This morning I’d like us to think through our Old Testament reading about Jacob’s wrestling. To understand the implications for our lives today, we really need to go back to the beginning of the Jacob story, actually as close to a Biblical soap-opera as we get. Let’s bring us up to date in our story. As you recall, Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac (the child of promise) in their extreme old age. Then we followed the story as Isaac and his wife Rebekah had twin sons, Esau (the oldest) and Jacob (the youngest). Remember how Isaac favored Esau because he was an outdoorsman, while Rebekah preferred Jacob because he was a home-body. Do you recall how Rebekah helped Jacob trick both his slightly older twin, Esau, and also his aged father, Isaac, into giving him the firstborn rights and blessing? At that point, to avoid the murderous rage of his twin brother Esau, Jacob decided to travel to the distant home of his uncle Laban and move in for a while. While there, he married Laban’s daughters- Leah and Rachel, had many children, and grew rich off his uncle, mostly by trickery. Since Laban and his sons were getting angrier by the day as they watched Jacob get richer while they grew poorer, Jacob decided to return to his home and take over his stolen role as first-born. He and his family took off when Laban was gone for three days shearing sheep. Little did Jacob know that Rachel took advantage of her father’s absence by stealing his household idols. When Laban got back from shearing the sheep, he immediately found that Jacob had taken off in his absence, along with his daughters, grandchildren, and all the sheep and goats that Jacob had claimed as his own. Also missing were Laban’s household idols. It took him three days to catch up with Jacob’s caravan. When he accused Jacob of stealing the idols, Jacob very self-righteously declared himself and his entire entourage innocent. Jacob told Laban he could search anywhere he chose; and if he found anyone with the idols, that person would be killed. Rachel now had a problem, because she had the idols. She put them in her saddle bags, then sat on them. When her father came to search her, Rachel maintained that she couldn’t stand up to be searched- it wouldn’t be proper because she was having her menstrual period. Laban let her be, so he left without ever finding his idols, and Rachel’s life was spared. Next, Jacob sent messengers ahead to tell Esau he was coming, but the messengers returned saying that Esau was headed their way with 400 men! Jacob figured he’d better cut his losses, so he sent half his servants and belongings one way, half another way, and the women and children on just ahead of him to cross the river up ahead. What a mess he had made of his life! His uncle hated him! His twin brother was out to get him with 400 men! Jacob decided to stay behind for the night before crossing the river, and he lay down to sleep.
That’s the background for today’s episode. Suddenly Jacob found himself wrestling with someone whom he thought was another man. The prophet Hosea (12:4) said it was an angel. Later, Jacob said he thought it was God. Whoever it was Jacob wrestled with physically, do you know with whom he was mentally wrestling? Himself. He had lived his life; getting everything he wanted by lying, cheating, deceiving, stealing, trickery. He had to make a decision. Was he coming back to continue in his old evil ways, or was he going to be God’s person, trust God, and let God’s family name continue in power? He chose God’s way. To symbolize the new Jacob, his name was changed to “Israel,” a name that has many meanings- two of which are “One Who Struggles” and the other is “God Is in Charge.” His meeting with Esau was joyous and all was well.
That’s the story. Now, what’s in it for us? Trust God and don’t hedge your bets! Dr. Tony Evans reminds us in our thought for the week, “Your circumstances are never the last word as long as God is on the scene.” So do your part and then TRUST GOD! Don’t be like Rachel and hedge your bets. She kept the household idols “just-in-case.” What do you keep in reserve if God’s response isn’t quick enough for you? Do you carry a rabbit’s foot? Tell me, why in the world would you think a rabbit’s foot would bring you good luck? It surely didn’t bring the rabbit good luck, did it? Do you call psychic hot lines or have someone read your future in tea leaves? Do you know your sign? Why? Those stars don’t control your future! You and God working as a team do! Christians should have nothing to do with astrology! In other words, don’t be like Rachel. Don’t hedge your bets with idols.
What else can we learn from today’s lessons? Don’t be like Jacob and use a sinful action to get what you need (or think you need). Don’t trick or sneak or lie or manipulate or shoplift (i.e. steal). Did you hear the story of the wife who just suffered the loss of her husband? He had a lot of positives, and she was really going to miss him, but he had one over-riding negative- he was STINGY. On his deathbed, the man made his wife promise to bury him with all his money. After the funeral when the family went downstairs in the church for the dinner, her grown children asked if she had kept her promise. “Of course!” she replied. “I would never lie to a dying man! I put all his money into my account and then threw a check into his casket. Where he’s going- if he can cash it; he can have it!” Good for the wife, but don’t be sneaky!
Finally, do be like the new Jacob- i.e. “Israel” and never give up. Do you remember how the being who was wrestling with Jacob said to let him go? Jacob/Israel replied, “I will not let you go until you bless me!” God is waiting to bless you. Struggle for God’s Kingdom and stick with it. Never give up. Claim your blessing.