Jesus Visits Jacob

Finding Jesus In The Old Testament  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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When I was a young child growing up in Evandale, New Brunswick, my brother Ryan loved WWE wrestling. So what does any young boy who loves wrestling and lives out in the middle of nowhere do for fun? Well of course he needs to try out his wrestling moves on his little brothers. As one of those little brothers I will tell you that this could be a sometimes painful experience. Ryan would put cushions all over the place to make things “safe,” but you and I both know how well that works.
Another thing that Ryan liked to do was pick on my other brother Matt. One of the ways that he would do this was by intentionally going easy on me when we wrestled to embarrass Matt. Because I was the youngest, obviously I didn’t stand a chance against Ryan unless he went easy on me.
To say the same was true of Jacob’s wrestling match in Genesis 32 would be an understatement. You see Jacob we find out was wrestling with God Himself. The odds aren’t exactly in Jacob’s favor. For context, Jacob had been in an intense sibling rivalry since before he was born. He had a fraternal twin brother named Esau who was technically born first and therefore the primary heir to his father. Jacob had stolen Esau’s brithright and his blessing, leading him to eventually flee his family’s home because Esau wanted him dead. As time passes Jacob builds a family and amasses wealth for himself, but as he begins the journey back to his homeland as God told him to in Genesis 31:13.
Understandably Jacob is afraid to return to where Esau is still living. When he left Esau had promised to kill him if he returned. So Jacob prays a fervent prayer to God and then we read in Genesis 32:22-32
Genesis 32:22–32 ESV
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 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.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.
So in our series Finding Jesus in the Old Testament we’ve been exploring what the Old Testament has to teach us about the person and character of Jesus revealed in three major ways, through types of Christ who serve as images of who he would be, prophecies about Christ that make direct predictions about who Jesus would be and Christophanies that are pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament. This wrestling match between Jacob and this mysterious man seems to me to be a clear Christophany that shows us some important lessons about who Jesus is and what our relationship with Him should be like. Today I’d like to highlight three things this passage teaches us:
We must seek and struggle with Jesus
Jesus Gives us a New Name
Jesus is How we See God Face to Face and are Delivered

1. We must seek and struggle with Jesus

We’re probably all familiar with what’s called a “fight or flight” response. In nature it’s the idea that there are basically two reactions that a person or animal can take when they are faced with danger: they either run away from the danger or they stand and fight against whatever the threat is. There are some species that almost exclusively run away from danger unless cornered and others that almost always fight unless it’s obvious that they’ll lose, then there’s a lot in between including people that have to make a very quick decision in the moment which path that they’ll take.
A lot of the time we can have a bit of a similar spiritual response when we face trials and struggles in our lives. The question becomes whether we will flee from trouble or face it. Whether we will avoid God and abandon faith, or whether we will strive with God and seek Him for deliverance.
Over the course of Jacob’s story there’s a lot left to be desired when it comes to model qualities. Jacob is named “heel grabber” or “grasper” because he was born grasping for things. Throughout his life he used trickery and deception to weasel his way into taking more than his fair share. One of the ways he did this was to deceive his way into taking Esau his brother’s birthright from him.
In the context of our story Jacob is preparing to face the consequences of this action. No doubt he’s feeling an imense amount of stress in this moment. He’s already split his family up and sent an extravagant gift before them hoping to mitigate the damage his brother will do to him, and no doubt hearing that his brother was bringing four hundred men out to come meet him did nothing to reassure him.
So what does Jacob do in this situation? Well in this moment he does the right thing. He goes to God in prayer. We read before this passage in Gen 32:9-12
Genesis 32:9–12 ESV
And 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 kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
So Jacob asks for God’s help, and what answer does he receive? He receives… a wrestling match? Maybe not what you would expect when you’re reading this story. Genesis doesn’t tell us how this wrestling match started, or what Jacob thinks is happening. We’re thrown into the middle of it. By the end it becomes clear that this mystery man that Jacob is wrestling with is in fact God Himself, and I believe the second person of the trinity Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate form. Hosea 12:2-4 confirms this as a supernatural event and a meeting with God:
Hosea 12:2–4 (ESV)
The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—
I believe this has something to teach us about the nature of prayer. True from the heart prayer in times of struggle and trial has a lot in common with a wrestling match. We go to God and if we’re desperate for something we don’t just ask, we beg. And Jacob was desperate here. We read in Gen 32:26
Genesis 32:26 ESV
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
This reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:1-8
Luke 18:1–8 ESV
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
So what does our prayer life look like? Have we been wrestling with God over the cares in our lives, or has it been more like reciting a grocery list? I don’t say this to bring down judgment or conviction on us. I believe it’s better to pray every day even when it’s hard and you’re not feeling it than to not pray at all which is what many of us are tempted to do. But we should strive for passion. God knows how much you really care about the things you’re praying for and how much you actually believe that He will intervene. If we rush through our prayers as fast as we can without emotionally engaging in the act of praying what kind of sign is that about the level of care that we’re putting into it?
It’s also important to note that Jacob doesn’t come out of this encounter with God unscathed. During the wrestling match his hip is dislocated and we are told that he walked with a limp from that day on. The same can be true for us. Sometimes God needs to break you a little bit to make you into the person He wants you to be, the person you need to be. If you follow Christ remember that He asked us to “take up our crosses daily and follow Him” (See Matthew 16:24). Crucifixion is brutal, painful and in fact fatal. Hebrews 12:6-7
Hebrews 12:6–7 (ESV)
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
Who as a parent doesn’t understand the need for healthy discipline? So if you want to be loved by God, than you need to be willing to be disciplined by God so that He can conform you to the image of His son Jesus.

2. Jesus Gives us a New Name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” - Romeo + Juliet
In our day the meaning behind names is not so obvious and important as it used to be. We tend to in North American modern culture name our children older names from other languages most of the time, so that if you want to know what a name means you need to do some Etymology. This was not always so, nor is it the way things are done in every society today. Often people have been named something more direct. Usually some kind of character trait or blessing you wish for your child, or in some cases a name that has to do with the circumstances of their birth or some even you want to memorialize through their name. In other cases some cultures would reuse the names of prominant people from history to connect back and maybe even wish the same sort of fame for their children.
Katie and I didn’t name our children primarily because of the meaning of their names, but we took it into account. We wanted names that sounded good and not too strange, but we also wanted to make sure the meaning of the name is something positive and that matched our values as a family. Owen means warrior, and I hope that he grows to be strong and to fight for the things that matter. His middle name is Ebenezer, which is a biblical name that means “God has brought us this far,” and represents our thankfulness when Owen was born for God’s bringing Katie and I together and strarting to build our family and a pledge to continue in faithfulness to God from there. Lucy comes from the word for “light,” and we hope that she is a light shining for others to see the glory of God. Her middle name is Grace, which is one of the few common names in our day that doesn’t need to be explained. We are every day thankful for the grace of God and want to be reminded of the fact that every good thing we have, including Lucy herself, is a free gift of God.
In the time of Jacob names were often plays on words. Most Biblical figures have names that aren’t necessarily the same as the Hebrew word they’re based on, but sounds similar and has a similar spelling. Jacob is the same. We read the story of how he got his name in Genesis 25:24-26
Genesis 25:24–26 ESV
When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
The ESV footnote tells us: “Jacob means He takes by the heel, or He cheats” Or in other words his name is a play on words based on the fact that he grabbed his brothers heel, but is also prophetically a description of his dishonest behaviour to come in the future.
So Jacob is named for his sinful habits. Let’s go back to our text, specifically Genesis 32:26-28
Genesis 32:26–28 ESV
Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
So God gives Jacob a new name, Israel. A name not based on his grasping or cheating nature, but on his relationship with God and his striving for God’s blessing.
God renames several people throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, and here Jacob becomes Israel. Later in the New Testament Jesus does the same with several people, renaming Simon as Peter, and changing Saul’s name to Paul.
I believe that this is a beautiful image of how Jesus can transform our lives. Now I’d wager to say that most of us haven’t been given a new name by God, but we have instead been given a whole new nature. In the words of John 3:3
John 3:3 ESV
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Implying that we have to become whole new people to enter the Kingdom of God. And Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
So if you come to Jesus just as you are He doesn’t leave you that way. Jesus can transform us into whole new people with a will and a heart to serve and please God. He can give you a new name like He did for Jacob and redefine the person that you are based on your relationship with Him, not on your past sins and failures.

3. Jesus is How we See God Face to Face and are Delivered

God is Holy. What exactly does that mean? It means that He is perfect, sinless, and perfectly just. This is a very good thing, and makes Him worthy of our worship. Where this causes a problem is in the fact that we as human beings are very much not holy. This is why we read in Exodus 33:19-20
Exodus 33:19–20 ESV
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
In multiple places in scripture we read warnings that the Holiness of God means that any unholy human being who was in the very presence of God would die. In fact in many places in the Bible there seems to be just an assumption on the part of the writers that everyone reading their writings would just know this. It was very common knowledge to the Israelites.
But hold on, you may be thinking, what about the fact that several people throughout the Old Testament met God and survived. This is a mystery, right? In the words of John 1:18
John 1:18 ESV
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Like many things I believe this can be explained in the person of Jesus Christ, the son of God and God himself. As Jesus says to Philip in John 14:9
John 14:9 ESV
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
So when Jacob somehow sees the face of God and survives, is it possible then that he had been wrestling with Jesus all night? Well that would explain how the text can refer to this mysterious figure as both man and God.
I also believe that there’s a double meaning in verse 30 when Jacob remarks that “[his] life has been delivered.” Not only has he seen “Peniel” the face of God, but he has received an answer to his prayer and reassurance that God will deliver him from the trouble that he has been praying about. This is what Jesus can do for us as well. We can count on God to always keep His promises, and therefore count on Jesus when He promised us that He would save us from our sins and bring us to eternal life.


We are like Jacob in a lot of ways. A lot of the time we face challenges and fears, and I dare say most of the time the challenges we face are the consequences of our own sins and failings. The question is what do we do in those situations?
What Jacob does in this account is the example for us. When we are afraid or in trouble we too should seek God. We shouldn’t be afraid to open up completely and honestly with God about how we’re feeling and even to “wrestle” with God. Read the Psalms for inspiration and you’ll see raw emotion and passionate pleas to God not shying away from expressing frustration and despair about their situation. God already knows what you’re feeling anyway, so why try to conceal it from Him?
We should also, like Jacob, let God give us a new name. Surrender control and let God be the one who gives you your identity. Let Him redifine you from a slave to sign and an orphan to being his beloved child and heir to the kingdom. Earnestly pray for God to shape you into the man or woman that He sees in you and not the failures and struggles that you see in the mirror.
Finally know that through Jesus we have grace and can come boldly into the presence of God without fear. In the words of Hebrews 4:16
Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
To that end let us come boldly to God even now and pray together with earnest hearts.
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