Understanding Genesis 32: Overcoming Our Guilt
Read the entire chapter 32 of Genesis on your own. You can read a variety of versions, from contemporary English to literal translations. You can download bible apps, websites (blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com) or buy one from your local bookstore. I will use King James Version because some of the nuances are missing from other translations. When you read the chapter, don’t just read it—study it with questions and try to make sense of it.
And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. Genesis 32:1
After parting from Laban, Jacob and his family traveled toward Beersheba. But as Jacob gets closer to his home, he remembers the threat by Esau: And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. Genesis 27:41
Jacob starts to worry about his family and how their lives are threaten by his lies to his father—his sins. As he goes forth, he sees the angels congregating about his camp, and he’s reminded of the dream he had in Bethel. He’s comforted by the promise God has made to be with him: And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. Genesis 28:15
Be the Servant
And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now: And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight. Genesis 32:4,5
The Lord had told his mother: And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. Genesis 25:23 Esau and Jacob both knew of the prophecy, but to show Esau Jacob had no expectation of service, Jacob tells the servants to call Esau, “My lord,” and himself, “a servant.” And to show that he was not coming to inherit any of their father’s wealth, Jacob also wanted them to tell Esau that he was a wealthy man and had no need of anything that belonged to Esau.
Waiting on God's Help
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that waswith him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands; I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Genesis 32:6,7,10
How unfortunate that Jacob forgets the angels and instead becomes afraid and distressed. We go to church and feel the presence of God, see the love and blessings that he’s pouring down on us, but when we go to work or we have health issues, we immediately turn inward and become worried and scared.
We allow the problems to overwhelm our sense of hope and birth a defeatist attitude. We don’t immediately fall on our knees and pray. The gift that God gives to us is not the solution to the problem, but the peace that we need to trust Him. "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-21 Rejoice always is difficult. Pray without ceasing is difficult. And trusting God while having problems is difficult.
Jacob prays and reminds God that He had promised to take care of Jacob, but thinking that he is unworthy of God’s promise, he goes about fixing his problems. He sends animals as gifts to appease this brother, and just in case it doesn’t work, he divides the rest of his household, hoping some of them can be saved.
Holding Onto God
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. Genesis 32:24-26
After he sends his family away, he stays behind to pray. As he pray, he’s reminded of his sins and the cause of his brother’s hatred toward him. As he remembers all the wrong he has done, he begins to repent. While praying, he feels someone’s hands upon him and thinking he was being attacked, Jacob fights back. But as they struggle, neither person surrenders. They struggle all night, and Jacob in his mind, realizes this person is supernatural.
Jacob at this point is more than 60 years of age. He is not a frail old man, he’d worked with animals, and he manages a large household. As he struggles all night and realizes whom He is wrestling with, he isn’t defending himself anymore, but holding onto God. Earlier, he had remembered his sins and regretted them, and when he realizes that God has come to him, he asks for reassurance that God still loves him; he asks for assurance of forgiveness.
God did not leave Jacob alone to wonder if God loves him. God did not leave Jacob to doubt that he received forgiveness. God came to Jacob in person, to encourage him and comfort him. But Jacob also did not let go of God.
Overcoming Our Guilt
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. Genesis 32:28
Your name is no longer deceiver, supplanter, usurper…but now, overcomer, winner, and triumphant. How often we commit a sin and because of our guilt, we stop reading the bible, going to church, or praying. The longer we stop praying, the more distant we grow from God.
At the lowest point in our lives, we need to remember that God loves us. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
We need to overcome the voice of Satan whispering in our ears, that God would not forgive; that God no longer loves us because of our sin. We become overcomers, not because we didn’t sin or for “being good,” but we become overcomers, by ignoring the voice of Satan and believing in God’s promises of love and forgiveness.
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels." Revelation 3:5
Judas did not believe in God’s love or forgiveness and overwhelmed with his guilt, committed suicide. After denying Jesus three times, Peter repented with crying and prayer. He remembered Jesus healing a palsied man, not only from physical pain, but also from spiritual sickness. "When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." Mark 2:5 Peter chose to believe that Jesus would forgive him, just as He did the sick stranger.
Our faith cannot be only belief in God, not only belief in Jesus’ death on the cross—but our faith must believe in God’s love for us. "She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." John 8:11 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans 8:1
See God Face to Face
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. Genesis 32:30
"And he [God] said, Thou [Moses] canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." Exodus 33:20 There are very few instances of when men and God meet. But God had come in the guise of mortals, so His full glory would not overwhelm them.
Adam and Eve communed with God before they sinned. Their sinless conscience gave them the ability to talk to God face to face. But after their sin, they ran to hide from Him. Their guilt from their sins prevented them from meeting His eyes.
Afterwards, God spoke his messages in visions and dreams. When Abraham and Joshua met Jesus, it was in the guise of a man, so that they did not recognize whom they were talking to, until after Jesus revealed himself. "And he [Abraham] lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground," Genesis 18:2 "And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?" Joshua 5:13
"And I [God] will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:" Ezekial 11:19 "Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." 2 Corinthians 3:3 "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8
Jacob knew the consequence of seeing God face to face, but He also saw how God had stooped down to commune with him, and was full of gratitude regarding God’s grace and His love; that God had not wanted Jacob to perish in seeing God’s full glory. Jacob’s guilt was slowly absolved, as he increasingly desired to cling to God. Rather than watch Jacob condemn himself with guilt, God would relieve Jacob of it and give him hope. Jacob's ability to see God face to face, was the new heart given to him.
Our faith must be grounded in believing how much God loves us. How much He would forgive and save us, that He would come down to earth and die on our behalf. That He would never do anything to separate us from Him, but only let us go when we run from Him. We are the ones who will walk away. "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38,39