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Posts Tagged ‘Genesis 33:1-4’

(No, the title is not a typo!  Please read on!)

One time only the verb wrestle is used in scripture.  You probably remember the story of Jacob wrestling with a man through the dark hours of one night. Chances are, Jacob would have been sleepless anyway.  The next day he was to reunite with his estranged brother, Esau (Genesis 32:22-32).  Echoing in Jacob’s mind was his brother’s vow to kill him (27:41).

At the end of the wrestling match, when the man left Jacob, he realized his opponent had been God (32:30)!  (Some say God took the form of an angel.  Some say this was an appearance of Jesus, a pre-incarnate visitation, before he was born as a baby in Bethlehem.)  

Jacob’s heart must have been pounding madly at that moment, but not just from the exertion.  Imagine his shock to realize he had engaged with the all-powerful King of the universe in hand-to-hand combat!

The chronicler to record this event (and all the other events in Genesis) is generally accepted to be Moses.  As he wrote this particular story, Moses must have smiled to himself at the word play that flowed from his pen (Did they use pens of some sort in those days?)

First of all,  Jacob’s name in ancient Hebrew is ya’ aqob.  The word, wrestled, is ye’ abeq.  Even the location of the event is included in the word play.  Verse 22 indicates Jacob was camped along the stream called Jabbok, or yabbok in Hebrew.  Perhaps it was named later, as a memoriam to Jacob’s once-in-history experience.  By Moses’ time, the name would have been well-established.

But that’s just an interesting aside.   Showcasing his sense of humor was not God’s main objective for including this story in scripture.  What might he want us to learn from Jacob’s experience?

Perhaps it is a lesson in humility, as it certainly was for Jacob.  At the end of that wrestling match, God wrenched Jacob’s hip.  He limped for the rest of his life–a constant reminder that God was his Shepherd-caretaker, responsible for Jacob’s successes.  God was also his Angel-deliverer.  Jacob could not guarantee his own escape from Esau’s harm. or any other danger (Genesis 48:15-16).

God proved himself as Jacob’s Mighty One (49:24) the next day.  Shortly after the man left Jacob, Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming toward him–with four hundred men.  Quickly Jacob took precautions to protect his family.  But it was unnecessary.  Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him.  The two brothers, who had been alienated from one another for years, now wept in each others’ arms (33:1-4).

At the end of his life, Jacob reaffirmed that it was God Almighty who had provided all the blessings he’d enjoyed (Genesis 49:25).  The patriarch was as powerless to bless himself as he was to overpower God in a wrestling match.  And he prayed that the Strong God would give his blessings–tumbling out of the skies, bursting up from the Earth–to rest on the head of Joseph (vs. 25-26, The Message).

Jacob did not pray that Joseph, too, might  wrestle with God, but that God’s blessing would rest upon him.

Yes, wrestling with God has its place.  At times we may spar with God using words, much as David openly and honestly expressed his disappointments, depression, and even anger to God.  (See Psalms 22, 55, and 77 for examples.)  God is big enough to handle it.

But then comes the morning when we can affirm that his compassions, his blessings, never fail.  Great is the faithfulness of our God (Lamentations 3:22-23)!

So an additional bit of word play brings the two concepts together, thanks to my preacher-son, Jeremy:  wrestling + resting = wresting.

Wrestling allows load-shifting; resting results in peace.  Together they make us strong, steadfast, and firm in our faith.

(art credit:  http://www.bishopmarcelopires.org )

 

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