In Genesis 32, verse 31, the rays of the rising sun falling upon a limping Jacob describes what actually happened; but it also had great spiritual significance. The light of God’s blessing was shining on him. “As he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him”. It had been a night of physical and spiritual struggle, when the proud, stubborn, self-willed Jacob was subdued and physically weakened. The passing from the darkness of that night into the welcome light of the dawn speaks of Jacob beginning a new phase of His life, one which would be characterised by physical weakness, but also by humility and submission to the will of God. Yet Jacob was happy. There is surely a note of joy in verse 30, as he says, “I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved”. He had had a unique encounter with God. So close was he to God that, as far as he was concerned, he had seen God ‘face to face’. So close that he is happily amazed that he survived. He did not actually, physically, see God for God is a spirit, and cannot be seen with physical eyes, except as we shall see Him in the face of Jesus Christ in heaven, but close enough to move him to call the place, ‘Peniel’, literally, ‘the face of God’. ‘(Penuel’ in verse 31 is the same word but in a different grammatical case in the Hebrew. )
Verse 31 shows us how significant Jacob’s experience was, not only to himself, but also to the children of Israel. They commemorated it every time they ate of the part of an animal round the hip joint. They reverently abstained from the sinew attached to the thigh. This commemoration does seem strange to us, especially as it is not part of the Mosaic law. It is not the only such commemoration in the scriptures. In Ezra chapter 9, we read of the commemoration of the great deliverance of the children of Israel from the murderous intents of the wicked Haman, whose mind was set on exterminating them. The annual event was called ‘the days of Purim’. It is difficult for us to understand how these ‘extra-law’ commemorations were not condemned by God, except to say that they were not multiplied, and, perhaps, thus tolerated.
Finally, in view of the evident confidence of Jacob that God had truly blessed Him, what is the blessing of God on a person who is already saved? This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. God’s blessing may take many forms, but it is certainly not ‘health, wealth and happiness’ any more than it was in the case of Jacob. In the case of Jacob it was a weakening, leading to dependence upon God. It also involved a special revelation by God of Himself, leaving Jacob in such a state that he believed that he had seen God. Now Jacob’s experience was unique. Nevertheless, we must pray continually, as we go, “Lord, bless me”. And if He answers, let us keep it to ourselves lest we glory in it. I am convinced that we lose the blessing if we fall into boasting, which can happen all too easily. We might justify this by claiming to be trying to ‘help’ others. We must also say that the circumstances of the believer have changed since Jacob’s time: we have the complete word of God, and that is the main channel of His blessing. If we are continually searching the scriptures for our own personal benefit, we will sometimes find that God reveals Himself to us in a special way, even giving us foretastes of heaven and the glory and pleasures that are there.