Wrestling with God

Jacob & Esau: Two Roads | Genesis 35-36


God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (Genesis 35:1)

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 35:9-12)


Our present study began with Isaac learning that his wife, Rebekah, became pregnant with twins after being barren. When the two boys began to battle in the womb, Isaac inquired of God, who declared that the younger child would usurp the older. Esau was born first, then Jacob. The two were destined for conflict. Over the span of two events, Jacob deceived his older brother out of the blessing and birthright of the firstborn. Esau was furious, so he plotted Jacob’s murder, which was sufficient reason for Jacob to flee to his mother’s homeland to look for a wife. In the land of Haran, Jacob found his wife, but he was tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, into also marrying her older sister, leading to intense family drama.

After living with Laban for 20 years who repeatedly tried to cheat Jacob out of his work, Jacob fled back to the land of his father. Once there, Jacob was forced to confront Esau, who was coming to meet him with 400 men. In fear, Jacob sent large gifts to his brother, hoping to appease him. But a personal wrestling match with God finally gave Jacob the courage to meet Esau face to face. Shockingly, his brother met him with love and open arms. God softened Esau’s heart and finally gave Jacob the peace of reconciliation.

We now conclude this third section of Genesis with God appearing to Jacob once again, the deaths of Rachel and Isaac, and the prosperity of Esau. Though Jacob will continue to appear in Genesis, chapter 37 will begin to focus on the narratives of his children, particularly Joseph. As the narrative reflects upon the lives of Jacob and Esau, we find that they both lived prosperous lives; however, Jacob’s life was also molded by God’s grace and faithfulness.

Read chapter 35 and discuss the following.

  1. After God appeared to Jacob again, Jacob responded by ensuring that his household and servants put away their foreign gods in order to purify themselves before the LORD. What are some false gods that are common today?
  2. When Jacob arrives at Bethel, God once again declares that Jacob’s new name is Israel and pronounces the blessings of Abraham upon him. How, in particular, does God’s promise of nations and kings coming from Jacob apply to us today?

Read chapter 36 and discuss the following. 

  1. Though genealogies tend to be quite boring, all of Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for us. In general, what can we learn from the Bible’s genealogies?
  2. Verses 6-8 reinforce what we suspected in chapter 33, that Esau was in fact quite wealthy. How can wealth, prosperity, and ease of life actually become a curse for us?


  • Obey. Just as Jacob called for his household to forsake their idols before he built an altar to God in Bethel, take time to consider any false gods in your heart and how you can forsake them to follow God fully.
  • Pray. Consider the struggle-filled life of Jacob and the Esau’s life of prosperity. Give thanks to God for His grace of stripping us of our lesser gods, so that we might know Him as our eternal treasure.
Wrestling with God

Jacob & Esau Reunite | Genesis 33


Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. (Genesis 33:11)

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. There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. (Genesis 33:19-20)

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)


Jacob’s life is a continuous war being waged between fear and faith. Even after God prophesied that Jacob would usurp his older brother’s firstborn right, he still took matters into his own hands by deceiving his father into blessing him instead of Esau. Afterwards, Jacob fled from Esau to his mother’s homeland, where he found his wife, Rachel. Unfortunately, his father-in-law, Laban, deceived the Jacob into also marrying Rachel’s older sister. Chaos ensued in Jacob’s family, but eventually God commanded Jacob to return to his home. Jacob chose to flee in fear of Laban, rather than trusting God to care for him. Then upon arriving at his father’s land, Jacob prepared to meet his brother by giving him 550 animals in a series of waves, hoping to appease Esau’s wrath.

Though Genesis 32 built up the tension of the reunion between Jacob and Esau, the chapter ended with the twist of Jacob wrestling God throughout the night. Having now been given both a limp and a new name, Jacob goes forth to greet his brother. Twenty years had passed, and Jacob assumed that Esau still intended to kill him, which Esau’s four hundred men only helped to imply. Providentially, Esau is not angry with Jacob; instead, Esau warmly greets Jacob, embracing and kissing him. Jacob clearly understood this to be the work of God upon Esau’s heart.

But even though God had changed Esau’s heart, one of the biggest questions of this chapter is whether Jacob’s heart has changed as a result of his wrestling match with God. Some commentators are quick to jump to Jacob’s defense, believing that Jacob is an entirely new man now. Others present the opposite opinion, claiming that Jacob acts here in virtually the same manner as before. I will throw my lot in with others still who believe that Jacob is more complex than the other two opinions give him credit for. Jacob’s life has been a battle of fear and faith, and that fight continues here. Sometimes it appears that Jacob’s faith is winning, but at other moments, fear gets the upper hand. We know this to be true of ourselves as well. After encountering God in salvation, we do not miraculously cease sinning and act only in faith; rather, we still face temptations and doubt. But like Jacob, God’s grace keeps growing us in maturity, even if it is inch by inch.

Read verses 1-11 and discuss the following. 

  • The time has now come for Jacob to reunite with his brother, Esau, and Jacob goes through an elaborate display of submission before having Esau embrace and kiss him. Did Jacob act in fear or faith here? Why?
  • With his 400 men and his calm decline of Jacob’s sizable gifts, Esau seems to be quite wealthy himself. It does not, therefore, seem unreasonable that God may have softened Esau’s heart toward Jacob by giving him material blessings. How can material blessings distract us from worshipping God?

Read verses 12-20 and discuss the following.  

  • Now that Jacob has made peace with his brother, he builds booths for his livestock and settles down. Have you experienced a similar peace that comes from reconciliation?
  • Having settled matters with his brother, Jacob buys land and builds an altar to worship God. What was the twofold purpose of an altar? How do we worship God today?


  • Obey. Having been rescued from Esau’s wrath, Jacob builds an altar to worship God. Similar to Jacob, we have been saved from the wrath of God by the sacrifice of Christ, and worship should be our response to that good news. Take time this week to evaluate your worship of God.
  • Pray. Jacob was far from perfect before he wrestled with God, and he was still sinful after that encounter. But by God’s grace, Jacob continued to grow in maturity and godliness little by little. Pray that the same would be true of you.
Wrestling with God

Jacob Wrestles with God | Genesis 32


Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:28-30)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)


Jacob’s entire life was one big wrestling match. First, he wrestled with his brother for the firstborn birthright, and he overcame Esau by deceiving their father into thinking that Jacob was actually Esau. Jacob was then forced to flee from Esau’s murderous anger, so he traveled long way to his mother’s homeland. There he found his wife, Rachel, whom he loved greatly, but he was also tricked by his father-in-law, Laban, into marrying Rachel’s less attractive older sister, Leah. Polygamous family drama ensued, but eventually, Jacob resigned to leave Laban and return to his father’s land. After much conflict with Laban, Jacob was finally free to return home.

But Jacob knew that his homecoming would not be pleasant. Even after twenty years, he still feared his brother’s wrath. As we will read today, Esau coming to meet Jacob with 400 men behind him did nothing to calm Jacob’s anxiety. Jacob prays for God’s deliverance, and then he sends more than 550 animals in five waves as gifts for Esau, hoping to appease his brother’s anger. Finally, after Jacob has sent his livestock, servants, children, and wives across the river, he is left alone for the night to prepare for meeting his brother in the morning. But Jacob gets no sleep because he spends all night wrestling an unknown assailant.

This wrestling match plot twist is the clear highlight of this chapter, especially when Jacob realizes that he wrestled with God. It marks the most dramatic moment of Jacob’s life. With Laban behind him and Esau before him, Jacob was surrounded by enemies. He could no longer simply run away from conflicts. He would need to confront them. And God tops it off by physically fighting Jacob throughout the night. Displaying incredible perseverance, Jacob demands that God bless him, but lest we think that Jacob “beat” God, the LORD with a touch knocks Jacob’s hip out of joint. And after realizing who his opponent was, Jacob concludes that he is alive only by God’s mercy. Having encountered God, Jacob leaves limping and weakened but with a new name and a deeper faith in the One whose power is made perfect in our weakness.

Read verses 1-21 and discuss the following.

  1. After learning that Esau is approaching with 400 men, Jacob’s responds by praying for God’s protection. What might we able to learn from Jacob’s fearful, but God-honoring, prayer in verses 9-12?
  2. In hopes of appeasing his brother, Jacob sends drove after drove of animals (550 in total) as gifts for Esau. Did Jacob do this out of fear or faith? Why is it important that we do everything from faith?

Read verses 22-32 and discuss the following.

  1. God appears and begins wrestling with Jacob only when Jacob is alone. Why are silence and solitude important? What most hinders you from taking time to be alone with God?
  2. Even though Jacob appears to prevail in the fight, the mysterious wrestler is able to dislocate Jacob’s hip with a mere touch. Jacob survived only because of the mercy of God, and he walked away with a limp and a new name. Like Jacob’s limp, why is it important for God to reveal the depth of our weakness? What is the significance of receiving a new name?


  • Obey. Just like God found Jacob when he was alone, schedule out time this week to spend in solitude with God, praying and reading the Scriptures.
  • Pray. Take cues from Jacob’s prayer in verses 9-12. Spend a few minutes acknowledging God and then a few moments confessing sin and weakness. Next, take your anxieties and requests to the Father in prayer, knowing that He is faithful and just to hear us.
Wrestling with God

Isaac Blesses Jacob | Genesis 27:1-28:9


So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you! (Genesis 27:27-29)

God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham! (Genesis 28:3-4)


Looking into the third major section of Genesis, we have seen how the covenantal blessing of God passed down from Abraham to his son, Isaac. Abraham then died, and Isaac faced his own journey of walking in faith with God. In many ways, Isaac followed after Abraham, in both good and bad. God commanded Isaac to trust him by staying put during a famine, and like his father, he trusted God. Unfortunately, like Abraham, Isaac also tended to take matters into his own hands by lying about his wife to protect himself. Ultimately, though, Isaac walked in faith after God just like his father.

Isaac’s faithfulness, however, does not bleed over into our present text. Here we read the account of Jacob taking Isaac’s blessing from Esau. We see that Isaac intended to bless Esau, the firstborn, but Jacob and Rebekah, his mother, trick Isaac into thinking that Jacob is really Esau. Because Isaac is blind, he falls for the trick and gives Jacob the blessing. Esau comes back from hunting to discover his lost blessing. Though Esau begs to be blessed, Isaac gives him a curse instead. We are then told that Esau hated Jacob and sought a chance to kill him. Thus, Jacob fled, at his mother’s request, to find a wife in her homeland.

Many people have tried through various arguments to prove if Isaac, Esau, Jacob, or Rebekah were sinning or not. It is my belief that there is not innocent party within this text. Isaac knew that God promised the blessing to Jacob, but he still chose to try blessing Esau. If Esau were honorable, he would have surrendered his blessing to Jacob, facing the consequences of his foolish selling of the birthright for soup. Rebekah and Jacob both knew God promise, but they do not trust God to fulfill it, taking matters into their own hands. Through it all, we will see God’s faithfulness in spite of sin; however, the sins of everyone involved have far reaching consequences for this family.

Read verses 1-29 and discuss the following.

  1. Whether he forgot God’s promise to bless Jacob over Esau or whether he simply ignored it, Isaac chose to bless Esau over Jacob because he loved him more. In what ways can favoritism destroy a family?
  2. Isaac’s love for Esau entirely centered upon Esau’s barbeque skills. He loved what Esau could do for him, rather than actually loving his son. Can our love for others likewise come from a selfish heart? Why is that not truly love?
  3. Jacob and Rebekah resolved to snatch away Esau’s blessings by deceiving Isaac. Though they were acting based on God’s promise to bless Jacob, they used sinful means to do so. Have you ever used sinful means to accomplish an otherwise godly goal?

Read verses 27:30-28:9 and discuss the following.

  1. After learning that Jacob stole his blessing, Esau had such a hatred for his brother that he began to plan murder. His originally foolish behavior has now snowballed into grievous sin. Are foolishness and sin connected? How do they lead into one another?


  • Consider the sins and failures of each person discussed in these verses. Learn from Isaac by remembering and valuing the Word of God though he didn’t. Seek biblical wisdom to avoid the sin and foolishness of Esau. Avoid the self-reliance of Jacob and Rebekah, trusting God instead.
  • Give thanks to God for His mercy and grace toward us, knowing that we sin just like Isaac, Esau, Rebekah, and Jacob, but Christ has saved us from our sin.
Wrestling with God

Jacob & Esau | Genesis 25


After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi. (Genesis 25:11)

And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. (Genesis 25:21)

And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23)


Much has transpired in Genesis thus far. The opening chapters describe God’s creation of everything good and humanity’s fall into sin. God struck mankind’s sinful pride twice: first with a global flood that killed all but eight people, and second by confusing their languages, causing them to scatter across the earth and form different nations. In chapter 12, the story narrowed down to one man, Abraham. God called him and his barren wife to settle in foreign land, where God would make his descendants into a great nation. Twenty-five years later, God gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. The epitome of Abraham’s faithful life is seen when God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham is willing to slay his own son because he trusted the LORD’s word.

We now move into the third major section of Genesis. Abraham, the man of faith, dies, leaving behind Isaac to carry on the covenantal blessing that God made with his father. Yet the narrative will devote little time to Isaac, focusing instead upon his son, Jacob, who bears little resemblance to the great faith of his grandfather. The Bible is careful to paint the sins of Abraham for us to see, but the great displays of his faith make him feel larger than life. Jacob does not have this problem. His life is marked by the struggle to survive and thrive, yet beneath everything, Jacob is fearful, often running from his problems. Nowhere does Jacob show himself worthy of God’s favor, but God still readily gives it to him.

In this text, we read the beginning of God’s plan for Jacob. Before Jacob is born, God chooses him to usurp his older brother, Esau, as the inheritor of God’s covenantal blessing from his father, Isaac. The chapter ends with Jacob’s first step in securing the inheritance of the firstborn, which Jacob does through less than ideal means. Indeed, if there is any account in the Old Testament that displays the reality of unmerited grace, it is the story of Jacob. Yet as we will come to learn, we tend to be far more like Jacob than Abraham.

Read verses 1-18 and discuss the following.

  1. Death came even for the great man of faith, Abraham, yet even still he displayed a faith beyond his life by securing Isaac’s place as his inheritor. In what ways have you invested (or we might say discipled) the next generation to continue your ministry? Or how have you been discipled by previous generations to continue a ministry?

Read verses 19-28 and discuss the following.

  1. Isaac and Rebekah found themselves barren for twenty years, similar to Abraham and Sarah, and after they prayed, God granted them children. How does this show the necessity and importance of prayer? What can we say about God’s “delays” in answering prayer?
  2. Before Jacob and Esau were born, God chose Jacob to become greater than his older brother. Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:10-13 both declare that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before either were born. How does this display God’s sovereign election?

Read verses 29-34 and discuss the following.

  1. Jacob was only able to con Esau out of his birthright because Esau had a low view of spiritual blessings, causing him to view soup as greater in value because it was physically there. In what ways do you act similarly, placing physical trivialities over spiritual riches?


  • Obey. Consider Abraham’s faithfulness to prepare Isaac for continuing God’s work. Likewise, plan out ways that you can disciple others into doing ministries that you do, or search for ministries where you can be discipled to continue the work.
  • Pray. Look toward the example of Isaac and Rebekah, who likely prayed twenty years for Jacob and Esau. Remain steadfast in prayer, knowing that God works according to His plan and is faithful in time.