A retelling of Jacob Wrestles with God
Jacob has lived a hard life and it's not necessarily because of others. Jacob has brought it upon himself. He deceived his father on the deathbed. He stole his brothers birthright. Fought with Laban over a wife and in the process married both Leah and Rachel. He ignored Leah because she wasn't the one he loved. And then when Rachel seemed barren, Jacob blamed her barrenness on her and God, a pretty insensitive thing to do.
He's been on the run from his brother Esau because of how he treated him earlier in life and now it's time to head back home. But at this point in life, Jacob is wrestling with a host of emotions. He finds himself crying out to God in prayer because he's come to the realization that he's wrestled with people in his past and treated them poorly in the process. He doesn't understand how God could have blessed him with family and friends and all sorts of resources in life.
In it's in that realization that Jacob goes to a dark place in his life. Maybe this is God's way of getting back at him. Maybe he does deserve to be punished. Maybe he does deserve to lose everything in life, including his family, because he did steal his brothers blessing and he just finds himself crying out to God through these overwhelming emotions.
In the despair, Jacob wrestles with God one night. Not just for a little while, but all night long and just before daybreak, God tells Jacob to stop. But of course, Jacob being who Jacob is, he continues to wrestle. He doesn't want to give up. God seeing this, wrenches Jacob's hip, crippling him. But even crippled, Jacob continues to wrestle with God. Jacob is only willing to give up if he receives God's blessing.
So this one wrestling with Jacob, the one Jacob called God, he asks, him, “What is your name?” Jacob of course replies, “My name is Jacob.” But God says no, not any longer. Your name is Israel because you've wrestled with God and humans and won. The name Israel means wrestle with God and to hear Jacob talk about this encounter he would have said he wrestled with God and lived to tell about it.
Jacob receives God's blessing in the form of a name change. And if God didn't kill him during the fight, he wouldn't need to worry about his brother either. The biggest thing God blessed Jacob with though wasn't a name change.
God gave Jacob the blessing that God's love for us doesn't depend on who we are or what we've done. God's love for us depends on who God is and as John put it, God is love.
Storyline Commentary on Genesis 32:9-13,22-30
The Setting Jacob is crying out to God, explaining how he's unworthy of God's blessings, as the time nears for him to go back home. A continuously defining mark of his life is that Jacob wrestles with God and wrestles with humans.
The Characters Jacob who feels unworthy of God's blessing, Esau who Jacob is afraid will kill him and his family, God who Jacob wrestles with.
The Tension Jacob feels unworthy to have been blessed by God because of some things he's done in his life.
The Resolution God blesses Jacob, gives him a new name, signifying that God wasn't done blessing Jacob.
The Through Line God's love and blessing isn't based on our performance. God's love and blessing is based on who God is and God is love.
Why has this story endured? This is a classic story of God's faithfulness despite our faithlessness. It's a story about how the name Israel came into existence, and even though it was through struggle, God was still wanting to bless people.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? God's love for us isn't based on what we do and don't do. God loves us because God is love.
How does this story help us love God? It helps us realize that God's love is truly unconditional. God's plan for us and the world has always involved love. That's pretty incredible.
How does this story help us love others? We need to challenge ourselves to see others as God sees others. If God loves because that's who God is, then we need to love not based on others, but because of who we are.
Reflections based on Genesis 32:9-13, 22-30
- Working Preacher Commentary on Jacob Wrestles with God by Margaret Odell
- Jacob's Dream