‘And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel’, Gen. 32. 30.
Twenty years or more had passed since the Lord had appeared to Jacob at Luz, subsequently renamed Bethel. On that occasion He revealed Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac. He was forcibly reminded of this experience when God’s command to return to the land of his kindred was prefaced by T am the God of Bethel’, 31. 13. The One whom Abraham and Isaac had proved was Jacob’s God too. Often the Scriptures magnify this amazing divine favour toward the worm Jacob by linking his name with the other patriarchs. God is pleased to make Himself known as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, Exod. 3. 6, etc.
Jacob readily responded to such matchless grace. He frankly acknowledged that he was unworthy of God’s manifold mercies and faithfulness as he reviewed his experiences since he passed over Jordan: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant’, Gen. 32. 10. Such is the fruit produced in the heart by the workings of God’s favour. Ruth was overawed that she had found grace in the eyes of Boaz since she was a stranger, Ruth 2.10. How much more should we be impressed with the grace that has reached out to us who were ‘strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world’, Eph. 2.12. Yet as we each review our experiences since trusting Christ we have every cause to join Jacob in lauding the praise of God’s multiplied graciousness and fidelity despite our own unworthiness.
Since his return to the land was in response to the command of God whose faithfulness was beyond gainsaying, there was no warrant for Jacob to be anxious although he was soon to face Esau. Contemplating this, however, Jacob confesses ‘I fear him’. But that fear drove him to God and in earnest prayer he pleads ‘Deliver me’, Gen. 32. 11. The God who would not allow Laban to hurt or harm Jacob would not allow Esau to do so either. How often we are anxious and fearful instead of trustful! Even David had his fears, but he said, ‘What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee’, Ps. 56. 3 (see also 1 Pet. 5. 7).
Jacob would make doubly sure of breaking down Esau’s bitter grudge, however. By cunning and scheming he would do all in his power to win Esau. He set apart a substantial present, some five hundred and fifty animals, and divided them into droves. It was arranged that each drove would be separated from the next by some little distance and all would precede Jacob. As each servant presented his drove to Esau they were to say ‘It is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us’, Gen. 32. 18. In this way Jacob hoped to ‘appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face’, v. 20. In life Jacob had observed the fact uttered much later by the sage: ‘a man’s gift maketh room for him’, Prov. 18. 16. Such were his preparations to win ‘a brother offended’, Prov. 18. 19.
With all finalized and his loved ones sent over the brook, ‘Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day’, Gen. 32. 24. By some trick of wrestling Jacob was able to gain the mastery. By means of supernatural power, however, ‘the man’ touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and it was out of joint. Jacob’s natural strength, which had so often been exerted to achieve the victory, was now reduced to weakness. There could no longer be any confidence in the flesh. Blessing could not be wrung from ‘the man’.
At this, Jacob realised that he was at grips with more than mortal man. This only drove him to hang on more tenaciously. He would not let go until the blessing came. We may note:
Holding on in faith and making supplication with tears, Hos. 12. 4, he prevailed; faith receives its recompense. How agonising and vital may prayer be without much speaking. We may compare:
Jacob when he wrestled was aware only of ‘a man’; Hosea, commenting on the same incident, says ‘he had power over the angel and prevailed’, Hos. 12. 4. Ultimately Jacob realised that he had been in the presence of God. He was privileged to experience a theophany, since Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’, Gen. 32. 30 (compare Gen. 18. 22; Josh. 5. 14; Judges 6. 22, 23; 13. 22).
Certainly some Old Testament saints had a Peniel experience, seeing as it were the very face of God, but is it not even more blessedly possible for us all today? The Lord Jesus said, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’, John 14. 9.The Word of God presents His face in
1. Service, ‘He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem’, Luke 9. 51.
2. Shame, ‘I hid not my face from shame and spitting’, Isa. 50. 6.
3. Suffering, ‘His visage was so marred more than any man’, Isa. 52. 14.
4. Splendour, ‘His countenance was as the sun’, Rev. 1.16.
In our every-day Christian experience, we are equipped to endure ‘as seeing him who is invisible’, Heb. 11. 27. Christ-likeness is produced in us, and we are changed from glory to glory as we behold ‘the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, 2 Cor. 4. 6. We sometimes sing as we gather at the Lord’s Supper
If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs but see not Him,
O may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face.
It is only as we are in the good of our Peniels that we shall be all for His pleasure. We are thus to live, eagerly awaiting the call to come higher when ‘we shall see his face’, Rev. 22. 4.
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