Genesis 32: Jacob Wrestles with God

I have one sister, two years younger than me
when we were little, we were usually friends.
But sometimes she was not nice to me, and I got angry.
but if my father was in the room, I had to be nice.
I would wait till Dad went out.
Then I could hit her!
 
Last week, we heard about Jacob in the Bible
he didn’t have a sister, but he had a twin brother.
Before they were even born, they were fighting, wrestling with each other, inside their mother.
Esau was born first
then Jacob came out, holding on to his brothers heel
and so they called him Jacob: which means in Hebrew, he grabs the heel.
it means he deceives, he cheats, he is not honest
the Cheater, the Grabber.  (Genesis 25:21-28)
 
as they grew up, Esau was a big strong man.
He liked to hunt animals outside
but Jacob was more quiet, he liked to stay at home.
 
When he was born, Jacob wrestled with his brother Esau, and he kept on fighting as they grew up.
 
Remember, the drama last week: (Genesis 27)
First Jacob sold Esau some very expensive soup,
Then, when
Their father Isaac was old and blind.
He wanted to give the special blessing, to his first son Esau.
But Jacob came in.
Isaac asked: “who is it?”
Jacob said.  “I am Esau”
so Isaac gave Esau’s special blessing to Jacob
Jacob lied to his father.
He cheated Esau
he grabbed the blessing, that was not his
Jacob lived up to his name: the Cheater, the Grabber
 
Esau was very angry.
When my sister was mean to me and I was angry, I waited for my father to go away before I could hit her
so Esau said he would wait until Isaac, their father died.
And then he would kill Jacob.
 
Jacob was afraid
So he ran away from home
 
That first night,
He slept on the bare ground, with just a rock for a pillow
all alone.
 
And God spoke to Jacob for the first time.  (Genesis 28:10-22)
God promised to be with Jacob, to bring him safely back home.
God gave promises to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, and his father Isaac.
now God gave Jacob the same promises
We heard all about this last week.
 
Jacob goes and stays with his uncle Laban for 20 years (Genesis 29-30)
he gets married
he has children
he becomes rich: he has lot of sheep and goats and camels and cows.
God’s promises are starting to come true.
 
It is a good time for Jacob, but also a hard time
Laban’s family do not always trust God,
they use strange magic spells
sometimes they worship false gods.
uncle Laban is like Jacob.  He is dishonest, he cheats, he grabs
Jacob and Laban wrestle, trying to cheat each other, grab things from each other.
 
So Laban and his sons start to hate Jacob
Jacob got in trouble with his father and his brother
now he is in trouble with his father-in-law and his brothers in law
again, Jacob is afraid.
Again, Jacob runs away.  (Genesis 31)
God told Jacob to go back home.
 
 
Jacob probably hopes Esau has forgotten what happened 20 years ago.
Forgotten how Jacob cheated him and grabbed the blessing
Jacob sends a message to Esau, being very nice and polite
 
but Esau starts coming, with an army of 400 men.
Jacob is afraid.
Very afraid.
 
Maybe for the first time in his life, he cannot run away.
His cheating will not help.
 
And so he cries out to God.
He prays (Genesis 32: 9-12)
                                     
God!  Listen to me!
You told me to go back home.
You promised you would look after me.
Save me from my brother Esau!
I am afraid
he is coming to attack us and kill us all
you promised that I would have as many children as the stars in the sky
but now Esau will kill all my children.
Don’t forget your promise.
Help!
 
Hard times teach us to pray.
Hard times show us how much we need God
 
 
Jacob thinks, maybe if I am very nice to Esau, maybe if I give him lot of things
he will forgive me
 
So he sends a servant in front of him, with some sheep and goats and cows
and a message for Esau: these are a gift, a present from your loving brother Jacob.
 
Then he sends another gift with the same message.
And another, and another
Jacob hopes after Esau gets all the gifts
he will not be angry any more.  (Genesis 32:13-21)
 
 
That night, Jacob sends all his family, and everything he has, on ahead
and he waits at the river Jabbok
 
What will happen tomorrow?
Will Esau be nice to him?
Or is he still angry?
Will he kill them all?
Jacob does not know.
 
The night is black.
Jacob is alone.
Maybe, he cries
maybe, he prays.
But all he hears is the river.
All he sees is the dark…
 
And something hits Jacob
he crashes to the ground.
He is crushed into the mud
Strong hands grab his throat.
 
Let’s read the story now, from Genesis chapter 32.
 
 
***** Genesis 32:22-31   
 
 
Has anyone here done wrestling?
Boxing?  Karate?  Judo?
 
Last year, I went to a class in Brazilian jujitsu
The teacher said that in jujitsu, a small weak person can defeat, beat someone much bigger and stronger.
I’m only 56 kg, so I thought this was a great idea! 
It is mostly wrestling on the ground.
I would be lying with a heavy man on top of me.
The teacher said.  “Come on, just explode upwards!”
yeah right!
I tried, but I just couldn’t move.
 
 
But it wasn’t like that for Jacob and the stranger
They were equal
sometimes Jacob was on top.
Then the stranger threw him off
they rolled over in the dust
they grabbed each other,
they wrestled for a long time
 
it was dark, they could not see, but
As they wrestled, Jacob asked
“Who is this man?”
Is it a robber, a thief, who wants to steal my animals?
is it one of Esau’s men, who wants to kill me?
 
In jujitsu, you try to get the other person so they cannot escape
To show that you give up, you give a tap.
 
Jacob and the stranger fought for many hours
they were both tired.
Covered in sweat and blood
But now Jacob seemed stronger.
Maybe Jacob thought he’d won
the stranger reached out.
This was the tap, he was giving up
 
and Jacob screams.
Just one touch, and his hip is broken.
 
And Jacob knows, this is not just a man
the stranger is God.
 
All his life, Jacob has been wrestling: with his brother Esau, with his uncle Laban
but he has really been wrestling with God.
 
All his life, Jacob has been grabbing things: the blessing of his father, the animals of his uncle.
But now, he has been grabbed by God.
 
God wants to get away
Jacob is in pain
but he won’t let God go.
He holds on tight.
He wants God to bless him.
He is wrestling for a blessing.
 
God asks Jacob “what is your name?”
 
In New Zealand, names do not mean very much.
But in the Bible, and maybe your countries today, your name is who you are.
 
Remember the last time Jacob wanted a blessing
his father Isaac asked him who are you?  What is your name?
Jacob lied and said “I am Esau”
 
but this time, Jacob tells the truth.
He admits to God, and to himself, who he really is.
“I am Jacob.  I am the dishonest Cheater, the greedy Grabber.
I am always wrestling, and getting my life in a mess.”
 
Now Jacob has admitted who he is, what he is like, God can change him.
And God gives Jacob a new name: Israel.
Meaning, the one who wrestles with God, who struggles with God – and wins![1]
 
 
What an amazing story
what an amazing God!
God wants a real relationship with us
He wants us to be honest, so he can change us.
he likes it better if we scream and shout at him, than if we just ignore him
He doesn’t mind if we fight with him, wrestle with him, struggle with him.
‘cos When we wrestle with God, we come close to him.
Struggling, hanging on
It is a real relationship.[2]
 
But even with God, life is sometimes painful.
Jacob gets God’s blessing, but his hip is still hurt.
For all the rest of his life after, he is limping.[3]
 
 
As the sun rises, Jacob goes to meet Esau.  (Genesis 33:1-17)
And God has answered his prayer.
Esau runs to meet him, and the brothers hug.
It is a new day
Jacob has a new name, a new blessing, a new relationship with God and his brother
 
Now, Jacob is back in the land that God promised him, with 11 children, many sheep and goats and cows.
God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is starting to come true.
 
 
You know what I like about Jacob’s life?
It is a big mess!
Jacob’s family relationships are a mess – so bad his brother nearly kills him.
Their relationship with God is a mess –
They don’t trust God to keep his promises,
so they worship false gods, use magic, they lie and cheat and grab.
 
But God uses Jacob anyway!
All the way through Jacob’s life, he does things for selfish reasons:
he lies to his father and steals his brother’s blessing, he runs away from home,
he cheats Laban and runs away again.
It is a mess, but God’s good plans for Jacob are still happening!
 
This makes me very glad.
I can make mistakes and do stupid things.
Sometimes, my life can seem a mess.
But God can use it anyway!
 
 
Over the next years, Jacob’s children and grandchildren and great great grandchildren became the people of Israel
with many many people, like the stars in the sky, like God promised
 
And like Jacob, the people of Israel wrestled with God.
Sometimes, they held God close and were blessed
sometimes, they fought with God and got hurt.
 
It was a mess,
But, like Jacob, God’s good plans for Israel were still happening.
Over the rest of this year, we will learn more about this.
 
 
The story of Jacob shows that
God does not stay far away, up in heaven.
But he comes down to us
God came to Jacob as a strange man, and wrestled with him by the river.
Jacob was nearly winning,
but he only saw the stranger a little bit in the dark.
And didn’t know his name.[4]
 
 
I want to finish now, with Jacob’s most important descendant,
Remember the family tree we saw last week?
Nearly 2000 years after Jacob lived, 2000 years before us today.
God came down to earth in a human form again
this time, he didn’t hide his face in the night.
we saw him properly.
He told us his name- do you know it?
and he let us wrestle with him.
 
It’s hard to believe, it’s so amazing,
But this time, God was weaker!
This time, the wrestle was harder, more violent.
 
God in Jesus wrestled with us,.
And this time, God lost.
Jesus died
defeated by evil, defeated by death
the wrestling was finished.
 
 
Jacob thought he had won, but then he was surprised,
suddenly the stranger won
 
two days after Jesus died,
there was an even bigger surprise
we thought about it two weeks ago at Easter Sunday
 
the wrestling wasn’t over, that bad good Friday.
We did the worst we could to Jesus, we even killed him, but
God had not lost,
 
Evil had lost!
Death had died!
Jesus was alive!
God had won!
 
 
 
Three Lessons about God and Us:
 
1. Hard times teach us to pray and show us how much we need God
 
2. God wants a real relationship with us:
                It’s better to fight with God than ignore him
                When we are honest with God, he can change us
 
3. God still uses us when our life is a mess
 

Questions – Wrestling with God:

Jacob:
Why did Jacob leave home?
What did God promise him?
Why was he afraid when he came back home?
What happened to him by the river that night?
 
 
You and me:
When did you pray your hardest? 
When did you most wrestle with life or God?
Who won?  Were you hurt?  Were you blessed?
 
What does the life wrestling of Jacob say to you?
What does the Easter wrestling of Jesus mean for you?
 
 
Extra question:
Two weeks ago, in Genesis 22, we saw how Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice Isaac, and God blessed him.
Today, Jacob fought with God, didn’t let go when he was told, and God blessed him.
What’s going on?  What does this mean for our relationship with God?
 


[1] In the womb Jacob grasped his brother’s heel;
    as a man he struggled with God.
He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
    he wept and begged for his favor.
  He found him at Bethel
    and talked with him there –
The Lord God Almighty,
    the Lord is his name!
Hosea 12:3-5
[2] In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin wrote, “all the servants of God in this world are wrestlers.”
[3] “In love’s army, only the wounded can serve”.
[4] In the Old Testament, to know someone’s name is to have power over them.  See Judges 13:17-8, where Samson’s father asks the angel’s name, and he replies “why do you ask my name?  It is too wonderful, beyond understanding.”

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