Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Old Testament Passage – Jacob on the road to a new life

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.” (Genesis 32: 22 -23)

Jacob was going home. He had wives and children, livestock and possessions. He had spent 14 years making Laban a wealthy man, but he also made himself wealthy as well. Or maybe it was the Lord who blessed both men. In any case, he was finally going home to the family he left behind. And that was the problem. When he left, he had angered his brother and fooled his father. And he had left his mother alone to deal with it all. His brother’s messengers said his brother wanted to see him. But they also said he has 400 men. And Jacob was scared for his livestock, his possessions, and his wives and children. Scared for himself too. He knew they were safe, so it was his own self that he thought was yet in danger.

Thinking about it, Jacob was pretty brave to face his brother, considering what he thought the reunion of the two would be like. Jacob feared for his life. And, he was alone.

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” (Verses 24 – 27)

One could say that Jacob was wrestling with himself – his demons, his past, and his actions of the past. Maybe he was wrestling with his conscience. But it was a physical wrestle, an opponent with skin and sinew; one that was almost a match for Jacob, and Jacob almost a match for this unnamed stranger. And why did Jacob think this stranger would, could, and should give him a blessing? Maybe Jacob realized that the blessing from his father was never really his to begin with. And the dream he had on his way to Laban was so far in the past, and being on the cusp of facing that past, he wanted some reassurance.

“Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” (Verse 28)

Striven with God – fulfilling his destiny? Or creating one with his own efforts? Striven with humans – overcoming the trick Laban has pulled? Or besting Laban at raising flocks? Or agreeing to finally confront what his need to his family of origin? In all these things he had prevailed. And because of this the legacy of creating a new people has been manifested in him.

“Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.” (Verses 29 – 31)

I recently thought and considered what it would be like to come to faith again. Not anew, as if faith was deepened, but coming to faith as if faith in God had not been there before. That faith was fresh and untarnished. And the discovering of what living in faith would be like. That is the theme of this lectionary year; discovering faith and living in faith as a new being. That is what was given to Jacob, now Israel. A new beginning. A new way of living . . . . . with all the benefits and rewards that had been accumulated in the past life. What is a limp compared to all that?!?!