‘The Lord will fight for you…’
Read Genesis 28:11-22 and Genesis 32:22-28
The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth, script lines, lines to live repeatedly–without-thinking by, lines running back through time, lines first spoken in a garden long ago.
Lie, manipulate, defraud and steal and you’re just going to end up running. Running away from all you love in search of a life that you just burnt. Do this to your own family, well you can’t run far enough. You can’t outrun that burn. It will haunt you. For years.
Jacob; his name meant ‘grasper’,‘grabber’ or ‘deceiver’ and he was. All of these. And more. He knew what he wanted and he reached for it, body-barging integrity and respect to the side.
But Jacob’s name had another meaning… a meaning he was still understanding himself: ‘God protects’.
He was still understanding himself.
And isn’t this how it always works? The two strands in the one tapestry of a life, the wheat and the tares, the light and the dark, the truth and the lies. The life-line strand of a family line “calling on the name of the Lord” and the script-line strand of a family line repeating the patterns of the past? Jacob’s war within between ‘grasping deceiver’ and ‘protected child of God’ was a wrestle he lived in most of the days of his life.
And isn’t this the wrestle we all live? This human wrestle, warring within, battling between who we are and who we also are: our Imago Dei being wrestling with a heart scarred by lines, lines of a script scourged into our veins in our formative years. We learn these lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through our lungs, drawing them into our veins, running them straight to our heart. And our heart beats in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. Break breathe repeat.
But God. He’s never been a fan of scripts, of repetitive human stories, of habituated brokenness. He draws a line in the sand and says ‘there’s another way to be. Whole.’
He offers us a new beginning, new footprints to follow, new lines to live. Not script-lines blindly repeating the past, but life-lines breathing new life in Him, song-lines wrestling script-lines to the ground, pinning them down with the anthem of grace. Lines of a lingering ancient song, a song half remembered but almost forgotten, a song first breathed over us in a garden long ago.
And the whole story of the Bible is really the story of this wrestle, God’s freeing Life-line chords, wrestling with enslaving script-line cords. And this very human story, the wrestle between light and dark within is retold again and again through the story of this one family. The family of Abraham.
God joined His heart with this family, weaving His ways into one family line, a family line called to be different, different to every other family line on earth, so that this family could become a blessing to every other family on earth.
‘..And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’ Genesis 12:3
A family line showing all people on earth that there is another way of living, a Life-line shaped like justice and righteousness, a song-line forged by grace and kindness, another way to be. Whole.
‘For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.…’ Genesis 18:19
God, through Abraham was establishing a new kind of family, a family line with a different heritage than script lines laid out by broken Babel generations. Abraham was to be the new father, the new beginning of this new kind of family a new family line ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, living in His presence and living out His justice and righteousness on earth.
But Abraham and Sarah, like us, they received two lines, the dead-end script-line from a broken human story and a melodic life-lines woven with chords of God’s grace. The scars of their hearts dictated some of Abraham and Sarah’s actions, but God wove His new story between the lines, holding them together preventing the unraveling. Re-weaving their story with threads of grace, working for their good and the fulfilment of His purpose (Romans 8:28). Abraham and Sarah called on God’s name and His name was faithful. And gradually over time they learned to trust. Gradually over time they grew renewed. And they ‘directed their children to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just’ as God had said they should.
Isaac is born into this family line ‘who called on the name of the Lord’. And so he does the same (Genesis 25:2, 26:25) and so then does his wife Rebekah (Genesis 25:22).
God walked with Isaac and Rebekah as He did with Abraham, renewing his promises, promising His blessing.
‘…and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’ Genesis 26:4
‘…I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord…’ Genesis 26:24-25
But, Isaac was raised by humans still learning the wholeness of God, and the dead-end script lines were woven into his heart along side God’s life-giving song-lines, like tares amongst wheat, like dark amongst light. In fear and faithlessness he repeats some of the same mistakes his father does and lies about his wife to save his skin (Genesis 26: 7-9).
But perhaps the greatest mistake he and Rebekah will make, will be to love their children inequitably.
‘And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.’ Genesis 25:28
An absence of justice and equity in affection will become the presence of jealousy and rivalry in their sons. And this family, held together by God’s Life-line chords, through their injustice create a scarring script-line cording around their family’s calling, strangling their relationships, estranging their sons and jeopardising God’s whole blessing project.
Script lines of covetousness and competition weave themselves in among God’s life-giving song-lines. And these two sons learn their lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through their lungs, drawing them into their veins, running them straight to their hearts, hearts beating in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. They had begun their lives in a tussle these boys (Genesis 25:22) and will continue the fight for years.
Jacob and Esau. They were named from the start as the characters they would become. (Genesis 25:24-26). Hebrew names were adjectives as well as nouns, descriptors woven from the threads of birth circumstances, infant characteristics, destiny proclamations and occasionally God’s direction.
But only God can see the true heart of a person, the whole heart and the broken heart.
We are given a name as a child and then we grow our life into this name, we become our name and to all around us our name means who we are. But what if this name doesn’t include God’s plans for us? What if it becomes more of a limiting label than a name? What if you become a deceiver and a grabber because you were called it from your birth?
Esau, his name meant hairy. And he was.
Jacob, his name meant ‘grasper’, ’grabber’ and ‘deceiver’. And he was. He lived into this name with a vengeance. But this other meaning, the other message in Jacobs name, the meaning he was still understanding himself: ‘God protects’. It would take a life time of wrestling to learn what this meant. Would he ever understand himself?
As a younger brother and second best in his earthly father’s eyes Jacob was script-line conditioned to fight; fight for the attention of a father whose attention was elsewhere. To battle for his own significance as a son of a father who valued things that he wasn’t. When Jacob coveted and reached for his brother’s birthright and then blessing he was actually reaching for the thing he felt he lacked. Significance. Fatherly pride. The look in his father’s eye that said he was enough. Just as he is.
Jacob was trying to make a name for himself, trying to outrun his name that labelled him less. But he wasn’t ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, the true value of his true inheritance, which he was yet to understand, an inheritance not as an earthly child of an earthly father but a lasting inheritance as a seen and valued son of God. He wouldn’t be able to receive his true inheritance until he could let go of the earthly inheritance he thought he needed to be okay, to be enough. Jacob, fuelled by his lack, longed for this birthright.
What we fight for reveals what we value. He valued this inheritance, this birth right, this blessing, this place in the family line, probably because he was dissatisfied with always being second in line.
Jacob knew what he wanted and he fought for it, body-barging integrity and respect to the side. And he fought dirty.
‘He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’ (That is why he was also called Edom).
Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’
‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’
But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.’ Genesis 25:29-33
And this is the one strange thing about this God; though He saw Jacob’s lack, He honoured his fight. In some respects God valued the same thing Jacob valued, only more so. More than Jacob could begin to comprehend.
Esau didn’t. Didn’t value his heritage as a child of the people of the covenant. Just as Eve traded hers for a piece of fruit, Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of soup.
You have what you fight for. And what you fight for reveals what you value. What you don’t fight for also reveals what you don’t value.
‘…So Esau despised his birthright.’ Genesis 25:34
We make our choices and then our choices make us. God gave us free will and respects our will to choose. Our choices both reveal who we are, and reinforce who we are. Esau replaced his inheritance as a child of the covenant with a bowl of soup, revealing a heart of apathy and disinterest. Hate isn’t the opposite of love. Apathy is.
Isaac’s sons were spiritually slim pickings for God to forge a covenant heir from. Neither Jacob nor Esau had a good attitude towards God’s gifts to this family. But apathy is harder to work with than ambition. Jacob’s fighting spirit at least gave God something to wrestle with.
Jacob’s ambition continued. He grasped further, grabbed more, and deceived completely.
‘He went to his father and said, ‘My father.’
‘Yes, my son,’ he answered. ‘Who is it?’
Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’
Isaac asked his son, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’
‘The Lord your God gave me success,’ he replied….’ Genesis 27: 18-20
‘…After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, ‘My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’
His father Isaac asked him, ‘Who are you?’
‘I am your son,’ he answered, ‘your firstborn, Esau.’
Isaac trembled violently and said, ‘Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!’
When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me – me too, my father!’
But he said, ‘Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.’
Esau said, ‘Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: he took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!’ Then he asked, ‘Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?’ Genesis 27: 30-36
Jacob lies to his father four times as he masquerades and manipulates his way into his father’s blessing. But the statement most revealing the state of Jacobs heart is found in verse 20 when he says ‘The Lord your God gave me success,’ Genesis 27: 20.
YHWH was not yet Jacob’s God. He wanted the status of his family inheritance, but he hadn’t called on the name of the Lord. The script-lines were woven thick around Jacob’s heart, binding him, blinding him. Jacob was still understanding himself. He reached for the right thing in the wrong way and forges for himself a life as a fugitive in the process.
This story is not about God condoning lying, manipulation and fraud. This is about God recognising who in Isaacs family line most valued the gift He had promised through Abraham. Jacob, though sinful, cared about the right thing, the thing God cared about, even if not in the right way. Esau didn’t care.
And it is the same principal here in this situation that Solomon years later applied to the two women who were fighting over a baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). Who loved the child so much they’d sacrifice their right to it? The question is not whose legal right it is, but whose heart is wholeheartedly valuing it.
Who loved the inheritance and blessing of God so much they’d sacrifice everything to get it? God’s covenant blessing will be safest in the hands of the son who values it most. You have what you fight for. Jacob fought for it. And he would be fighting from then on. And running.
God is always faithful to His word, whether we deserve it or not. He doesn’t wait until we have it all together to weave Himself into our stories, holding us together, preventing our unraveling. And let’s face it, most of the time, most of us are more in Jacobs camp with integrity and Esau’s with apathy when it comes to faithfulness to God. A place in Gods kingdom for each of us is not contingent on us being a perfect person, from the right family line, the right part of town, with the right theology. It is only ever down to one thing: our heart. Do we want Him and His blessing more than everything else we have? A pearl of great price, a treasure buried in a field. Are we willing for fight for Him? Wrestle with ourselves to reach for Him?
Jacob wasn’t there yet. But he was running in the right direction. Esau wasn’t even in the running.
Flight follows fight. Because if you lie, manipulate, defraud and steal and you’re just going to end up running. Running away from all you love in search of a life that you just burnt. Do this to your own family, well you can’t run far enough. You can’t outrun that burn. It will haunt you. For years.
Jacob runs to his mother’s family ‘in order to find a wife’ (28:2) in order to avoid Esau’s wrath. He found his blessing and had to flee, and then God found him, in the place he was least expecting.
‘When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ Genesis 28:11-17
We live in a seeing is believing world, a world where material things materialise our reality. But every now and then the corner of that reality is torn back and we glimpse a different reality, a larger reality, a dawning awareness, and we begin to see that we have never been seeing clearly all along.
But sight isn’t always a cure for blindness. Though Jacob is awed by his vision, he is still blinded by his self reliant ambition.
‘Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’ Genesis 28:16-22
And the two threads of a life weave this way and that battling for the heart that beats within. Jacob has just seen YHWH in a dream and heard His voice speaking to him (the way God often appears to people who don’t yet know Him personally). The King of this whole whirling Universe has reached out to Jacob, this grasping, grabbing, deceiving, fleeing Jacob, and promised to bless him and protect him (the other meaning of Jacob’s name).
This God who created the earth beneath Jacob’s feet, the rock on which his head rests and the canopy of stars swirling over his head, broke into Jacob’s brokenness, breaking his sleep to make it personal, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you”.
Jacob didn’t earn this. Didn’t deserve this. This love was not what he was reaching for, fighting for. He was fighting for his own significance, and destroying his life in the process. He was fleeing for his life, and flew right into the grace of God. Jacob deserves nothing but God unreservedly promises him everything.
Let that sit in your heart for just a moment, let it ring like a bell in the silent stillness of your soul.
‘He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’ (2 Timothy 1:9)
Not because of anything we have done. Grace doesn’t wait for us to grow up and earn it. It plants itself like a seed in our hearts, a seed woven into the sinews of our souls before our time begins, before all time began, and it whispers this lingering ancient song, a song half remembered but almost forgotten, a song first breathed over us in a garden long ago.
God wears his heart on His sleeve and reaches out to Jacob. But the cold light of morning reveals Jacob’s cold heart toward God.
Jacob’s response, though awed at first isn’t humble worship or thanksgiving to God, but calculating self interest. Using 10 personal pronouns in just one sentence, Jacob re-interprets God’s words wrapping them around his ambitions and fears, making them all about him. He downscales God’s promises, ignoring the “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth” and “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” and focuses only on his own personal benefit. It’s all about him.
And this vow Jacob makes to God is more like a calculating arms-length legal contract,
‘If’ God comes through ‘then’ I will trust him…and let him have a tenth share in the spoils’. Sight isn’t always a cure for blindness. A life time of script-line selfish ambition and calculating self-reliance, well it’s just going to take some time.
Jacob continues running. He runs to his mother’s family ‘in order to find a wife’ (28:2). He runs to where Rebekah had been found by God for Isaac years before. But Jacob’s circumstances are very different. Abraham had sent a servant so that Isaac didn’t leave the promised land, Jacob arrives as a fugitive, fleeing the promised land. Rather than arriving with wealth, dignity and integrity to procure a wife as Abraham’s servant had done for Isaac, Jacob arrives penniless and has to work for his bride price. He only had himself, and only himself to blame. And the deception he sowed becomes the deception he reaps as he is tricked by Laban into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. Jacob works for fourteen years to earn both his wives and then another six to earn livestock as well. Deception can become a harsh slave master.
And the script-line cords wrapped around Jacob’s heart repeat themselves again and again, as he loves his wives as he was loved. Inequitably. Script-lines forge a fault line in the heart of his home, shaped like the faults in his very own heart. An absence of justice and equity in affection become the presence of jealousy and unchecked rivalry.
‘… and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah.’ Genesis 29:30
‘Then Rachel said, ‘I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won…’ Genesis 30:8
And Jacob’s injustice re-lives and repeats, re-creating the scar-lines cording around his family’s calling, strangling their relationships, estranging his wives and sowing resentment among his sons. Script lines of covetousness and competition weave themselves in among God’s life-giving song-lines. And these two women, and then their sons all learn their lines by heart, habituating them, breathing them in through their lungs, drawing them into their veins, running them straight to their hearts, hearts beating in time to these lines laid out, weaving the future with the threads of the past. Break, breathe, repeat.
But this God is a stubborn God: stubborn in the direction of kindness, stubborn in the direction of justice and stubborn in the direction of righteousness. He weaves His love between the lines, holding this broken family together preventing the unraveling. He re-weaves their story with threads of grace, working for their good and the fulfilment of His purposes (Romans 8:28).
‘When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, ‘It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.’
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon…’. Genesis 29: 31-33
‘Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph…” Genesis 30:22-24
God sees and hears the pain we live in, in the womb of this unravelling world, and He weaves His grace around us to restore us to ourselves. This God sees. This God hears. And this God weaves His love and grace in amongst our tears.
Jacobs wives wrestle as he wrestled and his sons will wrestle as they did as Jacob in his self reliant blindness blindly repeats his parents mistakes, line by line…
‘Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.’ Genesis 37:3-4
…until his sons eventually sell out to jealousy and hate, and sell their brother into slavery, breaking their father Jacob’s already broken heart. The nation of Israel will suffer 400 years of slavery in Egypt, being first sold there by these scourging script lines of rivalry. The fate their forefathers chose for the brother they hated, became the fate of all their children’s children.
The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth, script-lines, lines to live repeatedly without thinking by.
And this is the family called to bless the whole world? Writhing in jealousy, selfishness and hate?
But we all know, we know this story now, how the dark threads strangle but they are not the only lines at work in this wrestling story of God’s wrestle with human beings. And God’s life-line melody of Grace still stubbornly refuses to leave this broken family and uses the enslaving hate filled act of the brothers to redeem and protect the family as a whole… the curse in God’s hands is transformed to become the means by which the promise is protected. Holding them together, preventing the unravelling.
God fights for those He loves. And sometimes with those He loves. He wrestles our scars to the ground, pinning them down with grace, head-locking them with healing. Because there’s another way to be. Whole.
But rewind to the unrestored Jacob…
Twenty years after running from Esau Jacob is on the run again from Laban. There hasn’t been a day of his life that he wasn’t a fugitive, running from Esau, running from Laban, running from his past, running from his fear that he would never be enough, running on the treadmill of trying to make a name for himself, running from his name that named him less.
God intervenes in Jacob’s rift with Laban and counsels Laban in a dream not to trouble him (Genesis 31:24). But the real threat to Jacob still lies before him.
Esau who has every reason to hate him. Esau who threatened to kill him after his deception. Esau who he has not seen since.
Jacob sends a message ahead of him, flattering and beguiling, using every trick in the book to placate his brother’s heart.
‘When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Genesis 32:6
The sound of feet pounding earth, the sound of 400 men traversing ground, the sound of his heart pounding in his chest, the sound of his pulse throbbing in his ears, the grip of panic closing his throat, the drum of his fears closing in.
All Jacob’s sins were back to haunt him. He couldn’t outrun them now. He had lived for the last twenty years in the shadow of this moment. This moment pounding it’s way towards him with an entourage of 400 men. All his carefully calculated ambitions and self reliant plans scatter in the winds of this approaching storm. In madness he plans the death of half his group and grasps at straws in the wind of ways to wangle a truce.
‘In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”’ Genesis 32:7-8
But for the first time in his life Jacob had come to the end of himself, the edge of his self reliant schemes. He was out of time, out of ideas and out of his mind with fear. He’d come to the end of all he was. He’d laid out all his plans, done everything he could. But he knew there was no scheme on earth that could redeem this moment.
All this pounding helpless fear. It was enough to make a man do the unthinkable.
The first recorded prayer of Jacob…
‘Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’” Genesis 32:9-12
Fear can make us do strange things. Strange things like realising we don’t have it all together. Strange things like realising we alone are not enough.
Jacob stands on the edge of the river, the edge of all his fear, the edge of his past deceptions, his resources, his self reliant life, he is looking out across to the other side. And he knows he is not enough.
‘That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.
So Jacob was left alone…’ Genesis 32:22-24
He sent his family and possessions over the river. He has nothing left. He’s come to the end of all he is. He ‘was left alone’. Alone.
But he wasn’t alone.
Here finally, God meets him.
Up until now God has spoken to Jacob through dreams as He does with those at a distance from Him, strangers, people whose hearts are not yet with Him; as He did at first with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, until their relationship grew to such a point that God could draw closer, moving from dreams to speaking with an audible voice, from an audible voice to a physical presence, speaking face to face. God made it personal with Abraham. And He’s about to make it personal with Jacob too, whether Jacob’s ready for it or not. It is not until after Jacob’s first recorded prayer that God then appears in person to him, as ‘a man’. God draws near to Jacob as Jacob finally has no other option than to begin to call on His name. Finally.
God fights for those He loves, and sometimes with those He loves.
‘So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.’ Genesis 32: 24
Jacob initiated contact, but it was God who picked the fight. He picked the fight with Jacob’s stubborn self reliant heart. He picked the fight with Jacob’s deceptive smarts and manipulative manoeuvrings. He picked the fight with Jacob’s fear of his own insignificance.
God fights for us, and with us, for the redemption of ourselves.
If you think that intimacy with God is always going to bring peace and warm fuzzy comfort, think again. Life with God is a wrestle, because He wants wholeness, true peace and joy for us, not our self reliant stagnation or our self satisfied equilibrium. All growth hurts. The vine is pruned with a cutting and cropping, a slashing and slicing, but it is the healthier for it. Not one cut is arbitrary or unnecessary.
God picks this fight with Jacob, because He has always been fighting with Jacob. Fighting with him. Fighting for him. God picks this fight with Jacob wrestling him to the ground, because God has always been wrestling with Jacob, just as He is always wrestling with us, wrestling with the script-lines within our souls to release us into the song of who we truly are; the true way to be. Whole.
‘When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ Genesis 32:25-26
And God let’s Jacob win the battle, but it’s God who wins the war.
Jacob’s ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’ sounds like strength, but actually its surrender; a recognition that Jacob cannot bless himself. Self blessing doesn’t work. Self reliance doesn’t work. Finally Jacob is on is knees, clinging desperately to God, fighting to stay with Him, fighting not to let Him go. Finally the grasper and grabber in Jacob is grabbing the right thing. Grasping that he is helpless without the true blessing of God.
Jacob was finally learning the hard way that ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ was the true value of his true inheritance. His birthright and blessing was the presence of YHWH Himself; the only birthright he needed, the only blessing that could ever truly give him significance. An inheritance not as an earthly child of an earthly father but a lasting inheritance as a seen and valued son of God.
Jacob had to let go of the earthly inheritance he thought he needed to be okay, to be enough, in order to be able to receive his true inheritance as a child of God.
The self reliant Jacob finally stared himself in the face and realised that he wasn’t enough.
God was. God was his enough. And in God he had enough and was enough. Just as he is.
God was with him.
Only now does Jacob begin to understand himself.
Only God can bless us, lead us and release us from the scripting cords strangling our lives into the chords of the song planted deep in our hearts, our Imago Dei song-lines breathed into us before time was written down.
God sees and hears the pain we live in, in the womb of this unravelling world, and He weaves His grace around us to restore us to ourselves. This God sees. This God hears. And this God names us who we truly are long after we have forgotten. Only God knows our name. Our true name. Not the label people give us in a world that loves limiting complexity with bumper sticker nouns, but our true names. Names naming us fully, alive in the destiny God plans for us. Whole.
Jacob, his name up until now has meant ‘grasper’,‘grabber’ or ‘deceiver’ as well as ‘God protects’. And Jacob’s war within, between ‘grasping deceiver’ and ‘protected child of God’ was a wrestle he had lived in all the days of his life. Until now.
Jacob’s true blessing (that he lived wrestling against and finally wrestled to gain) arrives in the form of a name change.
‘The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘Jacob,’ he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’ Genesis 32:27-28
And God, all through the Bible, He is renaming people. Naming and renaming, restoring and renewing. Reclaiming our true names. Because with Him, we all become more than we believe we are. He takes our one small identity our life has given us, and wraps it around His beating heart and says ‘trust me, this is who you are in Me’ even as we are still becoming it.
Like Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, Jacob now has a name that includes part of God’s own name. Not His personal name, YHWH, but His general name ‘El’. God is wrestling Jacob into His blessing, into His covenant inheritance as a child of the promise.
Jacob’s name is finally not a dual name naming a war between two parts of who he was, a fight between the wheat and the tares, the light and the dark. Now his name has one meaning.
Israel: One who struggles with God. Not ignoring God, avoiding God, running from God.
But struggling. With God. God with us.
It will always be a struggle, this growing in grace. But God is with us in the struggle, fighting for us, fighting in us, fighting with us for ourselves. For our Imago Dei song within.
‘For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
We will all struggle on our own. But with God we overcome.
This God is committed to new creations, salvage operations, to picking through the rubble of the thousand ways we’ve fallen and walking alongside us as He restores us to the light. He comes to strengthen and restore in us to our true human calling as His children blessed to be a blessing, calling on His name. Children of the living, loving God. Redeemed. Reformed. Restored.
When God changed Jacob’s name, He also changed his heart, healed his scars, and undid the cords that wrapped around his character. He was a restored creation. His life was yet another renewed creation story in this long story of God’s wrestle with humankind.
The sun rises on a new day for Jacob and a new way of doing life. Whole.
The moment of his meeting with Esau is upon him. He had lived for the last twenty years in the shadow of this moment…
‘Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men…’ Genesis 33:1-3
This moment was now pounding it’s way towards him with an entourage of 400 men. Twenty years of unmet vengeance, twenty years of anger, twenty years of life as a fugitive fleeing and fearing this moment. There was no scheme on earth that could redeem this moment for Jacob.
It was over.
‘He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.’ Genesis 33:3-4
It was over. It was no earthly scheme that redeemed this moment for Jacob. And he knew it. His change of name had been a change of character. No longer a deceiving grabber, he is now a child of God. Imperfect yet, but learning. He now does the opposite of everything he had done before.
Instead of deceiving and grabbing, he is humble and generous. Instead of self reliant ambition, he gives all credit to God.
Jacob gives back to Esau everything he stole from him beginning with the blessing spoken over him by Isaac. As Isaacs blessing had described, Jacob and his sons all bow down to Esau, he describes Esau as his ‘Lord’ and names himself Esau’s servant just as the lines of Isaac’s blessing had been spoken…
‘May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.’ Genesis 27:29
And Jacob then bestows gifts of wealth upon Esau as the blessing suggested and the birthright of the firstborn son would have been, and as he does so, Jacob says…
“Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Genesis 33:11 (NKJV)
Jacob is intentionally returning everything he stole from his brother. All the fruit of his grasping deception is laid at the feet of his brother in reconciliation.
‘Because I have enough..’ he says. Finally. He understands himself. God is his enough.
He finally understands that he is only able to receive his true inheritance when he can let go of the false inheritance he’s been grabbing at his whole life. In giving up the earthly blessing and birthright he had grasped for, Jacob was finally receiving his eternal blessing as the covenant heir of God.
And in Jacob’s rhetoric God is finally present. Instead of sentences filled with personal pronouns Jacob’s sentences reveal a heart with God at the centre. Jacob is at pains to point out what God has done for him. He introduces his children as…
“the children God has graciously given your servant” (33:5) and he attributes God as the source of the wealth he now gives to Esau “..for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” (33:11). And he says to Esau,‘to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably’ (33:10).
Jacob had seen the face of God in their personal wrestle (32:30 ) and now he is seeing the presence of God in his family wrestle. God is fighting for Jacob. God is with Jacob.
After parting warmly with Esau, Jacob sets up camp near Shechem and ‘there he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel’.
El Elohe Israel means ‘God, the God of Israel.’
Not ‘your God’ as Jacob had said to his father, not ‘if God’ as Jacob had said in his vow at Bethel, but ‘my God’; God the God of Israel. Finally, Jacob-Israel is with God. Not just his father’s or grandfather’s God, but his God. YHWH. The God who makes it personal.
God is Israel’s God. God is finally Jacob’s God.
And finally Jacob understands himself.
The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth, script lines, lines to live repeatedly without thinking by.
But God. He’s never been a fan of scripts, of repetitive human stories, of habituated brokenness. He draws a line in the sand and He says there’s another way to be. Whole.
So before all time began He planted grace like a seed in the ground, like a song in your beating heart, like a plan in the depths of His heart; a plan to bless the whole world through the family line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And then in the fullness of time, He folded himself into our human experience, taking on bones, taking on skin, taking on a beating human heart, and He came for us just as He came for Jacob. To wrestle. For us. To wrestle. With us.
God with us. Emmanuel.
The war is already won He says. Now let’s fight the battles together. And He comes into all our choking script-line brokenness. Wrestling for us, wrestling with us, wrestling in us, for ourselves. He offers us a new beginning, new footprints to follow, new lines to live. Not script-lines blindly repeating the past, but life-lines breathing new life in Him, song-lines wrestling script-lines to the ground, pinning them down with the anthem of grace. Lines of a lingering ancient song, a song half remembered but almost forgotten, a song first breathed over us in a garden long ago.
The footprints of history are deep.
But the grace of God precedes them.
‘He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’ (2 Timothy 1:9)