The Word Made Fresh
1After Laban departed Jacob broke camp and continued his journey. He was met by angels of God. 2When he saw them he said, “This has to be God’s outpost,” and named the place Mahanaim.
3Then Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau in the Seir region of Edom. 4He sent this message with them: “Tell Esau that his servant Jacob has been living up to now as a foreigner with Laban. 5Tell him I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female slaves. Tell him I have sent you to tell him this in hopes that he will welcome me.”
6When those messengers returned they told Jacob, “We saw your brother Esau. He is coming to meet you. He has 400 men with him.”
7Jacob was very afraid then, and distraught. He separated his people and his flocks and herds and camels into two groups. 8He thought, “When Esau meets the first group, if he attacks it, the second group may be able to escape.”
9Then Jacob prayed: “God of my father Abraham and my father Isaac; you told me to return to my country and my relatives and you would do good to me. 10I know I don’t deserve any part of the steady love and faithfulness you have demonstrated to me. I had nothing but my rod when I crossed this Jordan and now there are two companies with me. 11Rescue me, I beg you, from my brother Esau. I am afraid he will come and kill us all, even the mothers and their children. 12But you told me that you would surely be good to me, and that you would give me children and descendants as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea – so many they can’t even be counted.”
13Jacob stayed the night in that place and put together a gift for Esau. 14The gift included two hundred female and twenty male goats; two hundred ewes and twenty rams; 15thirty female camels with their colts; forty cows and ten bulls; twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16He put servants in charge of them, separating each group, and told them, “Go on ahead. Put some distance between each group.” 17And he told the first group, “When Esau meets you and asks you to whom you belong and where you are going and who owns the animals you are driving ahead of you, 18tell him they belong to his servant Jacob. Tell him they are a gift sent to our lord Esau and tell him I am behind you.”
19He gave the other groups the same instructions. “Tell Esau the same thing when you meet him, 20and be sure to add that I am coming behind you.” Jacob hoped to mollify Esau with the gifts, so that when the two of them finally met face to face Esau would receive him in peace. 21He sent the gifts on ahead of him and he stayed behind in the camp overnight.
22That very night he sent his two wives, their maids and his children 23across the Jabok Creek ford along with all his luggage.
24Jacob stayed behind alone, and a man came and struggled with him all night long until day was breaking. 25When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob he struck Jacob’s thigh and put his hip out of joint. 26He said, “Let me go! The sun is rising!”
Jacob said, “I’m not letting go until you give me a blessing.”
27“What is your name?” the man asked.
“Jacob,” he replied.
28“No longer will you be called Jacob,” the man said. “Now you are Israel, because you have fought with God as well as other men and have survived.”
29“What is your name?” Jacob asked.
“Why do you ask?” was the reply, and then the man pronounced a blessing on Jacob.
30Jacob named the place Peniel, “God’s Face.” He said, “I have seen God face to face, and I’m still alive.” 31The sun rose as Jacob left Peniel, limping. 32To this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle attached to the hip joint because Jacob was struck on that muscle.
1-2: A curious verse event: As Jacob is preparing to break camp at the site of his encounter with Laban in the hill country of Gilead, two angels of God meet him. We are told nothing of the exchange, but Jacob once again is convinced that God is present in a place he has slept. He names the place Mahanaim (“two camps”), meaning either where he and Laban had camped, or perhaps thinking that God has a camp there beside his own.
3-5: The more pressing reality, though, is the imminent meeting with his brother Esau. He sends word to Esau that he is coming home and mentions that he is quite able now to pay Esau for the trouble he caused twenty years before.
6-8: The messengers do not bring happy news, though. Esau is on his way to meet Jacob with 400 men! Curiously, Jacob continues on his course, although he does take action to present a less satisfying target to his estranged and perhaps still murderous brother.
9-12: Jacob prays for the first time in his life, as far as we know. He reminds God of the promise made to him twenty years before, admits his fear of Esau, and places himself at God’s mercy. It is truly an act of faith on his part, considering how he left Esau.
13-21: But Jacob is a practical man as well, and he arranges for what he hopes will be an appeasing gift for Esau. He sets apart five groups of animals: two hundred twenty goats, two hundred twenty sheep, and thirty female camels with nursing young, forty cows with ten bulls, and forty donkeys. He sends them ahead and instructs his people to tell Esau that they are gifts for him from his brother Jacob. That will make five times Esau’s approach will be at least briefly delayed.
22-32: Jacob moves his entire encampment across the Jabbok, but he stays alone on the other side, and engages in a mysterious wrestling match with a man whom he comes to regard as none other than God. God does have a habit of showing up in common guise. They wrestle unsuccessfully all night although Jacob’s hip is put out of joint, and as the day is breaking his adversary tries to leave, but Jacob insists on a blessing. The man asks his name, and then gives Jacob a new name, Israel. Jacob in turn asks the man’s name but is refused. Jacob names the place Peniel, “Face of God,” because he believes he has had a direct encounter with the divine.
Jacob’s character so far certainly is not stellar. He is a schemer, and not altogether honest. Still, God is determined to use him to further God’s plan, and it is perhaps a lesson to us that, even if we don’t own a spotless past, God certainly won’t give up on us easily.