Monday, October 17, 2016

Wrestling Matches

Genesis 32:22-31
October 16, 2016
Jacob Wrestles With Esau's Angel
Yoram Raanan

In our Old Testament story,
We hear about Jacob wrestling with
a strange figure out of nowhere in the
middle of the night.
I would venture to say that this is not
a normal occurrence for anyone,
even thousands of years ago
in the time of Genesis.

The scripture says it’s a “Man”
but the man comes so mysteriously
and without cause and provides a blessing
that some have called it an angel.
Maybe it’s God Jacob is wrestling with,
maybe it’s his own conscious,
Maybe it is just a mysterious stranger who’s up for a fight.

It probably would probably be helpful to review
the rest of the story of Jacob and his brother
to know what’s going on with this wrestling match.

Genesis is the first book of the bible,
as the name insinuates.
It tells the stories of origins. The genesis of things,
the beginnings of things,
the beginning of creation, sin, murder,
the beginning of knowing God.

These are really wonderful stories and they’re also are metaphors
about humans, human societies, people,
and how all these things have come to know God,
and have grown together with God.

At the end of the wrestling match,
the man blesses Jacob and tells him
that he is no longer called Jacob,
he is called Israel.

Jacob is the story of Israel,
God’s people, God’s chosen ones,
a story that is shared with us
through our relationship to Jesus.
Even though Jacob’s story is unique,
there are elements in it that we
can all relate to as God’s people.

Jacob and Esau were twins.
They were the children of Isaac and Rebecca.
And the grand children of Abraham and Sara.
Esau came out of the womb first,
with Jacob holding onto his heel,
trying to grab him and come out first.
Jacob is actually Yacob,
which means “heel holder”.

Esau was an outdoorsman and was a favorite of his father Isaac.
Jacob was a quiet, indoor guy and was a favorite of Rebeka.
But Jacob spends his life wanting what his brother had.
Chasing after him fascinated by him,
maybe wishing that he were Esau.

This is human. To idolize and envy. To want what someone else has.
The writers of Genesis knew this thousands of years ago.
Rivalries are the source of hatred, family squabbles, feuds, and even wars.
wanting what someone else has.
The story of Esau and Jacob is the
story of the birth of rivalry between nations who fear God.

The one thing that Jacob was most jealous
of was Esau’s birthright.
As the first born, Esau held the birthright of his family.
A birthright was the privilege that came with
being the first born, but it also had a spiritual component,
The one with the birthright was the one who God’s covenant
with Abraham would work through.
Esau had it because he was oldest, and Jacob wanted it.

One day, Esau came in from hunting and he was hungry
Jacob was cooking a pot of stew and Esau asked for some.
Jacob said he could have some if he traded his birthright for it.
Esau said, “well I’ll probably die soon anyway, so sure”.
And he traded his birthright away for one meal.

Now, maybe Esau was not so smart.
Or maybe we could feel sorry for Esau.
But maybe his birthright didn’t mean very much to him.
Apparently, not much more to him than a bowl of stew.
Maybe he didn’t take it as seriously as Jacob did.
Maybe Jacob actually deserved it more.

Some might say, that in spite of the huge obstacle
put in front of Jacob which couldn’t be changed,
like the order of his birth,
that it didn’t stop God from choosing him to work through.
Maybe we could even say that God loves
the challenge of working thorough the underdog.

After that event, even when he had Esau’s birthright,
that wasn’t enough.
When Isaac was about to die,
He was ready to give Esau a blessing,
Basically passing his family mantle
and the promises of God to him.
Egged on by his mother Rebeka,
Jacob decided that he needed that to seal the deal.

Isaac couldn’t see very well.
Esau was a hairy man and Jacob was not,
so Jacob put on a hairy coat
he disguised himself as Esau
and Isaac blessed Jacob instead of Esau
He said:

“May God give you of the dew of heaven,
    and of the fatness of the earth,
    and plenty of grain and wine.
 Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.

Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

Esau came in a minute later looking for
his father’s final blessing.
But Isaac said that he had already given it
to his brother.

Esau was furious and he vowed to kill Jacob.
So Jacob went off away from his homeland
and family to escape.
The first night he was on the run,
He laid down to sleep and had a dream.
He dreamed there was a ladder stretching to heaven
and the angels of God were on it.
And God appeared right in front of him and spoke to him.
”I am with you”, God said,
“I will keep you wherever you go,
and I will not leave you.”
And Jacob said that the Lord would be his God.

And Jacob made a good life for himself
sometimes using deceit,
sometimes being deceived himself.

This is a story of God’s people and God
and if there’s anything that this story tells us,
it’s that God’s people are complicated.
And the relationship between God
and God’s people is never simple.

It’s full bumps and bruises,
Not just pure and innocent.

God’s people are all things:
we are sometimes jealous, and ambitious,
sometimes crafty and unrighteous
And yet God is still there, God is still with us.
God has still kept God’s promise.
And this story is also kind of a spiritual
coming of age story.
Jacob has a yearning and longing,
He wants Esau’s birthright, he wants what Esau has.

And to get what he desires, in his young age,
He pretends to be something he is not.
He pretends to be Esau.
He trades away his real self for the things he wants.
In the process, he loses his home, his family, his history.
In his ambition, he loses his own identity.
And his journey with God is about getting that back.

After his dream, Jacob goes to Haran and
has a two wives and many children
and lots of wealth – which meant land and livestock.
He is prosperous as promised.

But as the years go on God tells Jacob that he needs to
go back to the land of his father and face Esau.
So he takes his wives and his children and livestock
and goes back to where he came from.
On the way, he heard that his brother Esau
was coming to meet him with 400 men, and Jacob prayed.He prayed to God that Esau wouldn’t destroy him and his children.
He sent servants ahead with gifts of hundreds of livestock: goats, and sheep and camels and cows and donkeys
t
o give to Esau as a peace offering.
Then Jacob sent his wives and children to the other side of the river.
And he stayed alone.
And it is at this time
This time alone, at a pivotal point in his life
that the mysterious evening wrestling match happens.

It goes on for the whole night and
there was no clear winner,
but the man wrenches Jacob’s hip from his socket,
leaving him with a limp.
The man wants to go because it’s day time,
but Jacob says he won’t let him go unless he gives him a blessing.
But before he blesses him,
the man wants to know his name. Finally, who is he?
And he tells him, “Jacob.” 
The second born, who took his brother’s birthright.
And the wrestling man renames Jacob as Israel,
because he had wrestled with God and humans
and has come out the other side.

Jacob has spent his early life chasing his
ambition, losing his identity, taking
what he wanted and not caring about his brother.
But now is the time when his past is catching up with him.

These are the times, when we come face to face
with our own pasts, our own regrets and shortcomings, our own sins,
and these are the times when God has the
ability to come closest with us.
In the night time of our souls.
But these visits are not always a pleasant experience.

We don’t always get a nice warm, comforting hug from God,
Sometimes it’s a wrestling match.
And we don’t leave unchanged and unwounded from
the experience, Jacob leaves his with a limp.

And all the wrestler seemed to come for
was for Jacob to tell him his name.
And when he finally does, he is not Esau, he is not first born.
He is Jacob.
He knows his own identity,

And now that he knows who he is,
he is baptized Israel,  The transferred birthright still stands.
He is the father of the people of God.

To end the story,
When Jacob finally meets up with Esau,
Esau does not try to kill him,
the gifts of livestock were a sign to Esau of Jacob’s repentance.
Esau falls on his neck and he kisses him,
happy to finally be reunited with him.

Then Esau sees Jacob’s wives and his children
and the livestock and Jacob tells
Esau that this is what God has blessed him with.

And the his children and his wives
all come to Esau and bow down before him.
And Jacob said that they were all there
just to find favor with Esau and to serve him.

And they travel on as brothers.

This is the story of the people of God.
We are not perfect, not innocent,
but God has promised to be with us all the same
and God will not leave us.

We may lose our identity
we may forfeit our best-selves
to our ambition and desires,
The world may only see us for
the worst we’ve been and tell us we are only
cheats, losers, failures, unworthy, irresponsible
But God is still with us.

God has come closest to us than anyone.
And God still sees through those names,
and knows our real identity
as leaders, as brave disciples,

as Children of God.

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