One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Jacob. He is one of my favorite people in Scripture not because he always did the right thing, or because he was perfect, but because I can identify with him more closely than with most Bible characters.
Jacob spent his life scrapping for everything he got. He was a twin with his brother, Esau. While Esau came out of his mother Rachel’s womb first, Jacob was grabbing at his heel trying to get ahead of his brother on the day he was born.
Jacob was the youngest, so he had to fight harder to get ahead. And that is what he did. He tricked his bigger and stronger brother out of his greater share of his father’s inheritance. Then he stole his father’s blessing to carry on the family name and mission. After that, his brother wanted to kill him, so he had to run.
He went to his mother’s homeland and married two women. His father-in-law tricked him once, but with skillful animal husbandry he found a way to get ahead with him as well. He spent most of his life fighting for a blessing.
Then came the day when he had to meet his brother that he had wronged years ago. After decades of being estranged, he was frightened and afraid. He sent his servants, wives and kids ahead of him, in case his brother wanted to kill him. He made camp by the side of a brook. Still struggling. Still fighting for a blessing. Still longing for approval.
A stranger came to him in the night as he slept by the water. They engaged in hand-to-hand combat. For hours they fought. They grappled all through the night. After a while, it became clear to Jacob that he was wrestling a supernatural being. Either an angel or God himself.
So, they wrestled until the sun was about to come up. The strange being said he had to go. Jacob asked the person’s name. The stranger would not share it. Then Jacob said he would not let his opponent go without a blessing. He received the blessing, and then the being disappeared into thin air.
Jacob believed he had wrestled with God and won a blessing. He had an injury to his hip, he would walk with a limp, but he went forward in faith that God had blessed him. To reflect this change in attitude, he changed his name to Israel.
My question is, why did Jacob wrestle God for a blessing he had received decades ago? And the answer is, because that is who Jacob was. Always fighting. Always wrestling. And God was willing to either send an angel or come in human form and wrestle with Jacob. And once again offer the blessing. Jacob was a fighter. He always had to fight for what he got. He got through life by sheer force of will. God understood that and accepted and loved Jacob as he was.
I think there are a lot of us like Jacob. We start life just a little bit out of step or feeling like we are a little bit behind everyone. And we feel like we must catch up. Even when we encounter God and are blessed by Him, we keep fighting, keep wrestling and keep striving to get where we want to be. We are the underdog, always trying to win against impossible odds. We may have been blessed with a great family, enough money to get by on, a car that runs and a roof over our heads. We still feel like we have to fight and struggle with men and God for acceptance, approval, belonging and even love.
Jacob’s story reminds people like us of two things. First, God loves us as we are, and meets us where we are at in our lives. Second, God wants to bless us. It is often we who want to strive and fight and battle for a blessing that we already have. Or, instead of surrendering our lives to God and receiving that blessing, we want to fight and battle for everything we get. We want to earn the approval of God and people, and God offers it for free.
The Rev. Clint Walker
First Baptist Church