Last week’s study dealt with Jacob’s travel to Haran and his time there working for his uncle Laban. I consider this to be the first dispersion. Jacob spent 20 years there. This week’s study deals with Jacob’s return to the land of promise. Indeed, the vessel of promise returned to the land of promise. This is in accordance with the promise God made to Jacob at Bethel.
“And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)
Jacob’s life serves as a prophecy concerning the future of his descendants. We believe that the return of a remnant of Israel to the land of Israel in our days follows this same pattern. As we consider the Hebrew prophets, we recognize that God has promised this and much more to the people of Israel.
After 20 years of “discipline” at the hands of Laban, Jacob was prepared to trust God in faith rather than depending upon himself to accomplish his purpose. Jacob camped on the east side of the Jordan River. He was informed that his brother Esau was coming with 400 men. In Jacob’s last encounter with Esau, he threatened to kill Jacob. Obviously, Jacob feared that Esau and his accompanying militia were coming to fulfill that threat.
Jacob spent the night in prayer. Please note the difference in attitude exhibited by Jacob compared with that when he left the land. Here Jacob humbled himself, reminded God of the promise He had made and simply asked God to intervene to save him. Previously, Jacob had attempted to bargain with God.
Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)
Now Jacob is acting in faith. He is trusting God.
Jacob experienced a violent struggle that night.
“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Genesis 32:24)
We can debate who this man was but whoever he was he had the authority to change Jacob’s name to Israel. I conclude that the possibilities include God Himself, a pre-incarnate manifestation of Jesus (like the captain of the host of the Lord who would later meet Joshua on the plains of Jericho), or a high ranking angel. I would like to propose that Jacob was hearing two voices speaking to him that night. One voice, that of Satan, would have been encouraging Jacob to rely on his ability to manipulate his brother and, thereby, escape his wrath. The other voice would have been telling Jacob to trust God. The latter voice prevailed as did Jacob. Jacob chose faith rather than self reliance and as a result prevailed and was given a new name. The ultimate test of that faith came the following morning when Israel met Esau, bowed before and exposed his neck to Esau’s sword. The miracle of God’s intervention in the soul of Esau is evident as he embraces Israel rather than attempting to kill him.
Israel finally accepted his election as God’s vessel of redemption. This had been his dream as a young man. He manipulated his brother and father to receive it only to be driven further from it. Finally, he received it in the only way that it can be received, that is, by faith. Paul would later declare to the Ephesians,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”. (Ephesians 2:8)
Do you strive to obtain and fulfill God’s calling in your life? There is only one way to prevail and Israel demonstrated that for you.