As we try to unravel the complexities of Jacob’s dealings with Laban, we must remember this one thing: ‘If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac (the God before whom Isaac bowed in reverence) had not been with me…’ (42). This is the spiritual dimension. We must not lose sight of this. Life can be complicated at times, but we must not forget this: God is with us. Jacob, who was renamed ‘Israel’ (32:28), confessed his faith: God is with me. Later on, the nation of Israel confessed its faith in God: ‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…’, it would have been disaster. ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth’. The Lord is with us still. With the Psalmist, we say, ‘Blessed be the Lord’. He is the God of our salvation (Psalm 124).
Jacob and Laban were not exactly the best of friends. Nevertheless, they came to an agreement that they would not continue feuding with each other (52). Jacob prepares to meet Esau (1-21). From verses 9-12, we learn some important spiritual lessons – (a) Make sure that God is your God, and not only the God of your father and grandfather (9). (b) Confess your unworthiness of ‘all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness’ of God (10). (c) Pray to God for salvation – ‘Save me I pray…’ (11). (d) Stand on the promises of God – ‘You have said…’ (12). Jacob, soon to be renamed Israel (32:28), was preparing to meet Esau. There is, in his prayer, the way of being prepared for a more important meeting: ‘Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!’ (Amos 4:12). Confess your sin, pray for salvation, stand on God’s Word – make it personal!
At the place called Peniel, Jacob ‘saw God face to face’ (30). We see ‘the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jacob wrestled with God and became an overcomer (28). Christ wrestled with the powers of evil, and has won a mighty victory for us. When He cried out from the Cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), this was not an admission of defeat. It was the declaration of victory – the victory has been won, the victory is complete. ‘Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:57). For Jacob, crossing the Jabbok involved a spiritual ‘crossing over’. Jacob became Israel, a new man (28). After he had been ‘touched’ by God, Jacob was ‘limping’ (31-32). This was a reminder of his own weakness. His true strength was in the Lord. Wait on the Lord, and renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31).
From Jacob’s meeting with God, we come to his meeting with Esau. Before we start thinking of this as a big ‘come down’, we should note Jacob’s word to Esau: ‘truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God’ (10). Jacob is describing his meeting with Esau in terms of his encounter with God at Peniel: ‘I have seen God face to face (32:30). Before we dismiss Jacob’s words as ‘a bit over the top’, we should remember Jesus’ words: ‘as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40). We are not to choose between loving God and loving our neighbour. We are to love both (Matthew 22:37-38). We honour God. We are to honour other people. The two go together – reverence for God our Creator and respect for people, created in God’s image (1 John 4:20-21).