Genesis 31-33

A Mighty God

“Then he built an altar there and named it El-Elohe-Israel (Mighty Is the God of Israel). Genesis 33:20 MSG

Here at the end of chapter 33 we have a different Jacob than the one we saw leave under less-than-perfect circumstances 24 years earlier. On that day, he left a deceiver and a runaway, attempting to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, for having cheated him out of his birthright. He had left alone and in fear for his life. But now, 24 years later, he returns home, a very wealthy man with a very large family. But he still has lingering fears and doubts about how he will be received. He still has the heart of a deceiver. He struggles with deception and dishonesty. He wrestles with fear and doubt. He even wrestled with God. And that seems to be the main difference between the old Jacob and the new Israel. His awareness of God in his life. All throughout these three chapters we are given a glimpse into his growing awareness of and experience with God. God had been with him from day one. Back in chapter 28, we saw God make a promise to Jacob long before he got to the land of his uncle Laban: “What’s more, I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised” (Genesis 28:15 NLT). And God had kept His promise. He had prospered and protected Jacob for 24 years, and Jacob recognized it. He saw the hand of God in his life. “…the God of my father has been with me…” (Genesis 31:5 NASB). “Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7 NASB). “Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me” (Genesis 31:9 NASB).

Jacob had a growing awareness that the Lord God had been with him during these “wilderness days.” God had been watching over him. In fact, God confirms that fact when He tells Jacob in a dream, “I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you” (Genesis 31:13 NASB). God had been watching Jacob the entire time. And He had been working behind the scenes to direct Jacob’s paths. So when God appeared to Jacob and commanded him to return home, Jacob obeyed. Sure, he still struggled with doubt and fear. He allowed his old deceptive self to take over, refusing to tell his uncle he was leaving and clandestinely departing without saying a word. The old Jacob was alive and well, but he was growing in his awareness of and trust in God. He even went to the mat with God – literally. He got to go hand-to-hand with the pre-incarnate Christ Himself, refusing to let Him go until He blessed him. Which reveals the Jacob we all know and love. In spite of God’s verbal promise to watch over and keep him, and Jacob’s personal testimony that God had done just that, he still was not satisfied until he got a verbal blessing from the mouth of God. So he wrestled with God and got his blessing, along with a name change and a limp. From that point forward he was to be called Israel – “he fights with God.” What a perfect name for this guy. Jacob knew he had seen God and said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared” (Genesis 32:30 NASB). Jacob had seen the face of and felt the hand of God in his life. And he would never be quite the same.

Fear and doubt would still be his constant companions. He would still struggle with deception and deceit. He would tend to take matters into his own hands. But he knew that God was there. When returning to confront his brother Esau, we see Jacob relying on his own scheming, but he also couples it with prayer. He recognizes his unworthiness and asks God to keep His promise to protect him (Genesis 32:9-12). Jacob bounced between faith in the promises of God and his fear of men. But don’t we all? Don’t we all see the hand of God in our life, but still doubt and fear? Don’t we all wrestle and contend with God, and then take matters into our own hands, doubting that He can really do what He has promised to do?

But when Jacob finally arrived safely home, having been restored to a right relationship with his long-estranged brother, he put up an altar and worshiped the One who had made it all possible. Jacob knew he had little or nothing to do with his success those 24 years or with his brother’s warm reception. It was all the work of God. So he called the place where he built his altar, El-Elohe-Israel – “a mighty God is the God of Israel.” It had taken 24 years, but Jacob had learned a valuable lesson about his God. Because this name was a personal statement. He is Israel and the God of whom he speaks is HIS God. He, Israel, served a mighty, powerful, personal God. His God was involved in his life. His God saw everything going on in his life. His God was a promise-keeping God. His God was a God who was willing to wrestle with him and not destroy him. His God was involved in every area of his life, behind the scenes, orchestrating every event and every circumstance. So what about your God? What about my God? Can I say, “a mighty God is the God of Ken?” Do I see Him? Am I wrestling with Him? Is my awareness of Him growing with each passing day? Do I trust Him to keep His promises to me?

Father, You are a mighty God. And You are trying to show me just how mighty You really are. Not just in history, but in my life every day. Give me a growing awareness of Your presence and power in my life. You are there and You care. You are working behind the scenes in ways I can’t even see. You wrestle with me virtually every day. Sometimes You leave me limping. But never let me miss Your presence in my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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