The Face of God
By the time we get from Bethel (“the house of God”) to Jacob’s return trip home, 20 years have passed. What he thought would be a relatively short hiatus from Esau’s wrath, has now become two decades. Jacob is still a conniving supplanter, but that is about to change. Though unaware of it, God is coming to deal with his heel-grabbing ways.
Jacob has done well. The Lord has fulfilled much of what he promised him at Bethel. But like many, even after such abundant blessing, Jacob is still thinking primarily of himself. He has been more than happy to embrace the blessings of God’s house, but what Yahweh might need or want from him is nowhere on Jacob’s radar. As we so often do, he has ignored God’s dream.
Jacob actually remembers Bethel quite well. On his way home to face Esau he reminds God of the promises of blessing and protection made to him there. It was quite impressive how well Jacob remembered God’s promises after 20 years (Genesis 32:12).
Not so impressive is how completely he had forgotten the portion containing God’s dream: “And in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” (Genesis 28:14). Jacob quoted the Lord’s promises to prosper him; God’s need isn’t even mentioned. Just as the Dream-giver had done with Abraham, Yahweh had tucked what He needed from the dream into the promises He made to Jacob. I’m not sure Jacob even heard that significant part. If so, it certainly didn’t make much of an impression. He was so focused on earthly dreams, he couldn’t see heaven’s. Jacob thought he was dreaming big; Yahweh wanted him to dream even bigger - He wanted Jacob to dream God-sized dreams! Earthly dreams had given him wealth; heavenly dreams would give him a place in history.
Undeterred by the rejection, God moves Jacob closer to an encounter with Himself that would forever deliver him of his self-seeking, supplanting nature. The Lord, with His mighty but gracious power, was about to break Jacob. With His mercy, He was going to mark him. And when God was finished, they would dream together.
On the journey, Jacob moves ever closer to a confrontation with Esau. Having heard of his approach, Esau, with 400 men is on his way to meet Jacob. True to form, conniving Jacob devises a plan to appease his still-offended brother, sending a series of gifts ahead. Ultimately, he sends everything and everyone, even 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).
It would be easy to miss the irony and significance of this if you didn’t know the meaning of Jabbok. It means “pouring out.” Jacob is being poured out at the place of “pouring out.” And if you think this is a coincidence, you are officially a cynic.
What a scene.
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 dreaming and swindling.
Or so he thought.
God had an appointment planned with Jacob at Jabbok, and in a day everything was gone, poured out to the brother he had swindled 20 years earlier. In total, 40 years of masterful conniving and it was all gone in a day.
Heel-grabbers are no match for God.
The next verse sums up his condition 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 now alone with God - and this time it isn’t for sweet dreams. As preposterous as it sounds, Jacob and God will spend the night wrestling (see verse 24).
The heavenly adversary begins by dislocating Jacob’s thigh. Again, the symbolism is powerful. A person’s thigh represents his or her strength. Not only have his possessions and family been “poured out,” God has now removed his strength. There are not many people who could be as stubborn as Jacob, however. Still, he fought.
“I won’t let you go until you bless me,” Jacob says to his opponent, whom many scholars believe was an Old Testament, pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. And what is this blessing Jacob wants? Protection from Esau, of course.
The Lord’s response to this is so bizarre it almost sounds like a verse or two have been omitted. That is, until you realize what is really occurring. “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 - nonetheless, asking him his name. What is going on?!
The Amplified Bible, Classic edition 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’s response was actually an acknowledgment of his true nature. In essence, it was a confession of repentance.
Finally, at 40 years old, Jacob is acknowledging his condition!
True to his nature, Jacob began by demanding another blessing; God, however, was demanding Jacob. “It isn’t your possessions, servants, or family I want, Jacob,” God was saying. “It’s your conniving nature. I’m trying to pour it out of you. 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 deliver you from yourself. I could kill you, but I’d rather transform you. Then we can dream together.”
The fight was over the moment Jacob acknowledged his true condition. God’s goal wasn’t to win a fight but a heart. And what did He do next? Demonstrating His matchless grace, He changed this former heel-grabber’s name: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel” (verse 28). Does that not just make you want to dance!
In a matchless display of His grace, wisdom, and persistent love, God transformed this conniving swindler into a prince and patriarch. His sovereign actions made clear the plan. Yahweh was saying: “Now we can get on with the dream, Israel. Because the dream isn't just for you; it’s for Me, as well. And for the generations to follow. 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.”
When God wrestled with Jacob, He wasn’t fighting only for the heart of a man. He was warring for His dream!
Jacob, now named Israel, left the fight with a life-altering limp. He decided to name the place, Peniel, meaning “the face of God,” for he said, “I have seen God face to face,” (Genesis 32:30). 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.
Remember the Moriah cabin where my dream journey began? It was also a Peniel in my life, for God and I sparred a little there. “Give Me every dream,” He said. “For yourself, your family, your ministry, and your nation - trust Me with everything.”
Fearfully, oh so humanly, but from a trust born of spending thousands of hours with Him over the years, I reached deep into my heart and pulled out every dream I could find.
He took them, then set them down. Ignoring them, He reached in and began working on my heart. “It’s not the dreams I need, son,” He spoke to me. “I just need to get them out-of-the-way temporarily so I can do a little fine-tuning on your heart.”
I experienced a broad range of emotions that day as He performed surgery on my heart. I laughed a little, thought a lot, and cried once or twice. Abba was gentle but firm and resolute. He healed, adjusted, fixed a “valve” or two, and unclogged some “blockages.” When He was finished I felt both undone and re-done.
Then He put the dreams back - well, most of them. Some I didn’t need any more. And those He did return seemed somehow different. They were still mine, but seemed to reflect more of His character, heart, and desires. I knew we could now share our lives and dreams at a higher level.
And our friendship had grown.
Like Jacob, I limped home a happy man.
Prayer with me:
Father, thank You for Your patience with us. You know our nature well, including our stubborn resistance to Your transforming power. Yet, just as You did with Jacob, You patiently wait until we are ready for a face-to-face encounter with You. And there, at our Peniel, You transform us. Thank You.
You do this at times for nations, as well. You wrestle with them, bringing them to their knees. Do so now with America. Deliver us from our heel-grabbing ways and bring us back to a place of complete dependence on You. You could destroy us, but You want to transform us. Show this nation Your face again, we pray, in the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus. Amen.
We decree that a great and holy transformation is coming to the United States of America.
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