This week we move back to our journey with Jacob and one of my favorite stories of the Old Testament, Jacob wrestling with God. Many of the commentators and sermons you will hear will talk about this being an analogy of faith and how we all wrestle with God and struggle in our faith. It is interesting because even to call it “Jacob wrestling with God” is to undercut what is going on.
A better title might be “God picks fight with Jacob” since it is clear that God initiates the battle. And it is a battle, not like two brothers wresting or a collegiate fight, this was all out MMA, no holds barred, mixed martial arts! At the end, interestingly enough, not only did he survive, but Jacob almost wins, at which point God pushes his joint out of socket. Even at that Jacob holds the man down, now realizing who this is, and demands a blessing! Jacob has some guts. But he also started to become wise.
Jacob knew God, he respected God, and God respected him. This wrestling match between God and Jacob showed us three very important things. First, Jacob accepts God. He knows God has the power to kill him, but does not backdown from the fight, recognizing that God will not go that far. Two, Jacob knows God, immediately Jacob can sense who it is that picks the fight and he knows what he needs to do to get the blessing he deserves. And lastly, God knows Jacob. God knew what Jacob wanted and needed, the Blessing but he could not just give it over, Jacob had to prove himself.
It is also important to note that Jacob is no longer a young man. He has two wives and two servants, and between his wives and servants he has sired 11 children. At this point in his life Jacob knows an intimacy with God that many of the patriarchs never achieved. Jacob also has developed a relationship with God that was similar to a teacher who has grown fond of a troubled student; while the student perpetually drives the teacher nuts, the teacher cannot help but love them. This is whom Jacob is, the rebellious troubled student who refuses to listen, but God just can’t stop loving. But like that troubled student, there is an underlying respect and fidelity that is present.
According to the text, Jacob knows pretty quickly who it was that picked the fight. Which furthers our understanding of the intimacy of their relationship. But Jacob was determined not to let God get the better of him. I find this powerful for today, because so often when we think of God we think of what God is doing for us. Often people pray to God to make their lives better, or to bring health. What God wants from Jacob and subsequently from us is our respect, devotion, and love.
The thing we forget often when reading the bible is that the relationship between the patriarchs and God is very personal. Almost like best friends or brothers. This means that their relationships are not stagnant, nor are they like a child obediently following their parent. This is important, because it is the relationship that God is longing for, but the further we get from creation, the less likely we are to have that relationship.
We see this erode in the bible. Even by the time David is king there is a lot of distance between Samuel and God making God much more mysterious than we see in Genesis. In our modern times, this often leaves people with a sense of loss. There is the desire to have that personal relationship, but it is hard. In a real way, almost impossible!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen