Sunday July 31st, 2011.
Jacob in the Jabbok
Blessing in struggle
Well, if you were ever looking to rate biblical stories for their “intrigue” factor, then this strange account we hear today would be right up there! Here is Jacob, one of the three patriarchs of the biblical community, wrestling in the Jabbok river all night with some strange unnamed super-human man, and winning the wrestling contest! The all night long struggle is over that much needed thing called “blessing” – God’s blessing in my life.
We might learn again 4 things about God’s blessing in our lives;
1. God’s blessing is at the foundation of life
2. God’s blessing creates and requires some struggle
3. God’s blessing triumphs over all struggle
4. God’s blessing changes us forever
Father in heaven, by the power of your Holy Spirit now present and active in your Word, send us your blessing for our life as your children in this place, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
I think we all know personally the significance of blessing in our lives – blessing from significant people, like parents, and blessing from God as followers of Jesus Christ. A parents’ blessing of his/her sons and daughters is a precious and crucial thing if the sons and daughters are to grow up healthy people. Without blessing of others, people are often consigned to a struggle to gain strong self-identity and confidence.
There are many stories of people we may know who have feel they have never really received the unreserved blessing of their mum or dad or other very central person in their lives and of the deep longing this has left and trouble it has caused.
1. God’s blessing is foundational for human life.
Our text is a part of a big account of blessing that started long before this wrestling match in the Jabbok. Abraham was the first to receive the undeserved and unearned blessing promise of God three generations before Jacob’s wrestle in the Jabbok.
God blessed Abraham and gave him the promise of being the father of a nation specially chosen by God. In Genesis 12 we hear that Abraham was blessed by God and give the promise of a great name, a huge family nation and a land to live in. But even more important – this blessed nation and land would have one overarching goal in its life – to be a blessing to all nations and people. God blessed the old man and his nation to be a blessing to all of creation.
How foundational is that! Without God’s blessing there would be no Abraham, no Isaac, and no Jacob, no Israel, no us. Without God’s blessing there would actually be no earth and no humanity because right from the start “God blessed the earth and Adam and Eve” (Genesis 1-3). You could say that God’s blessing IS life itself. God’s blessing is as foundational as air and water to planet earth and human beings. Without God’s blessing, there is no life, no promise, no hope.
2. God’s blessing creates and requires some struggle.
Jacob, of all the OT people, seemed to know the crucial importance of God’s blessing for our life. He and his mother, Rebekah, acted in less than open and honest ways when the time came for Jacob’s Father, Isaac, to give his precious and once-off blessing to his first born son.
But, of course, Jacob was not Isaac’s oldest son. He was in fact the second out of the womb just after his twin brother, Esau. So, Jacob had no family/legal right to his Father’s blessing. But that did not stop him (and his mother) from scheming to get it! They discovered that this whole thing called God’s blessing would create and require struggle.
The famous moment we hear of in this whole saga is when Jacob and his mother conspire against Isaac, and Esau. Isaac is old and blind, and ready to give his last and once-off blessing of God to his oldest son, Esau. When the moment comes mum and younger son fool the old man into thinking that Jacob is Esau by very tricky means and ensure that Jacob will be the carrier of God’s blessing in his life.
This moment of blessing would create 20 years of struggle and pain for this family. Jacob and Esau would not see each other for 2 decades. I don’t blame Esau! Jacob and Rebekah did a rotten thing to him. This whole issue of birthright and blessing would be for Esau a thing of dread. “He despised it all” we hear. He also despised his brother.
Blessing created struggle. God’s blessing is perfect and holy and life, and yet, when it is placed in the domain of fallen human beings, human beings cannot handle it. We mistreat it, try and buy it, try and own it, manipulate it (and God). We try and control it – thereby placing life itself and hope for the present and future in jeopardy.
But thanks to God’s faithfulness to his promises and his will to bless his people, God does not let human beings kill his blessing promises. We get to this strange night in the Jabbok. But we see now that God’s blessing not only creates struggle in us human beings but is requires struggle at times.
This night-time wrestling match happens the night before Jacob and Esau are going to meet for the first time 20 years. It could go either way as far as Jacob is concerned. Either Esau will still be angry and be ready to finally exact his revenge on his twin brother for destroying his life as the first born blessing bearer, or he may have had enough time to “move on” , as we would say. There will either be a restoration or more than likely, a war and a death!
Jacob is a very crafty fellow. He does two things. Just in case Esau and his 400 men want to get nasty, Jacob splits his huge caravan of people, concubines, and animals in two. At least half of his accumulated “blessing” will escape to live another day. He also organises a massive gift to appease his brother’s anger – to “sweeten him up”, you might say, before they get to meet.
As all the organisation is happening, Jacob is all alone overnight. This strange figure begins the blessing struggle. Jacob seems to know this is a “God-moment”. He is always the one to strike while the iron is hot. He will “not die wondering”, as we say. He wrestles for the blessing he senses this man can give. See verse 26.
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.”
Jacob knows that God’s blessing needs to be fought for at times.
• God’s blessing is always there and it is a gift but it requires something of us too. God gives his blessing to us freely in the Son he sends to secure our life with him, (Jesus), but he calls us to ask for it, struggle for it, seek it, knock on his door for it – with the promise that we will find it, receive it and enjoy it. God’s blessing requires struggle at times.
Jacob would not give up God’s blessing. He would not give up this “God moment”. Will give up God’s blessing as Esau was willing to? Will we give up receiving God’s blessing for food, for more wealth, for another way, a shortcut to short-term gain?
Truth be told, we will and we do. Each of us needs to ask the Spirit to show us how we are giving up God’s blessing and life so we may repent and seek it again in our work, our relationships, our hopes and dreams for the future and for now.
We need our Heavenly Father’s blessing ore then anything else. His blessing is his Son, Jesus and all he is and does. He is the blessing bearer we may need to wrestle with and not let go until we have his Word – his blessing for our life now.
3. God’s blessing triumphs over all struggle
Jacob cannot be shaken by the divine man in the river. In the end this God-man gives Jacob the blessing he so seeks. The blessing comes in the form of two things;
1. a permanent limp from the struggle to get the blessing
2. and a new name that will redefine him and his descendents.
One thing is clear in this mysterious event; Despite struggle, treachery, deception, ego, family breakdown, fighting, lying, cheating, family fueding and all the pain these cause, God’s blessing triumphs. The blessing God gave to Abraham stays in tact – even in the struggle. No struggle will stop God’s blessing from achieving its intended goal – the blessing of the whole world. Even though we human beings will play god with God, take the glory for ourselves, try to get there by shortcuts, and all of the above, God’s promised blessing to gather all of creation into his blessing through his new Israel – us, the Christian Church, will succeed.
Jesus said as much. “The gates of hell will not prevail against this confession of faith you have just uttered, Peter” “Jesus, you are the Messiah of the Living God”. This will prevail and be there in any struggle we face. Again, even as Jesus was ascending to his place at the right hand of the Father he was giving his church the blessing. As he was taken up he blessed them”, the gospel writers say. The blessing has not stopped and the promise of one church, one faith, one baptism is continuing – even if we have to get wet and fight for it in some deep water of pain.
4. God’s blessing changes us forever
And the last thing to say? God’s blessing changes us forever. Jacob received a new name that would not be just his personal name, but a name for the relationship that would continue to exists between God and his people. The name is a ripper! “Israel (v28). One struggles with God and people and prevails – “Struggling winner” – that’s us!
Friends, your place with God and relationship with him will continue despite your never ending strong will to fight God! We are now, ”joined at the hip”, even when we fight or misunderstand each other and God. God the parent might look at us, his child, putting on a temper tantrum or going the wrong way and shake his head but never leaves – he promises to never withdraw his promises and see them through and see us through.
People of blessing, at the very foundation of our life is God’s blessing. 1. It creates some struggle between us an other people at times. 2. It requires some fight to cling to and receive at times. 3. God’s blessing will triumph despite our dodgy ways because we have been changed.
We have been named in the water by the Word of life, “child”. “Blessed child”. My Child”, by the father of us all and our heavenly brother, Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Son of blessing.
Grab hold of God’s blessing and don’t let go. Seek it, on your knees if you need to. Receive God’s blessing here in worship. Fight for it in your life. Hold up your work, your marriage, your friendships, your goals, your directions to God and say – “bless these, Lord, and help me detach from those things that are not of youyou’re your blessing and give me the wisdom to know the difference”, because, Friends, Jesus’ blessing is life and power and peace and promise. it is our very breath and all of our hope.
Jacob’s Prayer (Genesis 32: 9-12) adapted
O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, LORD, you who said to me, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, and I will be with you to the very end of the age” 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown to me. I began with nothing but now I have so much. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of trouble, hatred, unresolved conflict because I am afraid they will come and rob me of your blessing and mess up my life. 12 But you have said, ‘Nothing can ever separate me from your love given in jesus, my Saviour, and I will trust that blessing. Amen