Hanging on to God
The Bible is so full of weird, enigmatic stories. I saw a twitter thread where people listed what they considered the weirdest Biblical stories and it was so long I couldn’t finish it. As I’ve said before, this is one of the reasons I believe the Bible. I don’t think a human or group of humans trying to convince people to adopt a religion would include even 90% of those stories. But God is doing something with ALL of them. And recently I finally understood one of them.
The story of Jacob wrestling with God has mystified me for years, even more so after I had to write a graduate English paper on it. The French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote a deconstructionist article on this passage, and I deconstructed his deconstruction of the scripture. (Don’t you all wish you had been given this assignment? : ) I’m afraid it didn’t enlighten me at all to what was going on in the passage. So that story has just been sitting on the back burner of my mind for 30 years, waiting for insight, and thanks to Beth Moore’s The Quest, I see it now.
If you don’t know the story, pull up Genesis 32:22-32. Jacob is on his way back home, after being gone 20 years, and he didn’t leave on good terms. He had hoodwinked his dad and cheated his brother out of the firstborn blessing. He sends word he is coming back, but he doesn’t know how he will be received. His messengers return from telling Esau and they inform Jacob that Esau is on his way with 400 men. What does that portend? Good or ill? I’d be leaning toward ill if I were Jacob, and I think he does, too, because he can’t sleep that night. And then the weirdness begins: the man appearing out of nowhere, this all-night wrestling match, the angel of God/man/God identity mystery, the man being unable to overpower Jacob – any one of these is a mystery unto itself. But the most remarkable thing, surely, is that the man “could not overpower him.” The “man” is obviously supernatural, maybe even God himself (all this is ambiguous in the text), so how in the Sam Hill (to quote my Southern friends) is he not able to win against Jacob?!?! I could not reconcile this.
Then this passage in The Quest showed me I was looking at it wrong: “the moral of the story was not Jacob’s superior might. . . . The game-changer for Jacob was that he refused to quit.” Jacob’s quote is “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:26. So when the angel/man sees that he “could not overpower him,” it means that he could not get Jacob to give up. It’s not a matter of winning or losing; that dichotomous thinking is not where God is going. It’s a matter of holding onto God.
Isn’t that what we are doing, day after day? Wrestling with God, struggling with what he says, but trying to hold on? The image in my mind is of a kid wrapped around his dad’s leg and refusing to turn loose. That is me. And part 2 is next week.