Understanding the Old Testament

Jacob Returns to Canaan

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

I served 12 years on active duty in the Navy, but in 1992 I felt very strongly that God wanted me to leave the active service. So I resigned. Never before had I felt more strongly that I was in God’s will. Then months went by without a job, and my faith waivered. I wondered if I had misread God and mistaken my own feelings for His leading. So I can sympathize with poor Jacob in Genesis 32.

The chapter opens by telling us that the angels of God met Jacob at a place he named Mahanaim, which means “two camps”—that is, his and God’s. He must have been feeling very confident that God was with him at that point. Then he sent messengers with a friendly greeting to his brother Esau. The envoys returned with what seemed like an ominous warning: Esau, the brother Jacob had cheated out of his birthright and his blessing, “is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” (Genesis 32:6)

Jacob’s faith waivered. Rather than trusting God, he went back to his old scheming ways. He divided his family and his wealth so that if Esau attacked one group, the other might escape. He also prayed for deliverance. But I do not believe he had yet learned to fully trust God, because the next thing he did was to send lavish gifts of livestock to Esau, hoping to win his favor and appease his anger. Jacob was still relying on himself instead of God.

Finally, he sent his wives, children, and possessions safely across the Jabbok River and was left alone with God. Hosea 12:4 tells us that Jacob wrestled with an angel that night; Genesis 32:24 says he wrestled with a “man.” Personally, I think his strongest opponent that night was his doubt and his fear. In any event, by daybreak he had learned to put all of his faith in God.

As a result of his struggles that night, Jacob received a permanent limp from a dislocated hip, and a new name: Israel. His new name means, “he who strives with God,” or “God strives.” It can also mean, “he who perseveres.” Jacob struggled with God in the sense that he fought to vanquish his unbelief, and prevailed by learning to place his trust in God.

And things worked out for him. Esau gave him a warm welcome, and the two brothers were reunited.

Things worked out for me, too, by the way. Unable to get a job, I opened a private law practice and God opened doors for me that I never knew existed. And I was back home when my aging parents most needed me.

Question to ponder or discuss: Think about the times in your life when you have felt abandoned by God. What do you think God was trying to teach you during those times?

Copyright 2017 by Don Davidson

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Understanding the Old Testament


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