Genesis 32:22-30 (22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 20, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson from Genesis 32:
The same night [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
It had been twenty years since Jacob had seen his brother, Esau. Jacob had schemed against his brother Esau in tricking Esau to sell Jacob his birthright, the privileges of the firstborn—a double portion of the inheritance, leadership over the family, and the blessing to carry on the covenant promise. Jacob had lied to their father Isaac and stole their father’s blessing. Esau hated Jacob. He had said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Gen. 27:41) Jacob was sent away to the land of their ancestors. Now, twenty years later, Jacob was returning to the land of Canaan, and to his brother, Esau. And he was afraid.
Esau was coming to meet Jacob with 400 men. Jacob feared the worst—Esau might still be angry and these 400 men would destroy him and his family and all that he had. Faced with possible death, Jacob turned to the Lord in prayer. He prayed to God for deliverance from the hand of his brother and the fulfillment of the covenant promises. “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Gen. 32:9-12)
Having offered his prayer, Jacob was still worried and concerned. Fearing the worst, he had already divided his people and flocks into two camps so that if Esau struck the one, the other might escape. Hoping for aid and safety from the Lord, Jacob didn’t neglect any means of doing what might help to appease his brother. He prepared a gift of flocks and herds and sent them on ahead. That night he even sent his family on, but he stayed behind. And that’s when it happened. Through the rest of that long night, a “man” wrestled with Jacob.
This was God’s answer to Jacob’s prayer, a wrestling with God Himself? Perhaps not so much the wrestling, but in the wrestling, the clinging, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob recognized that his opponent was more than human. And so he wrestled with God and won through faith which held so firmly to God’s Word of promise. From Genesis 28 we read that the Lord said to Jacob, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Gen. 28:13-15). God’s promise was the basis for Jacob’s prayer and God’s promise was the basis for Jacob continuing to wrestle, literally holding God to His promise of blessing.
Alone and faced with danger, Jacob found God to be his adversary in this very unique event. Yet Jacob wrestled in faith and received a new name “Israel” and God’s blessing. In our faith, are we so bold?
Sometimes it really appears that God is our adversary, even our enemy. It doesn’t always seem that God is on our side. When He allows us to bear trials and temptations and suffering, we honestly begin to wonder whose side God is on. Yet God in His Word promises, “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1Cor. 10:13) But do we not truly feel at times that God submits us to such thorough and extensive testing that we just cannot handle it?
I certainly have reached that point in my life a number of times—back in 2007 with the constant panic attacks and last month with Dad’s sudden death and Mom’s subsequent health scare. Both times I believed I had reached my limit and then some. I know that many of you have been there too in your lives. But yet, we are still standing. God hasn’t destroyed us. He still loves us as much as He always has. He is still for us and not against us. Do you know what that means? He’s kept His promises. He has provided for us in our times of trial and temptation and suffering and has given us the grace to endure. And not just endure, but come out on top, victorious, with His blessing!
By the power of faith exercised in prayer, reaching by firm hold of God even to the point of blessing, Jacob proved himself to be, by God’s grace, “Israel,” a true wrestler of God. Can not the same be said of you and me? “For through faith, in the struggle of the cross, one learns to recognize and experience God rightly.” (Luther) It is God’s desire to strengthen us in faith and finally bless us. Is that not what He does when, by His grace, our faith holds on to Him and to His promises which are all “yes” to us in Christ?
In Baptism, God claimed us as His own. He put His name upon us—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He gave us saving faith in Baptism to trust Him as our heavenly Father who sent His only Son to be our Savior to win our forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Because of His gracious love toward you and me in Jesus, God the Father became His Son’s enemy as Christ hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world. He poured out His anger and wrath on Jesus, even unto death, so that you and I might never face God’s judgment against our sins. Our sins stand forgiven because Jesus’ death paid for them in full. Therefore, God’s Word of promise guarantees our blessing—forgiveness, life, and salvation!
We have a God and Savior who has demonstrated to us concretely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that He loves us, that He is gracious to us, and that He desires to bless us with His grace and love in Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is this gift of faith in Christ that the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel Word and the Sacraments of Christ—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—enables you and me to hold so firmly to God’s Word of promise through all trials and sufferings.
When you and I wrestle spiritually with God in our prayers trying to comprehend the whys? and the hows? and the how longs? of the trials and troubles we face, it is God the Holy Spirit who keeps our faith holding on to His Word of promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5) “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jer. 31:3) “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Jesus is our Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He is our rock and our fortress, the God in whom we trust when we take up our crosses and carry our burdens. We cling to His promises in faith knowing that He is taking up our crosses and burdens with us. He walks with us in the midst of our sufferings and trials. He brings us through them in victory according to His gracious will for us making us “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37) Cling, then, in faith, to God’s Word of mercy in Jesus Christ. Amen.