Richard Agee

Genesis 32: God converts Ya’akov the supplanter into Yisra’el the ruler

Richard AgeeYa’akov (Jacob) had a conversion experience the night he wrestled with a Heavenly visitor. Not only did he receive a new name, but also he received a new “vision” for what his future would hold.

As Ya’akov was in the “home stretch” in his return from Laban, he knew he had to cross over the land of Seir and that Esau lived there. So he planned for the possibility of war by offering Esau lots of gifts, diving up his family into different camps and praying to God for safe passage. 

In Gen. 32:1, we read that “angels of God” — literally, מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים melakhey ’elohim — met him. There is no record of what they said to Ya’akov, if anything at all. There is the possibility that they did not do anything except reveal their presence to Ya’akov to show him that two camps — מַחֲנַיִם makhanayim H4266, military encampments — of heavenly beings were accompanying him on his return to the Promised Land. 

Ya’akov knew that the people of the land of Seir were subservient to Esau, so Esau had a great army he could use to attack him. Esau brought an army of 400 people to confront Ya’akov, and this brought fear and doubt to Ya’akov. You would think that after seeing the angelic hosts with him, he would have no fear of his brother, but he did. 

Ya’akov separated his retinue into two camps just as the angelic hosts were in two separate camps. He was depending on the angelic world to defend his household. 

Esau brought that army with him for the exact purpose that Ya’akov thought he did, to kill Ya’akov and inherit the land. Esau had the upper hand militarily over Ya’akov.

Ya’akov leaves the two camps behind, and he was going to face death. His family was protected by the angelic hosts but he was going to confront Esau on his own (at least on the surface). He had a plan to send out three companies of servants with gifts ahead of him to try to placate Esau. 

Overnight, Ya’akov met a special man, whom he wrestled with the entire night. Most of the night, it seems the “man” has the upper hand and made sure he had the upper hand by injuring Ya’akov’s hip. 

But then there’s this unusual phrase in Gen. 32:26, when the “man” says, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” How is it that the angel has to plead with Ya’akov for release when the angel had the upper hand the entire evening? Ya’akov’s response shows his spiritual discernment. He could have said, “You broke my hip, and you want me to let you go?!” Yet Ya’akov said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26).

The “man” blessed Ya’akov with a new name: Israel. This lifted the last curse upon Ya’akov, which was his given birth name. The fact that Ya’akov prevailed with God is the reason for the name but that is not what the name Israel literally means. The word יִשְׂרָאֵל Yisra’el (Strong’s lexicon No. H3478) can mean “he rules as God”  or “man sees God.” 

With the name change, Ya’akov was no longer a “heel grabber” or supplanter. Ya’akov became a prince in God’s sight, “for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed [יָכוֹל yakhol H3201, to be able, i.e., to be capable of doing something]” (Gen. 32:28).

From this point on, Ya’akov’s life was not the same. Ya’akov faced death at the angel’s hand but prevailed to a new life instead. That was Ya’akov’s conversion. 

We don’t know who this man was, but whoever he was, he had a lot of authority given to him by the Creator of Heaven and Earth. 

What does it mean that Ya’akov saw God “face to face”? This is not literal, because if Ya’akov had literally seen God’s countenance he would have been struck dead. Then again, “Ya’akov named the place Peniel [פְּנוּאֵל H6439, face of God], for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my soul [נֶפֶשׁ nefesh H5315] has been preserved'” (Gen. 32:30). 

What this means is that Ya’akov understood God’s will plainly and completely. Ya’akov understood how much God had blessed him. God had allowed him to see the angelic world. No one else saw them but Ya’akov. God showed Ya’akov who He is. 

Reader: Jeff. Speaker: Richard Agee. Summary: Tammy.


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