Jacob at Peniel

“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”  Gen. 32:30

Jacob – a more colorful character in all of Scripture there could not be! Contending with his brother before he was born, clutching his brother’s heel as he was born; conniving, cheating, and running most of his life. What a history and what a life! And yet, when we come to Hebrews 11:21, we read that Jacob as an old man, “worshipped, leaning upon his staff”.  Like many believers, God had faithfully seen this patriarch through many snares and pitfalls of personal experience. But how did He do it? How does the Lord do it with any of us? The account of Jacob’s experience at Peniel in Genesis 32 provides the clue and the paints the backdrop to answer this all-important question.

A Rough Start

As a twin, Jacob seemed destined for conflict from the start. His rambunctious personality was evident even before he was born. Rebekah his mother sensed the struggle between the two brothers while yet in her womb. Mothers seem to know the tendencies of their children from their earliest days and Rebekah was no exception. Jacob was rightly called a supplanter and it does not take long in the biblical account that this part of his character was clearly manifested as he bargained for the birthright and stole his brother’s blessing, Gen. 25, 27. Advised by his mother to make a run for it to avoid his brother’s wrath (Gen. 27:43-44), Jacob intended to stay with his uncle Laban for only a “few days”, a plan that turned into years. It was while en route that he had a dramatic encounter with God, Gen. 28:10-22. His elementary understanding of the principles of faith was expanded when he had a vivid dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder which had been set up on earth and reached to heaven. It would turn out to be the start of a spiritual journey for this man whose hard ways were symbolized by the rock that he put at his head as he lay down to sleep. It is a wonderful picture of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ who meets people at their point of need and is Himself the “ladder” set up on earth that reaches to heaven. He is the means of divine communication and is the only avenue for sinful man to connect with God, John 1:51. The promises given to Jacob (v. 15) have their spiritual parallel for the NT believer. It highlights the faithfulness of God and the assurance that He will patiently and faithfully keep everyone who belongs to the “house of God”, (Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 10:21). What God promised to do He did throughout Jacob’s sojourn even during the low points (Gen. 31:5; 7) right up to the end of his life, (Heb. 21) as He will do with all who know and love Him.

The Plot Thickens

Despite these assurances however, the attitude of Jacob was far from perfect. Looking out for His own interests, he makes a self-motivated vow to “seal the deal” at Bethel. To his credit, he establishes and anoints a pillar, an indication that he apprehended the importance of the spiritual life, though his understanding of its privileges and priorities were incomplete and carnal at best. But God is gracious and had great things in store for this man, as He does for us! Jacob promises to give the Lord a tenth of his money, provided that God would take care of him and bring him back, as if the Almighty needed his money!  How much like us, who so often are looking more to get than to give. It is the slanted perspective of someone young in the faith who has a long way to go in the school of God. That school with all its difficulties and disciplines was something that Jacob had not yet experienced, but would in time. Despite Jacob’s growing family and his success in business (Gen. 29-31), the life of Jacob for the most part was devoid of any vital testimony for the Lord. Like many Christians, he was knowledgeable of only the basics of the faith and had not progressed beyond a certain level spiritually. God had called him back to Bethel, the place of his spiritual beginnings, (Gen. 31:13) but that return (both practically and spiritually) had not yet occurred. Peniel would become the place in which Jacob would “turn around” would become the defining event in spiritual life.

Jacob’s Defining Moment

Nearly twenty years later, Jacob was still the object of his brother’s scorn. The events of previous years undoubtedly festered and garnered resentment in the mind of Esau. When Jacob came near Edom, it was no surprise that Jacob’s mind was already at work to effect a strategy of self-preservation.  God was still present in his life (Gen. 32:1-2), nevertheless Jacob put together a plan followed by a prayer—vintage Jacob running ahead of the Lord and asking Him to bless his self-driven efforts. How hard it is to die to self and to cast ourselves fully upon the Lord! Yet anyone who has been in similar circumstances understands how pride and self are often the last pillars to fall. His own “me first” attitude was further evidenced when he sent his family over the brook Jabbok, where he remained by  himself (vv. 21-24). It was at this juncture that the Lord began to work in a special way in Jacob’s life. God had already been at work in his life for a long time, first at Bethel and in the years that followed. But God had called him back to Bethel where he had first acknowledged the Lord and priorities of the life of faith. But Jacob, whose strength was more in his legs than his faith always ran from one problem to the next—to every place but Bethel.   

It was while Jacob was all alone at Peniel that the Angel of the Lord, an OT appearance of Christ wrestled with him all night. Often the greatest work that the Lord does in a believer’s life when they are all alone under dire circumstances. The condition was bleak: it was night and Jacob was by himself with nowhere to turn. It was a perfect situation for the Lord to work and demonstrate the truth of His promises. It is also intriguing to note that the Angel of the Lord initiated the wrestling match with Jacob. God had desired change in Jacob’s life all along, but to this point it was minimal on Jacob’s part. Now the Lord was taking further action to effect a deeper change in his life. It occurred after a long struggle that lasted all night. It was not until the Angel of the Lord was successful in getting Jacob to cling to Him and begging to be blessed that this transformation took place. What God had wanted in Jacob (and desires for us as well) was now happening. He had gotten him to the point where he was “close” to the Lord and not relying in his own strength. This same Angel of the Lord that slew 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Kings 19:35) was patiently working to gain another type of victory in the heart of this heir of faith. Touching the hollow of his thigh, He aimed at his strength, making him weak but in the process helping him to prevail. And all it took was a “touch”!  It is a key principle in the school of God as 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us of the words of the Lord – “My strength is made perfect in weakness”.  How can we not refrain from declaring: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”, Rom. 11:33?

The Ways of God                 

The scene afterwards of Jacob limping as he headed over the brook Jabbok to face up to his brother Esau is a poignant one indeed. Here was a man who had gloried in his ability to keep one step ahead of his problems, but who had been subdued by the hand of the Lord and made to sense his own frailty before God. What a sight it was – a new walk, limping instead of running; a new direction, heading toward his problems and not away from them; a new name, Israel – “prince with God”; and a new purpose, reconciliation with his brother. What a change had taken place in this man’s life! It was all part of the process of Jacob becoming the person that God wanted him to be and one step closer to getting back to Bethel, Gen. 35.

In many ways, the life of Jacob is a composite picture of God’s work in the life of the Christian. It is certainly a portrait in miniature of God’s faithful and patient dealing with the nation of Israel as He will eventually bring them around to the point of submission, Zech. 12:10. Perhaps the biggest lesson however, is that God’s words and promises are true and He works in our lives, especially in our desperation to bring about significant change in our lives. May that be true for us as well.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

It is in this verse that the apostle Paul summarizes the salvation work of our Lord Jesus. The One who is pictured elsewhere in Scripture as the nobleman in Luke 19, the great man of wealth in Ruth 2, and referred to as the Heir of all things in Heb 1, is also the One who willingly gave up the blessings of heaven so that we might be “rich” from a spiritual standpoint. As such, He did not count the glories of His position a thing to be clutched to but instead gave them up so that we through His poverty might be “rich”. And rich we are! Because of this wonderful grace which was shed on us abundantly in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:6), we are like Rebekah, who came into a vast wealth by nature of her relationship with Isaac, Gen. 24. In the same way, we too have become rich as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, Rom. 8:17. We have obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:10) and likewise are being led across the vast wilderness of this world by the Unnamed Servant who takes no glory for Himself, but glorifies the Master. Eventually, we too will come face to face with the One we love, though we have not seen Him and will at that time enter more fully into our inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4. No wonder it is called “amazing grace”!

Because of this selfless example, Paul goes on to encourage the Corinthians to exhibit the same attitude in their lives in the grace of giving. He calls it a grace because it is bestowed by the Spirit of God who causes this activity to occur for benefit of others. Just as the Macedonian believers demonstrated this grace to the saints in Jerusalem (vv. 1-2), he exhorts the Corinthians to follow the example of the Lord Jesus, the epitome of grace and glory. He urges them to adopt the same attitude and put aside their own comforts and interests to help meet the practical needs of fellow believers. By doing so, they are exhibiting the same type grace that the Lord Jesus demonstrated in His salvation work.

The grace of our Lord Jesus is evident not only in His salvation work but in other ways as well. It characterized His earthly then and is comprises His intercessory ministry from heaven now. In His earthly ministry, it was expressed this grace through words. There must have been something in the tone of His voice that communicated kindness and compassion as well as authority. Certainly, that grace must have been present when He said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more”, John 8:11. It was there when He read a portion of Isaiah 6 in the synagogue when He dramatically paused mid-sentence, causing the people wonder at the graciousness of the words that proceeded from His lips, Luke 4:22. On another occasion, the officers of the people openly declared “never a man spake like this man”, John 7:46. They had to admit even though they did not believe in Him, His words had weight and an air of authority to them. In this way, Psalm 45:2 was prophetically fulfilled when David declared centuries before: “Grace is poured into thy lips”. It also answers to the voice of the bride to her Bridegroom in Song 5:15-16 when she says that his lips drop sweet-smelling myrrh, whose mouth…(or words) [are]most sweet. It should be a challenge to us to follow the example of our Savior in learning to be gracious in our response to others.

The grace of our Lord Jesus was also evident in His walk and work. Luke 2:40 states: “the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him”. The grace or favor of God was always upon the Lord Jesus. Just how that was manifested is not described, but it must have included the manner in which He walked among men. When John, saw Him, he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”. Acts 10:38 states that He “went about doing good and healing all those who oppressed of the devil”. Not only did that kindness show itself in His attitude but in His actions. He healed the sick, raised the dead and did many other good works to many different people. He even demonstrated this grace toward those who rejected or ignored His message. To the rich young ruler who turned away from His offer to follow Him was this grace shown. Instead of chiding him as we might do when someone spurned our overtures, the Word of God says that “beholding him, He loved him”, Mark 10:21. Now that’s grace! When Malchus, the high priest’s servant came with the entourage to arrest Him in the Garden, the Lord healed Malchus’ ear which had been sliced off by Peter. That’s grace! And to Judas, who came to betray Him, He met with the words, “Friend, why art thou come?” Friend? Now that is grace beyond belief! All this pales in comparison however to the grace that was manifested at Calvary. To the crowd at the Cross that mocked, jeered, ridiculed, plucked, spit upon, scorned and did all manner of evil to Him, He did not revile, nor threaten, or open His mouth in retaliation, but graciously replied: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do”. By doing so, He opened the Life gates of seventh and final City of refuge, that all may go in –to them and to all of humanity whom they represented. It is this grace which brings salvation (Titus 2:11) which the Law of Moses could never do. “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). This grace is the grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

But the grace of our Lord Jesus does not stop there! It continues on in His heavenly ministry to us. “Of His grace have we all received and grace for grace” (literally grace upon grace), John 1:17. It flows freely. We have been forgiven according to the riches of His grace, Eph. 1:7. It has been shed upon us abundantly in Jesus Christ. By it, we have access into the presence of God (Rom. 5:1) being freely justified by it, Rom. 3:24. Consequently, we should never tire of testifying of the Gospel of the grace of God, Acts 20:24. We should sing about it in our hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16), to the praise of the glory of His grace, Eph. 1: 6. Through it, we are equipped to serve Him and His people, 1 Cor. 3:10. Because it comes from Him (Eph. 3:7-8) according to the measure of the gift of Christ, (Eph. 4:7), we should never glory in our abilities, but should give Him the honor, Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 4:7. Through it we are built up and given an inheritance, Acts 20:32. At times, this grace is dispensed freely from His throne of grace as a kindness to us. Other times, we must boldly approach the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Heb. 4:16. The grace that drives our service and gives us the power and desire to do His will, increases along with peace through the knowledge of Him, 2 Peter 1:3. It is what we are urged to continually grow in as we mature in the faith and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:15. We are to be occupied with grace, not externals of the faith which does not profit, Heb. 13:9. It is what should season our words (Col. 4:6) that it may instill a holy desire in others whom we talk with to serve the Lord more fervently, Eph. 4:30. Grace everywhere! “Grace, Tis a charming sound”!

There are many dimensions to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in His earthly ministry and in His heavenly ministry toward us. Will we ever be able to fully plumb its depths? No wonder Paul prayed that the Ephesians would understand what is the breadth, and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge…”, Eph. 3:18-19. Regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord, surely we can testify with confidence and conviction that “It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”!

All Things

I have found that when it comes to studying my Bible, it is important to focus on “all things” in it and not just some. As a matter of fact, when we take “all things” into consideration, we come away with a completely different perspective about our life in Christ and our blessings in Him. Like the Psalmist, we are forced to pause and reflect on God’s unchanging truth which should evoke in our hearts a whole range of powerful emotions.

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The Testimony of the Redeemed – Psalm 107

“O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy…” Psalm 107:1-2

God’s grace extends to people from all walks of life and to all corners of the globe. The Psalmist exhorts us not to be silent in our testimony for the Lord, but to “say so” proclaiming how He has redeemed us “from the hand of the enemy.” To the searching (vv. 4-9); the stubborn (vv. 10-16); the sick (vv. 17-22); and the storm-tossed (vv. 23-32), God’s hand reaches down to the children of men in different ways and under different conditions but all with same result: to underscore man’s desperate condition and to highlight God’s mercy and wonderful works to the children of men. Let us not forget that it was this same Lord who also came to our rescue and delivered us from “so great a death” (2 Cor. 1:10) with a “so great salvation” (Heb. 2:3). What a story!

We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
That shall turn their hearts to the right
story of truth and mercy, A story of peace and light. — Nichol

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