacob,” he answered.  28Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

 

Now in order to give him true blessing, God asked Jacob, “What is your name?” Why did God ask Jacob his name? Didn’t God already know his name? Of course, he knew it. What was the point of God asking Jacob a question that was so obvious? This kind of question God often uses to bring things to the surface. When Adam was hiding among the trees, God said, “Where are you?” And when Cain committed the horrific crime of murdering his brother in cold blood, God asked, “Where is your brother Abel?” In all three cases the LORD knew the answer, but he asked the question to make them think. Name means that whole person; identity. The question “What is your name” really was asking, “Who are you?” Or “What kind of person are you?” Or simply, “What is your true identity?” He responded, “Jacob.”The name,“Jacob” means “he grasps the heel”—he was a “grabber” which figuratively means a “deceiver.”

 

There, at the Jabbok River, Jacob realized his sinful character to grab things from others; there he finally met his true self. Before, Jacob might have thought that he was a pretty good guy with a good work ethic, growing up in a believing family, attending worship service, acknowledging God, and supporting his own family faithfully, and being faithful to his boss. But now he found himself nothing but a grabber and deceiver.

 

Hosea 12:4 says that at that time, Jacob wept and begged for God’s favor. Jacob was not the kind of person who would weep and beg for someone’s favor; he was a strong man. But at this moment, he wept and begged for God’s blessing. Why did he weep? Did Jacob, 97 year old man, weep for the pain of his injury? Definitely not! He wept because he found who he truly was - a grabber, deceiver, sinful man who had lived by his cursed nature all his life. The expression, “weeping and begging” is the very expression of a man broken down. Jacob broke down, deeply despairing about himself. As we see in the passage, as the wrestling match went on, Jacob came to recognize that the man who was wrestling with him was no ordinary man, but God himself in flesh; also, while the wrestling match was going on, Jacob really knew that he had no reason or purpose to wrestle with this man, yet, he simply could not stop it, because he could not help; he kept fighting, because it was his nature - that’s how he had been living his entire life, controlled by his terrible nature, living as a slave to it. Maybe he cried inwardly, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Jacob finally broke down at the feet of God.

 

Do you want God’s real blessing? Then, God asks you, “What is your name?” What is your name? Who are you? What kind of person are you? Knowing who I am is the beginning of receiving God’s real blessing. Only in God, we can find who we really are. Without God, we just think that we are the center of the world, or that we are really good, maybe, not perfect, but better than others. But when we find our true lost condition in God, we realize that we really live by God’s grace alone; there, all our pride disappears, and we really understand that it is such a great blessing that in Jesus Christ, we are called to serve our God without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.

 

Then, God said to him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” God’s blessing upon Jacob was to change his name into Israel. Its meaning was that God took away his cursed nature of Jacob—grabbing, and gave him a new blessed nature of Israel—struggling with God. God freed him from his corrupt nature that had been working in him in his entire life and gave him a new nature, “Israel,” new personality to struggle with God. It is amazing grace to be free from one’s innate nature and be a new person with a blessed nature.

 

What is the true blessing God wants to give us? Being rich is blessing. Establishing a dream family is another. Worldwide fame is still another. So all people are after these things, and when they finally acquire what they have pursued, they feel proud and victorious; but when they do not have such things, they feel insecure and unhappy. But as we see Jacob’s plea to God, “I will not let you go unless you bless me,” these things are not true blessings. True blessing is not what we grab by our own struggles, rather, it is from God. It is not of what we have, but of what we are. Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob had no son, so to him, having a son was God’s blessing. So he pursued it expecting that if he lived for God, God would give him many sons. But God said to him, “I am your very great reward!” What Abraham wanted was a son as the reward of his life of faith, but what God wanted to give to him as his reward was God himself, meaning that Abraham’s inner person would change that he would be like God in thoughts, words and actions. Now, in today’s passage, when Jacob begged God for true blessing, God changed his inner person from the person of Jacob into the person of Israel. Once his inner person changed, his life would change forever - he would be God’s covenant person, living for God’s purpose upon his life. True blessing is about our inner person change.People don’t like who they are or what they have become. They wish that they were different. They want to start all over again as a new person, if it were ever possible. But nothing can change them. Nothing can set them free from who they are. But God can change us. God wants to bless us really. So, he calls us, saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” God says, “You will be the father of many nations.” “You will be the mother of many nations.” “You will be a blessing.” “No longer Jacob, but Israel.” Don’t you want to be blessed by God really? Then, follow Jesus, and he will change you.   

 

Look at verse 29. Let’s read this verse together:

 

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

 

Jacob asked the man, “Please tell me your name.” Until this time, Jacob had many divine and even mysterious encounters with God - at Bethel and in his wage matter in Paddan Aram. He acknowledged God’s help and thankful. Yet, he never asked this question before. Why? Because simply, he didn’t care. To him, God becoming the God of his father and of his grandfather was enough; he was just busy to pursue his own life. But now at the Jabbok river, when he was changed into Israel, he came to have the desire to know God - who is the God who has helped me all this time? Who is the God whom I have believed so far? What kind of person is he? When I became a Christian at the Summer Bible conference in 1993, I wanted to know the God whom I believed. So, I read the Bible every night, 10 to 11 or 12 am. Then, I was really amazed to find that God had been revealing himself in the human history, especially, in the history of Israel so vividly - that was the historic fact, yet, I had not believed in him - what a stupid person I was. That Bible reading lasted for several months; it was such great blessing to me. As we struggle to do God’s work, at the right time, suddenly this question comes to our heart, “I believe in God; I serve Him and even love Him. By the way, what kind of person is he?” That is the time when we turn our eyes to God and seek Him. Knowing Christ is surpassingly great, so we want to know Him really. This is our true goal in our life of faith. Let’s pray that we may seek God and know Him really.

 

At this question of Jacob, the man replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Why do you think the man answered Jacob this way? What is the meaning of his answer? Maybe, he meant that Jacob already knew Him. Or, he meant that knowing his name cannot be done by just asking him that question - no easy way to know God, no, no, no! You have to seek him with all your heart and you will find him. Jacob named that place, “Peniel,” which means, “face of God,” saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, yet my life was spared.” Look at verse 31, “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel and he was limping because of his hip.” This verse illustrates Jacob’s condition very well. Because his hip was wrenched, he was limping physically. But inwardly, the son rose in his heart and all darkness such as fear, anxiety and burden disappeared from his heart as he experienced God’s grace very personally. Instead, deep peace and confidence in God’s love filled his heart that he was now ready to meet his brother Esau; he was ready to meet his fate or pay the consequences of his past sins.

 

          So what happened to Esau and Jacob? His encounter with Esau did not turn out sour, but very sweet. As Jacob bowed down to Esau, Esau ran to meet him and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept – both of them were 97 years old. Esau did not want to receive the gifts Jacob sent to him, because he had already plenty and he wanted his brother to have more. But Jacob replied, “No please, if I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you received me favorably.” Jacob experienced God’s grace personally that, in Peniel, even though he, a sinner, saw God face to face, God did not destroy him, but received him favorably. And now Esau received him favorably, even though Jacob had done a terrible thing against him. To Jacob, Esau was no longer his rival, but Esau was really great, honorable and noble, behaving in the image of God. So, to him, seeing Esau’s face was like seeing God’s face. When people experience God’s grace, when they are set free from their cursed nature, they begin to see others in a different way: Suddenly, their siblings with whom they have had great struggle look very beautiful and noble. So, their relationship is restored. In God, relationships are restored. This is true healing.

 

          Jacob insisted that Esau might accept his gifts, saying, “Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” What an amazing statement it was for the blessing craving Jacob to say, “I have all I need.” It is no mistake to say that Israel was content in his life once he met God at the Jabbok river and said, “I have all I need.”

 

          People are thirsty for many things; they are hungry for many things; they keep looking for something; they keep struggling and grabbing without knowing any contentment. The real cause of such hunger and thirst is their own sinful nature; it is because they have not met their God personally; it is because they have not been blessed by God; it is because they have not been changed into spiritual people. What they truly need is to turn to God, accept God’s love, receive freedom from their cursed nature and become spiritual people. Don’t spend your time, energy and talent on what is not good, and on what does not satisfy. But come to God, eat what is good and drink, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare, saying, “I have all I need.”

 

One Word: No longer Jacob, But Israel

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