One of today’s lectionary readings was from Genesis 32, verses 22-31. It is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. There is not much good that can be said about Jacob. The fact that is name means “he who grasps the heel” or “he cheats” will tell you something about his character.
To start with, there was enmity between Jacob and his brother Essau. Essau was the favoured son of Issac their father. This was because he was a hunter and gave his father the tender bits of meat that he loved so much. Whereas Jacob was a quiet kind of guy who loved staying close to home.
Jacob was also a conniver, who cheated his brother out of his birthright.
It seems that one day Essau came in from hunting and he was really hungry. Jacob was preparing a savoury stew and Essau asked for some of it. Jacob told him that he could have some of it if he sold him his birthright as the eldest son. Essau was so hungry that he agreed to this, something that he would later regret .
Jacob also put one over on his father Issac. Issac being old and blind, was hungry for some stew. So with the help of his mother Rebecca, he dressed in Essau’s clothes, put goat skins on his arms and hands so that he would feel hairy like Essau, went to his father and gave him some stew. Issac, thinking that it was Essau, gave Jacob his blessing. Then when Essau found out, Jacob had to run for his life.
But then Jacob was deceived himself. Just think of Laban and Leah and Rachel as an example of this.
Yet God in His mercy was blessing Jacob, even in the midst of all his scheming. And through all this Jacob’s character was beginning to change. He makes a covenant with Laban, makes peace with his brother Essau and wrestles with God.
We are told that a man appeared to Jacob and wrestles with him all night, until the dawn, the break of day. This man was a theophany, a visible manifestation of God. Jacob was apparently a man of great strength, although God accommodated His strength to Jacob’s so that there were evenly matched. Because of this Jacob could not prevail and as the dawn was breaking, Jacob held onto the Man and would not let go. Jacob then asked for a blessing. By now Jacob perobably recognised that the Man was the LORD and God not only gave Jacob a blessing, but a new name, Israel, meaning “he strives with God”. This name is significant because of Jacob’s new maturity in his faith.
So what does this say to us today?
Often we will find ourselves unsure of ourselves and our relationship with God. Or we think that we can handle things on our own and often wind up in a pickle — wrestling with God, trying to convince Him that we know what’s good for us. Usually what happens is we fail and finally surrender to God.
But we have also been given a new name, Christian — the Christ Ones — who now follow a new path — the path that leads the way home.