the full picture we have to know a little more about Jacob than what we have
here. It is a fascinating account, worth a whole series of messages, but I will
only summarize it here, since we are concerned with a separate series: The Hymns
of Charles Wesley, who was one of the founding figures of the Methodist
movement, the writer of over 9000 hymns, and the youngest of 18 children!
twins, and Jacob is the youngest. In the
womb, he and his brother Esau were wrestling each other. God declared, in conflict with typical
practice in the culture, that the older would serve the younger. In the culture, the oldest son received two
special considerations. First: The
birthright, the right to a double share of the inheritance. Second: The blessing, a special blessing
conferred by the father on the oldest that granted him status as head of the
family and conferred other blessings as well.
boys grew up, Jacob as mama’s favorite and Esau as daddy’s boy, Jacob as the
farmer and Esau as the hunter. One day,
Jacob took advantage of Esau’s hunger and traded a bowl of soup for the
birthright. Esau went away angry, angry
at his brother and probably angry at himself but, like many folks, he was more
comfortable blaming someone else for something he could easily have prevented.
when the father, Isaac, now blind and infirm, became ill, Jacob, with mama’s
help, presented himself in Esau’s place and stole the blessing from Esau. Esau declared that he would kill Jacob as
soon as their father died, so Jacob left the country and lived with his
mother’s family in another land.
married his cousins, the two daughters of Laban, who showed himself to be a
match for Jacob in many ways. Things
escalated over time – Jacob spent 14 years working for his uncle to pay off the
bride price and more time after that to make his fortune – and Jacob fled with
his family and livestock back to Palestine.
Uncle Laban finally caught up with them, with his sons and armed men,
but God appeared to Laban and prevented him from harming Jacob.
there is no going back. But ahead of him
is his brother Esau with a welcoming party of 400 armed men. No wonder he sends gifts ahead, divides up
his family and livestock, and is left alone to face . . . not Esau, not his
demons, but a man who comes to wrestle with him.
Charles Wesley, selected verses
English-language hymn writer, died 6 years after this hymn was published (40
years before Charles) and remarked “that single poem, Wrestling Jacob, was
worth all the verses he himself had written” (United Methodist Hymnal,
#387). Brother John tried to teach this
hymn two weeks after Charles’ death but broke down at the lines, “my company
before is gone, and I am left alone with thee”.
that has been profound and painful in our family story this year.
from grief, however, Jacob experienced being “left alone” in the classic way of
the successful American male – successful at work and a failure in
relationships. As Neil Diamond sings, “I’ll
be what I am, a solitary man” (“Solitary Man”).
Jacob and his brother are rivals from the beginning, and mom and dad
only participate in the rivalry. He
marries sisters and sets up a rivalry.
His children develop a destructive rivalry. It’s a family systems nightmare.
craves his father’s approval, but that is given only to Esau. He gets the blessing, but only by deception,
and finds himself still empty, and left alone. The Hebrew word “alone” is used earlier in the
book of Genesis, in the story of the creation of the first man and woman. The LORD says, “It is not good for the man to
be alone” (2:18). God created us to
connect with love and trust, but Jacob is broken, unable to connect with
of my favorite current rock bands is NEEDTOBREATHE, was founded by two
brothers, Bear and Bo Rinehart, with friends. Their music consistently places
in both Billboard and Christian charts and they are Grammy-nominated. These
pastor’s sons from Possum Kingdom, South Carolina, became sibling rivals, even
in the band. They got into fistfights, with one of them in the ER afterwards.
They came back from their tour and didn’t speak with each other for six weeks.
Fortunately for them as people, and for folks like me who hope to enjoy their
music for a few more years, they finally saw the light, made their confession,
and reconciled. One of their newest songs reflects the new hope in their
in broken relationships? Do you find
yourself alone in the world at the exact time when you most need a friend, a
partner, a spouse? Perhaps, like Jacob,
your family system is broken and you need to do what he did not do – figure out
how to be different, transformed, in the midst of a broken system. Perhaps, like Jacob, your relationship with
God is distant, you are looking to wealth and success (like Jacob) or to a
string of relationships to fulfill you.
Until you come to terms with the legacy of your family system, until you
trust in Jesus to fulfill your deepest needs, you won’t be able to connect with
others in love and trust, you will find yourself – over and over – alone.
Jacob does not know how to pray, to worship.
Jacob does not know how to be blessed.
All he knows how to do is fight.
So he fights with God, with this man, wrestling all night.
pick a fight with God? Over unanswered
prayers, over undeserved suffering? Just
because you’re mad and need to take it out on someone?
the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob” (NRSV), “When the man saw
that he could not overpower him” (NIV).
The word for “prevail” or “overpower” is a word for raw ability. The man “was not able”. This expression reveals a mystery about God
and God’s dealings with people: God will not force us to submit. God
will not win over us by power, though God may win us over by love.
the same time, God knows that Jacob must not win the blessing he craves by
force. He has already done that once,
and only found himself more empty and alone.
If Jacob is to be blessed, he must first be powerless. Only then can this stubborn, hard-headed,
fierce competitor know that he has been given a gift. So the man strikes Jacob on the hip, making
him limp. Still, Jacob cries out, “I
will not let you go unless you bless me”.
triumphs, through his weakness, not his strength. Jacob is blessed, but only after he is
physical. The root for “blessed” is also
the root for “kneel”, as in, “kneel before the LORD”. So, as I meditate on this story, I imagine
Jacob limp, writhing in pain, clutching the man for support, refusing to let
him go. I remember mom – Robin’s mom, Joyce
Grimm – breaking her hip a few years ago, and I remember – before we knew her
hip was broken – dad and I trying to help her stand. She was tough, she wanted
to stand. She was in a wheelchair, we knelt beside her. Ben Gay, heat lamps,
ice packs, massage, naproxen, lifting together – whatever might help.
in my imagination, I see this man who wrestled Jacob, kneel before Jacob to
bless him. This God who refuses to force
us to submit, this God who refuses to overpower us, has the humility and
gentleness to kneel before us and all our brokenness, and to BLESS.
he called the name of the place Peniel, for I have seen God face to face and
yet my life was spared.” Too often we
think of God as angry and vindictive. That’s not the God that Jacob met at
Peniel. There’s a possible double
meaning to that final phrase. I haven’t
found any translations that reflect it, but the phrase “my life was spared”
could be translated “my soul was delivered”.
Yes, Jacob survived his encounter with God. But this encounter, though it wounded him,
also blessed and saved him.
man who knew nothing but winning and losing, the man who knew nothing but being
alone, the man who never knew his father’s approval . . . has finally received