Genesis 32:1-2 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, This is the camp of God! So he named that place Mahanaim.
Jacob and his family needed protection on their way back to the Promised Land, so God dispatched a camp of angels to watch over them. With plenty of servants, and hundreds of animals, Jacob’s camp was sizable. When Jacob saw the camp of angels, along with his own camp, he called the place Mahanaim, meaning two camps. It is a reminder that we are not alone in the world; God dispatches angels to watch over us. Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14), says Hebrews.
Genesis 32:3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir.
Jacob and Esau had not seen each other in twenty years, and did not part on the best of terms. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, as well as his blessing, and Esau wanted to kill him (Genesis 27:41). So Jacob fled to Harran where he spent twenty years working, having a family, and growing rich.
But now he was returning to the Promised Land, and wanted to make peace with his brother, so he sent messengers ahead. When Esau learned that his brother was returning, he went out to meet him—with four hundred men! This was not a good sign. When someone who wants you dead comes to meet you with four hundred men, they are not a welcoming committee.
When Jacob learned of this, he had great fear and distress (Genesis 32:7). Easu had nursed a grudge for the last twenty years, and this was his chance to get even. The text is not explicit, but he probably planned to kill Jacob and his family.
Then Jacob prayed, O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac . . . 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 camps. 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. But you have said, I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted (Genesis 32:9-12).
After Jacob prayed, he sent his brother a series of gifts. He sent two hundred female goats, twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams—over five hundred animals in all. He sent them in herds, and spaced them out, so they kept coming one after another (Genesis 32:13-20).
The purpose of the gifts was to appease his brother’s wrath, but we should also notice that prayer and action are not mutually exclusive. Some people pray without acting; others act without praying. It is best to pray as though everything depends on God, then act as though everything depends on you. That is what Jacob did—then hoped for the best.
Genesis 32:24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
Jacob put some space between him and his family and spent the night alone. He probably wondered if this would be his last night on earth. Would Esau attack in the morning? Would he alone be killed? Or would his family also be killed?
As he thought about these things, Jacob was ambushed by a man who wanted to wrestle. The man was not armed, and didn’t want to kill Jacob. He only wanted to wrestle through the night. In short, Jacob’s opponent was God (Genesis 32:30).
As they wrestled, [God] touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched (Genesis 32:25). God gave Jacob a limp (Genesis 32:31) that may have lasted the rest of his life. But why would he do that?
Jacob was independent by nature because he was strong in himself. He was physically strong, mentally strong, and very strong willed. But as he prepared to meet Esau, Jacob realized how much he needed God, and God wanted him to remember that. So God gave him a limp. It was a reminder to Jacob that he needed God wherever he went.
God did something similar to the Apostle Paul. Paul was so gifted that he might have become proud, so God gave him a thorn in [the] flesh–perhaps a painful eye disease (2 Corinthians 12:7, Galatians 4:15). Three times Paul prayed that God would take it away. But God said, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
Almost everyone has some kind of weakness: physical, emotional, mental, financial or other. Perhaps you have prayed that God would take it away. If he does, you can praise him. If not, you should use your weakness to make you more dependent on God. We are always stronger when we lean on God than when we think we can do it alone.
Genesis 32:26 Then the man said, Let me go, for it is daybreak. But Jacob replied, I will not let you go unless you bless me.
By this time Jacob knew he was wrestling with God. Even though he was injured, Jacob would not give up until he received a blessing. This can be called wrestling with God in prayer (Colossians 4:12).
Like many dads, I used to wrestle with my son when he was just a little guy. I could have easily crushed him, since I was many times his weight. But I wanted to see what he could do, so I would matched him strength for strength. I would make him work until finally, almost miraculously, he would flip me over and win. God is looking for people who will wrestle him in prayer, and will often let us win.
Reflection and Review
Why does God use angels to help us if he can help us himself?
What is the relationship between prayer and action?
Why did God make Jacob limp?