This Sunday in The Gathering (Lance is on vacation) and Sanctuary worship, we’ll spend some time with the story of Jacob and Esau. We’ll focus on an event in Jacob’s life that was so transforming that he took on a new name: Israel, which means One who strives with God.
To make a long story short (I encourage you to read the whole story in Genesis 27:1-45 and Genesis 32:1-33:10), Jacob tricked his father into giving him what rightly belonged to his twin brother, Esau: his birthright as the first of the twins to be born and his father’s blessing. Esau was so distraught and enraged when he found out that he vowed to kill his brother. Jacob ran for his life.
Years later, after they both have families and after they’re both successful and wealthy people, the time comes that Jacob — who spent his life grabbing what he could get, taking what he could take, cheating when it worked to his advantage, and fighting with those around him — must face his brother. Our scripture on Sunday picks up the night before their meeting.
Jacob cheated his brother, conned his father, and swindled his father-in-law. In all that Jacob did, Jacob was his primary focus. And up until now, Jacob had done fine on his own.
Then he comes to the stream called Jabbok — which means pouring out or emptying — and he emptied himself of all his possessions and relationships; he sent his family and all of his possessions across to the other side of the Jabbok.
Jacob was left alone to think and to wrestle. And that is exactly what he did. He wrestled. All night long he wrestled with himself, and all night long he wrestled with a mysterious stranger whom he knew to be the very presence of God — tangible and touchable.
I’m sure as he wrestled he thought about all that he had done. He remembered how he had deceitfully taken his brother’s birthright. He remembered lying to his father and stealing the blessing that was rightfully his brother’s. He remembered the vow that his brother had given. And he knew that it was payback time. And he wrestled.
Jacob emptied himself there at Jabbok and because of that, he was exactly where God could use him.
Jacob’s struggle is unique to Jacob only in that it was his particular struggle at a particular time and place. That kind of struggle, however, is something we all share with Jacob; he is our brother in that sense. All of us have wrestled with God at times as we struggle to do things in our own way.
We’ve wrestled with God over problems we don’t understand.
We’ve wrestled with God over the direction of our lives.
We’ve wrestled with God and the divine call on our lives.
We’ve wrestled with God over values we’ve grabbed hold of or doubts that have grabbed hold of us.
Sometimes we’ve wrestled with God because of a deep desire for blessing.
We can think of nights when sleep eluded us and we tossed and turned, struggling over decisions to be made.
We can all probably remember being physically exhausted in the morning from the struggle we’ve endured the night before. Although we may not enjoy these times, we do have our wrestling matches with God. And we NEED these times, because God wants us to wrestle with ourselves and wrestle with God, holding on, as Jacob did, for a blessing.
Does that experience sound familiar to you?
Jacob’s story is the story of people of faith down through the ages and to this very moment. The struggle, the pain, the questioning, the feeling of need, the feeling of distance, and the doubts are as much part of the life of faith as is the rest, the peace, the assurance, the times of closeness to God and the times of confidence.
Perhaps you are in that place of wrestling with God — that place of struggle. Don’t let go and run away. Keep on with the struggle — keep holding on for a blessing — and the blessing will come.
I look forward to sharing more about these ideas with you on Sunday, and I invite you to bring your struggles with you to our time of worship.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster