God is hands-on

Built on a Rock

There is a story in Genesis 32 in which Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man all night. Jacob is alone and desperate. He is afraid his twin brother Esau is coming for him. Esau has good reason to be upset. The firstborn of the two twins, Esau is the rightful recipient of the birthright and blessing, both of which were manipulated away from him by his conniving little brother, Jacob. Jacob hears that Esau wants to meet him and is bringing with him 400 men! So Jacob prays to God to deliver him from the hand of his brother and sends his servants up ahead with a bunch of livestock as a peace offering for Esau. Then he sends his family on one side of river and for some reason decides to spend the night by himself on the other side.

Here is where the mysterious man enters the story, and they begin to wrestle until daybreak. Jacob is a feisty one and has to be bopped on the hip by the mystery man in order for him to come out on top. Jacob demands a blessing from this mystery man, but instead of a blessing, he gets a new name. And then when Jacob asks the mystery man his name, instead of an answer, he gets the blessing he was asking for after all. The mystery man was God and the new name was Israel.

The next day, when Jacob meets Esau, he braces for a fight, but instead his brother runs to him weeping and hugs and kisses him.

I really like this part of Jacob’s story. It tells us many things about how God works in our lives. It shows us that God is a hands-on God and doesn’t leave us in the same condition as when God finds us.

As in Jacob’s case, sometimes God finds us combative and frightened and lonely and desperate and self-destructive. The process of encountering God might be uncomfortable and it may leave a mark (Jacob walks with a limp now) as we come face to face with the things in the past we are ashamed of, but in the process of wrestling with God, we find the strength to ask for what we really need (in Jacob’s case, a blessing). We get more than we could have ever imagined from God including reconciliation with those we have hurt. And we get a new name: forgiven and beloved.

God is a mystery, but God’s work in this world is real and life-changing. If you find yourself lying awake at night wrestling with past memories of people you’ve hurt, remember Jacob. God meets you even in the darkness, and can bring reconciliation to any relationship.

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