After a sometimes turbulent past and a threatening present, here comes the moment of truth for Jacob.
Alone on a long road
A torrent winds its way through a mountainous region on the eastern border of the Canaan country. A man is alone in the night, alone with himself, alone with his thoughts, his memories, his anguish.
A long journey from the Paddan Aram region of northern Mesopotamia, northeast of present-day Turkey
2 women, – the youngest expecting a child, with their 2 maidservants, 11 sons and daughters, servants and a large, large herd stretching along the way.Return to the native country…
Return to the native country
God has commanded it. And he has already given two clues to his concern beforehand
Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you. Genesis 31.3
I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land. Genesis 31:13
…but also running away, on the sly.
The employee, aggrieved in his qualification and salary, left with the production tools. He took with him the most competent staff and the boss’s daughters while his back was turned. In short, as they sometimes say, he left with the goats, the goats’ milk and the shepherds’ hands…
Who could he be?
He is Jacob ( IAKOB) the deceiver
the cunning, standing on the edge of the Jabbok (IABBOK) the winding, tortuous stream. Hebrew likes to make people think with puns built on sounds.
Jacob the not upright , the not honest guy. He has always snaked, whipped, with his own solutions to get by. Too bad for Laban, his uncle and stepfather. He shouldn’t have swindled him like that.
The employment contract: 7 years for Rachel’s beautiful eyes… Only it is Lea he discovers in his bed, the day after the wedding… Renewed contract, 14 years for both girls, but at what price: quarrels, jealousies.
A big problem… but God is present
Laban, the father-in-law and former employer, caught up with him in the hills east of the Jordan River. Jacob still has some repartee. “You tricked me, I tricked you.” The two accomplices are made to get along. Playing dirty tricks is a family affair.
Jacob is sure of his rightful claim. Does he understand the new hint? If you get out of this bad situation, Laban points out, it is because God spoke to me in a dream:
Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad. Genesis 31:24
Laban was the problem. Laban left in peace. Not Jacob.
Jacob gets yet another clue of God’s protection:
He meets two angels in Mahanaim (“the two campsites”) Genesis 32:2-3
Yet Jacob trembles before the biggest deadline.
You have to face the gigantic scam, his own scam!
Jacob the deceiver, born with Esau’s heel in his hand:
“Try to run a little faster than me and I’ll block you”
The story is well known. Jacob stole the birthright, with lentil soup. He cheated his blind old father with his mother’s complicity. He got the patriarchal blessing, but in what way?
Esau, mad with rage, wants to kill him, his distraught mother is looking for solutions.
Go to my brother’s house and stay there for a few months, until things calm down.
He arrived at Uncle Laban’s house only with his clothes on his back and his stick in his hand. No more inheritance. Nothing left!Twenty years have passed.
Has “he” calmed down? No !
Some servants sent to Esau’s house in Seïr are testing the waters.
How can jacob put all the chances on his side? How can he soften Esau?
Let’s take a look at the undertones of Genesis 32:4-5
Your servant Jacob… My Lord Esau! / Forget I stole your place as an elder…
I come back home… with a lot of cattle / I’m rich, don’t be afraid, I’ve more than enough, I don’t ask you for anything.
The calculation doesn’t work. The scam stuck in Esau’s craw.
A strong welcoming committee of 400 men marches to meet him (32.7)
Fear, anxiety: what can he do? Save as much as you can! Calculation. Let us divide ourselves, while Esau deals with some, others can save themselves. Maybe! Maybe!
We reap what we sow… We pay the due date…
Prayer of fear, call for help from anguish
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. (32.11)
Pray for despair in the face of the inevitable consequences of our negligence, of our sins.
The multiple credits destroyed the budget. The bailiff is at the door: pay or I’ll seize the furniture! We always ate and drank above the limit… And now comes the disease…a serious one, the hospital…or worse. This is a matter of life and death.
Fear gives wings… to the sky
If fear does not lead to revolt or cowardice, fear at least makes us pray.
Save me, I am afraid... 32.11
It reminds us of God’s blessings: all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. 32:10
Hope in Gods promises: Lord, you said to me, … I will make you prosper, 32:9
And here’s the great idea… rather the all-human calculation
Soothe the brother’s wrath with a royal gift… ..
gift n°. 1…, gift n°. 2…, gift n°. 3… Esau will receive a different gift about every hour… something to impress!
His family has been brought covertly in a safe place across the torrent / border, Jacob is alone….
Esau, that’s my problem.
580 livestock skillfully distributed. Would gifts be the solution?
23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 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.”l
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?”n Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ge 32:23–32). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Moment of truth
Not a sound, hardly the murmur of the stream below… Complete darkness.
Ouch: a mass of at least 100 kg has just fallen on him.
Esau? One of his men, his angel, a demon…? Moment of truth!
Then a man struggled with him until dawn.
The man, whose name is never pronounced, and Jacob (IAKOB) grab each other (IABAQ), covering themselves with dust (ABAQ) at the edge of the stream (IABBOK).
Always illustrated by the word games in Be Q Ke. IAKOB at the edge of the IABBOK: sinuing, snaking, cheating. It’s over now. They grab (IABAQ) in the dust, (ABAQ). He is facing reality.
The edge of the stream, the place of the struggle: Not the grassy and soft banks of the streams on our mountains. But rocks and siliceous sand that scratch the back of the one on the ground.
Jacob is getting up, he’s holding on, he still has a lot of resources. He slips on the rock, he barely holds back. He arches, pushes the other with all his strength… the opponent moves back…
Ow… ow… ow… my leg! A finger at the hip socket, the joint collapsed.
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 (25)
A disarticulated puppet, Jacob slips. And yet he doesn’t give in. He’s not giving up.
He has understood who the opponent is. Not a man, not just any spirit or angel.
Jacob always fled when he could neither deceive nor manoeuvre the other.
Here, God himself, in the form of the angel of the Lord, comes to settle his score. He pushes him to his limits.
Hard to imagine: God attacks someone by surprise.
God fights with him all night long rolling in the dust. The angel of the Lord, the manifestation of the second person of the Trinity, the Logos not yet incarnated in Jesus Christ, attacks a man. He hits him so physically.
God rolls with Jacob in the dust
The spiritual is never detached from the real. God loves so much this dust of which he has made man that he himself will come to incarnate himself, to become man in Jesus Christ. He will come to live as a man, to bear the sufferings of men and to die on the cross for our very real sins.
Jacob understood. He has always struggled to enjoy blessings, but by passing over others, even if it meant making them suffer.
At the moment of the greatest pain that throws him to the ground, when all his resources are destroyed, he clings to his opponent and holds him back so as not to collapse.
This is the first step: the crisis
God attracts attention
Jacob, X or Y, yes you, you can’t win, you’re getting more and more exhausted… What are you going to do now?
God wants to get his attention, our attention.
You don’t change unless you’re uncomfortable, uncomfortable about yourself. You don’t change until you feel unhappy. You don’t change until you’re in the middle of a crisis. It is God who provokes the crisis to attract attention.
The eagle mother shakes her youngster’s nest. Then she drops him to force him to learn to fly – for his own good.
God does this in our lives. He puts us in a difficult situation if it is necessary to motivate us. He knows what is best for us and he wants us to progress. He allows a crisis, a problem, an irritation or a frustration in our lives to attract our attention. This crisis is necessary. When suffering is stronger than our fear of change, then we reflect. The crisis is the first stage of change in our lives
The second step, perseverance
Let me go, for it is daybreak (26)
The Lord is held back by the arms of a wounded man, the Lord cannot or will not free himself but asks to let him go!
I will not let you go unless you bless me (32.26)
Jacob has already been blessed several times. But here, it is a radical change, an abandonment, a conversion.
Jacob perseveres in his difficult situation until he is blessed.
Wounded, exhausted – But 100% committed until God blesses him.
God attracts our attention with a crisis. But he does not always provide a quick solution. When our problem, our current concerns are solved, all is well, but not yet satisfactory. God invites us to enter into a true relationship with Him.
We miss God’s blessings for the rest of our lives, if we limit them to a very small part of life. My problem is solved. That’s all I’m asking. We sometimes hear of people miraculously cured of a serious or incurable disease. They thanked God for this miracle. But they never went further….Was the journey with Jesus too difficult?
The third step: the confession of sins
What is your name? What does your name mean? Who are you really?
Jacob: Yes, I am the cheater, the wheeler dealer, the pusher. Yes, I admit it.
Every true conversion requires repentance, the acknowledgement of one’s sin. Jacob admits his weaknesses, his faults, his sins. He’s finally honest.
This is an important process. God acts in our lives when we acknowledge before Him our sins, weaknesses and faults. As for our particular problem, we often have to acknowledge our share of responsibility.
If we confess our sins, he(God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sinss and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
But it’s not over yet.
Fighting with God and overcoming
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (32.28)
Israel, God is fighting. How can man fight with God and win, prevail?
Victory is only possible if God approaches him, puts himself within his reach, lets himself be attacked by holding back his strength. God could have thrown Jacob to the ground in the first second. God acts with grace.
Jacob’s victory is to acknowledge the failure of all his efforts, of all his calculations.
As Hosea reminds us,
He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. Hosea 12:5
Victory is about grasping God, not as a means of achieving one’s goals or escaping difficulties. It is to grasp God as a desired treasure for itself and not for what he grants
But even if he does not deliver us… as the three Hebrews told to King Nebuchadnezzar… in front of the furnace.
No more “give me this, stop this, make it work“, but please, let me know your name?
Jacob knows that. Acting with such power and speaking with such authority are the prerogatives of God alone.
Knowing the name of God
Why are you asking me my name? And he blessed him there.
God answers the question with another question as if to say: think, you have already understood. But the divine name will not be pronounced. It cannot be used at will.
To know the name of God is to know God, to love him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength… it is to follow him…
Living by the grace of God
Jacob named this place Penal because I saw God face to face and I had my life saved.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 32.30
Jacob survived the struggle, this face-to-face with God. If he lives now, it is by the grace of God. If reconciliation with his brother is possible, it is because he was first welcomed by God.
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon 32:31–32
The marks of the struggle
Jacob can cross the border, enter the promised land. Not as a proud conqueror, but as a cripple, a lame man. He kept in his body the marks of the struggle. A remembrance of the victory and a reminder of the creature’s fragility in front of his creator. He can no longer trust his power or his own strength. He can only rely on his God, on God’s love and power to stand up for himself.
The easy solution is also over: make a bad move and run away. Jacob must face every situation, especially the one he caused: Yes, I acknowledge my responsibility, my fault, my sin. May God help me!
And this is the fourth step, friendship with God, at his service
After his encounter with God, Jabob’s life will no longer be the same. God saw Jacob’s weaknesses and faults, but also his potential. God knows what he can expect from him. If we trust him, God always knows how to bring out the best in us.
15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Jn 15:15
Jacob is also a great example to us. Despite his faults and sins, God chose him to be the leader of a great nation, Israel.
Thus, God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Sinners who repent of their sin and turn to Christ for salvation, he makes them a holy people at his service.
Later, after the time of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites entered the promised land. Not because of their number but because the Lord has chosen them and loves them (Deut 7:7-8).
And after the exile they will be brought back there, No by might nor by power,but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. Zec 4:6.
Who is God to me today! Do I know his name?
Do I love God because of what he can do for me? Or do I love him because of who he is? Do I love him with all my heart, with all my strength, with all my mind?
Am I ready to follow him?