Sunday, January 23, 2011

Slaying Giants: Jacob

Genesis 32:24-31 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.

So, there’s this story of in the Old Testament of Jacob wrestling with God and he extracts from God a blessing. It is pretty easy to have a quick read through and try to apply some principles of prevailing prayer here. All we have to do if we want something from God is to wrestle it from Him. Is that really what is happening in this story? Is this a model of prevailing prayer? Is the giant that Jacob is wrestling with the blessing, the future? What do you know about Jacob?

In Genesis 25:21-26 we read “The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.” Jacob was in a constant struggle from the womb with his twin brother Esau. Esau had: the birthright, the physical superiority, and was his father’s favourite. And so Jacob began to take what he wanted, even though it was promised to him. You read that passage and you quickly begin to understand that Jacob invariably knew God’s promise to Rebekah because Jacob was her favourite. Jacob tried to get in his own strength what God was going to give him all along. In doing so, though, he lost God’s peace and presence, replacing that for 21 years filled with anxiety.

Jacob then steals Esau’s blessing from Isaac, after which he flees because Esau wants him dead. Esau himself wasn’t all that focussed. He took wives from the Hittites and that upset his parents greatly; enough so that Isaac blesses Jacob a second time, telling him to take a wife from Rebekah’s relatives.

It is on his way to his uncles that he has the dream of the stairs going from earth to heaven, and the promise of Abraham is reiterated to him. God spoke to him in that dream, but Jacob took a “wait and see” attitude. He said if I live through all this, then I will let God be my God. It sounds like that man drowning who cries out to be saved by God and promises full surrender if he is saved. Then he is saved and the rescued man is faced with a decision, a choice he never really thought through. What Jacob did is not that different from what happened in the Garden of Eden. God had said this and this, but Satan came and planted doubt and began to use the word “if”. “Did God really say that?” and “If you eat this fruit, you won’t die…”.

He finally gets to his uncle’s, and ends up working 14 years and gaining 1 extra marriage to get the woman he loved. The con man was conned. Then you get this ridiculous story of two wives, each with a servant, all trying to have babies with Jacob. It is out of this convoluted family that the tribes of Israel are born… and one sister named Dinah! One more story of how Jacob conned Laban to get the best sheep and the dramatic way he leaves Laban like a thief in the night and we find him here, on his way “home”, afraid of his brother Esau.

There is a principle here: You cannot separate what a person does from who he is. I think our biggest error in the church is to have done that. Here Jacob sends all that he worked and swindled for (in his own strength) his whole adult life ahead to Esau. He says, Take it – don’t hurt me!” At the time of crisis Jacob puts everything at risk and is left all by himself. Where is the courage now? Where is the big man in control now, the man with all the plans? He is left with nothing – and then he meets his giant.

In hockey a fight starts and one guy could skate away if he wanted to. They usually don’t, because they’d be called names and they feel that somehow slights their manhood and their worth to the team; but they could. When you wrestle, walking away doesn’t work because the guy is actually holding you. I also know wrestling is one of the most tiring sports there is, and here is Jacob wrestling half the night if not more. He would have been dead tired – and pretty empty. He just let go his love, all his possessions, and now here is this guy who has taken all his strength. What does he have left? At some point the awful realization grips him that he was wrestling with God, who could slay him with a thought. Understand too that Jacob wrestled with God because he had no choice. He was defending himself, not attacking.

I included all this back story because we need it to understand Jacob’s giant.  Jacob had been struggling against God all his life. The conflict by the river Jabbox symbolized this – up to this crisis his life had been a long endeavour to resist God’s goodness, a struggle against a God determined to bless and help Him. Jacob had continually insisted on reaching his destiny under his own strength and in his own way. There is an activity that springs from faith, and another from a lack of faith, and Jacob’s life was activity based on something other than faith. One thing that drove Jacob was fear (fear of losing what he had, fear of his brother, of all the people coming against him because he took advantage of them, fear for his life). And to top it all off, he now has to fight his own brother, but can’t because he has a bad leg.

It is at this point, when he has nothing, no hope or anything, that he faces God and surrenders. For the first time (with no other choice) he turns to God and says, “Bless me”. He doesn’t have God in a head lock and say, “You have to bless me now.” This is a statement of surrender. He is so tired and no longer willing to run away from God. It is a surrender to God of all that he is at the very core, and so the giant of self is defeated.

This is a challenge to you and I. Jacob was having the dreams and instructions from God, and he was listening to the big ones. Jacob is a picture of you and I in the church, not of the unbeliever our in the world. The challenge is for you and I to respond to the call of God in our lives to become what He has created us to be, to become what we already are. The work was finished at the cross, the blessings were given at Pentecost, and so the challenge is, “What are you doing with your life?” Are you doing it in your own strength, leaning on your own understanding, or are you man enough and woman enough to let go of all the silly little games that mean nothing, so that the Lord God, creator of the ends of the earth, can bless you, and accomplish His purposes through you. The story of Jacob is so remarkable as it records a thoroughly selfish and conniving man, that God pursued to the point of wrestling with him until Jacob finally understood and believed he could rest in the arms of a loving God. Wasted years, wasted efforts, foolish games, and yet God took all that, and Jacob is renamed Israel at this point, God took all that baggage and accomplished His purposes in marvellous and miraculous ways. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. Today, God will put you in a half nelson if that is what it will take for you to respond to His love for you. Make it easy on yourself, and surrender to your Creator.

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