Praying The Promises (Genesis 32-33)
Prayer is not an activity that we truly understand. We simplify it so that we understand it a bit, but then we read a description of it in Scripture and our mind is blown. There are times when a prayer is described in Scripture and we realize that our own attempts at prayer have been pathetic and faithless. And I am speaking to myself as much as or more than anyone else in this room.
When we see the saints of old prayer, it is often a marvelous event and difficult to fathom. Think about the prayer already offered of Abraham for the people of Sodom. He was pleading with the Lord to spare Sodom for the sake of , eventually 10 righteous people (Genesis 18:22-33). And your mind may be considering different prayers that you’ve read in Scripture. But let’s consider what Jesus teaches about prayer from the Parable of the Persistent Widow.
“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 ESV)
Prayer is not the reciting of a word or two. Or reading off of a list. Prayer is to be a persistent pleading with the Lord that looks more like a widow demanding justice than drowsily reading form a list.
And the thing that will jump out to us today is Jacob’s insistent and dogged determination to receive from the Lord what the Lord has promised.
This is something that many of us miss today. We make our prayer list and bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But the thought of being so intent that we receive the things God has promises us that we plead with the Lord until we get it is seemingly lost on us.
Let me ask you a question. What happens when you promise your child that you are going to do something with them that they want to do? How do they respond to that? In my experience, they will beg and plead with you until they get what has been promised. And they will not stop until they receive what it is that you have promised them.
And here is what I am going to say about the sermon today. That is what you and I should be doing. Jacob had been given promises. And his prayer and the struggle that followed were examples of a man pleading with the Lord to fulfill the promises that had been given to him. We are to pray fervently and steadfastly for God to fulfill His promises in our lives.
Many promises have been given to us as believers. And we remember these promises like a kid that’s been promised a weekend at a theme park. These promises are to constantly be on our mind and we plead for the Lord to give to us what has been promised.
Jacob left his ordeal with Laban on a great note, as we covered last week. Jacob even met with angels on the way and called the place that he was “God’s camp” (Genesis 31:1-2). But the joy and happiness didn’t last long. Pure dread was about to fall all over Jacob.
It has been such a long time ago that Jacob left his home to live with Laban. But, do you happen to remember why he fled so quickly. He had stolen Isaac’s blessing from Esau, in a plan that his mother had hatched but he carried out (Genesis 27). And this made the already tenuous relationship between Jacob and Esau much worse. In fact, we read that Esau hated Jacob for what he had done and planned to kill his brother (Genesis 27:41). Rebekah, their mother pled with Jacob to leave but he didn’t just hop up and go. So, she convinced Isaac to send him away to find a wife.
Jacob left the family fleeing for his life on a mission to find a wife. And it has been a long time since they have seen each other. And Jacob sent messengers to go and speak with Esau. He wants for things to be well between him and his brother. But the return message was not favorable. There are no words in the message, just a reporting of facts. Esau came to meet Jacob with 400 men. Esau’s coming to meet Jacob with an army. And as one would expect, Jacob is completely terrified.
Jacob then sought to protect his household, well as much of it as he could. And he split the people and animals up into two different camps. That way, if Esau attacked one then the other would be safe.
Jacob was desperate.
And then Jacob prayed. He pled with the Lord the very promises that he’d already been given.
Plead The Promises In Prayer (Genesis 32:9-12)
This is a prayer of desperation. If Esau still wanted to kill him then surely he could do it with the army that we have described here. Jacob left Laban with wealth, but he didn’t leave him with any force that could contend with Esau. He is very afraid for his own life and the life of his family.
So, how did Jacob pray?
Jacob began by speaking of the covenant relationship that he had with God. “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac” (Genesis 32:9). He is speaking to God who had made these promises to Him and had a relationship with Him. He is speaking to the Lord who had brought Abram out of Ur and gave him a child in old age. He is speaking to the Lord who rescued both Abraham and Isaac from their own foolishness at times and gave to them great blessings.
The Lord not only had this covenant relationship with him but gave him a command and promised to do him good. “O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,” (Genesis 32:9 ESV). He spoke of what God commanded him to do, as if to say that it was because God commanded it that he was currently in trouble. And He also stated that God had promised to do him good, not allow him and his family to be wiped out on the journey God had commanded they go on.
Jacob then spoke of his own unworthiness to be in covenant with God and for God to have been so very good to him.
“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.” (Genesis 32:10 ESV)
He made it over that very stream with nothing but a staff and now he can split his camp into two camps. God had blessed him tremendously. But he also, if you will notice, says that he is not worthy of the steadfast love of God. This is the covenant relationship that he has with the Lord. And we, as Christians, understand this quite well.
God created the world and everything in it. And at that time, it was all good. But mankind fell from this wonderful state. Man was created good and righteous, but when Adam fell into sin it brought unrighteousness to us all. Mankind is now stained with the taint of sin. And every child born carries that stain. We are now born sinners in rebellion against God and from our earliest days it can be seen in our lives. A child doesn’t have to be taught to steal or lie. They must be taught to do good. And things don’t get better as we get older. We continue in sin and rebellion against God and heap condemnation upon ourselves. We have earned for ourselves God’s wrath and justice. We are active rebels against the Lord of the Universe. We don’t deserve grace. We only deserve God’s justice. But God did not leave us in this condition. God sent His Son, His only begotten Son, into the world to make a way for sinners to be brought to Him. God the Son took on human flesh and dwelt among us. He lived a perfect life and accomplished all righteousness on our behalf. He died on the cross and paid the punishment for sin. Jesus was crushed in place of sinners. Through the suffering of Christ, we are washed and purified by the blood of the Lamb. Through the perfect life of Christ, we are given righteousness. And this is not given to everyone. This is only for those who entrust their selves to Christ, for all those who turn from ruling their own lives and entrust their selves to the Savior. Those people are united to Christ, His life is credited to them, and our sin was credited to Him. We are credited with His righteousness and His blood washed away our sins, leaving us as pure as the first snow.
As Christians, we know this. Therefore, we understand the idea of our own unworthiness to be in covenant with God. We did nothing to earn it. In fact, we did everything to deserve the opposite. Yet, God sent His Son for our redemption. And so, we rejoice in our relationship with God that is all of grace.
After stating that all the good that has come to him is all of grace, Jacob makes a request that he be spared from Esau and expressed his fear that Esau would attack him and his family. This is his request. This is the concern that is on his heart that he is praying for at the moment. And then he spoke the promise that was made to him.
“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.” (Genesis 32:12 ESV)
Jacob is in a very dangerous position. It seems that soon he and his family will be wiped out by his angry brother Esau and his 400 men. But God had made a promise to do him good and make his offspring numerous. This won’t be the case if he is wiped out.
So, think with me for a moment. What was the content of his prayer?
His prayer was for God to rise up and do what He had promised to do. God had promised to do good to him when he left Laban. And God had delivered the same promises that were given to Abraham, Isaac, and now himself. Jacob was backed into a corner and now pleaded with the Lord to fulfill the promises that had been made.
This might seem strange to some of you because we often say, “God has said that He will do it. Then we just trust that He will do it.” But that is not what we see here. And it is not what we will see in Jacob’s wrestling later in the chapter. So, what is going on here?
When we pray God’s promises we are praying God’s Words back to Him and laying claim to what He has said He will give us. It is proclaiming that we are in need of that thing He has promised us, and we desire for Him to do what He has said.
It sounds audacious, I know. But it is something we should do.
This account with Jacob is not the only time we see something like this.
When David was promised by God that his kingdom would last forever, he prayed to God that this would happen. He took hold of the promise of God and asked the Lord to fulfill the promises that had been made.
“And now, O LORD God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. And your name will be magnified forever, saying, ‘The LORD of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord GOD, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” (2Samuel 7:25-29 ESV)
And see it also in Solomon’s prayer.
“Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father.” (1 Kings 8:22-26 ESV)
The Bible is full of promises given to His people. It is estimated that there are around 3,000 of them when you add them all up. Some are given in specific situations that are not applicable to your life. But most are.
The application of this truth is so wide that I will just give a few examples of it.
In times of loneliness and despair, ask God to not leave you or forsake you because He has promised just that. Pray for the Lord to be with you (Deuteronomy 31:6).
God promises peace when we pray in times of anxiousness (Philippians 4:5-7).
When you pray for our church, don’t just pray for our church, pray for promises that God has given to His people. Pray for the Lord’s presence to rest with His people here at Victory Baptist Church (Matthew 28:20, John 14:18). And pray for the growth of Christ’s Kingdom here in Conway and in our local congregation. You can pray this claiming the promises that God has given concerning the growth of the people of God in the promises we discuss every week that were given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3). Or you can pray this from Jesus’s simple declaration, “I will build My Church” (Matthew 16:18). The promise is not for our particular congregation, but we do pray for the Lord to fulfill His promise and that we would get to be a part of the fulfillment of it here.
God has made glorious promises to us and they are all “yes and amen in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Plead with the Lord for Him to do what he has promised to do.
I must stress that this is not the “name it and claim it” garbage that you see on television today from charlatans flying around the world in their private jets. This is much different. These are things that are promised to us in God’s Word. We are not speaking anything into existence. We are simply believing that God will give to us what He has promised to give to us and asking for it fervently.
By Faith, Act The Best You Know How (Genesis 32:13-21)
Jacob sent present after present to Esau in an attempt to win him over. But these weren’t just gifts to soften a heart. It seems that there were two things going on here. First, these presents are akin to someone sending the lord of the land precious gifts to show them that they are in submission to them. But there is also something else happening here with Jacob. He is giving back part of the blessing that he had previously stolen from Esau. Jacob was attempting to make amends with the brother that he’d wronged.
Jacob is not renouncing the blessing or the promises that were given to him. He would never do that. But it is giving back some of what he’d taken from Esau. These gifts are large. This is no empty gesture.
What I want us to see right now is that this is not a lack of faith as some people have suggested. It is action to keep his family safe after praying for their safety. He has prayed for the Lord to keep he and his family safe. Now he works to make it so. And only the blessing of the Lord will help him at this moment.
My mentor’s wife oftentimes said “You need to put feet to your prayers.” shortly after asking “Have you prayed about it?” And that is exactly what we should do. When you pray for something to happen, the very next thing you do is get to work.
If you pray for your children that they would become believers and then don’t take them to church to hear the Word or teach it at home, then you are not doing any action after praying. You are not putting feet to your prayers.
If you pray for our church to grow and never invite anyone to church then you are not putting feet to your prayers. You are not putting in the work.
There are thousands of examples that could be given. And you are likely thinking of something right now that you have prayed for and not sought, but the point of this is that we pray and work. We pray for God to do something and then we do everything we know to make that something happen. Obviously, there are some situations in which we are totally helpless. In that case, we pray and that is enough. But in a whole host of things, God does the work through us. He blesses the labor. And we will find out that He blessed the labor of Jacob with Esau.
Pray And Wrestle Diligently (Genesis 32:22-32)
Here we are, at the climax of our text today. But it should also be seen as an extension of Jacob’s time in prayer. In a sense it is also part of God’s answer to Jacob’s prayer.
Jacob sent everyone else across the stream and stayed behind (Genesis 32:23-24). We are not told why he decided to do things this way, but he did. And this left Jacob alone in his tent. And a man came into his tent and began to wrestle him.
Can you imagine lying down, either asleep or working on it when someone jumps on you? And at this moment Jacob was in fear of what Esau was about to do. Don’t you suppose that his first thought was, “Esau’s going to kill me!” I believe he thought this was Esau or one of Esau’s 400 men had come to finish him off. The wrestling was intense, but Jacob held his ground against the unknown combatant. But the attacker did something that revealed He was more than a man. With a simple touch of the hip socket, Jacob’s hip was put out of joint. That had to be painful, but it was also very eye opening. This was more than a man.
By morning, Jacob was injured and tired. A normal wrestling match is intense. Within a few moments both people are usually quite tired. But this was a marathon event and Jacob still would not let go of his attacker as morning was breaking (Genesis 32:26). And this is because Jacob understood who his attacker was. The hip socket touch revealed to him, somehow, that this was God-incarnate wrestling with him. He was striving with God and would not let Him go until He had received the promised blessing.
But before answering the request God had to do something to Jacob. “What is your name?” The attacker asked. And that seems strange, but God was doing something very important in this moment. Jacob had a disgraceful name. It meant “cheat”. And it summarized Jacob’s life so farm He had cheated Esau over and over. He had cheated Laban a time or two. And his life had been characterized by his name, Jacob. His name brought up the many disgraceful things he had done. And notice what is said next,
“And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28 ESV)
Jacob asked the name of the man striving with him in return. But received no answer, only a question. “Why is it that you ask my name?” (Genesis 32:29 ESV) And it was there that God blessed him.
Jacob understood the marvelous thing that had taken place. God could have destroyed him and he knew that. Jacob called the place this happened “Peniel” because,
“For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:30 ESV)
God didn’t destroy him, but blessed him in this encounter. His life had been delivered and blessed rather than destroyed. So, Jacob was limping but blessed. And the Hebrew people commemorated this by not eating the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket (Genesis 32:32).
What was this striving? It was an answer to Jacob’s prayer. In this encounter, God gave Jacob what he needed to face Esau. God gave him a new name that was not marred by his past actions. And God gave him the courage, through the striving, to go and meet Esau face to face. So, Jacob went before his family. He no longer feared Esau or his men. He simply went to Esau and bowed before him (Genesis 33:1).
Praying is not just an activity where we mutter the words found on a prayer list. There is a time and place for a prayer list and I think it is good that we have one, but the issue is that we don’t often think about how fervently it is that we are to pray. And we get a picture of that in this text.
Earlier I mentioned the parable of the Persistent Widow for this reason. Jesus taught that prayer was an activity that is to be done fervently and with great persistence. We pray like our children begging for something they’ve already been promised. They can be unrelenting, and you should be as well.
For a long time, I thought that since God knew everything and I had already asked it, I did not need to pray it again. I didn’t need to, I thought. And so, I would drop it. But then I realized that this is not what God expects of me. He expects me to go to Him in prayer fervently and persistently.
I remember praying for someone’s salvation that is dear to me as a 9th grader at a summer camp. It was after the camp pastor had spoken to us about praying for the lost, which is something that I think we should all be doing. I went to the altar and prayed and wept for this person. And this is a person that I still pray for today these many years later. There was a gap of time where I did not, because I did not understand this. But I do now. And I believe it is good and right that I do so. It is what God desires and it is what God has taught about prayer.
God Answers Persistent Prayer According To His Promise (Genesis 33)
Genesis 33 is a whole lot of answered prayer. First, God gave Jacob the courage to do what needed to be done through the wrestling that had taken place. He also gave to Jacob the new name, which signified that he was not who he once was. He had been changed by the grace of God. So, Jacob went in front of his family to meet Esau. It was a bold and courageous thing to do, when running would have been the first option on most people’s minds.
The second answer to prayer, and the one we see throughout this text is Esau’s response to Jacob. Esau hugged him. The long separated brothers embraced each other and had a family reunion (Genesis 33:4). Jacob found so much forgiveness in Esau for all the wrong that he had done over the years that he said,
“I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” (Genesis 33:10 ESV)
The forgiveness he’d found in Esau was something not normally seen among people. And this is especially true when the person you’ve offended could easily crush you. And this is how Jacob expressed it.
There is some indication here that Jacob did not quite trust Esau with his life. And so, there is a discussion about whether or not Jacob’s family would be taken in by Esau. But Jacob insisted he be able to go on his way. And so, they parted ways after the reunion. And Jacob made it home safely, to Shechem in Canaan on his way to Paddan-aram (Genesis 33:18). And so, he worshipped the Lord (Genesis 33:20).
Jacob made an altar and called it “El-Elohe-Israel”, which means God, the God of Israel. And it calls our attention to what Jacob had said long ago when God had given him promises in a dream as he was fleeing Esau and seeking a wife.
“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, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”” (Genesis 28:20-22 ESV)
God had kept His promises to Jacob, now Israel. And Israel pledged his life to the Lord and worshipped him there at Shechem.
This is a beautiful ending to this portion of the story. Esau’s hatred of Jacob was intense, and understandable. But by the grace of God the two came together and Jacob was allowed to leave in safety.
God answers prayer, but it is not often in the way that we suspect it will be answered. Jacob didn’t plan on getting mugged in the tent as an answer to prayer. But he did. And in that encounter God gave to him a new name, he took away from him his shame, and he gave him the courage to face what lie ahead. That is something many of us need to understand. Some of the things that hold us back have been taken away from us through the work of Christ. We are not who we once were and we need to realize that. And God may be working things out in your life to give you the ability to face what lies ahead.
And this is a lesson for us. Read your Bible. Search for those promises from God and pray them. There are an estimated 3,000 promises. Plead with the Lord from His own Word.
God has given us promise after promise in His Word. And we don’t need to act as if they don’t exist. They need to be ever on our minds. We will often have need to pray for things that God has not promised to give us. And He does answer prayer. But where He has promised something to us, we should badger him like a child with a promised trip or toy that won’t leave you alone. We need to go to Him like the persistent widow and not let Him go until He has given to us what He has promised.
Take hold of the promises God has given you in His Word. They are dear to us. And so, we go to the Lord with them.
R. Dwain Minor