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March 7, 2024

Restoring the Dream


We have been looking at Jacob and his two encounters with God at Bethel and Penuel. Bethel means “house of God,”(1) and Penuel means “face of God.”(2)


A "house of God" relationship allows one to know the blessings of salvation without ever experiencing true intimacy with Him. At this level of relationship, Jesus is more a Savior than a friend, and God is more of a distant ruler than an affectionate Father. A Penuel, face-to-face relationship, on the other hand, changes everything. Jesus becomes our Friend (John 15:15), God becomes Abba-Papa (Romans 8:15), and the Holy Spirit becomes our close Helper (John 14:16).


Penuel comes from paneh, the Hebrew word for “face.”(3) It is interesting and revealing that paneh is also the word for "presence." Turning the face toward someone, as in face-to-face encounters, obviously requires being in their presence. Thus, the word for “face” became the word for “presence.” When the Scriptures speak of individuals having face-to-face relationships with God, or that God’s face shines on us (Numbers 6:25; Psalm 80:3, 7, 19), they obviously aren’t implying we’re supposed to see His physical face. Rather, we’re being reminded we can live in His presence, the intimacy of which is so personal it’s akin to a face-to-face meeting with a friend.


The circumstances leading up to Penuel, the beginning of Jacob’s face-to-face walk with God, are important to see. Jacob is about to go home, where he will face his brother, Esau, out of whom he had swindled the coveted firstborn birthright inheritance twenty years earlier. On the journey, Jacob moves ever closer to a confrontation with powerful Esau, who has heard of his approach and is on his way to meet Jacob with four hundred men. For Esau, revenge would be sweet.


True to form, conniving Jacob devises a plan to appease his still-offended brother, sending a series of gifts ahead. As he continues on his way, he ultimately sends everything he owns to Esau, including his servants. Eventually, he even sends his family. It must have been a painful sight as he watched them cross the stream called Jabbok, wondering if he would ever see them again (see Genesis 32:22).


Jabbok means “pouring out,”(4) and what an irony it is that this was the place where all of Jacob’s accomplishments and wealth—his “house of God” blessings— were poured from him. God is determined to deepen the relationship and realizes that to do so, He'll have to empty Jacob, at least temporarily, of all that matters more than Him.


What a scene this became. Jacob, who has spent his entire life conniving his way around and through every obstacle in his path, is wealthy—very wealthy—and has proven he is at the top of the food chain when it comes to manipulating circumstances.


Or so he thought.


God had an appointment scheduled with Jacob here at Jabbok, and in a day, everything was gone, poured out to the brother he had swindled twenty years earlier. All in all, forty years of hard conniving were gone in a day.


The next verse sums up Jacob’s circumstance and sets the stage for what is about to occur: “Then Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:24). Jacob has bought and connived his way out of trouble and into prosperity for the last time. He isn't yet aware of it, but Esau has become the least of his worries— he is alone with God, and this time, it isn't for sweet dreams, as it was at Bethel! As preposterous as it sounds, Jacob and God will spend the night wrestling (see v. 24). That doesn't sound like fun!


The heavenly adversary begins by dislocating Jacob's thigh. In Scripture, a person's thigh represents his or her strength. Not only have Jacob’s possessions and family been “poured out,” God has now removed his strength. But there are not many people who could be as stubborn as Jacob. Still, he fought.


“I won't let you go until you bless me,” he says to his opponent, whom many scholars believe was an Old Testament, pre-incarnate appearance of Christ Himself.


What is this blessing Jacob wants? Protection from Esau, of course. The Lord, however, is about to bless him with something so much greater!


His initial response to Jacob's statement is so bizarre it almost sounds like a verse or two have been omitted. “What is your name?” He asks Jacob (Genesis 32:27). Try to picture this: two men fighting, one limping but holding on for dear life while demanding a blessing, and the other—who obviously knows His opponent— demanding to know his name. It could actually come across as humorous, if not ludicrous, if you didn't know what God was doing.


The Amplified Bible gives the clearest explanation I’ve seen or heard for this scenario. It translates Jacob’s response in verse 27 as follows: “And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]!” Jacob was acknowledging his true nature: "I'm a conniving schemer."


Finally!


Jacob was pursuing one thing; God was after something altogether different. Jacob was seeking another blessing - protection; God was seeking Jacob. “It isn’t your possessions, servants, or family I want, Jacob [The Lord gave all of that back.] It's your old nature I'm after. You can con everyone else, but you can't con Me. I want you to realize, once and for all, that your strength is not what I need from you. I need you to acknowledge your weakness-who you really are. Only then can I pour it out from you, delivering you from yourself. I want a far deeper relationship with you, one accessing your heart, not some ‘deal’ we cut involving temporal, earthly benefits. And since I’m God, by the way, I could kill you, but I'd rather just conquer your heart. Then we can run together, and I can use you to help me save the world.”


Amazing.


The fight was over the moment Jacob acknowledged his true condition. God's goal wasn't to win a fight but a friend. In a matchless display of His grace, wisdom, and persistent love, God transformed this conniving swindler into a prince and patriarch, just as He intends to do with each of us. His sovereign actions clarified the bigger picture: “Now we can get on with the dream I gave you at Bethel, Jacob. Because the dream wasn't just for you; it was for Me, as well. And for the generations to follow! I told you I would bless all the nations of the world through you. I need a nation through whom I can demonstrate to the world My ways and heart, and through whom I can bring the Messiah. You're going to birth that nation for me, and you're going to do it from Penuel - my presence.”


When God wrestled with Jacob, He was fighting for the heart of a man and warring for His dream of redeeming the human race!


Israel, leaving the fight with a life-altering limp, decided to name the place Penuel. Twenty years earlier, Jacob entered Bethel, “the house of God,” and found a dream. This day, he had seen “the face of God” and found the Dream-Giver. He would never be the same.


Pray with me:


Father, though Jacob still walked in his selfish, conniving nature, You led him to Bethel where You made great promises to Him, and inserted him into the great dream of redeeming humankind. Thank You for your ability to look past our faults and see our potential. Thank You for loving us and sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinful, and even Your enemies.


Your great love, and Your infinite wisdom led Jacob to Penuel, where You had planned a face-to-face encounter with him. You poured out his self-sufficiency, and the power of Your presence transformed his nature, removing his self-centeredness.  Then You replaced it with a heart to partner with You, and Israel gave us the Messiah.


You can do the same for America. A great Penuel revival of Your presence and face is being birthed. We pray that You would do such a powerful work that we, as a nation, would become Your friend and partner again. We boldly and confidently declare that Your dream for America is not dead; it will live again. We are moving towards this, and our momentum will not be stopped. We declare this and ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.


Our decree:


We decree that great transformation is coming to America, and will turn our hearts back to our Father and Friend, Almighty God.



Today’s post came from my book The Pleasure of His Company, published by Baker Books.


Click on the link below to watch the full video.



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  1. James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), ref. no. 1008.

  2. Ibid., ref. no. 6439.

  3. Ibid., ref. no  6440.

  4. Ibid., ref. no. 2999.

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