“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:26b
These past few weeks I have been watching a lot of the Olympics. I have not sat down for long stretches of time, but if I was able to catch a few minutes, I did. One of those times included watching the end of a wrestling match between Russia and Uzbekistan. At the end of the match, the Uzbek athlete lost, and proceeded to lay in the middle of the mat inconsolable. The referee or umpire or whatever they are called in wrestling, stood there offering a hand that was ignored. Finally, after what seemed a long time, he got up and stood there as the other athlete was called the winner. I made note of his actions, and didn’t think of them again until today.
I have been listening to a sermon podcast from church, and that is what brought the wrestler back to mind. Why? Well, after listening to this sermon, I really could relate to the guy on the mat. It was like if he stayed on the mat, then the match wasn’t really over. As he laid there, I wondered what was going through his mind? Maybe he was wrestling with his own emotions and thoughts. Then when he could bear the outcome, he was finally able to get up. It gave me a better picture of the story of Jacob and the night he wrestled with God. Even better than that, the whole story seemed to give me a better picture of my own wrestling with God.
Here is the quick rundown. Esau and Jacob were brothers, and Esau being the oldest was in line for the birthright and blessing from his father. These two brothers had two different mothers so there were a whole bunch of dysfunctional family dynamics going on. What winds up happening is that Jacob manipulates the situation and steals both the birthright and blessing. At that point Esau is mad as all get out and vows to kill his brother, so Jacob runs away.
While Jacob is gone, God guides him and blesses him, but It is not always pretty. He gets conned by his father in law, Laban. Then he is able to do some conning of his own, since he had been taken advantage of. God eventually tells him to return home, back to the land of his father and grandfather, where God promises to be with him. Jacob is now husband to two wives, baby daddy to two servants and father to many children. He came home very wealthy as he had flocks of many animals and lots of servants.
One thing he did not have was the knowledge of what waited for him at home. Would Esau welcome him? Would he still be calling for Jacobs blood? Jacob was terrified. So what does he do? Well he reminds God of all the promises that He made to Jacob and his family. The one’s where God said He would protect Jacob if he returned home, and that He would multiply Jacob’s descendants until they were as many as the sand on the beach. So Jacob then slept peacefully reminded of all God’s promises, right?
No way. Just in case, Jacob lays some plans of his own to ensure his safety. He divided his herds and family into groups, and sent them as gifts to Esau. He sent them in waves with strict instructions on how to present themselves. They were to make sure that Esau knew that they were gifts, and that he was the master and Jacob was the servant. So Jacob sent everyone ahead, and spent one last night in the camp alone.
He was not alone for long though. It was then that he wrestled with a man. When it was almost light, the man realized that he would not win, and so he hurt Jacobs hip. The man said to Jacob, “let me go”. Jacob would not let go, because he wanted something from the man, and what he wanted was a blessing. Now the man would eventually bless Jacob, and at this point in the bible Jacob is given a new name, Israel. This is the family that was the start of the great nation that is God’s people. And yes, he meets his brother, who God has blessed in his own right, and their reunion is easy as Esau is delighted to have his brother back. Jacob is relieved and very happy to be back home.
It was at this point that I remembered the wrestler from Uzbekistan. Instead of him, I pictured Jacob laying there, not giving up the mat. Not leaving until he got his blessing. And while the wrestler did not win a medal, I figured that in those moments on the mat, he found some nugget of strength to lean upon so that he could get up and face those who were waiting.
I thought of myself. Trying to write, speak, communicate and teach. I feel just like Jacob, I am terrified. I do not know what is going to happen, why anyone would care to read what I say, and then come the “what ifs” that bring confusion and doubt. All these things wrap together to take my head away from seeking God, and without Him, whatever I write is worthless.
Instead of writing and focusing on what God has called me to, I obsess. God had already told Jacob that He would be with him. I do believe that God has put me on a path and that He will be with me. Like Jacob though, I don’t act like I believe it. So instead of putting down my fear and doubt, I mull it over. I give God options on how He can fix it. I try to put my plan B in place. Like Jacob I wrestle.
I used to think this was kind of a weird story. This whole thing about Jacob and this physical act of wrestling, and then this holding on thing. Like he could force God to do something? It was then I wondered if maybe like the Olympic wrestler laying on the mat, Jacob was fighting more with himself than with God? Maybe Jacob was wrestling with his own fear and uncertainty? The knowledge of what God had promised him was at war with his reality. This back and forth of what we perceive in life, against what we know of God. While Jacob was uncertain as to what would happen, he was certain of where his answer would come from. He knew he could count on the Lord, so he did not let go. It was a lightbulb moment for me. I can wrestle with God, and He can take it. I can be a little scared, which may show my lack of faith, but I can still hold on to the Lord. For even in my weakness, I know where my answer, safety, wisdom or blessing will come from.
“Yes, our protection comes from the Lord…” Psalm 89:18a