Our passage today is very appropriate as after the service we will be baptizing three young ladies who grew up in the church, and are being baptized today as a big public step that the faith of their parents is their own. It’s an appropriate passage, because I really believe that this is the moment in Jacob’s life in which God truly becomes his own.
Now we know on the one hand that Jacob was marked for God, elect, from before he was born, as God set him apart for his promise before he had done any good or evil. Yet God’s election took some time to work itself out in Jacob’s life, in fact for a lot of Jacob’s life, he seems like one of the more unlikely people to be a follower of God. And when God does reveal himself to him, at a low point when he was fleeing from his brother, God’s words to him make it clear that Jacob does not yet know God for himself.
Gen. 28:13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. [but not yours]
And Jacob knows that he’s not yet truly following God, that he doesn’t have a relationship with God, for he pledges to God:
Gen. 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God,
You catch that? Jacob, even after having this amazing vision of God, knows that, while his dad and his grampa were followers of this God and had taken Him as their own, he’s not ready to do so yet. And during the twenty years he spent wandering in the land of Laban, he never refers to God as his own God, its always, the God of my father.
Yet, at the end of this chapter in Jacob’s life, at the end of Genesis 33:20, Abraham does something very significant.
Gen. 33:20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel (God, the God of Israel).
Jacob now knows God for himself. His parents’ God has become his own. And evermore throughout the Bible, God is often referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Now i didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but when I speak to people who have i am always interested to hear how they came to a place in their faith when they took God as their own and not just because their parents were Christians. And when we were interviewing these young ladies for baptism, that was a question I was interested in. When and how did God become their own. So this is going to be a little like a wedding message, you know at a wedding the pastor speaks a word directed to the couple, but it really is a message for all gathered, and so this is a little like that. I’ll speak to the three young women being baptized, but with a word for all to hear. This message is called: “Making God My Own”
Jacob Met God For Himself in a Crisis of Desperation
Gen. 32:1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.
This verse actually is connected to the previous chapter. Jacob has rebuked Laban, his wicked father-in-law, and finally broken free from his clutches. We’re not told much about this meeting with angels, but it provides refreshing and healing and closure after the years spent a servant of Laban. We are reminded of how the angels ministered to Jesus, after his trial in the wilderness, in which he battled with and ultimately rebuked Satan. A bit of blessing, an oasis in the desert before facing the next trial.
Gen. 32:3 And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4 instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”
Gen. 32:6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” 7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”
Now with Laban in the past, Jacob looks to the next chapter in his life and the biggest obstacle he has to face: his brother Esau, from whom he fled for his life 20 years earlier. So he sends a messenger out, kind of putting a feeler out there to see where his brothers head is at, has he cooled off a bit? And the servant returns with the worst possible news. Esau is coming with 400 men, the conventional number for a military unit at the time. And Jacob is terrified. He prepares for the worst. He only hopes that some of his camp will be spared.
Christian parent - don’t shield your kids from crisis in which they are desperate enough to turn to God. You can’t do it because life is hard, but it is through those hard times that they may turn to God and take him as their own. This is not just a word for parents, but to us all. Our friends and co-workers and neighbours, may land in that pit, and that is the moment to show love, and to show them the love of our God. These places of desperation are often moments of opportunity to share the love and the hope of the gospel of Christ to one desperate to hear it.
Jacob Turned to His Parent’s God as The One Who Had Been Good to Him
Gen. 32:9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
Jacob isn’t yet exercising faith to call God his own, but he has come to realize how good God has been to him. And given his life, he is exactly right. He is not worthy of all the love and kindness that God has given him. And so he prays to the God of his fathers according to the promises that God has made to him. Notice however, one important thing about this prayer. He prays for deliverance, yes, but not something very important. He prays for deliverance from his circumstance but what he really needs is deliverance from his Jacob-ness. His Jacob-ness is what caused the circumstance.
Jacob Tried to Make Propitiation for His Sin; Yet God, Not Esau Was Sinned Against
Jacob understand how deeply he sinned against Esau and how just Esau’s anger toward him. And who knows - His gifts may have very well appeased Esau’s anger. Yet there is something deeper here in this impulse to appease the anger of one offended. There is a recognition that wrong has been done and an attempt to repay. A few weeks ago I offended a friend and she called me out on it and I felt terrible and all I could do was say I was sorry but she was still upset. So I didn’t know what to do. I was really sorry, so I went and got her a favourite drink of hers from Starbucks. Now we all do things like that, and we know that the drink we buy, or whatever it is, is not a substantial payment for the hurt that we caused, but generally speaking for minor offences, they are a token of ones sorrow and the relationship is preserved. This is what Jacob is hoping for. Yet what if the offense is bigger, not a minor offence, but like a big one? And what if it was not just done once, but time and time again? And what if we have nothing to offer that one we have offended wants? Well, in that case, i guess we’d be in huge trouble. There would be nothing to offer, no hope of reconciliation.
And so now consider each of our lives before a holy God? The offences we commit against God’s perfections are great, our sins against him substantial, continual, and real. How can we appease God? What propitiation - what offering can we give to turn away his wrath? And many of us, particularly religious people, feel this deeply and try to go about being the perfect kid, or the perfect Christian and when we mess up we carry this weight of guilt around, torturing ourselves and berating ourselves trying to think of way in which we may turn away the gaze of God upon our guilt. Yet the scripture declare something surprising:
1John 4:9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Generally, the one who has committed the offence provides the propitiation - a sacrifice that turns away anger. Jacob knows this which is why he tries to appease Esau, yet we in our sinfulness, could never provide a gift or sacrifice that could possibly satisfy the infinitely perfect justice of God. So the impulse is right, we need a propitiating sacrifice, yet the ability to perform or provide such a sacrifice is beyond us. Yet God has provided the sacrifice.
God Pins Jacob Down and Gives Him a New Identity
So Jacob, terrified, sends his wives and children ahead, and spend the night alone. We’re not really told why, maybe he didn’t want his family to see how tormented he was. Yet here we have one of the most unexpected and mysterious passages in scripture. A man appears from nowhere and wrestles with God until the morning. Jacob, perhaps thinking it is an assailant sent from Esau, puts up a powerful fight, grappling with the stranger until morning. Jacob refused to cower and refused to surrender. His stubborn will would not be broken. And so the stranger, knowing that Jacob will never give up or surrender, reveals His unbelievable strength by hitting Jacob’s hit out of joint with one touch. And Jacob still won’t let go! What stubbornness! What resolve! But what pain he is also causing to himself because he won’t just submit. And the man reveals some amazing things to Jacob. The biggest reveal is that the man Jacob has been wrestling against all night, was no man at all but God, revealing himself to Jacob in the form of a man. It has been God all along whom Jacob has been striving against and striving with, not only through that night but throughout his whole life. And Jacob never let him go, but he never would submit to Him either, even to his own hurt. And I’m wondering if that’s kind of what it must feel like to grow up in the church but not yet surrendering fully to the Lord. He’s a part of your life, a part of your being, a part of your family and weekly rhythm, but you wrestle against him to, never quite surrendering completely, even when it hurts.
And so the Lord let’s Jacob think that he is in control of the situation, but in reality the Lord is always Jacob’s master, and ultimately brings Jacob to submission? How? Not by disabling Jacob with a touch, but by revealing to him the nastiness of his heart. Revealing to him his Jacob-ness. As Jacob pins the man down and says “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Remember the meaning of Jacob - heel-grabber, usurpur, blessing-stealer. By asking his name, the Lord is demanding that Jacob confess his Jacob-ness to him, and finally confront the reality that his problems are not Esau, or Laban, or his wives, but his heart. This is what it takes to truly make God our own - to recognize the sin within us, our rebellious hearts before a holy Lord who created us. See you can grow up all around the church and around Christianity, and you can be a youth and be bored in church and think this has no relevance, but when the Lord confronts you with the nastiness of your own heart, everything changes. Suddenly you see your need for a saviour, your need for forgiveness, your need for a propitiating sacrifice, your need for Jesus.
And Jacob is reborn. He’s given his life back beside the river. This is the significance of the new name. No longer will Jacob be the heel-grabber. He will now be known as Israel, “the one who struggles with God” The name has a dual meaning: “the one who struggles, with God on his side”, and “the one who struggles against God” and we who are Christians understand that both are true of the child of God. We face trials and hardships in this world, but we know in all our struggles God is with us. Yet it is not easy to have faith in this world and so sometimes we struggle against God. It is the story of the man Israel, the nation Israel and the Church. We are Israel. But we’re no longer Jacob.
Now I don’t have time this morning to finish the story and tell you of how Jacob reunites with Esaus and Esau forgives Jacob and accepts him back. It’s a beautiful scene that you can read and reflect on your own. But I want to take you to the end of chapter 33.
Jacob Knows the Lord is His Own God
Gen. 33:18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
El-Elohe-Israel. “To God, the God of Israel.” Jacob now knows that the Lord is his own. Not just his parents God, but his own God. And he makes a public statement of his new birth, his new life, by setting up a monument for all to see, that the Lord has changed him. After all these years, the heel-grabber has been grabbed hold of by his God. Have you? Have you been wrestling with God all these years and He is bringing you to the point of surrender, is he demanding that you confess to Him your name, your sin, your nasty heart? Is he showing you your need for a propitiating sacrifice, for there is nothing you can bring Him to atone for your sin, and is he giving you faith to trust in Jesus, that God himself has provided the propitiation that you couldn’t bring him? Is He giving you a new name, a new nature, a new future, a new family in the church? Call out to him today and be no longer Jacob, but Israel! And then make a monument to Him, your God, professing your faith to all who see it, that you now are the one who struggles with God.
This is what we are going to do this morning, in baptizing Yixuan, Ann and Amanda. These three young ladies have been raised in Christian homes, raised in the church, and they wish today to make a public monument of their faith by being baptized. They will be sharing a bit of their journey upstairs after the service, so we invite you all to stay.