Devotional & Reflection

Week 1, Jan 2004

Gen 32:22-28 :
Struggling, Striving and Blessing

By Pang Hee Hung, Katartizo Resources Ltd

Gen 32:22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. v23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. v24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
Gen 32:25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. v26 Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."
Gen 32:27 The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. v28 Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

Have we not seen conflict erupt and then all efforts for a peaceful reconciliation seem like an uphill task? It is also a struggle as both parties wait upon each other and see who will apologize first.

Marital breakdowns, intra-family conflicts, and even ethnic cleansing and separatist movements have taken their toll on people we come into contact with. Oftentimes, it takes years for the conflict to be amicably resolved. Sometimes, one wonders whether the conflict can be resolved at all - if the conflicting parties' resolve remains hardened.

In Gen 32, Jacob was on his way to resolve the conflict and to reconcile with his brother Esau after the deception incident and more than twenty years "in exile" from his family. Now, he was apprehensive, and mostly scared. When he ran away from Esau more than twenty years ago, Esau was only thinking of revenge and murder - not resolution, not reconciliation (Gen 27:41). Jacob had stolen Esau's rightful inheritance, birthright and blessing.

Is such intense conflict and deep hatred possible within families now? Actually, such intra-family conflict as that between Jacob & Esau is not at all that uncommon - especially when it comes to inheritance. Of course, families can also be divided and destroyed by other issues e.g. adultery (squandering, philandering spouse), alcoholism, addiction, gambling, crime, wayward children, and even the not uncommon situation like "in-laws."

Thoughts of:
Hate ... revenge ... murder... for Esau (Gen 27:41).
Fear and distress …for Jacob (Gen 32:7).

Such was the backdrop of Jacob's imminent meeting with Esau. But Jacob was a strategist and schemer. He was still a schemer at heart. Out of fear and distress, Jacob schemed to divide his people into two groups (Gen 32:7). The first group would bear gifts for Esau. Jacob hoped to pacify and win back his relationship with Esau with gifts (32:20). Then he prayed (32:9) .... he prayed for God to save him and his people (32:11).

Are we not like that sometimes? Ask ourselves: "Am I a strategist?" A strategist is a positive, sometimes polite form of a schemer. We have to be careful because a good strategist can easily cross over to be a good schemer without realizing it. Strategize and scheme first, then pray? ... "God, bless my scheme" !!!?

In the end, Jacob's gifts were not needed (Gen 33:9). God had already prepared the ground and softened the heart of Esau when God instructed Jacob to return to the land (Gen 31:3).

Besides being a schemer, Jacob was stubborn and strong willed. He strove and struggled with people. He struggled with Esau, Laban and then God. Jacob means "he grasps the heel" - a grabber and a deceiver. The NIV uses the paragraph heading "Jacob Wrestles With God" before Gen 32:22. But we wonder who was wrestling with whom. Jacob was stubborn and strong-willed in wrestling with God - it seems. But does God really get over-powered by a mere mortal? [Note: The LXX translates Gen 32:28 as "Since you have been strong against God, so you will triumph over men."]

If we have these 3 S's of Jacob - schemer (using human ways to achieve our goals and even godly goals), struggler / striver and stubborn / strong-willed - we need another S from God, a Submissive spirit. We, who are brought up in the Western mindset, are almost like Jacob. We have a Rugged Individualism and are very independent. God has to wrestle with us and yet we remain stubborn. He has to sock it to us with our very own "Jacob's socket" - a "disability" or "disabled situation" to remind us of submission to and reliance on Him.

Yet in the submission to God, we can be persistent for God to bless us - in harmony with God's mind and plan, which does not necessarily mean material blessings.

God changed Jacob's name to Israel. Israel can mean "he struggles with God," (NIV footnote). But I concur with some commentators' preference for the interpretation of "Israel" as "El / God will rule" or "Let God rule". Jacob seemed to come in a position of strength in his struggle with God. But he came in a position of weakness when he solicited for a blessing - the very act itself acknowledged that someone else had a higher authority. Jacob realized he had to submit to God and let El rule. Only after God has wrestled and struggled with us, and we have submitted, will He change our situation and our name.

And Jacob did change. The younger Jacob was a grabber. The older Jacob was not. The older Jacob could have kept what was not his - but returned it instead. When his sons returned from buying grain in Egypt, they found that the silver that was meant to be payment for the grain was in their sacks (Gen 42:25-28). So when the sons had to return to Egypt to buy grain again, Jacob told his sons that they needed to take double the amount of silver because they had to return the silver that was in their sacks (Gen 43:12).

1. How are our lives characterized by struggling and striving?
2. How do we strategize with a submissive spirit?
3. How much has our encounter with God changed our old manner of life?

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