How Jacob Met the Father

“Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had.

      Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.”

Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob has always been an interesting biblical character for me and this moment in the beginning of the Old Testament was the climax of Jacob’s story. Jacob is going back to confront his brother and ends up wrestling with God all night long, living to walk away the following day. At the same time, when I was younger I would hear this story and roll my eyes a little bit because it seemed like such an obvious metaphor for our struggle with God over our lives that I didn’t understand WHY I needed to sit down and spend much time studying it. But, what I think I never understood was that this was one of those moments where you find yourself at the end of a deep and complex story. One of those finishes to a story that seem, in one way, very simple on the surface, but once you start peeling the layers that have been built throughout the story you uncover how incredible it truly is.

So let’s go back in time because some of you may be scholars on the life and times of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, but I doubt all of us have the same starting point. So, if you didn’t pick that up, Jacob was a son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham and the Isaac that was involved in the covenant God made with Abraham. Isaac went on to marry Rebekah and they had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Esau came out first and was the first born son in Jewish culture. Jacob was the second born son and came out holding onto Jacob’s heel. Now, in Jewish culture, the firstborn received the blessing and the largest share of the family’s inheritance. But, in this instance, Rebekah had been given a prophecy from God that the second-born would receive the blessing of Abraham and be the continuance of the messianic covenant that Abraham made with God.

Now, as the boys grew up we find out that Isaac loved Esau and Esau was a man’s man. He was bold and brave, outdoorsy, hard headed, stubborn, quick to anger… He was a guy, and Isaac was, apparently, fond of the man Esau became. Jacob, on the other hand, was smart, cunning, self-sufficient, and if you’re paying attention and you’re a Harry Potter fan, you understand he would have fit in perfectly with Slytherin. He was just a sly dude and  we see this time and time again through his interactions with Esau.

The first time we see Jacob’s personality is when he takes advantage of Esau and gains his birthright for a bowl of soup and the next time we see it is when he cons Esau out of his father’s blessing. So, we have this moment where Rebekah overhears Isaac telling Esau to go bring him some game he likes and she runs off to tell Jacob to do it first. Jacob and Rebekah scheme and Jacob ends up tricking his blind old father with smell and touch and gains the blessing of Isaac. So he now has Esau’s birthright AND his blessing and it’s needless to say at this point, but Esau is not going to be a big fan of Jacob.

Esau returns just as Jacob finishes up his little switcheroo and he and Isaac both come to the realization of what just happened and when Isaac realizes what he’s done he trembles. For the longest time I thought he trembled here because he was so outraged, but Isaac was trembling because he was realizing what he had done. He was realizing that he had been fighting against God all of these years and had been trying to follow his own will rather than the will of the father and God’s will never fails. It may have to use other means to achieve it’s end, but God’s will is perfect in its assurance. So Isaac, realizing that he has been fighting God for so long, trembles as he comes to submit to the will he knew of all along. He surrenders to it in this moment and he refuses to bless Esau. Esau is pleading his case and Isaac shuts it down and essentially restates the prophecy that Rebekah heard from the beginning with a little more added to it.

Esau, furious now, goes after Jacob to right the wrongs that have perceivably been done to him and Jacob is forced to flee. Jacob is forced to flee everything he schemed and conned and fought for up to this point in his life. He flees and while he’s fleeing he encounters God had dreams about Jacob’s Ladder with angles ascending to and descending from heaven. He sees God here and he comes to know and understand what God is promising to do through him with this blessing. So, he sees the deal God lays before him and chooses to follow it knowing he’s going to get everything he wants.

Jacob goes off and marries Leah and Rachel and acquires wealth and status and family and everything he wanted originally. But, he still doesn’t have the one thing he wants the most. He still doesn’t have his father’s land and inheritance he’s due and he still hasn’t received this blessing that he got from his father and in his dream from God. So, finally, 20 some odd years down the road, Jacob decides its time to gather up all of his family and all of his wealth and go back to face his brother Esau.

It feels like that moment in movies where there’s some really intense Hans Zimmer soundtrack playing over the top of a final preparation montage between the good guy and the bad guy. But, at this point you have to ask yourself, who is who at this point? Jacob has been scandalous and cunning for most of his life and Esau reacts with rage and violence. We’re not really looking at two winning parties here, but I digress… The point here is that these two are finally about to meet and Jacob knows that there is a likelihood that his brother is going to try and kill him.

So, Jacob, always the schemer, decides to placate his brother with a series of gifts. Huge gifts. Dowry sized gifts and he sends them all out in front of him with the same message: these are gifts to you and your servant, Jacob is following them. He’s trying to soften his brother up a bit before the big standoff to put Esau at ease and, hopefully, return to the land of his father.

The night before he and Esau are going to meet Jacob has this realization. He realizes that even with all of to gifts and everything he’s sent before him that there is still a very real possibility that Esau will try to kill him. So, he takes this big, beautiful family that he has built and he divides them into two camps so if Esau attacks one, the other might still escape. He divides them into the camps and he send them across the river ahead of him. Then, he sends all of his possessions across the river ahead of him and he finds himself alone on that side of the river. This is how he wants to meet Esau after all of this time. Alone, vulnerable, and subservient to his older brother’s will. But, before the confrontation can ever occur this strange man comes up behind Jacob and fights with him. He wrestles with him and they are so well matched that the match goes on and on through the night into the dawn of morning. The man asks Jacob to let go multiple times over the course of today’s scripture, but Jacob refuses to let go. He just continues to fight on and on until the man does something. He touches Jacob’s hip and dislocates it. Now, I don’t know about y’all but I cant even read or hear those words spoken without a little willie going through me and having to flex my hips a little bit to make sure everything is in the right place. Dislocating a finger is terrible enough, but a hip?! That’s a new level of pain. But, this is a key moment in the story because it displays the immense power of the man that Jacob had been wrestling with and in that instant, he understood that it was God. He understood because the word “touch” here is a literal translation from the Hebrew. All the man did was give Jacob a simple touch and it ruined his hips for the rest of his life. He knew that the man had been holding back the entire time and the only thing that would have the power to do what he did with a simple touch was God himself. And with that immense pain and discomfort, Jacob continues to hold on to the man but now, instead of wrestling with him, he’s holding onto him and asking him for his blessing and his name.

This is the moment where Jacob met the father. It’s not a soft, physically tender moment. No, it’s violent and devastating, but it’s where he understood that he had been wrestling with this man throughout the night but he had been wrestling with God his entire life. In fact, if we look back over the course of Jacob’s life we get this entirely different picture of his relationship with God up to this point.

He was told at a very early age that God had deemed him worthy of these things and that these things were going to be owed to him by God. He then endeavored to make sure he acquired those things because they were deemed his. He didn’t wait for God to work and he didn’t abide by God’s nature, but he saw God as his Amazon cart. This was the means by which he was going to achieve and receive all of the stuff that he wanted. A lot of us Christians do this exact same thing. We interact with God through prayer when we need him and we go to church and do what we’re supposed to do in order to store up enough good will with him that we’ll be blessed when the time comes. Then, when we pray, we pray prayers of need and want – our shopping cart prayers.

That was the extend of who God was to Jacob. He was the guy that was going to give Jacob what he was owed because of his birth and prophecy. Even when he referred to God at this point he would speak of him as The Lord, the God of my father Isaac, the God of his father Abraham”. Never “my god” and very rarely just “God”. God was just this entity that he had a deal with that owed him something. So, when we see him at the beginning, we start to understand Jacob better. He was just taking what he felt he was owed. There was nothing wrong with that if you take that tact. But, he was missing the point entirely.

He was missing the point entirely and that point was revealed to him at the touch of his hip. A touch that would maim him for life. A touch that revealed to him a truth at a moment of weakness and vulnerability. The truth is that God is not the thing we go to in order to get what we want. God is, in fact, the prize. Not a prize that we deserve or a prize that we can earn, but a wonderful, unimaginable prize that we have been offered because he is a good father. Jacob’s name may have been changed to Israel, but he understood that God had never been trying to overpower him to begin with. God was just getting close to Jacob in the only way that Jacob would stop and take notice of him. God was just offering him another pathway back to Him and in that moment Jacob took that pathway and he clung to it for dear life and he said, “Bless me.”

Isn’t that beautiful? See, when we encounter God and truly encounter Him it changes us. It changes us in a way that we never thought possible and reveals a perspective on life that is unattainable any way but through the Holy Spirit. It changes our relationship with God from one of a thousand different titles to “our Father”.

Sometimes we wrestle with God and we wrestle with him mightily. It might be a spiritual wrestling, an emotional wresting, or in Jacob’s case, a physical wrestling with God, but we can be assured of this one thing. When we wrestle with God, He is doing two things in those moments. One, he is drawing near to us. If you think about the sport of wrestling it’s not a long distance relationship. It is up close, personal, gross, physical, skin on skin interaction and God wants to be that close to you. He wants to walk hand in hand with you, but if he has to wrestle with you in order to get you close to him, then that is what he’s willing to do because his will, his desire to know you is just that persistent. And the second thing he is doing is he is wrestling us towards a path back to him. He is trying to bring us closer to his heavenly bosom and telling us to let go of the things we are holding on to and to let him hold us. Let him guide us. Let Him be our Father.

Isaac and Jacob both give us this beautiful insight into what it looks like to wrestle with God and come to know him as more than just “God”. He doesn’t want to just be this unspecified force that we call God. He doesn’t just want to be Almighty. He doesn’t want to be shopping cart or healer or protector. He wants to be all of those things, but what he truly desires is to be your Heavenly Father. And when you experience that, it leaves a lasting mark. It might not be a limp and you may not tremble before the weight of your realization, but you’ll come to realize this beautiful prize that awaits you and this eternal relationship that will never let you down or cause you harm. God is a good Father, and that’s How Jacob Met the Father.

Let’s Pray.

About Pastor Payton

Payton splits his time and calling as the Head Pastor at New Hope Methodist Church and Macedonia Methodist Church in Waller, TX. Both churches are members of the Global Methodist Church denomination, and Payton is currently working towards his ordination as a Deacon in the GMC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *