Summary: We struggle or we don’t grow. Jacob gives us the keys for how to struggle (and how NOT to struggle).


(The view from my garden)

Wrestling with God

Genesis 32:1-27

Of all the mysteries I would like solved before I die, it is the one that says you must struggle if you are going to grow. Growth always means struggle in one form or another.

I struggled when I was a youth, trying to grow physically. I was aided immeasurably by being the younger of two brothers; we were indeed like Jacob and Esau. Every time Thom and I wrestled there was no chance in the universe that I would ever win; Thom was four years older and a foot and a half bigger. It was kind of like wrestling with God – Thom would hold back so I wouldn’t get really hurt, but I was going get “whupped,” no matter what else happened! That may have been one of the reasons I always had trouble believing that David actually beat Goliath!

As part of my childhood physical development, it helped to wrestle with my older brother, because pushing against the “rock and hard place” makes for strong muscles. If you only grapple with a weaker opponent you remain where you are. We all struggle as children, attempting to grow physically, emotionally, and intellectually. We grow when we struggle.

In Genesis 32 we find a man named Jacob who faced a lot of struggles as he grew to be the man God wanted him to be. Jacob left town in great disgrace -- I’m certain it had to be that he "slinked" out of town at night. It is also certain that aside from his mother, no one knew where he was headed. Jacob’s brother Esau was so mad at him that Jacob had to leave town in a hurry – just to survive; Esau swore that he would kill Jacob the next time he saw him.

Twenty years later we catch up with a more mature, but still-struggling Jacob; he is a man on the brink of returning to a home town he’d left long ago. It is a home town of which he is uncertain, a brother, now unknown, and a future fraught with danger and promise. The day before coming home, Jacob meets his future and past at a place called Jabbok…

1Jacob went on his way and the angels of God met him; 2and when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called that place Mahanaim. 3Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, 4instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now; 5and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves; and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”

6The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two companies, 8thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”

9And Jacob said, “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, and I will do you good,’ 10I am not worthy of the least of all the 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 companies. 11Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. 12Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’”

13So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” 17He instructed the foremost, “When Esau my brother meets you, and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ 18then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau; and moreover he is behind us.’” 19He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, 20and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” 21So the present passed on ahead of him; and he himself spent that night in the camp.

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