Genesis 31-33 — Striving with God

OK, I just about froze my fingers off this morning shoveling snow before church. Guess I lost the snow shoveling lottery. Man, was it ever cold this morning — although the weather man says it’s going to be even colder tomorrow morning. Good day for a day off, I think. 🙂

But there’s no day off for a daily Bible reader; the challenges to discipleship never seem to take a day off. So, let’s take a long drink of God’s refreshing, guiding, encouraging word. Today the text is Genesis 31-33.

Jacob can read the handwriting on the wall: his father-in-law (and all his kinsfolk) is becoming jealous of Jacob’s God-provided prosperity. Jacob, in spite of Laban’s best efforts at slanting the economic tables his way, can’t seem to make a bad business decision (God keeps blessing Jacob anyway); and the result has been that Jacob has become richer while Laban has become poorer. So, once again, Jacob needs to “get out of Dodge”. When he tells his wives about his plan to flee, they are in complete agreement, since they resent their brother’s greedy treachery. So they leave Haran without giving notice to anyone, and it’s three days before Laban even finds out.

When Laban does find out, he’s not happy at all, and pursues them; not only because Jacob and company left with so much of what Laban jealousy considered his stuff (family, herds, etc.) but also because they had left with the family ephod, an idol or idols. An ephod usually belonged to the leader of the family and was probably made of silver or gold. It turns out that Rachel took it, possibly because both Rachel and Leah felt like their brother had squandered their dowry and possibly because they wanted to claim the family leadership, since they were now wealthier than he was. Of course, it could also have been left over paganism in Rachel, too; it’s hard to know from the text.

When Laban catches up with Jacob, God warns him against acting against Jacob in any way. So, Laban has to content himself with simply complaining to Jacob about his perceived offenses — and then making a covenant with him.

OK, so, one bullet dodged, but that’s not every bullet coming your way Jacob; you still have Esau to deal with! And it would appear that Jacob was more afraid of Esau than Laban. Jacob gives a great of thought to this and has a rather elaborate plan for dissipating Esau’s anger and trying to protect his family and himself: he sends messengers ahead to Esau, he divides his substantial company of people and herds (hoping that if Esau attacks one, the other will escape), he prays most humbly to God (he’s matured a lot from his earlier days), he sends a series of gifts in front of him to meet the approaching Esau and company, he puts his wives and children in the rear of everything, and in the final stage approaches Esau by bowing toward him seven times. Time and struggle and experience had mellowed the sharp-dealing Jacob into a humble man. The night before he actually saw Esau for the first time in 20 years he spent the night by himself, possibly in prayer but certainly in wrestling — God in the form of a man (a theophany). It was a great enough struggle that Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint, and God renamed Jacob Israel (“he who strives with God”).

Ultimately, Esau does forgive and embrace his long estranged brother Jacob and welcomes him home to Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Although there are a number of interesting things in these three chapters, I’ll focus my attention on the “wrestling with God” section. Obviously, God could have beaten Jacob in a wrestling match (if He could just touch his hip and dislocate it, what could have done elsewhere?), so what was the purpose of this story and the purpose of letting Jacob win? Hosea helps explain it:

“Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel And there He spoke with us,” Hosea 12:4, NAS95.

The wrestling match, although it was a real event, seems also to be something of a metaphor for prayer and life. Jacob’s spiritual growth had been quite a struggle. He always seemed to have been at odds with others, including sometimes with God Himself. But God had helped him, guided him, blessed him, and protected him all the way through, according to His promise. And Jacob had stuck with the Lord just as he had vowed. Doubtless the wrestling match was a metaphor, then, for the long struggle that Jacob had been for God, and perhaps, also, a foreshadowing of the struggle God would have with Jacob’s children, who would bear his new name, Israel, “he who strives with God”. The key idea here, however, is the perseverance and persistence that would carry the day — in prayer and in life.

Just like in any family, our relationship with the Lord as our Father is sometimes a struggle — for the children and the Father. And like in any family, perseverance is key — for the children and the Father. As humans, we’ll stumble and fall, and God will continue to work with us — as long as we’ll work with Him.

So, the bottom line here? If you’ve been chosen (and we’ll talk about this at another posting) through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism; don’t give up, keep on stroking, be persistent, persevere, repent, try, struggle, try again, pray, pick yourself up, and try again — these are the defining characteristics of faithfulness that matter in the end.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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