Sunday, Oct. 16
“You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.” (Gen. 32:27)
There are many characters in the Bible who are wonderfully human, and who get into situations we can relate to. We can imagine ourselves in their sandals, and in their stories, we can see deeper into our own relationships with God. As a young man, Jacob deceived his father and cheated his brother to gain the upper hand in his family; as an old man, he fathered a dozen sons with their own schemes and dreams. These are stories we can understand. We might not condone the behaviors of scheming sons and betraying brothers, but we can at least identify with the temptations of competition, sibling rivalry, and upward mobility. It’s all too human.
Then there are some stories that are so specific and so supernatural that we can’t even begin to put ourselves in them; the best we can do is explore them from a distance, examine their visible edges and try to glimpse their subtle shifts and suggestions. In his midlife, Jacob, having sent his family and all his possessions across the river, was left alone for a night of unexpected combat. With God. God’s own self showed up in the darkness, nudged Jacob awake, and kept him struggling, wrestling hand-to-Divine-Hand in a shockingly well-matched bout until the sun broke over the horizon. There’s no “typical human experience” here!
And then, to make it even more unbelievable, God–God!–asked to be released!
Jacob was holding God too tightly; God asked to be let go and Jacob agreed… on one condition. So God gave Jacob what he demanded: a blessing, which God provided in the form of a new name. By the time the estranged brothers would meet again, he would no longer be the cheating little brother Jacob, but Israel–the one who strives with God.
Israel’s name would become the name of an entire people. His own children, all the tribes they would lead, and the nations they would become, were rooted in relationship with this wrestling God. The children, the tribes, the nations of God would share in Israel’s blessing and in his wounds.
Israel’s own supernatural striving with God, his resulting blessing, and his lifelong woundedness echo through generations of real people. Wonderfully normal, everyday humans may never have to prove their strength against God in the utter darkness of a desert night, but into wonderfully normal, everyday situations, they carry Israel’s name. They carry–we carry!–the gift of a blessing and the souvenir of a lingering limp.