Jacob is not a very likable guy. He cheats his brother, deceives his father, sneaks away from his father in law. Jacob, you may recall, had to leave his home in a hurry after cheating his brother Esau. Esau was angry and wanted to kill Jacob. Jacob spends years living with his father in law away from Esau. Finally the time came for Jacob to return home. Jacob was worried, would Esau still be mad? Would Esau try to kill him? Jacob, wily as always, tried to placate Esau with extravagant presents before they meet. But Jacob was worried that Esau couldn’t be bought off so easily. Jacob spent the night alone and that is when we are told this quite odd story. (The link will take you to the larger story)
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans,and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’
A man showed up and wrestled with Jacob all night. The reader, like Jacob, doesn’t know who this person is. Only at dawn do we learn that the “man” was God. Odd, don’t you think? Why would God do such a thing?
Perhaps a better question is, what does this story tell us about God?
In this story God comes to Jacob on Jacob’s level. God comes in a human form with human strength. God doesn’t appear in a powerful, overwhelming way. God came to Jacob in a way Jacob could understand. Jacob has wrestled, figuratively at least, his entire life. God spends the entire night wrestling with Jacob.
What does this story tell us about Jacob? He is persistent. He doesn’t give up. Jacob doesn’t realize he has encountered God until the night is over. And Jacob learns from his encounter with God. Before this night, Jacob is frightened of Esau but he doesn’t necessarily feel remorse for how he has treated Esau. After this encounter, Jacob does not seem afraid as much as he seems humbled. He wants reconciliation with Esau. Now Jacob goes ahead of this family and possessions rather than staying behind them. Jacob certainly isn’t completely changed into a new person, but he is changed by his encounter with God. Changed for the better, yet also wounded.
This story makes me wonder. Wonder about God, who comes to Jacob in a way Jacob can understand. Who meets Jacob at Jacob’s level. Even though God limits his self in this encounter, even so Jacob is changed. The struggle has wounded Jacob and knowledge and growth are the result.
This story makes me wonder about struggle and change. Wounds and reconciliation. This story makes me wonder about what it means to encounter God- to wrestle with God.
This story doesn’t tell us all there is to know about God and what it means to encounter God. But it does give us plenty to think about.
I’d like to know, what do you think?