For the week of December 5, 2009 / 18 Kislev 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 32:4 - 36:43
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 - 12:12

Don't Let Go

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 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. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 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." (Bereshit / Genesis 32:24-28; ESV)

Last week we discussed how we may confuse acknowledging the existence of God with believing in God. Simply acknowledging his existence doesn't mean that we actually trust him.

The primary reason why Jacob went to the land of his ancestors was to escape the vengeful wrath of his twin brother, Esau. It would be about 20 years before he would have to face him again. As he and his large household were approaching his brother's territory on their way back to the land of Canaan, he heard that Esau, accompanied by 400 men, was on his way to meet him. We read, "Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed" (Bereshit / Genesis 32:7; ESV).

First, Jacob splits up his camp into two in the hope that if Esau attacks one group, the other may escape. The next thing he does is pray, which may have been his first time ever. An interesting prayer it was in that he refers to God as the God of his grandfather and the God of his father, but not his God. Then he organized three large droves of animals as gifts in the hope that this would appease his brother by the time he reached him. Then behind the droves he placed his family. Behind his family with a river in between, was he - as far away from Esau as possible - where he spent the night with his fear, alone. Yet he would not be alone.

It was in that place that God wrestled with him. When God could not prevail against him, he dislocated his hip, which would cause him to limp for the rest of his life. Then God told Jacob to let him go, but Jacob, true to his nature I guess, would not do so until this mysterious wrestler would bless him. And bless him he did with these words: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Bereshit / Genesis 32:28; ESV).

Jacob was changed. The next day as he saw Esau coming, he went right up to him ahead of his family, the fear and self preservation gone. No more schemes. No more striving. Everything turned out fine and the two brothers parted company. When he arrived in the land of Canaan, he built an altar as a testimony of his new personal trust in God.

Up until the time of Jacob's wrestling with God, Jacob depended on himself. While glad to be the recipient of God's blessings and promises, he determined to run his own life his own way. Perhaps God had tried to get Jacob's attention other times, but Jacob continued in his self reliance. Of course God was the one who was actually directing and caring for Jacob all that time, yet Jacob's heart remained far from God.

But when God came to him this time Jacob would not let him go. It might sound strange to hear of God asking to be released. God could have easily destroyed Jacob, let alone win the wrestling match. With a simple touch he dislocated Jacob's hip. Yet in spite of how painful that must have been, Jacob held on to God until he blessed him. At that point Jacob may not have fully understood what was going on, but God changed his heart.

I wonder how many times God comes to us in our times of need, seeking to engage us, but we ignore him. Or he comes to wrestle with us (however that may be), but we don't hold on to him. We give up too easily. He might hurt us. He might change us.

Until we allow God to have his way in our lives, we may find ourselves acknowledging him, but not really believing in him. It is in the midst of life's circumstances that God gives us the opportunity to really know him. And we will know him if we hold on to him and don't let go no matter what.

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