1 October 2015

Genesis 32:22-32

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 101


Since yesterday's passage Jacob has married two sisters (daughters of his kinsman Laban) - after two dodgy seven-year contracts and a bit of a deceptive mix-up in the marriage bed! He has also slept with their maidservants, with permission from both wives, and has produced in total (at last count) eleven sons and one daughter. Time to return to the home country! After a dispute over wages and lots of double-crossing between Jacob and his father-in-law over the family livelihood of sheep and goats, they eventually part on good terms and Jacob & Co. are about to return to Canaan. Twenty years after he stole his blessing, Jacob must face his brother again. So he sends messengers to try to buy Esau's forgiveness with gifts. News arrives that Esau is on his way with 400 men. Five hundred animals are immediately sent recorded delivery. Jacob is petrified at the thought of seeing his brother again. Here we go again!

The story of 'Wrestling Jacob' is often used as an example of how we mentally wrestle with the things of God, with our faith or doubt, or with prayer, or with certain issues. We often see God in these situations as the steadfast tower of strength who refuses to be moved, and in the end, we emerge tired but transformed (usually for the better) by the experience. That's all an important part of Christian experience. But is this really the biblical point of the story?

Jacob was once again at a turning point, and about to face the very thing he'd been running from all these years. But, for all his time to reflect, had he really changed? Esau once sold his birthright for a bowl of soup - his daily bread more important to him than status or wealth. But he was gutted when he lost his father's blessing. Jacob, meanwhile, had proven to be a wily and conniving character, who would often stoop to great lows for personal gain and would run from responsibility (Harsh, perhaps! He wasn't all that bad!) Yet Jacob thought he could buy his brother's favour with sheep and goats. A peace offering, but borne out of fear. Yet God was with him! Had he learned nothing? Would he refuse to change his ways?

So a man came and wrestled with him until daybreak. And Jacob learned afterwards that the man was in fact God. So Jacob had seen God, and striven with him, and survived. And he limped off (with pride?), and with the new name of Israel. God was perhaps enacting the struggle God had with this man; this man who was chosen to bear the name that would carry God's purposes down the years. But not even God will change a person against their will. 

"Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life's short journey end;
all helplessness, all weakness, I
on thee alone for strength depend;
nor have I power from thee to move:
thy nature and thy name is love."
(Charles Wesley) (StF 461)

To Ponder

  • Read on a bit to Genesis 33:4. Which other biblical story does that remind you of?
  • Are we equally resistant to the God who wrestles with us? When might you have caused God frustration in your stubbornness or pride? And when have you yielded to God's love and were changed?
  • Our free will is also a gift from God. God cannot (or refuses to) change our ways by force. How do you reflect on this in the light of the world situation at the moment? Spend a bit of time wrestling with that!
  • In what way is Jesus, in his obedience to God's will, the True Israel?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!