In the chapters just ahead of the above referenced scripture we learn that things are about to get very interesting for Jacob who, with all his wives and possessions and herds, is getting ready to cross back into his brother Esau’s territory .
Yup, that Esau – the one he has flimflammed and pilfered and conned like a small town carnival huckster. And he has just received the news that his brother is approaching from the north with over 400 men. Jacob is scared – and rightfully so.
After considering his limited options, he divides all of his possessions (people, goods and herds) into two parties – figuring that if Esau attacks the one then maybe the other will get away. He then prays to God and seeks his help, admitting that he’s not worth all the blessings he’s received. He also reminds God of the promise he made to him that he would indeed be blessed if he (Jacob) returned to this land.
“Don’t forget God, I’m your guy. I’ve always tried to do my best – but things look mighty tough.”
Returning to a more “practical” line of thinking he decides to offer Esau presents and he takes his remaining possessions and sends them forward – telling his servants to put some distance between themselves so that the different portions of gifts will come in waves and perhaps appease his brother from whom he has stolen just about everything of real value.
There is nothing else left to do and that night Jacob sends his two wives, his two female servants and his 11 sons across the small brook that was before them. He then goes back across where he finds himself alone. Jacob knows there is no way out.
But then a strange thing happens – and all we are told by way of introduction is that “A man wrestled with him until the breaking of day . . “
And in this striving Jacob never gives up.
And apparently this angel or representative of God or God himself as Jacob later boldly claims, is very impressed with the attribute of tenacity – sticking with it – persevering. And when “the man” realizes he can’t get away he touches the socket of Jacob’s hip and puts it out of joint. But this doesn’t help either and finally the man says, “let me go because the day breaks!” And Jacob responds with all the passion of a man that wants to live anew and overcome the challenges before him: “I will not let you go unless you bless me!”
The man asks Jacob’s name (presumably in order to bless him) and Jacob in turn asks him HIS name and you can almost hear the laughter in the man’s voice – “Why is it that you ask MY name?” And he blesses him there.
Jacob limps onward into the morning seemingly no better off – and maybe worse – than he was before.
But the day goes entirely different than he ever could have imagined. Somehow through the mystery of his striving and struggling and wrestling with God, things have been put right with Esau, and his brother welcomes him with an attitude of forbearance and forgiveness. Esau even winds up leaving him with some of the servants that HE had brought.
Hasn’t your own intuition told you this your whole life – and hasn’t life itself also born out the idea that this is what it takes? A willingness to wrestle and to strive – to not always play it so safe or exactly as the book might have it . . . To persevere – to endure – to have the nerve and the moxie to ASK for the blessing, even when you know you don’t deserve it?
That God isn’t looking so much for the strongest or the smartest or even the bravest as he is for the persistent seeker that works well with what he’s got . . . The honest doubter in lieu of the overconfident zealot who arrogantly believes he or she has God all figured out . . . The person with little who is willing to take a high risk – in lieu of the one who seeks to protect what he already has.
Jacob seeks. Jacob wrestles. Jacob never gives up. Jacob asks for the man’s name!
And in the end Jacob receives God’s favor and intercession.
That we would all wrestle so boldly.
Stuart Revercomb is the pastor at Peace Presbyterian church on Cloverdale Road. Visit them at www.peace-church.net