“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.'” Genesis 32:30
Struggle. Ambition. Jealousy. Looking out for number one. Qualities that can be used to describe Jacob. But they describe me too. Do you ever try to do life on your own? Instead of looking up for leadership? Even though you know God is working his awesome plan together, do you still try to live your life in your own strength?
As I continued reading in Genesis this week, Jacob’s life really stood out to me. Maybe because I can relate to his struggle. Maybe because his is a common struggle within all of us. Let’s take a look at some of the high (or low) moments in Jacob’s life before he came face to face with God.
- He was born holding his brother’s heel. That’s right… he was trying to pull Esau back and go in front of him. Ahh yes.. born a competitor. A sign of things to come. (Genesis 25:25-26)
- He took advantage of his brother in a weak moment. Oh to do whatever it takes to get what I want. Jacob thought of no one but himself in that moment… he didn’t even care that Esau was hungry. It was all about manipulating the situation to get what he wanted. (Genesis 25:29-34)
- He took advantage of his father, Isaac, in his old age and cheated Esau out of his personal blessing. Rebekah encouraged Jacob to take drastic measures to convince his blind father that he was Esau. Wow. Rebekah. That is another whole story in itself. But Jacob listened to her and he went to great lengths to deceive his father into blessing him. (Genesis 27)
- Then came payback. Laban agreed to give Rachel to Jacob as his wife in exchange for 7 years of work; however, at the end of 7 years, he got Leah… and didn’t realize it until the next morning. (Genesis 29:16-30) He did eventually get Rachel, but not until he put in another 7 years.
- Rachel (the one Jacob loved) was barren for years, although she did eventually bear children for Jacob. (Genesis 29:31-30:24)
- Jacob had to flee from Laban because he was yet again deceptive in his ways. By this time, it was probably just his comfort zone…”the way he’d always done things.” Selfishness won out again. And Jacob burned a bridge. He couldn’t go back. (Genesis 31)
Read Genesis 32:6-12 with me:
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.” 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.’”
Jacob came up with a plan, went ahead and did it, and then asked God to bless it. Don’t you know he was anxious on the inside? His heart probably pounded in his chest all the time. No way to have peace when you are living this way. Been there? Let’s pick up again in verses 22-32:
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.
Jacob did the right thing this time. God wrestled him, let him know Who was Boss, and while Jacob fought back, he answered the question correctly. Back in that defining moment when he was covered in Esau’s clothing and goatskins, and his earthly father asked his name, he answered “I am Esau your firstborn.” But this time, when his heavenly Father asked his name, he simply replied, “Jacob.” Because Jacob finally quit striving to be someone else and accepted who God made him to be, he was redeemed. God even gave him a new name. Can’t you imagine the peace that took hold of Jacob in that moment???? Wow! So, here’s redemption in Genesis 33:1-4:
And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Esau had apparently forgiven him. A second chance at the relationship. A second chance for Jacob to begin making things right in his life. I’m thankful for a God of second chances. I’m thankful for a God who restores. Aren’t you? Jacob’s story is one that shows clearly that if we will just let go and allow God to mold us and shape us into who HE wants us to be, then we can be used for GOOD in His plan.
And he called the place Peniel… for he had seen God face to face.
So what about you? Have you found your personal Peniel? That place where you come face to face with your Father and let go of the fight? It’s where He wants us to get to. Of course, after we experience that place, there will continue to be tough spots in the journey, but at least God will be the one driving. It’s exhausting trying to come up with plans ourselves. And it’s exhausting trying to come back to where we should have given God control in the first place.
This week’s challenge, my friends, is to find your Peniel. Let go of whatever you’re wrestling… whatever area(s) that you are trying to stay in control of… and just give God your whole heart. He’s waiting for you there.