In this passage, Jacob fords the River Jabbok with his whole family and everything he owns, and he sends them on ahead of him. We do not know why he stays behind alone.
But we know something about the river: The Jabbok is no shallow, meandering stream. A tributary of the Jordan, its bed is a deep gorge with steep, often precipitous banks. Its rushing waters cut a great cleft that splits the land of Gilead in two. Like most rivers in the ancient world, the Jabbok is a great divide, a serious obstacle, an important boundary, a dangerous place.
Jacob has sent all he loves and all he owns across to the other side of the river to meet an uncertain future. And now he seems unable to go any farther.
It is poignant to remember that Jacob is an old man. He was young when he last saw his brother Esau and cheated him out of their father’s blessing; Jacob has been in exile ever since. Now he is old and alone, and night is coming. He may be weary; he is almost certainly afraid. Perhaps he is at the edge of his strength.
Jacob’s strength and cunning have been formidable. He (the “grabber”) has worked hard and practiced all kinds of deception to win his wives and sire his sons and build up his flocks and his fortunes. But now he seems to have come to a halt, a great divide within himself. In this decisive moment he can’t proceed.
Perhaps it is only now, weary of himself with his past catching up with him, that he is ready to wrestle with himself and with God—to receive a blessing, a wound, and a new name.
Dear Lord, when all our scheming has brought us to the limit of our own strength, when we are weary and afraid, meet us by the river and do not let us go ahead without your blessing. 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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