So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
The End of the Road
Perhaps other than David’s, no life in Scripture is more troubled than Jacob’s. He’s the younger of Isaac’s twin sons. His brother, Esau, stands to inherit the bulk of their father’s wealth, which gives Jacob little to look forward to in life. He’s a wily kid with a mean streak and a mama’s boy; Rebekah dotes on him, maybe to compensate for his reduced status. Twice—once with mama’s help--he bamboozles Esau out of his birthright and after the deal is sealed, he heads off to look for a wife among his Uncle Laban’s daughters. It seems Jacob takes after his mother’s family. Laban is every bit as deceitful as his sister and nephew.
Laban has two daughters. Leah’s no prize, while Rachel is all a man could wish for. Jacob tumbles hard for Rachel and contracts to work for Laban seven years in exchange for her hand. He’s so smitten the time flies. But on the wedding day, Laban swindles Jacob into marrying Leah. A new seven-year deal is struck and he marries Rachel also. Before moving on, he cons Laban with a magnanimous offer. He’ll take the blemished livestock and leave Laban the healthy ones. He’s long gone when Laban learns Jacob crossbred the flocks so the spotted ones were stronger. He comes after Jacob and no sooner do they work things out than there’s news that Esau’s coming with 400 men to settle his score. Jacob moves his family and herds out of danger and stays to face Esau one-on-one. He’s at the end of the road. After decades of lying and scheming, Jacob decides to own up.
“So Jacob was left alone,” the Bible says without underscoring his solitude was elective. While his flawed ethics, greed, and immaturity show us what to avoid, Jacob teaches a flawless lesson about coming to grips with our mistakes. The past cannot be corrected. Troubles we carelessly set in motion long ago will come looking for us. Elusive strategies and clever ploys only work so long before we have to face any harm we’ve caused. Jacob does something truly outstanding here: he protects his loved ones and servants from risk of injury. He could have asked them—ordered them, actually—to stand with him in a show of strength against Esau and his men. But he chose to save them by standing on his own.
Although he tells everyone, “Leave me alone,” Jacob isn’t alone. A stranger appears and, somehow, a wrestling match ensues. Something’s very different about this man, but Jacob can’t put his finger on it. They struggle all night and Jacob refuses to be defeated. As dawn filters into the sky, the wrestler ends the contest by pulling Jacob’s hip out of joint. Still, despite his exhaustion and pain, Jacob hangs on. “Let me go!” the man says, to which Jacob answers, “I won’t unless you bless me.”
On God’s Turf
Wrestling in the dark with a mysterious figure seems very odd until we look at this chapter’s opening: “Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is the camp of God!’” When you’re on God’s turf, nothing is unusual; everything is extraordinary. We have to wonder how knowing where he stands influences Jacob to face Esau alone. One would think it’s the decisive factor. While Genesis reports he rushes his household to safety “in great fear and distress,” one imagines the reality of God’s presence eases Jacob’s anxiety and steels his confidence. Remember his roots are grounded in the faith of Abraham, his grandfather, and his father, Isaac. Faith is Jacob’s true inheritance. Faith assures him he can meet Esau without fear. Faith encourages him to wrestle with a stranger. Faith strengthens his tenacity to overcome their struggle. Faith compels him to insist on a blessing. The episode ends by revealing the wrestler is no stranger; He’s the living God. And He rewards Jacob’s persistence with a new name—“Israel,” which means, “He struggles with God.”
When trouble boomerangs out of the past, whether 10 years or 10 seconds ago, we can face it directly because God’s presence is with us and in us. Wrestling with Him—with what He asks of us—may persist from dusk to dawn, but we don’t let go without His blessing. Struggles will appear at the worst times, siphoning off energy and alertness we need for anticipated confrontations and crises. Still, faith reminds us we’re on God’s turf. When He enters our story, the situation and solution take unexpected, unpredictable turns. Jacob’s wrestling ends with a new walk and a new name. When Esau approaches, he goes to him, bowing seven times in humility. He’s so profoundly changed, “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Genesis 33.4) We can’t change the past, but overcoming its present implications can change us. Wrestling with God changes how we perceive ourselves thereafter—and how we walk into the future He’s planned for us.
We may wrestle with God all night long, but we can't let go until we're assured of His blessing.
(Tomorrow: Shall We Dance)
Personal Postscript: Friends
Proverbs 27.17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” In the relatively short time—six months—since launching “Straight-Friendly,” God has lavished me with an extraordinary cadre of new friends. The love, wisdom, and support you’ve sent my way defy measure or explanation. But Solomon captures a good part of it. You have sharpened me—made me stronger, more keenly attuned to matters of heart, mind, and soul, and shaved away shadows of sorrow, doubt, and despair. You bring hope and light to each new day.
The ever-wonderful Missy—among the earliest new friends here—recently blessed me with a very special honor: The Friends Award. The Friends Award has nothing to do with a blogger’s skill, popularity, or audience size. It’s just a gentle nod of appreciation to eight regular readers who’ve shown exemplary kindness, generosity, and support as friends.
I must thank Missy, first for the award, but also for creating an opportunity for me acknowledge several of Straight-Friendly’s true friends. As usual, passing on blog awards begins with quoting their original intentions and criteria:
These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.
I’m bending these rules a little, however, to include several friends who don’t blog. Excluding them on a technicality would be inexcusable and criminally negligent on my part. And while I’m staying within the eight-only boundary, my list includes everyone in spirit. Finally, I’ve given first priority to those I’ve not mentioned for previous awards or haven’t mentioned for quite a while.
Alphabetically, I’m delighted to pass on The Friends Award to:
Annette—who’s actually an old friend I’ve cherished for years, and who unknowingly yet lovingly helped nourish the seed from which Straight-Friendly has grown.
Border Explorer—who beyond offering her friendship here, has indelibly inspired me to befriend the homeless, the rejected, and the forgotten by her example. Anyone unsure of what Christianity “looks like” can see it in action and principle with one click over to BE’s blog.
Cuboid Master—who opened her heart, first via email and then as a regular commenter, and by so freely sharing her support and concerns helped solidify my confidence and understanding of Straight-Friendly’s purpose.
Edrick—who welcomed me to contribute to his marvelous online GLBT Christian magazine, The Epistle, and regularly brightens my days with encouraging email.
Harvey Carr—who, as the dynamic, openly gay pastor of a growing, well-balanced congregation that welcomes and ministers to everyone, exemplifies the values and objectives that Straight-Friendly is founded upon.
John Shuck—who was Straight-Friendly’s very first true friend and whose great enthusiasm shattered all doubt that straight, mainstream pastors wouldn’t offer their support. John rallied and it’s because of him that many other new friends came into my life.
Tammy Pinkston—who bolstered my courage and commitment with her immediate trust. Her brave obedience when God called her away from legalistic traditions to embrace her local gay Christian community as an “openly straight” believer and minister thrills me to the core.
Vikki—whose candor and compassion always fill me with joy and trigger a smile. Beneath her gentle, often self-deprecating sense of humor lay a ferocity of spirit, a fiery concern for others I admire greatly and draw much-needed inspiration from. On it’s coldest day, Anchorage is a warmer place because Vikki’s there.