Joseph seems to be very much in the habit of wanting to walk his own road, go his own path, do his own thing. The problem is that when he does, he offends someone. God intends to use Joseph, and use him He shall—like it or not.
Jacob found out quickly that being blessed by God was not a thing greatly enjoyed by others. Call it idolatry, call it selfishness, call it greet or coveting, the fact of the matter is Laban knew God was doing great multiplications around Joseph (children, flocks, etc) and he wanted to be a part of it—only without the “God” part. Two things: first, Jacob’s light was beginning to come on, that he could not live for himself (no thanks to mom on that one)—the light was coming on—slowly—on a dimmer switch, maybe, but it was coming on; second, I don’t quite understand why Jacob did not just pull up stakes and just set out. Why did he have to ask Laban to send him away with his many wives, 11 children and flocks? Regardless, Jacob finally bolts. And out of all people Jacob ticks off, Laban is the only one to track him down!
Everyone knows Jacob has acquired just about everything in Laban’s household—everything except his gods. As Jacob prepares to flee, Rachel makes a point to run back in the house and grab those too, like a final insult of her own. Laban tracks him down and along the way God steals his thunder, saying “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.” Ok. So all he can do is ask for his gods back, right? Rachel is sitting on them in her saddlebags and will not move (she has her reasons). Jacob is so confident that Laban’s gods are nowhere in the caravan that he says, “the one with whom you find your gods shall not live (31:32). Bookmark that. It is important. Jacob and Laban finally part ways—but where is Jacob going?
I think he is starting to get the idea that if he does not change the direction his life is going, he will soon be down the path of destruction. Before parting with Laban he talked a great deal about what God was doing and had done to get him where he was and expressed confidence that God was going to preserve him based on the promise handed down from his father and his father’s father.
Thought: I just thought of something. Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner and perhaps his only friend was Jacob Marley. For some reason known only to Marley (in the mind of the author) is that Marley is compelled to visit his friend Scrooge to warn him to change or be doomed to a much worse fate than he. A fascinating part of ther conversation centers on Marley’s chains, about which Marley he explains are the binding results of his actions throughout the years—and Scrooge’s was as long and as horrible as Marley’s was right then, only seven Christmases ago. How much longer and more weighty and more binding now? Dicken’s choice of the name “Jacob” is very telling and, I believe, intentional because seven Christmases ago, Marley and Scrooge were peas in a pod. Imagine two old curmudgeons giving the east of London hell on ice, out for themselves. I’m surprised they did not kill each other—I believe Marley died of guilt; but, Marley has enough good left to return to warn Scrooge to change or be chained. “Jacob” should remind us of our biblical figure, who is very bad off.
Jacob has two meetings in this chapter: the first with God, the next with his brother (actually in Genesis 33, but he gets word in 32 that Esau is in the ‘hood).
I wonder if Jacob would have met the angel on any other path, if he had continued doing his own things his own way? Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) seems to think so. He suggested that he (and any other who goes down his own path) would meet an angel much like the one that met Balaam, an wrathful angel with sword in hand! “But the friendly helpers, the emissaries of God’s love, the apostles of His grace do not haunt the roads that we make for ourselves.” Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, “For you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28).
Why did God show up? Two reasons: Jacob needed Him.
“When Jacob was on the other side of the brook Jabbok, and Esau was coming with armed men, he earnestly sought God’s protection, and as a master reason he pleaded, “And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good.” Oh, the force of that plea! He was holding God to his word—“Thou saidst.” The attribute of God’s faithfulness is a splendid horn of the altar to lay hold upon; but the promise, which has in it the attribute and something more, is a yet mightier holdfast—“Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good.”” [i]
God was going to use the opportunity to not only scare Jacob straight, but to make Him realize who was in charge.
“It is encouraging to the Lord's people as they are from time to time placed in similar circumstances of trial, exercise, perplexity, sorrow or distress with Jacob, to see the blessed result of his wrestling with the angel. He crosses the ford of Jabbok all weakness; he re-crosses it all strength. He leaves his family, and wrestles alone, a fainting Jacob; he returns to them a prevailing Israel. He goes to the Lord in an agony of doubt and alarm, fearing every moment lest he and all that was dear to him would be swept off from the face of the earth; he returns with the Lord's blessing in his soul, with the light of the Lord's countenance lifted up upon him.”[ii]
Next morning, Jacob opens his eyes and sees . . .
He had just wrestled and was blessed by God the previous evening. What should he lift his eyes and see?
He sees trouble coming—trouble + 400 other men.
So Jacob does what anyone like him would do—thrust the women and children in the front. What should he lift his eyes and see? Who should be filling his field of vision?
The end is near. WHAT SHOULD HE SEE?
Jacob fears the sword and is met with a hug and a kiss from Esau. And he passes through safely. Esau tries to give Jacob more and we finally hear Jacob say, “Let me find favor in the eyes of the LORD.” (33:15).
My wording of the last verse: and Jacob sighed a huge sigh of relief and thanked God profusely by erecting an altar, calling on God, the God of Israel.
I know—borderline ridiculous, but hey . . .
[i]Spurgeon, C. H. Morning and Evening : Daily Readings, April 18 PM. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.
[ii] Philpot, Joseph. Daily Portions. http://www.gospelweb.net/philpotdevotions/philpot0511.htm