Text: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-31
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.’”
He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 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.”
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.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
This scene is one of my favorite scenes from Scripture. In it, we find a knock-down, drag-out wrestling match between Jacob and this mysterious man. The scene begins with Jacob anxiously preparing for his impending meeting with Esau. Esau, his older twin brother, whom he tricked out of his birthright. Esau, who was understandable angry with his sneaky and dishonest younger twin.
It is a strange scene to imagine – this wrestling that goes from dusk until dawn. This was no polite wrestling match. There were no referees to blow the whistle and call illegal holds. It was an intense match – so much so that Jacob got his hip knocked out of joint. They wrestled, and then they wrestled more. Jacob must have been to the point of exhaustion, and the mysterious man was ready to throw in the towel. He was done.
But then Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!”
When we read this story, we see that the blessing actually comes through the knock-down, drag-out wrestling match. Through the exhaustion, through the pain of getting his hip knocked out of joint – through the struggle, Jacob find his blessing.
This story is a good metaphor for how we engage Scripture. We don’t come to it cleanly or plainly. We don’t come to it without struggle. There are some big questions that the Bible raises. If we are really reading it, we find ourselves asking all kinds of questions. Questions relating to the violence and even genocide we find within its pages; questions about the nature of God; questions about good and evil; questions about what it means to live in today’s world. And as we wrestle, we might be overwhelmed. We might get our hips knocked out of place. We might be downright exhausted with all of the questions that we can’t really find satisfactory answers to.
But when we aren’t afraid to wrestle, God gives a blessing. When we aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions, God works through our struggle. As my favorite college professor, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, always reminded me, “Faith isn’t about finding all of the answers, it’s about learning to live with the questions.”
May you find blessing in the questions.
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o What have you been wrestling with in Scripture?
o Where, in your life, have you seen blessing come through struggle?
Think about a passage or an idea in the Bible that you have been struggling with. Write about your struggle and the questions it raises. Talk to a friend about it, talk to God about it.
Notice a family member, friend, or co-worker who has been struggling. Find a way to give them a blessing this week.
God, you are ever-present with me, and maybe even especially when I am struggling. Give me the endurance to wrestle faithfully. Give me the courage to ask the hard questions. Give me a heart to trust you when I find answers I don’t like, or even no answers at all. And through it all, may I experience your blessing. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.