It’s over 20 years since Jacob had run away from home. We’ve been looking at the story of Jacob over the past three or four weeks. Jacob had bought, under very dodgy circumstances, his brother’s birthright. He then went on to steal his brother’s blessing. And what was the result of all of that? Well, very simply, his brother, Esau swore to kill him. And so Jacob had run for his life and had made his way to his uncle Leban and there he had married Rachel and Leah and had a large family, 11 sons and a daughter. Jacob was prospering.
20 years on, God comes to Jacob and says to him, Jacob, it’s time to go home. It’s time to return home. It’s time to go back to Esau. And I don’t know how you would’ve reacted if you would have received that message from the Lord, but I can imagine Jacob would have been filled with some anxiety. Go back to the brother that has vowed to kill you. Jacob obeys though, and he begins the journey back. It’s a journey of about 500 kilometers. And as he’s traveling, news comes to him that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.
Is Esau coming to throw a party? Is this a welcoming committee? I think Jacob concludes that Esau is coming out to fulfil his vow to kill him. And in Chapter 32 , 22 to 32, the reading that Tom brought us, this passage describes the night before Jacob meets Esau. Do you remember how you felt the night before your exams? Do you remember how you felt the night before you went to the dentist to have two teeth out? The night before you got married? The night before? We all know what that’s like. And so here is Jacob the night before he faces Esau. And could you just look at the passage with me? I’ve just noticed, how this is described for us. Verse 22. That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his 11 sons and crossed the ford of the Jabuk. And after he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. Verse 24. So Jacob was left alone. Do you picture it? Jacob is left completely alone. All of his possessions, all of his possessions have gone across the river, his wives, his children, everything has gone across the river. He’s on his own. He’s stripped bare.
And it’s pitch black. It’s dark, it’s night.
And out of the darkness Jacob is grabbed. He’s grabbed by two hands. Is it a contract killing? Has Esau contracted somebody to knock him off? Whatever it is, Jacob fights back. And we have as a result of that, this incredible story of Jacob wrestling – initially we’re told with a man – for the whole night. Pitch black so he can’t see, can’t see his face all he’s wrestling with is his physical body. We have this amazing story of Jacob wrestling. It’s mysterious, isn’t it? It’s intriguing. It’s slightly troubling as well. And as we read into the passage a little bit later on, we discovered this is not a contract killing. This is not an assassin. That in fact Jacob is wrestling with God. God has come. And Jacob ends up wrestling with him. Now, that shouldn’t surprise us because in the earlier chapters of Genesis, we already see how God comes in physical form. So Adam and Eve in the garden. God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. Hagar, Abraham and Sarah. God comes on numerous occasions in the book of Genesis to his people in physical form. And so perhaps Jacob had those stories in his mind and perhaps as this wrestling match goes on, the penny begins to drop. This is no mere man. Perhaps I’m actually wrestling with God. And the story comes to a climax where Jacob is wounded, he’s wounded by God. And the story then shifts. There’s a transition from this is a wrestling match to Jacob refusing to let go. There’s this transition in the story, and we’ll think about that in a moment’s time. Where this transition from Jacob defending himself, resisting God, trying to get caught away from him to this point where Jacob is saying, I’m not letting go. That’s a very important transition in the story.
That’s why I want us to think about two things tonight. I want us to think about reshaping and renaming. Because at the end of this story, Jacob, gets a new name. So reshaping and renaming. And then the second thing I want us to think about this evening, is blessed to be a blessing. Jacob gets blessed, but it’s not just for him. So I want to think about those two things briefly today. Because what God is doing in Jacob’s life, I want to suggest you tonight, God is doing in all of our lives. What God is doing in Jacob’s life in Genesis 32 he’s doing in all of our lives. So here’s the first thought, reshaped and renamed. If you have a look at a verse 24 in the English, we don’t quite, we don’t quite get this in the English. It says, so Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him. In the Hebrew, I’m not a Hebrew scholar, I understand this. Is that what it literally says in the Hebrew is that a man Jacobed with him. A man, Jacobed with Jacob. The name Jacob means to wrestle. It means to grab, it means to grapple with and so a man comes and Jacobs with Jacob. A man comes and wrestles with Jacob. It’s a play on words because at this point in the passage we want to be, we’re being reminded of the fact that, Jacob’s life has been a life of wrestling. It’s been a life of grappling, a life of grasping for things. So Jacob has been someone presented to us who is always trying to get the upper hand. Someone who’s jockying for position. Somebody who is trying to find an advantage. Somebody who wants to steal a march.
That’s how Jacob was presented to us in this story. And what Jacob has been doing to others, Esau and Laban in particular, is now being done to him. A man came and Jacobed with Jacob. Here’s the question and I think this is the question being drawn out by this particular passage. The question is, who has Jacob been wrestling with all his life? Who has Jacob been wrestling with all his life? Jacob was a child who wanted to be someone else. Did that ever happen to you? Did you ever want to be someone else as a kid? He wanted to be Esau in fact. That’s who Jacob wanted to be. He wanted to be his elder brother. Do you remember Jacob was born holding on to Esau’s heel. He, under very dodgy circumstances, bought Esau’s birthright. He stole Esau’s blessing.
And when his blind father asked him the question, who are you? Jacob replied, I am Esau your firstborn. Jacob was a child who wanted to be someone else. Jacob was a child who wanted to be his big brother. Why? Because his big brother was the first born. That’s what Jacob wanted to be. Why? Because Esau was strong. He was mature. He was a hunter and above all else, he was his father’s favourite. Jacob grew up wanting to be Esau. There was a French anthropologist. He’s dead now, called him René Girard, and he developed this idea, which he called the mimetic theory and it goes something like this. In his observations of people, he noticed that people who struggled with a sense of identity, people who were not confident of their own identity, consciously or unconsciously found someone they wanted to be and began to mimic them.
And he talked about the impact that that had upon them, but also the people close to them. People who struggled with a sense of confidence in who they were, often mimic someone else, the person that they wanted to be like. I don’t know whether I’ve asked you already that question. As a child, was there someone that you wanted to be? As an adult have you ever experienced the same temptation? I would just love to be like you. I’d love your life.
I’m not comfortable with myself and I’m not comfortable in my own skin and I would like to be like you. If you are, then can I suggest to you that you’re not on your own? It’s interesting that in our culture, our 21st century culture today, identity plays a massive part. So we, we hear today about people who self identify. We hear about identity politics and that’s why this passage is so prophetic for our day because in this passage what we see, as God wrestles with Jacob, what is happening is that Jacob is actually being shifted away from this life of wanting to be Esau, this identity that was rooted in Esau, that God is shifting Jacob away from that and actually rerouting Jacob’s identity. That Jacob’s identity is no longer I want be my big brother. That Jacob’s identity is actually an identity in God.
Isn’t it fascinating? In verse 27 do you see there, verse 27 do you see the question that Jacob is asked? What’s the question? Anybody see it there? The man asked him, what is your name? And the last time Jacob was asked that question, he said Esau. What does he say now? Jacob. You see the shift and at the end of the passage, Jacob is actually renamed. He’s renamed Israel. He gets a new name. He gets a new identity. I want to suggest to you to this evening that actually this is a significant part of God’s work in all of our lives. Do you know what? Jacob is 62 in this passage. You would think by 62 he knew who he was. But the reality is that even at 62 you can still struggle with your sense of identity
And maybe at 72 and maybe at 82. I suggest to you that actually no matter what age we may find ourselves at what age and stage in life, there are times when we struggle with that question, who are you? And God is answering that for Jacob in our passage. And so we see God asking Jacob who are you? Because that’s the question of your life, Jacob. That’s the question that you’ve been wrestling with all your life. So tell me who you are you? And Jacob says, I am Jacob. I am the grappler. I’m the wrestler, I’m the grasper. I’m the cheat. And God says to Jacob, no, you’re not. You are Israel. God’s giving Jacob a new identity. And there is this transitional moment where, and it’s the moment where’ Jacob is wounded by God. They’re wrestling. God dislocates Jacob’s hip. God wounds Jacob. And it’s in the wounding that the penny drops for Jacob. And it goes from Jacob wrestling with God to Jacob clinging onto God. And God says to Jacob, let me go. And Jacob says to God, I will not let you go. Verse 26 then the man said, let me go for it is daybreak. But Jacob replied, I will not let you go unless you bless me. And it’s gone from this wrestling, pushing God away, trying to get free of God to I’m not letting you go. I am refusing to let you go unless you bless me. Now what’s going on there? I think this is what’s going on. That Jacob in that moment is suddenly realizing that for all his life what he has sought has been the affirmation and the validation of his father Isaac. He wanted to be his father’s favourite. And he realizes in this moment that the only true validation of someone comes from God. And Jacob has for all his life sought to find someone who will love him. And he thought that he’d found that in Rachel his wife, and he’s in this moment, he suddenly realized that actually the source of true love is not Rachel, but it’s God. And for Jaocob, for all his life. He’s wanted someone to bless him and that’s why he wanted to steal it from his brother. But in that moment of wounding, Jacob realizes that the source of true blessing isn’t to steal it from someone else. It’s to receive it from God.
In that moment, Jacob realizes that God is the source of true validation, true love. That God is the source of true blessing. And that’s why Jacob says to God, I’m not letting you go. When our son was born on the 15th of September, 1998, we called him Jacob. And he’s 20 years old now and he’s a big lad, he’s much taller than I am. He probably could put me over his back and carry me now. Phil Corrigan, he was a pastor of a church in Belfast, Belfast city vineyard, wrote Jacob, our newborn, a letter and he and his wife said that they had a prayer for Jacob and the prayer for my son would be this, that my son would not let go of God until God blessed him. And I think that’s just a beautiful attitude for all of us, not just my son and not just Jacob from Genesis, but for all of us that we say to our heavenly father, I’m not letting you go unless you bless me because you are the source of love. You are the source of validation. You’re the source of true blessing. I’m clinging onto you.
Just a tiny tangent and then we’ll get back on track. We’re nearly finished. I wonder whether it makes you feel uncomfortable, and I guess it ought to make us all feel uncomfortable at the thought of God wounding Jacob. I think that should make us all feel uncomfortable. The song we just signed “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me. “
It’s got a lovely little tune, doesn’t it? A very nice tune, but have you looked at the words? Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. That’s lovely, isn’t it? Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me. And then what comes next? Make me. Some versions of this song are a little bit more courageous. They say, break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. There should’ve been a warning, actually a health warning before we had sung this. This little chorus. Did I mean that when I prayed that song? Break me, make me, melt me, mold me?
We have a God who is willing to wound us in order to bless us. Tim Keller says this. God out of love becomes the enemy of our old self. God out of love becomes the enemy of our pride. God out of love becomes the enemy of the wicked me. And he brings me to weakness in order to heal me. And, and I’m suggesting that that’s not an easy thought to reflect on this evening. But I wonder at times whether my pride, Clive Atkinson’s pride is so strong, that the old Clive Atkinson is so strong that actually sometimes God has wound me in order to heal me. Reshaped and renamed. Finally, and this is, this last thought is a quick thought. Is that Jacob was reshaped and renamed. He was blessed in order to be a blessing to others. The promise that God gave to Abraham and Isaac – grandfather, father now to Jacob, is that Jacob’s descendants not only would be a blessing to themselves, but they would be a blessing to all nations. And so what God is doing in Jacob right now is actually not just for Jacob, It’s for everyone.
And, and I find that quite comforting that whatever the making and the breaking and the melting in the molding is in me, it’s not just for me, but that God would make me into someone who would be a blessing to others. If I’ve told this story before, would you forgive me and look surprised. If this is the first time, then that’s good. My brother in law, his name is Ronnie Cartmel and he’s a magnificent man. Ronnie’s now in his 60’s probably the same age as Jacob in our story. And Ronnie is married to my Gillian, who is quite a remarkable woman. Ronnie was a member of the police force in Northern Ireland during the 70s and the 80s. If you knew anything about Northern Irish history, you’ll realize that being a police officer in Northern Ireland during that time was exceptionally dangerous.
And he experienced losing colleagues, durng the troubles and the main way in which Ronnie coped with that trauma was through alcohol. And he became an alcoholic. It was well hidden. And so when my sister married him, it wasn’t something that was dominating his life, but the older that he got, the less able he was to deal with the trauma that he was experiencing. And it got to a stage – they had two boys at that stage – that it was either going to be separation or Ronnie had to face what he was going through. And eventually he said yes, and he went into to rehab and in rehab he managed to face the pain of his trauma. He came out, he got involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and he rediscovered his faith, his childhood faith and returned to the Lord. I visited them in February again and I have to say he is one of the people, one of the men in my life who I admire the most. He’s been dry now for well over 20 years. That experience transformed him. It was a blessing to him. But that transformation in his life was not only a blessing to him, it was a blessing to his marriage. They have a fantastic marriage and it wasn’t just a blessing to their marraige but it was a blessing to their two boys who grew up with a father who faced his alcoholism and has beaten it.
They are blessed as a consequence. So whatever the Lord is doing in your life right now, whatever, making and melting and molding, he may do to you. Can I just encourage you today, tonight, can I encourage you? Because that may be difficult. It may be a wrestling match right now. It may be painful. You may feel that you’re being wounded, but what the Lord is doing in you today can have such a blessing upon those around you. And reshaped, renamed, finding our identity in God and being blessed not just for ourselves, but being blessed for those around us. So Genesis 32 describes a God who’s at work in us, how God wants to shift our center of gravity our center of identity away from unhealthy things, from the Esaus’ of life into himself. And he does that so that he can bless us and by blessing us, bless others.