Tag: Jacob

A Name for the Struggle

Sermon, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday October 20, 2019. St Petri.

Pastor Adrian Kitson

Psalm 121, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Luke 18:1-8 

Genesis 32:22-31

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 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,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’

29 Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’

But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] 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,[c] and he was limping because of his hip.


I thank the Lord for these three words about being persistent in praying and not losing heart; not giving up on him or each other. Just by speaking them our God shows that he knows it is easy to do them – easy to give up and stop praying to him, trusting him.

Truth is that we can be worn down enough to give up on him, each other, and our future hope he has given us in Jesus. Truth is, we can be the cause of wearing down each other.

I wonder what would help you keep on praying and not give up on each other and God’s presence and promises for us all? Maybe what will help begins with a question I will ask of you: “Who are you”. “What is your name”?

This scene from Jacob’s life is about persistence in the struggle. Jacob persisted in this wresting with this strange “man” in the Jabbok at night, and eventually got the man’s blessing. But I reckon it also about another major gift – a new name.

Names matter – for Jacob’s time and ours, but more in his time. For Jacob your name was given to you by others to describe your character and tell others your founding story. So, speaking your name to another person was risky. Your name gave that person access to your story and insight into your character, wanted or not – like a photo of you on Facebook.

For Jacob, his name showed that he was a tricky man, a deceptive character, a ‘heal-grabber’, literally. He was the second boy grabbing the heal of his twin brother as he came into the world. Jacob was not only the younger son he was slighter in stature than his hunter, strong man brother, Esau. Jacob learns to live by his wits rather than his strength. Of course, as the eldest, Esau is heir to his father’s blessing and fortune.

There is sibling rivalry from the start. Jacob’s cheating ways erupt most fiercely on two occasions. Jacob tricks Esau out of his ‘oldest son’ status; dad’s family blessing (inheritance – wealth, future security and status).

A few years later, Jacob deceives his Dad. Dad is old and half-blind and dying. At the crucial moment of the giving of the final blessing Jacob is right there to get it instead by pretending to be Esau. He falsely gets the blessing.  Esau is rightly distraught and enraged. Damage done; relationship broken.

Jacob flees to his uncle Laban’s place. Eventually, by his usual trickery, over a decade or more, Jacob manages to rip off Laban and acquire most of his wealth.

Jacob is fleeing again. We hear that he is en route back to his homeland. He hears that his brother Esau is coming to meet him – but with an army of four hundred men! Oh boy. This blessing could be a curse!

Jacob hides away half of his wealth. He sends three caravans of gifts ahead to Esau. He hopes this gets him some way back into his brother’s good graces.

Jacob even sends the rest of his servants and immediate family across the Jabbok river, hoping that even if Esau refuses the caravan of gifts he may, at least, take pity on Jacob at the sight of his defenseless wives and children. Worse comes to worse, he would get a head start on doing a runner!

And then it happens….  Pacing around by the dark and troubled river, Jacob is attacked by what can only seem like a demon. They wrestle all night long. As day is about to break Jacob seems to be on the verge of surviving. This mysterious “man” who is obviously more than a mere man dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands Jacob release him.

“Not until you bless me,” Jacob cries. This man is special; divine. The man says, “Tell me your name.”

Jacob knows the risk. He knows his name is not good. It means “cheat, liar, manipulator”.

Jacob knows by giving his name, especially to an enemy, he is giving away too much. He is ‘fessing up’ to his many flaws and sins.

The sinner is getting his just judgement! We all cheer! So would Laban and Esau if they were there!

But there is not judgement.

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.’

This special man; the Lord in human form, we trust, does not punish the pretender but re-names him instead. In so doing, for his own reasons and plans, the Lord reshapes this sinner’s character, his present and his future.

The name? “Israel”, the one who has wrestled with God and with human beings and has prevailed.

The struggle has its price – Jacob limps away at dawn with a hip problem. But he limps into a promising new day; into a new future. Sound familiar to you? I hope so.

This new name from the Lord creates new present and future. Jacob and Esau will be reconciled in the chapters to come. From Jacob will spring a new nation by his twelve sons. They and their descendants proudly bear his name even to this day.

Who are you? What is your name?

Now a descendant of Jacob came later. In a river of tears at night, and with blood on the wood as his body is put out of joint, Jesus, the Man of God, the Son of God, wrestles with all evil and dark death and seems defeated by them.

With those wounds that show the visible price of his struggle, he marches out of the dark at dawn in victory over not just a cheesed-off brother, but a dark, hell-bent, dangerous and deceiving Satan, a wayward self-orientated heart in each of us and a black future without hope that used to be ours.

But that death, that Deceiver and that deceiving heart are no longer what shapes us now or God’s future for us.

And all of this flooded into you when he poured out his life into you in that cleansing stream in that font on that day. It still floods into you when you gather with others and listen and pray and sing and receive him. It is poured into your body in the blood and in the bread of this Man of God.

Who are you? What is your name? Will you trust his new names for you and refuse to live in the old ones? This will help you pray.

Get those old names and bin them today – or let him bin them for you:

Names people try to give you (loser, ego-head, weakling, no good for anything, dumb, too old, too young, divorced, defeated), those names society lays on you (consumer, user, taker, buyer, weakling in need of a spiritual crutch, hypocrite, unintelligent) and names you take on yourself (unworthy, irresponsible, unfaithful, incompetent, worthless) that still rage within.

You have been ‘Christ’-ened” (Christened; Baptised), and given his names for you: “Son of mine, Daughter of mine, Child of mine, Co-heir with me, priest of mine, witness to my grace, person of hope, faith and love; follower, student, teacher of mine. Worthy, forgiven, graced, purposed, hopeful, lively, useful no matter the strength of the opponent or the length of the struggle or the place of the wrestling.

Your Father says, “You are Christ! To me you are Christ! He gives you his Son’s name to live in and pray in – “In Jesus’ name”, we pray.

Can you pray again now? Can you walk out of here with that limp and a few left-over scares (like Jesus from the tomb) but full of trust in his name and his names for you that define you now, not those old names?

Please do. You can because he has made it so.

Proudly limp out of here with your various wounds and weakness with head held high and a caravan full of this forgiveness to be shared, given and done as much as it is up to you. Anything less is just going back to that old sibling rivalry, that old anger, that old broken relationship, that old ego and that old future.

Limp with joy in your bones to live another day of his blessing; to live in Jesus’ new day of grace; to pray and listen and live with persistence in the struggles.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

We Won’t Let Go

Sermon, Pentecost 22C, Sunday October 20, 2013.Jacob Wrestle

St Petri

We won’t let go

Genesis 32:22-31

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. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 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.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.



My closest association to the whole world of wrestling was the Greco-Roman wrestling contested at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I did not really watch the wresting so much as listen to the now famous commentary by those two Aussie broadcasters – “Roy and HG”. Their descriptions of the various moves in the art of Greco-Roman wrestling were very; so funny that their commentary has become part of Australian sport folklore.

As for the wresting, it is not my thing. I don’t understand it and I know I could not do it at all well – nor would I want to try!

But Jacob seems to have had some skill in the sport! Imagining having to wrestle with someone all night long up to your waist in water at times! Though


Jacob’s unnamed assailant is just called “a man”. But it seems that Jacob senses this “man” was more than merely human because Jacob will not stop wrestling with this man until the man gives Jacob his blessing. This is surely God’s domain – the giving and receiving of blessing – along with the re-naming of a person that we hear comes soon after. There is the strong sense that this “man” is at the least a messenger from God, some angelic being or maybe even God himself in some human form?

It is very surprising that the wrestling match did not go so well for this “man”. Surely a divine man or angel should easily win the contest?


But Jacob was a ‘scrapper’ by nature – a formidable opponent. In the story around him in Genesis, Jacob has been scrapping his way through life up to this point. He knew how to be determined, tenacious and even a little tricky when he had to be.

He had deviously conned his twin brother Esau out of his right to inherit their father Isaac’s fortune (gained his Father, Isaac’s inheritance; Genesis 25:29-34) and then outwitted Esau again, with a lot of help from his just as determined mother, in gaining his father’s blessing (Genesis27:1-40).


Jacob ended up being quite estranged from his troubled family. No surprises there! Determined as he was to receive and live in God’s blessing, he brings back his “two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children” to the family’s farm land. However, as he gets close to home and so, close to his estranged brother, Esau, he fears Esau’s revenge. So, in true form, he sends off his family to take that heat first!

Jacob ends up alone, camped by the river for a night. But there is no gazing at the starts, having a schlook of port and falling in the swag for a good nights’ sleep this night!

The “man” turns up and the wresting is on.


Make no mistake. This is not a dream. Jacob is left with a real physical injury – a bruised/disjointed hip. This is the “man’s” last ditched effort to break free of the tenacious and determined Jacob.

Amazingly, the “man” declares Jacob the winner of the marathon battle.

“…you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”(Gen 32:28)

Jacob has clung on to this strange godly man and not let him go until this man gave him God’s blessing. With the rising sun warming his face, Jacob walks off in God’s blessing – sort of…. The blessing now includes a permanent limp and a new name; “one who struggles with God and prevails”, or, in Hebrew, “Israel”.


Jacob is a strange hero – an anti hero like so many of our heroes – Rambo, Rocky, Hancock, Homer Simpson and the like…. Jacob is a person only heroic as he lives and depends on God’s blessing as he journey’s through life as a struggler and prevailer upon God… as he walks through life with a limp. He is not perfect or complete but he is determined and aware of the need for God’s presence and promises to be active in his life.

We Christians are in Jacob’s family line now. By God’s grace we have been adopted into this story, this name, this character. We as the new community of God in this place can receive this defining account of God and a tenacious man as a model of our relationship with the new hero of God – Jesus.


Jesus…..wrestled with sin and evil and did not let go of his Father’s promise and purpose to bring all people into a blessed loving relationship with God.

Jesus fought with evil from that lonely desert mountain to that dark afternoon and those dark days in the tomb and prevailed with real physical injuries – nails wounds in his hands, feet and side.

Jesus struggles for us and his Spirit advocates for us before the throne of God’s grace, representing our needs and our identity as a baptised child of God in words and sighs too deep for us to understand.

Because he struggles with and for us, and because he has won the wrestle with evil and our self-centredness and idolatry, we can now see Jacob as a model for our faith journey together.


We are being encouraged to trust God enough to prevail upon him – to not let go of his Word, his promises, his presence until he blesses us, frees us, helps us deal with our issues, our troubles, our misfortune. This is faith – prayer. Prayer is faith in action. We are being called to take on a Jacob approach to seeking God’s presence, blessing and promises for our lives and our congregation.

Would you dare to say to the Lord, “I will not let you go until you bless me”? You can. We can. Would you pray, “I will not leave here until you give me justice”, like the widow to the judge? You can. We can.


Does it strike you that our relationship with God is not by nature all “nice and proper”? It is a wrestle at times and that is just fine to God. God seems to be very “up” for the wrestle and he seems to allow the weaker party to prevail and receive his blessing, but not without real personal investment in the struggle on our part. That is part of a living, breathing relationship of trust isn’t it?

So, why don’t we all hang on to God’s promises and wrestle with him and his Word so that you receive God’s promises and life and hope in the issues you face now? You can. We can.

There is no need for you – a new Jacob, a new Israel, to be afraid to struggle with God. He allows it. You won’t offend him. You won’t do anything wrong by entering into a conversation with the Lord about what’s happened. The only wrong thing would be to avoid the conversation and the struggle – walk away from the river of God’s Word, deny the conversation with the Lord….

Hanging on to God’s promises in his Word does take energy and commitment on our part. Is that the problem? We can’t be bothered. We believe we don’t actually need God’s blessing because we blessed enough?

Friend, you and I do need God’s justice and his blessing at every aspect of life. Business, family, church, self…. To be a person of humility, honesty, good service to others and usefulness to the mission of Jesus we share here, we are dependent on God’s blessing.


We need his blessing in all we do and for who we are in him. We have a mighty challenge to live this life in love and kindness. We have a mighty challenge at St Petri, to step into God’s plans for us with boldness of faith and tenacious prayer as we seek to fulfil the mission he invites us to participate in – the share Jesus’ love and hope with anyone and everyone in whatever ways we can – consistently, lovingly, creatively, unapologetically.

Trust that God will neither be offended or upset or angry with you for being persistent, like a wrestling Jacob, a persistent Timothy or a squeaky wheel unnamed woman who would not let go, not stop asking, not stop seeking until they received what they knew they needed from The Lord.

Believe in him, Friend. Trust his Word. Go ahead and seek his blessing and his justice for your issues. God welcomes the wrestling. God seeks your seeking and promises to hear your praying.


Read the text slowly noting down any thing that strikes you as odd, or particularly relevant to you at the moment or anything surpising to you…Share your thoughts when finished.

This is a quite mysterious little account in a rather mysterious account of the third of the great patriarchs of the jewish faith – Jacob. it could be worth just scanning those accounts of Jacob and his tricky ways mentioned in the sermon to refresh your memory of what he got up to!  (Genesis 25:29-34 and Genesis27:1-40)

What do you think about Jacob? he is a great “hero” of the faith and yet he does not seem to be very “heroic”. Why do you think God used a man like him to establish his promise of land, name and blessing first given to Moses? Why does God use flawed people to achieve his holy purposes?! you might find helpful thoughts on this in 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 17-19.

Share an experience you have had with “wrestling over and issue” in your life and describe how God was involved in that struggle.

Do you find this notion of the Christian life being one of clinging on to God’s promises, even to the point of “nagging’ God or wrestling with God, or demanding things from God uncomfortable or comforting or both? Why?

Why do you think we sometimes find it hard to ask things of the Lord? is it because we are scared we might say something wrong or because we think he will not listen or because we just forget, or all three depending on how the week is going?! Share you experience on what helps you to pray and seek things of God…..

This incident by the Jabbok certainly takes on a very important feel when we get to the part about the re-naming of Jacob to “Israel”. Forever after the name sticks and the character of the name matches the character of Jacob ad the nation that came into being from this. if there is even a nation that matches its name it would ave to be Israel. Surely the Jewish people are resilient! Surely they have struggled and wrestled with many a hostile act throughout history. And yet, they were God chosen people even when persecuted and even when suffering greatly. Do you think we Christian have this same resilience?

How is the Lord calling you to trust him enough to pray to him for what you need at the moment? What do you hear him encouraging you to ask of him as you ponder this bible text? Share your thoughts…..