First a note of clarification. Last week I shared how Barb and I were choosing whether to eat at a Mexican or Italian restaurant and I mentioned how I knew what she was thinking. Then I made a change of subject noted by a bold font by-line and new paragraph, yet I started that paragraph with ‘She’, when talking about the woman in the worship team who gave a prophecy of her own heart.
Because I started with ‘She’ some readers may have missed the bold print by-line and new paragraph and thought I was still talking about Barb – I was not. When I read what I wrote after the Weekly Thoughts went out, I thought I’d better say something just in case.
The reflected life
In Genesis 32 Esau is coming to meet Jacob more than 20 years after Jacob had deceived Esau out of his birthright and blessing. Jacob is terrified of his brother, and when he hears Esau is coming with 400 men, he is convinced he and his family are doomed, verse 7 saying he was ‘greatly afraid and distressed’.
But at the same time Jacob has promises from God that told him to make the journey that (what he thought accidentally) led to meeting his brother. In verses 9 through 12 he tells the Lord what He had promised: “You said ‘Return to your country and your family and I will deal well with you’…For you said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
Wrestling with God
Jacob was in the midst of a wrestling match between his thoughts and God’s promises. God was the one who told him to return to his home country, but He had conveniently left out the fact that he would run into Esau. Why had the Lord not told him that little ‘surprise’ when He gave him the command and promise?
So he divides his belongings and flocks and sends them in small groups ahead of him and his family, one after the other, with each group instructed to tell Esau there are more coming behind them. In this way Jacob hopes to appeases Esau’s anger gradually and inflate the appearance of his wealth and power.
Finally after everyone has been sent ahead, Jacob tells his 2 wives, 11 sons, and 2 female servants to cross the brook Jabbok and head toward Esau, leaving himself alone in the wilderness to continue the internal wrestling between himself and God.
You may remember that when Esau was born first, Jacob was grabbing his heel as they were born. Jacob means ‘grabs the heel’ and is a Hebrew idiom for ‘deceiver’ – hanging on to someone else’s efforts or waiting for opportunity to manipulate things to your advantage; which is how he stole the birthright and blessing.
It is also how he approached this meeting with his brother – by sending small groups ahead of his family he is trying to deceive and impress his brother with how powerful and rich he is, the many small groups giving a false appearance of greater wealth and power. And there is certainly a bit of cowardice too, sending the expendable ones first, sending even his wives and children before himself!
The brook ‘Jabbok’ means ‘pouring forth’, and as Jacob sends all he owns and his whole family across the ‘pouring forth’ to meet Esau, night falls and the Lord appears to him. They begin to wrestle in a physical expression of the internal wrestling Jacob has been going through.
It may be that Jacob initially doesn’t realize he is wrestling with a pre-incarnate appearance by Christ, for the narration starts out with the ‘natural’ viewpoint, that a Man wrestled with him, and later it is revealed it was the Lord. Isn’t that true with us as well? We start out with internal struggles, not realizing until later it is God wrestling with us in our thoughts and emotions.
Wrestling with God
Jacob and the Lord wrestle until the break of day, yet still Jacob would not give up. The Man touches the hollow of his thigh, causing a dislocation of the hip, yet still Jacob won’t give up until he receives a blessing. In 32:28 Christ changes his name from Jacob to Israel, from Deceiver to Prince with God.
It should be noted they wrestled at night, and with daybreak Jacob’s name and character had changed – symbolic of our own wrestling match with God in our thoughts and emotions, which seem to happen in the darkest depths of our being – and perhaps literally in night at times, but certainly in the ‘dark’ places of our being, but when day breaks we find we are the victors and are starting a new chapter in our lives.
This name change to Prince with God is because ‘You have struggled with God and men, and prevailed.’
Israel calls the place ‘Peniel’, or ‘Face of God’, because as he said, he had seen the face of God and lived.
In Genesis 33:10 when Israel discovers his brother has forgiven him and has no hard feelings toward him, he makes this statement upon seeing Esau: “…I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me.”
In Hebrew, to see the face of something is to know its character. This is why Genesis 2:19 says the Lord brought all the animals by Adam to see what he would name them. To see them face to face as they were brought by him was to know them well enough to name them – to see a person face to face is to get to know the character whether it be animal or person.
So when Jacob, the new Israel, exclaimed to the Man he wrestled with, that he had seen the face of God, he was saying that through his wrestling with God all night long, he got to know God’s character, His nature, the way He was. In that process he went from Deceiver to Prince with God. That is how we get to know Him best too – by wrestling with Him. Think about that.
That means when Jacob/Israel reflected that he had seen the face of God, he was also saying he had gotten to know God’s character by seeing His face and in the wrestling process. And THAT is why he was uniquely qualified to make the statement upon seeing Esau, that to see his face was to see ‘the face of God’.
Because he saw God’s face, His character and nature, he could look at the forgiving and gracious Esau and say ‘I see God in your face’.
And this is how our own transformation takes place; We see the face of God and we know His nature and character through His presence within us, and knowing Him can then look for Him in others, looking for His ‘face’ so to speak, in others.
In the 1997 ‘Titanic’ one of the early scenes is ‘Old Rose’, now at least 100 years old, picking up an old hand held mirror that was recovered from the wreck on the ocean floor. She says this: “This was mine! How extraordinary! And it looks the same as the last time I saw it…the reflection’s changed a bit.”
When Jacob first started wrestling with God his ‘reflection’ was that of a Deceiver. But in the process of wrestling and knowing God through that dark night of the soul, his nature changed into God’s nature, and was so named, Prince with God.
So we will look at the process of what Jacob saw in the face of God as he wrestled, and how what he saw then allowed him to say in truth upon seeing his brother’s face: Seeing your face is as seeing the face of God. And we’ll BBQ some sacred cows along the way – stay tuned!
Until next week, blessings,