Sunday January 21, 2007 | Brenda Salter-McNeil
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 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. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. 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." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon.
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.