Wrestling with God   1 comment

Above: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Dore

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Genesis 32:22-32 (An American Translation):

That same night he [Jacob] arose, and taking his two wives, his two female slaves, and his eleven children, he sent them across the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them, and sent them across the stream, and everything that belonged to him across.  Jacob himself was left behind all alone.  Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak, and when he found that he could not master him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled him.  Then he said,

Let me go; for the dawn is breaking.

But he replied,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

He said to him,

What is your name?

He replied,

Jacob.

Then he said,

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [wrestler with God], because you have wrestled with God and man, and have been the victor.

Jacob requested,

Please tell me your name.

He replied,

Why is it that you ask for my name?

Nevertheless he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel (face of God];

For,

said he,

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.

The sun rose on him just as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.  That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the hip muscle which is on the socket of the thigh; for the socket of Jacob’s thigh was touched on the hip muscle.

Psalm 17:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Matthew 9:32-38 (An American Translation):

But just as they were going out, some people brought to him a dumb man who was possessed by a demon, and as soon as the demon was driven out, the dumb man was able to speak.  And the crowds were amazed, and said,

Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel!

But the Pharisees said,

It is by the prince of demons that he drives them out.

Jesus went round among all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

But the sight of the crowds of people filled him with pity for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep that have no shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is abundant enough, but the reapers are few.  So pray to the owner of the harvest to send reapers to gather it.

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The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jacob, literally the “supplanter,” was on his way to meet with Esau, his estranged brother.  Jacob had spent the previous three chapters and over 14 years in the shadow of Laban, his father-in-law, who had tricked him and whom he had manipulated.  With that dispute settled, there was older unfinished business to settle.  Jacob did not know what Esau’s mood would be.

So, one night, Jacob faced God in the flesh.  Sometimes certain Hebrew texts use “God” and “angel” interchangeably, but the meaning in Genesis 32:22-32 is that Jacob wrestled with God incarnate.  He held on and persisted through the night and received a new name, Israel (meaning “wrestler with God,” “contender with God,” “God rules,” et cetera), and a limp, but he survived mostly intact.  Jacob was a changed man in more than one way.

We ought to take comfort in such stories.  Jacob, despite his flaws, was a chosen instrument of God.  Note also that God instigated the wrestling match.

Submission to God is the chief moral virtue in Islam.  Yet one of the pivotal stories in the Hebrew Bible is one of a man and God wrestling, with God starting the match.  Struggling and arguing with God is a key element in multiple Hebrew Bible stories; consider Job, for example.  He argued with God until God answered.  Whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” did not understand that book well.

And, although our flaws might not be as dramatic as those of Jacob, our imperfections do have consequences for ourselves and others.  Yet God can work through us, too.

I posit that a vital detail in the account from Genesis is that Jacob grasped God and refused to let go.  The man who struggled with God did so while grasping God; there was a relationship with the deity.

I contrast this with the response of Pharisees to Jesus’ healing of a mute man.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis for muteness, epilepsy, and many other conditions, so who knows what caused the man’s inability to speak?  But, whatever it was, Jesus cured it.  And some tradition-moribund religious people chose not to wrestle (metaphorically) with this incarnation of God.  If they had, they might have discovered answers and changed their lives and those of others.

After reading and studying the Bible for most years of my life, and after years of attempts (of varying degrees of effort and success) of faithful living, I have learned many lessons.  Among them is this:  God is frequently surprising.  God does not fit into our artificial theological boxes.  We never have God figured out.  Yes, we can understand partially, but that is as far as we can go.  So, as useful as traditions can be, a spiritual wrestling match now and then can prove much more helpful.

By the way, Jacob and Esau reconciled then parted company;  Jacob’s fears proved false.  And Jacob became the father of the men whose names continue as Hebrew tribes.  There is no tribe of Joseph, but two tribes carry the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  And there was no tribal land allotment to the Levites.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/week-of-proper-9-tuesday-year-1/

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Posted August 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Genesis III: 26-36, Islam, Matthew 9, Psalm 17

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 9: Tuesday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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