Today's Lectionary Text
Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”
He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel,[a] because you struggled with God and with men and won.”
Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.”
But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.
Jacob is one of the most interesting characters of the Old Testament. He swindles his brother — twice — and then he gets swindled when he agrees to work for the right to marry his beloved Rachel. But one of my favorite — if somewhat puzzling — stories from Jacob’s life is the night he wrestles with God and lives to tell the tale.
Jacob has decided he’s finally going to go home, and he knows his brother, Esau, is on his way to meet him with 400 men. Jacob fears that his brother is out for revenge.
One night, after helping his family safely cross a river and after sending servants ahead with what amounts to a bribe for Esau, Jacob encounters a man who wrestles with him until daylight the next day. It’s a quirky story.
We are told that Jacob recognizes his counterpart to be God, but God clearly doesn’t do all that is within the Creator’s power because Jacob lives.
There are lots of ways to look at this story, but I want to focus on a few somewhat simplistic ideas because I think we can learn three things from Jacob’s tussle with the Lord.
First, I think Jacob teaches us when life gets painful, we should cling to God. When Jacob is about to see God’s face in the daylight, an event that would lead to his death, Jacob is saved when God tears a muscle in Jacob’s thigh. God wants Jacob finally to give up, but he doesn’t. Instead, Jacob holds on even tighter until God provides a blessing.
I think that’s a great lesson for us. When things get tough, don’t run away. Instead, cling even tighter to God and face the challenge.
Second, we read that Jacob walks away with a limp. After all, he has a torn muscle. When life gives us struggles, we will have scars, ways we will remember a medical condition, an economic hardship, difficulty in school, obstacles at work, general stresses in life — you get the idea. Do like Jacob did. Wear those scars like a badge of honor. After all, they show what you have endured.
Finally, we should remember that as we face the struggles of life that we, like Jacob, have been blessed by God. A blessing in the ancient world meant someone has found favor from someone or mercy from someone. In Jesus, with His sacrifice on the cross, we do find favor in a closer relationship with God and mercy from certain death because of sin.
So when trouble picks a fight with you, cling to God, embrace those scars, and remember you are blessed.
— Todd Seifert, director of communications
Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, we thank you that when life gets us down that you are there for us to cling closer to and are there to nurse our wounds. Help us to recognize your presence and to embrace that you are present with us regardless of outcome. Amen.
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