When Jacob Met Esau

Yesterday morning, I sat in my study awaiting a second cup of coffee, listening to the voice of God. I was reading 1 Peter 2. Then I bowed my head and lifted my voice to God. I was praying. I prayed for me. I prayed for my daughters. I prayed for my wife. I prayed for you by name. Then I made one request for our church. As soon as the request passed my lips, I stopped, stunned. I had just asked God to touch our church.

The Touch of God’s Hand

As Genesis 32 nears an end, it was night. Jacob was left alone, when out of the darkness he felt the grip of a man tossing him and tossing with him in the dust of the ground. Each man was in the grip of the other until the breaking of the day. Who was this man? His name was never given and his coming never announced.

Listen closely to Genesis 32:25. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob…” Who was this man whose own strength and endurance thus far was apparently being matched by Jacob? “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket.” Who was this man? This man would only be known by his touch. Last week, it was shared that the word touch is much too tame. It does mean to strike or to deal a devastating blow, which implies that this will hurt. It means to wound. But this week, I came to appreciate just the word touch. The word touch does convey a certain ease. Listen to the rest of Genesis 32:25. “When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” Who has the power in the mere ease of his touch to put out of joint a man’s hip? Jacob knows this man. And Jacob knows this man because of his touch.

Listen to Genesis 32:30. “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’” Who was this man? It was God himself. It was God as a man who out of darkness wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day. The touch was the touch of God’s hand. And it was God who wounded Jacob.

Why would God wound Jacob? This might be the most important reality of Genesis 32. Jacob realized by that touch that he had seen God face to face and had been delivered. And so because of that touch, Jacob gave the place a permanent reminder. He named it Peniel, which means the face of God. And because of that touch, God gave Jacob a permanent reminder. “The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” The permanent reminder was a limp. Jacob would never walk the same. Your walk matters. There is a third permanent reminder. Eating. For generations to come, the offspring of Jacob would not eat of the hip socket, so as to remember that God touched Jacob. Why would God wound Jacob? It was for his own good. Jacob wrestled with God throughout the night, gripping God as a fighter. But then came that touch. And what then did Jacob do because of that touch? He would not let go of God. He held fast to God, he gripped God not as a fighter, but now as a desperate man in desperate need. When that hip went out of socket, Jacob could no longer rely on his own strength, his own ability, himself. Why? “If we in our own strength confide; our striving would be losing; were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.”

When Jacob Met Esau

What then does this have to do with Genesis 33? Genesis 33 is about the day when Jacob met Esau. But when did Jacob meet Esau? Notice the very first word of Genesis 33. “And Jacob lifted up his eyes.” The word and (now or then) connects to what was said previous or in this case, what happened previous. And what happened previous in relation to Genesis 33:1 is Genesis 32:31. “The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” The sun comes up, it is a new day dawning. Jacob passes the place he just named as a permanent reminder, the face of God. It is the place he saw God face to face. It is the place that God answered his prayer (cf. Genesis 32:11). He was limping and as he was limping he lifted up his eyes and looked. BEHOLD! This word is for us the reader. See what Jacob sees as he limps. “Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him” (Genesis 33:1a).

Genesis 32 and Genesis 33 and Genesis 34 are like dominoes. A guiding principle to reading these three chapters is that the preceding chapter affects the proceeding chapter. So, Esau was coming, and Jacob was limping because God touched him. And four hundred men are coming too, four hundred men who are with Esau. And Jacob was limping.

Jacob was in no way ready for this; he had not slept in 24 hours! He knew his brother was coming, but this soon? Jacob was limping. Jacob was tattered and battered and dirty. Where did the time go? He made his way to his family. They see their husband. They see their dad. What must they be thinking and feeling at the sight of their limping, battered and tattered and dirty husband and father?  And what was he doing? He was dividing the family. Jacob did this once before at the word of Esau’s coming. He divided his family into two camps so as to increase the odds of survival (cf. Genesis 32:7). But now at the sight of Esau’s coming, Jacob divided the family again – the two servants with their children in front; Leah and her children behind them; and Joseph and his mom Rachel in the rear (33:1b-2). Was Jacob speaking? Were they all asking questions? Was he answering? Was this, too, an act of survival, Jacob’s own survival?

Jacob moved, still limping. He moved to the front of his family. Then Jacob moved again, still limping and he bowed himself to the ground. Oh, the pain! And with his one good leg, he struggled to get up again and he moved again, still limping, bowing himself to the ground a second time. Jacob will do this a total of seven times, and oh, the pain! Up again and moving again and bowing again. It is an act only reserved to greet a superior, sometimes a royal superior. Before Jacob left home, some twenty years prior, his dad blessed him saying, “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you” (Genesis 27:29). Yet, here Jacob was bowing down to his brother with his hip out of socket. And he was limping because God touched him – do not lose sight of this; it is a domino. Jacob’s future was that he would be exalted, and God’s path to fulfill this purpose was humility.

The Prodigal Brother Returned

The tension builds with each bow and with each wince of pain for Esau draws nearer. The 400 men draw nearer and nearer, too. Jesus told a story, a story with a lesson to be applied. It is called a parable. And this parable is known as the parable of the prodigal son. The son had it all, wealth and position and wanted it all now. He wanted his inheritance now. His father gave it to him and he ran out into the world and “squandered his property in reckless living.” He was then brought low. Humbled. Broke, he hired himself out to work in the fields with pigs. Soon he was eating with the pigs. And he wanted to go home. He saw the path to home. He would ask his dad to welcome him back home, not as a son, but as a servant. “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The father demanded that the best robe be put on his son and a ring on his hand and shoes for his feet. A celebration was to be had that night with the best steak dinner. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24). We sing with tears and much joy a hymn based on this story – Amazing Grace. But did you ever wonder how Jesus got the idea for this story? Listen closely to Genesis 33:4. “But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”

This is the prodigal brother returned. Jacob is the prodigal brother. Jacob anticipated the unleashing of his brother’s anger upon him, but instead was met with amazing grace. How? It was in that limp and through the path of humility. It was because of the touch, the wound, of God. Esau’s heart would not be softened in Jacob’s own strength. No, God had softened the heart of Esau. He had won the battle. Notice that the brothers wept. It is such a glorious picture of the biblical reconciliation of brothers and forgiveness.

Esau looked up through watering eyes. Picture it, these are some of the manliest men in the Bible weeping! Esau sees all these women and children. “Who are these?” he asked. Jacob responds that these women and these children, his family are God’s gracious gift to him. Then Esau asked what was meant by all those animals, the droves and droves of animals given as a gift to Esau. It was an offering; Jacob’s offering seeking Esau’s forgiveness. At first, Esau graciously will not accept the gift, but at Jacob’s insistence, he needs to accept it to show that forgiveness has been granted (33:5-11).

Seeing Your Face

Then Jacob shared with him that seeing his face “is like seeing the face of God” (33:10). Jacob has put it all together. Why did God wrestle him the night before and tatter and batter and bruise him into the dust of the ground? Why did God wound him? There was a purpose in the wounding for Jacob’s own good. It was humility. It was humility for when he would see the face of his brother.

There are three parts to Genesis 33. We, here, have only covered the first part. The first part is when Jacob met Esau (Genesis 33:1-11). The second part is to act as a transition (33:12-15). And the third part is about Jacob’s partial obedience (33:16-20). We will walk together through the last two parts next week. But we need today just this first part.

I have asked God to touch us. I do not think we are a prideful church. But the root of all sin is pride. And the Bible talks very bluntly about pride. It says to kill it (cf. Luke 9:23). Why did God touch Jacob?  “Sometimes a wound is a very special act of God’s grace. How often we need to be wounded because it is so easy for us to trust our own skills and ability.”[1] What is the point of the wound? In part, humility: to grip God because we are a people in desperate need of him. But why is humility so necessary?

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:6-8). Who does our adversary the devil as a roaring lion seek to devour? Those who trust in their own skills and ability – the prideful.

The touch is a gift and for our own good. I have asked God to touch us, but I first need to ask God to touch me.

[1] Ligon Duncan. https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/the-meeting-of-the-brothers


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