The terms “blessing” and “blessed” are spoken of in many different church settings. However, there seem to be many differences of opinion on what the concept actually means. One thing that appears to occur across the board is that we do not usually think about pain and suffering in connection with blessing.
The terms “blessing” and “blessed” are spoken of in many different church settings. However, there seem to be many differences of opinion on what the concept actually means. One thing that appears to occur across the board is that we do not usually think about pain and suffering in connection with blessing. However, we seem to have a clear picture that when God’s people receive blessing, that they often receive more than they expect.
In Genesis 32, we have a story about a man who has an encounter with God that forever changes his perspective. Jacob was a descendant of Abraham that truly lived up to his name. His name meant “sup planter” or one who tries to “get over” by tricking others. He actually took an opportunity to get ahead, and tricked his hungry, impetuous brother, Esau, out of his birthright of blessing from his father, Isaac. But as we know, what goes around comes around. Jacob, the trickster, gets swindled and used by a farmer named Laban. One can begin to see how Jacob is getting his “just deserts” from his own trickery.
In verses 22-32, Jacob stands on the verge of seeing his brother again, and, understandably, is nervous about seeing him. He has sent ahead lots of gifts and wealth ahead of him, in hopes that Esau would not still be angry and kill him on sight. He sends everything ahead of him until he is left completely alone. At that point, Jacob wrestles with a “man” all night long. The struggle is so intense that, at one point, the man that Jacob is struggling with actually hits his hip and knocks it out of socket. Withstanding the pain, Jacob refuses to let the man go until the man “blesses” him. Something that is very important to understand here is the content of what Jacob asks. Jacob already has tons of money, and influence. So the “blessing” that he is asking for may not be referring to any physical or financial blessing. If that’s not the case, what else could it be?
After Jacob makes his claim for a blessing, the “man” (who turns out to be God) changes Jacob’s name from Jacob (“sup planter”) to Israel (“one who struggles”) God gave Jacob a new identity, one that was more aligned with the plans God had for Abraham’s descendants. God functionally let Jacob know that he saw Jacob differently than all of the other people in his life. Where people saw a sup planter, God was an indomitable force that will not take “no” for an answer! Jacob’s transformation was so major that he renamed the exact physical spot where he had the encounter with God. True enough, Jacob ended up with a pain-filled hip, but he also got a “blessing” that only God could truly give: God freed Jacob from his past identification with trickery and deceit by calling the truth out of him.
What we can learn from this biblical story is that God desires to speak to us, reveal reality to us, and change the way that we see things. Sometimes, circumstances of the world, even family ties, can bind us in identities that are not helpful or even true about ourselves. We see this whenever parents, friends, or loved ones try to claim who they think that we are and judge us by those terms. We must be willing to “wrestle” with God and ourselves if we are to receive the blessing of a new identity for a new day of new opportunities for spreading God’s loving kingdom.
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