Wrestle

Day 15

Wrestle

‘The Lord will fight for you…’

Exodus 14:14

” I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”

Ephesians 3:16-18

Found in  Genesis 28:11-22 and Genesis 32:22-28

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.

“Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.” Genesis 31:20-21

Twenty years after running from Esau, Jacob is on the run again, this time from Laban, his father in law. There hasn’t been a day of Jacob’s adult 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 in constant faithfulness 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. 

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

Fear. 

The sound of feet pounding earth, of 400 men closing in; the sound of a heart pounding within, of a rapid pulse throbbing in ears; the sound of silent rising dread, the grip of panic closing a throat. 

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 its 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 for  ways to wrangle 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 often 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

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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. 

God wove Himself into this family line. And He will be faithful to them, even when they’re not because God fights for those He loves, and sometimes with those He loves. He wrestles our scars to the ground, head-locking them with healing, pinning them down with grace.

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 with God.

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.

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“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 lets Jacob win the battle, but it’s God whose won 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: God’s presence with him.

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 had lived wrestling against but has finally now 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

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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. The source of true strength.

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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. He is the source of true strength in a human heart, the strength to be truly human in a dehumanising world. 

Years later, a son of Israel, Paul of Tarsus, named this source of spiritual strength as he wrestled in prayer with God for others,

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21

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. 

When God changed Jacob’s name, He also began to change his heart, healing his scars, and undoing  the cords that wrapped around his character. Jacob’s life was becoming a restored creation, yet another renewed creation story in this long story of God’s wrestle with humankind. 

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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 its 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…

‘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

…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 all those years ago had spoken.

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. He lays all the fruit of his grasping deception at the feet of Esau in reconciliation. 

‘Because I have enough..’ he says. Finally. Jacob understands himself. God is his enough. His God who has done immeasurably more than he had asked or imagined. 

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.

Jesus 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. 

Blessed.

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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 script lines, 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 our beating hearts, 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.

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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 is deeper.

” I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,”

Ephesians 3:16-18

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Journey Further

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Ephesians 3:14-21

When God wrestles with us, it is always to strengthen us and bring us wholeness.

What wrestles have you had with God in your life?

Who is currently winning?

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