Scripture: Genesis 32:22-31 (ESV)
Key Verse(s): Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (v. 26)
Observation: Jacob’s trip back home is filled with mystery raising questions that do not have clear answers. In order to get at the more mysterious elements of this passage, it is beneficial to name the things that we can say with more certainty. We know that Jacob is on his way back home after an approximately 20 year absence. Jacob had been living with his uncle Laban in Haran but their relationship was never truly amiable with both taking turns in tricking or outsmarting the other (Genesis 29-31). Jacob realizes that he is no longer welcomed in Haran and flees. With nowhere else to go and remembering God’s promise to bring him back to the Promised Land, Jacob decides to go back home. However, he has unfinished business with his brother Esau. Jacob had fled from Esau after tricking him out of his birthright and blessing. The night before Jacob is to meet his brother he devises a plan to assuage Esau’s anger. Jacob plans to use his material blessings to soften his brother’s anger. Jacob still believes he can deliver himself from his troubles. However, and here is where the mystery is most apparent, a being comes to wrestle with him. This wrestling match lasts all night with the being (man?, angel?, God?) claiming Jacob the winner even though Jacob is the one that comes out with a permanent limp. After prevailing in this wrestling match, Jacob is now truly ready to meet his brother Esau.
Analysis: The identity of Jacob’s wrestling partner is important to the interpretation of this passage but scripture is not clear as to the identity of this being. Some say he wrestled an angel, others say he wrestled himself, and still others that he wrestled with God. More important than who others think is what Jacob thinks and Jacob declares that his wrestling partner is God. Jacob comes face to face with the holiness and perfection of God as he deals with the consequences of his treachery. Now locked in a physical contest, Jacob cannot depend on his wits or trickery but instead must when an honest victory through persistent struggle. But does Jacob win? He is blessed but is given a permanent limp. He is changed physically and given a new name. Israel means “God strives.” Jacob refusing to let God go until God blesses him continues the change in Jacob from depending on himself to realizing that God is the source of his blessing. Jacob reminds us that God strives on our behalf. We plan and act but God blesses.
Prayer: Lord God, heal our relationships. Where there is conflict and strife, bring peace and unity. Show us, God, that your blessings are more than material possessions and that our relationships with our brothers and sisters are more valuable than earthly riches. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.