Genesis 32 Jacob Becomes Israel.
“God’s camp” is where the angels are. This is why Jacob called the place where they met him ‘Mahanaim’ (vv. 1-2). However, despite this wonderful appearing and assurance, Jacob was still fearful of his brother, and so he came up with a plan to have his servants meet Esau’s company ahead of himself (vv. Vv. 3-5). Jacob was not exactly a testimony of courage or faith. He had worked by deception, with respect to his brother, his whole life. This was no different. Upon hearing that Esau was making an effort to meet him, with four hundred men, he continued to fear and decided to divide his company in two, that if one were attacked the other half might escape (vv. 6-8). Only then do we learn that he prays to the God of his father Abraham, appealing to the promise of the covenant that the LORD would be with him (v. 9).
Though late, Jacob’s prayer was a good one, first acknowledging how unworthy he was to receive any of the LORD’s mercies, and especially the truth which the LORD had shown him, including his crossing of the Jordan with a multitude of people and possessions (v. 10). Therefore, on the basis of truth shown in the past, he pleads with the LORD to deliver him and his company from the hand of his brother (v. 11), again reiterating the promise given of descendants “which cannot be numbered for multitude” (v. 12). Jacob then put together some gifts for Esau, deliberately delivered in successive droves (vv. 13-16). By telling each servant of the droves to explain to Esau that these were gifts from his brother, he hoped to appease what he feared to be Esau’s anger against him (vv. 17-21a), “but he himself lodged that night in the camp” (v. 21b).
A true leader would have surely led his men into battle, if that is indeed what he thought was about to take place. However, this was something Jacob lacked. Finally he sent his two wives, two female servants, and his eleven sons over the brook, the ford of Jabbok (vv. 22-23). “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him” (vv. 24-25). This Man was determined to end the struggle before light would reveal His image to Jacob, but Jacob insisted on being blessed (v. 26). It would seem that Jacob knew this was no ordinary man, because no ordinary man could provide the blessing he sought. The one who struck his hip could certainly have done more.
Jacob needed to learn that he had more strength than he feared he did not have, and a real presence of his God than he ever thought possible. For this wrestling with the Man, Jacob is changed, the discipline making him stronger. To this end he was given a name to reflect this change. Jacob would ask for the Man’s name, but it would not be given to him. Instead, God would rename him. Instead of being “one who takes the heel” as a “supplanter or deceitful” (NGSB p 51 Cf. Gen. 25:26), which is what he was, he would now be called ‘Israel’ (‘Prince with God), for he had “struggled with God and with men,” and had prevailed (vv. 27-28). Jacob, now Israel, still wanted to know the Man’s name, because he wanted to know who or what kind of man He was. However, he was not given a name, but he was blessed (v. 29).
However, even though Jacob was not given a name, he knew he had “seen God face to face,” and his life was preserved, and only God could have blessed him as He did (v. 30). For this reason he called that place Peniel, meaning “face of God” (Ibid. 64). As he crossed over this place, “the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip” (v. 31). From that time the people would refuse to eat that same part of the animals they had for food. Jacob’s limp would also be a reminder to him that he wrestled with God and prevailed, for God was with him (v. 31). Before Jacob would meet Esau, he needed to wrestle with God and to learn that with God he need not fear. One who wrestles with God and prevails, need not fear men. Israel was now a “Prince with God,” called to serve the King.