Talk about out of the fire and into the frying pan! Jacob has just left the lying scoundral Laban and is headed home to his brother Esau...the one who wanted to kill him.
Frightened, and rightfully so, Jacob basically dares God to show up. In essence he says, "Look, God, you're the one who promised I would return to the land of my Fathers a success and You're the one who told me it was now time to go. Here I am; it's time for you to deliver." But he also says, "I'm not worthy of any mercy you might show me; I'm simply going by the promises You made."
Then Jacob sends gifts to Esau...wave after wave after wave of them, and tells his servants to call Esau "lord" and the gifts are from "his servant, Jacob." Jacob is humbling himself before his brother, sending expensive gifts to purchase his forgiveness, and divides the camp to put women and children in the back in case Esau (who is coming with 400 men) still is not appeased.
He also removes himself from the camps. Alone, he waits for his brother to come. It was another strategy. If Esau could come find Jacob and kill him easily, perhaps the lust for revenge would be satisfied and Esau would not kill the rest of Jacob's family...the sons in particular...which was not an unrealistic fear. The Bible is full of places where entire families are wiped out when the patriarch is deemed guilty of death.
Put yourself in Jacob's place. Alone in the wilderness, he once again waits for death when a man shows up and begins wrestling with him. Is it any wonder Jacob struggled so hard? He's not seen his brother for 20 some years, it's dark and, for all he knows, he is fighting with Esau himself. Even when his hip is torn from its socket, he continues to fight until the man says, "It's getting light, let me go." Jacob says, "Bless me before you go, and tell me who you are." (More modern language might be, "Not until you concede victory to me, and tell me what I have been fighting about. Are you from Esau, or have I just been fighting a common theif?") The man says, "Why do you ask my name?"
I so wish I understood the Hebrew language right now, because something tells me the way God answered Jacob, the words He used at that very moment, jolted Jacob into understanding exactly who his opponent for the night had been. Because, be honest, have you ever expected God to show up - in the flesh - and physically fight with you? Imagine being home alone one night after having recieved a threatening phone call and someone breaks into your house. Are you thinking it's God? Hardly!! And if you managed to hold off your attacker all evening and he wants to cut out before you can see his face, you would most certainly want to know who he is and why he's come. Is he your threatening caller or just some hooligan who randomly chose your home? How unutterably shocked would you be to realize you've been fighting for you life against the God of the universe and survived?
More to the point, why on earth would God do such a thing? What is His motive?
We only have two clues. God changes Jacob's name to Isreal and blesses him. Now, "Isreal" means "Prince with God." Jacob has earned this name because he has, "struggled with God and man and has prevailed." If God is King, he has just elevated Jacob to being His prince. Think King of England here...he comes and fights you all night long and then says, "since you fought me and won, I will make you my prince and your children will be the future royalty of the land." There's a blessing for you.
Jacob, the deciever and supplanter, is coming home. He has humbled himslef before God by begging for mercy and favor despite his unworthiness. He has humbled himself before his brother, the one from whom he stole both birthright and blessing, by calling him lord. And God meets him in his frightened, humble, unworthy state and elevates him to royalty. And just to make sure Jacob doesn't think the whole thing was a figment of his overworked imagination, he touches Jacob's hip socket so he will limp and be reminded with every step he takes from now on of his place, not as the unscrupulous younger son but as Prince of God. No wonder the Jews to this day do not eat the meat of a hip socket.
Would you be willing to limp for the rest of your life in order to remember an encounter with God so life-changing? We might answer a resounding YES at this point because that's the right response, but pause and think carefully for a moment. Every single day, for years on end, Jacob will have to live with chronic pain and physical disability. Every. Single. Day.
With what do you struggle daily? What ailment, what pain, what disability causes you constant problems? What weakness, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, comes back to haunt you regularly? You know you are a child of the King, but the daily grind had worn you down. You know you are royalty, but it doesn't help with the challenges you face repeatedly.
Maybe it's time to view these things differently. From now on, let these very things be reminders to you that you are a Prince of God, a Princess of the King of Everything. It doesn't mean you won't have the struggle, but it will give you a correct perspective.
Until next time,