Jacob is returning to his ancestral home in Canaan after twenty years of exile. He is rightly uncertain of his welcome. The last time he saw his brother Esau, he cheated him out of their father’s blessing. Now he hears that Esau is coming to meet him with an army of 400 men. After crossing the river Jabbok with his wives and children and servants and flocks, he sends them ahead of him and stays behind.
Alone in the dark, he wrestles with a mysterious stranger all night long. Jacob demands, and receives, a blessing as the new day dawns—a blessing that is also a wounding.
This is not the first time Jacob has demanded and obtained a blessing: He received his father’s by treachery and deceit years earlier after cheating his twin brother Esau of his rightful blessing as the firstborn.
But this blessing is wholly different. It comes suddenly. Jacob obtains it not by cold-blooded cunning but by means of a violent, intimate, prolonged struggle with an unseen stranger sent by God.
This strange blessing grants Jacob a new name: He is no longer to be called Jacob (the “grabber”), but Israel (“may God prevail”). Somehow newly born with an identity far beyond himself, Jacob has been given a second chance.
Jacob sees the dawn of a new day and continues on the journey that seemed too much for him the night before. Now he is ready to seek reconciliation with the brother he has wronged, but he limps as he goes. Jacob, the “grabber,” the schemer, the winner, has been undeniably and painfully reminded that God is God.
Mysterious holy God, may we be willing to accept your blessing and your plans for us even when they cause us pain. As we limp toward forgiveness, may you meet us there and be with us on the way. Amen.
Jacob is attacked one night by an unknown assailant and wrestles with him until morning. We discover that the assailant comes from God, so Jacob is given a new name, Israel. The psalmist is feeling unjustly accused and cries out to God. He is confident that he would be vindicated if all the facts were known. In Romans, Paul deals with difficult theological issues. He states that he would sacrifice his own soul if his fellow Israelites would accept Christ. Jesus teaches a crowd that is growing hungry, and his disciples are trying to figure out how to feed them. They see only what they lack, while Jesus asks them what they have. This story is a lesson about offering God what we have and trusting God to multiply it.
Read Genesis 32:22-31. When have you been forced to wrestle with yourself or your self-identity? How did this struggle reveal a blessing?
Read Psalm 17:1-7, 15. When have you felt the need to serve as your own advocate before God? How has this experience affirmed your trust in God?
Read Romans 9:1-5. When have you experienced Paul’s anguish that others do not accept what you have come to know in your faith, whether by conversion, denominational change, education, or encounter with God? How do you continue to be in relationship with such family or friends?
Read Matthew 14:13-21. When have you witnessed small acts of sharing that have led to great abundance?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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