Wrestling with the angel

Jacob wrestled with the angel all night long. (Genesis 32:22-31) They were alone on an island together. The text doesn’t state whether Jacob even called out for help while he was wrestling. He didn’t get a chance to sleep that night because all night long he and the angel were wrestling. Towards the end of the night the angel touched him on his hip to make the fight stop. While this may seem like an unfair thing for the angel to do, I wonder why he touched him on the hip, and not somewhere else?

If the angel had touched him on the arm, the fight would’ve been over just as soon as touching him on his hip. You can’t pin someone to the ground with only one arm, or at least not very easily. It’s impossible or very difficult to throw them to the ground and hold them there. So he could have touched him on his shoulder and it would have been over just the same. Therefore it is very relevant that he touched him on his hip.

I propose that he touched him on the hip because Jacob was getting his strength from his roots. Jacob was relying on his ancestors and their faith (not his own, yet) in order to give him strength for this battle. The angel needed him to not rely on his own strength or on the faith of his forefathers. The angel needed him to trust in something so much bigger than him, something that he didn’t even know about yet. The angel needed him to trust in what AA would say is his “higher power”. And the Higher Power that the angel wanted him to rely on was God. He had to break his connection with his roots – his strength that he was getting from the past and from the present. He needed to make him learn how to rely on something bigger than himself, that very something that his ancestor Abraham relied on.

Jacob was very strong in many ways, but he hadn’t yet come to understand how much stronger he could be if he connected his power with God’s power.

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Addiction and trusting in God

I wrestle with addiction. Thankfully I’m no longer enslaved to pot. I also used to smoke clove cigarettes. But addiction can take many forms. Addiction is any time that we feel helpless to control our actions. It’s as if we are puppets being controlled by an outside source.

There are a few things that you can do to defeat addiction. One is just do something. Wash the dishes. Sort your sock drawer. Write a letter. Go for a walk. Doodle. Make sure it is something where you are being active, even a little. Watching TV and reading don’t count. Those are passive activities and won’t help in this situation.

There is a method of education called the Waldorf method. One of the things that they hold to be true is that the environment reflects the inner nature of the child. If the child is being disorganized and chaotic in play, then the way to fix that is to tidy up the area around the child. Sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves. So in this instance, if you are feeling scattered or sluggish, then what you need to do is start picking up your area. Start moving and tidying up. You don’t have to do your whole house, and in fact I suggest that you not even try all it right then. Balance is important. But rather thanbeing afraid of doing too much it’s also bad to not do anything at all. Get started. Have small goals. That way you can see progress.

I like to think about Judas. He didn’t want to betray Jesus. He was one of Jesus’ followers, disciples, and friends. When Judas realized what he had done, he hung himself. But earlier on in the text we read that Judas didn’t even do it. It wasn’t intentional. An evil spirit entered him and made him do what had to be done. I’ve written about this extensively in a previous post so I’m not going into all of that here. But where I’m going with this is that sometimes despite our best efforts things don’t go the way we want or plan or expect. Sometimes we mean to do well and yet we do the exact opposite. It’s entirely possible that we are being controlled by God, and there is another part of the plan we aren’t aware of.

Now that may sound backwards in light of what I just said about Judas. Remember how I said that he was controlled by evil spirit? If we truly believe that there is only one God and that God made everything, we also then have to understand that there is no such thing as an evil spirit. It is simply an agent of the Lord acting in a way that to our eyes seems backwards and not correct.

How did this does not mean that we are off the hook from trying to do our best? We should always try to do everything we can in our power to do the right thing and to improve ourselves and the world. But part of what I’m saying is if you have tried your best and yet you still fail don’t beat yourself up. Don’t be Judas and kill yourself. We kill ourselves all the time by making fun of ourselves or attacking ourselves with disparaging words.

Think of Balaam and the donkey. Balaam wanted to go forward and yet the donkey he was riding on saw an angel standing in the path in front of them. The angel meant to kill Balaam if he went any further. The donkey stopped and Balaam got really angry with the donkey and started to beat him. Then the donkey talked to him and said “Why are you beating me?” Balaam then saw the angel who was going to kill him if he had continued on that road.

Maybe if we keep trying to go forward and we are blocked perhaps it is best to trust that God is in charge. That maybe there is an angel standing in our way preventing us from getting hurt or doing something wrong.

Wrestling, not rest

Consider Jacob. He has just escaped from a very unpleasant situation with his brother. Before that, he’d narrowly escaped from his cheating in-law, Laban. He was not in a good place in his life. Everything seemed against him.

He and his brother Esau had not left on good terms. In fact Esau had threatened to kill him. Jacob had gotten away from him and years had passed by, but the feelings hadn’t softened much. Jacob was aware that Esau was coming and so he sent ahead a lot of gifts to him to butter him up. When they actually did meet face-to-face he was very concerned about how Esau would meet him and talk with him.

That makes perfect sense because Jacob himself wasn’t very trustworthy. He had stolen his birthright and his blessing from Esau. Yet notice that it was after their emotionally charged meeting that Jacob spent some time alone. While he was on the riverbank without any family or friends he had the famous encounter with the angel. Maybe he had intended on having some time to himself to recover from that potentially horrible encounter with his brother. Maybe he had hoped to rest a bit. But instead he spent the whole night awake wrestling with the angel. At the end, the angel blessed him and gave him a new name and made him equal to Abraham in importance to the Jews. If Abraham is the father of all the Jews, then Jacob (renamed Israel) gave them their family name.

Sometimes the biggest and most important events in our life don’t happen when we want them to happen. They certainly don’t happen the way that we expect them or even want them to happen.

Here is the text, starting with some of the difficulty Jacob had with Laban.

Genesis 31 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

31 Now Jacob heard what Laban’s sons were saying: “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s and has built this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob saw from Laban’s face that his attitude toward him was not the same.
3 Then the LORD said to him, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”
4 Jacob had Rachel and Leah called to the field where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I can see from your father’s face that his attitude toward me is not the same, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked hard[a] for your father 7 and that he has cheated me and changed my wages 10 times. But God has not let him harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The spotted sheep will be your wages,’ then all the sheep were born spotted. If he said, ‘The streaked sheep will be your wages,’ then all the sheep were born streaked. 9 God has taken away your father’s herds and given them to me.
10 “When the flocks were breeding, I saw in a dream that the streaked, spotted, and speckled males were mating with the females. 11 In that dream the Angel of God said to me, ‘Jacob!’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And He said, ‘Look up and see: all the males that are mating with the flocks are streaked, spotted, and speckled, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you poured oil on the stone marker and made a solemn vow to Me. Get up, leave this land, and return to your native land.’”
14 Then Rachel and Leah answered him, “Do we have any portion or inheritance in our father’s household? 15 Are we not regarded by him as outsiders? For he has sold us and has certainly spent our money. 16 In fact, all the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. So do whatever God has said to you.”
17 Then Jacob got up and put his children and wives on the camels. 18 He took all the livestock and possessions he had acquired in Paddan-aram, and he drove his herds to go to the land of his father Isaac in Canaan. 19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household idols. 20 And Jacob deceived[b] Laban the Aramean, not telling him that he was fleeing. 21 He fled with all his possessions, crossed the Euphrates, and headed for[c] the hill country of Gilead.
Laban Overtakes Jacob
22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 So he took his relatives with him, pursued Jacob for seven days, and overtook him at Mount Gilead. 24 But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night. “Watch yourself!” God warned him. “Don’t say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”
25 When Laban overtook Jacob, Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban and his brothers also pitched their tents in the hill country of Gilead. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You have deceived me and taken my daughters away like prisoners of war! 27 Why did you secretly flee from me, deceive me, and not tell me? I would have sent you away with joy and singing, with tambourines and lyres, 28 but you didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters. You have acted foolishly. 29 I could do you great harm, but last night the God of your father said to me: ‘Watch yourself. Don’t say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you long for your father—but why have you stolen my gods?”
31 Jacob answered, “I was afraid, for I thought you would take your daughters from me by force. 32 If you find your gods with anyone here, he will not live! Before our relatives, point out anything that is yours and take it.” Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the idols.
33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent, then Leah’s tent, and then the tents of the two female slaves, but he found nothing. Then he left Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s. 34 Now Rachel had taken Laban’s household idols, put them in the saddlebag of the camel, and sat on them. Laban searched the whole tent but found nothing.
35 She said to her father, “Sir, don’t be angry that I cannot stand up in your presence; I am having my period.” So Laban searched, but could not find the household idols.
Jacob’s Covenant with Laban
36 Then Jacob became incensed and brought charges against Laban. “What is my crime?” he said to Laban. “What is my sin, that you have pursued me? 37 You’ve searched all my possessions! Have you found anything of yours? Put it here before my relatives and yours, and let them decide between the two of us. 38 I’ve been with you these 20 years. Your ewes and female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams from your flock. 39 I did not bring you any of the flock torn by wild beasts; I myself bore the loss. You demanded payment from me for what was stolen by day or by night. 40 There I was—the heat consumed me by day and the frost by night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 For 20 years I have worked in your household—14 years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks—and you have changed my wages 10 times! 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, certainly now you would have sent me off empty-handed. But God has seen my affliction and my hard work,[d] and He issued His verdict last night.”
43 Then Laban answered Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters; the sons, my sons; and the flocks, my flocks! Everything you see is mine! But what can I do today for these daughters of mine or for the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I. Let it be a witness between the two of us.”
45 So Jacob picked out a stone and set it up as a marker. 46 Then Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a mound, then ate there by the mound. 47 Laban named the mound Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob named it Galeed.
48 Then Laban said, “This mound is a witness between you and me today.” Therefore the place was called Galeed 49 and also Mizpah, for he said, “May the LORD watch between you and me when we are out of each other’s sight. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or take other wives, though no one is with us, understand that God will be a witness between you and me.” 51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Look at this mound and the marker I have set up between you and me. 52 This mound is a witness and the marker is a witness that I will not pass beyond this mound to you, and you will not pass beyond this mound and this marker to do me harm. 53 The God of Abraham, and the gods of Nahor—the gods of their father —will judge between us.” And Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his relatives to eat a meal. So they ate a meal and spent the night on the mountain. 55 Laban got up early in the morning, kissed his grandchildren and daughters, and blessed them. Then Laban left to return home.

Gen 32

Preparing to Meet Esau
32 Jacob went on his way, and God’s angels met him. 2 When he saw them, Jacob said, “This is God’s camp.” So he called that place Mahanaim.
3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He commanded them, “You are to say to my lord Esau, ‘This is what your servant Jacob says. I have been staying with Laban and have been delayed until now. 5 I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves. I have sent this message to inform my lord, in order to seek your favor.’”
6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau; he is coming to meet you—and he has 400 men with him.” 7 Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; he divided the people with him into two camps, along with the flocks, cattle, and camels. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes to one camp and attacks it, the remaining one can escape.”
9 Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Go back to your land and to your family, and I will cause you to prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness You have shown Your servant. Indeed, I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please rescue me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. 12 You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
13 He spent the night there and took part of what he had brought with him as a gift for his brother Esau: 14 200 female goats, 20 male goats, 200 ewes, 20 rams, 15 30 milk camels with their young, 40 cows, 10 bulls, 20 female donkeys, and 10 male donkeys. 16 He entrusted them to his slaves as separate herds and said to them, “Go on ahead of me, and leave some distance between the herds.”
17 And he told the first one: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to? Where are you going? And whose animals are these ahead of you?’ 18 then tell him, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau. And look, he is behind us.’”
19 He also told the second one, the third, and everyone who was walking behind the animals, “Say the same thing to Esau when you find him.20 You are also to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” For he thought, “I want to appease Esau with the gift that is going ahead of me. After that, I can face him, and perhaps he will forgive me.”
21 So the gift was sent on ahead of him while he remained in the camp that night. 22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female slaves, and his 11 sons, and crossed the ford of Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, along with all his possessions.
Jacob Wrestles with God
24 Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that He could not defeat him, He struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. 26 Then He said to Jacob, “Let Me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
“Jacob,” he replied.
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” He said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked Him, “Please tell me Your name.”
But He answered, “Why do you ask My name?” And He blessed him there.
30 Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “and I have been delivered.” 31 The sun shone on him as he passed by Penuel—limping because of his hip. 32 That is why, to this day, the Israelites don’t eat the thigh muscle that is at the hip socket: because He struck Jacob’s hip socket at the thigh muscle.