Jacob & the Wrestling — Jacob wrestling with God & embracing God as his own.
Reading 1: Genesis 32
Reading 2: Genesis 33
Reading 3: Hosea 12:2-6
Today’s story has much to teach us. Jacob has gone through a great conflict with his uncle (and father-in-law) and left the land where God has given him eleven sons and great wealth. His devotion to God seems to increase with each test. Now he is heading toward his family home (which you will remember he fled after deceiving his brother Esau out of his birthright, in fulfillment of Esau’s disregard of God’s values and priorities).
On the way Jacob is afraid (and has every reason to be). He divides his family and flocks into two groups, and later subdivides them further and sends gifts ahead of the group to placate Esau. After Jacob has done all he can do to mitigate his brother’s presumed anger, he is left alone in the camp overnight. Everyone else is in their assigned place to minimize the potential damage of Esau’s expected attack.
There, in the place of isolation that comes from completing all that he can humanly do, Jacob meets with God. There is a struggle as Jacob refuses to lose the wrestling match, and he gains God’s blessing. He also gains a new name, signifying God has more for him in the future and that there will now be a new foundation to his life. Names in Old Testament times carried more than mere identification: they were a person’s whole identity and destiny. Jacob (the deceiver) becomes Israel (wrestler with God).
After a happy reunion between Jacob and Esau, this story ends with Jacob sacrificing to God; acknowledging God’s provision and plan in bringing him through the conflict and the danger to a place of reconciliation and peace. Jacob calls the altar he builds “El Elohe Israel” meaning “God is my God.” In other words, Jacob (Israel) is acknowledging and worshipping the God who has saved him, renamed him, and transformed his life. It is an early reflection of the transformation Paul writes about for the Christian, speaking of God giving us a new name and a transformed life.
Have you come to the end of your own efforts recently? Reached a point where you had done all you could, and the future was, of necessity, in God’s hands? Well today’s readings show us that this is a safe place to be, whatever our emotions or feelings. God is in the business of rescue, transformation, impartation of identity, and reconciliation. The story of Jacob wrestling with God is our promise that God will intervene on our behalf, even if not in the ways we expect, or would prefer!
Have a great day!