Jacob took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
I have always found the story of Jacob’s wrestling match intriguing, and Biblical commentators have always had a field day with this story. Who is Jacob’s opponent? An Angel? God, or some other celestial being?
Those of a more psychological bent will say that Jacob struggled with his own inner life and demons. Perhaps in a moment of great fear and while wrestling with his self-centeredness, Jacob attempts to achieve a more complete and healthier psychological wholeness.
While that might sound good in an academic paper, it might be better to simply say that Jacob had a conversion experience. He realized he had been a terrible person and he resolved with a little help from the Almighty to make a new start - to become a better person. Jacob emerges on the other side of the river a little beat up, but with a new identity, Israel, the father of a nation, a living symbol of God’s promise to his chosen people.
When you and I hear the word wrestling, many of us think about large bodybuilder type men throwing each other and chairs around a ring. (Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant immediately come to my mind.) However most of us these days are probably going through our own version of riverside wrestling each night before drifting off to sleep overwhelmed by unspoken fears and anxiety.
These maybe fears about our health, our children, or our jobs. Or maybe we have the type of fear that gives you that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as we confront various political and social issues which have no easy answers and that most of us feel powerless to change. Let’s face it, our internal wrestling matches these days seem endless and soul-draining.
As Christians, we do not wrestle without purpose, and often our hope can be found in these moments of doubt and struggle. Hope is found on the other side of the river as a new person, Israel, emerges from their inner darkness to lead God’s people. Hope is found in Exodus when even in the midst of terrible persecution, Moses is fished out of the river from a floating basket. Hope is found when the youngest and most insignificant of Jesse’s sons becomes King David. And finally, Christian hope is found after another night of doubt and despair when the followers of Jesus find an empty tomb and meet the risen Lord.
Hope for Christians comes from struggle and the promise of Jesus that, come what may, he will never leave us no matter how long the night and how difficult the struggle. This might seem simplistic but it is the bedrock of our Christian faith. Christ’s transformative love may at times, bruise us a bit but it has the power to transform our lives.
And as I like to say at the start of my sermons, “help us to be less of what we used to be and more of what we ought to be”. Amen.
Yours in Christ,