Friday, October 10, 2008

Jacob and the Persevering Love of God

"Jacob is a particularly important patriarch because he was the father of the chosen people, who came to be known as 'the children of Jacob' or ' children of Israel'. He is introduced in the Old Testament narrative, however, as a man who knew God's promises but could not trust him to keep them, so that he took things into his own hands to engineer their fulfillment. First he tricked Esau in Canaan. Then in Paddan Aram (Mesopotamia) he and his brother-in-law Laban spent their time deceiving one another. Jacob was more a schemer than a believer.

Now, on his return from Paddan Aram, we realize that 'Jacob was left alone' (Genesis 32:24). Yet God refused to leave him alone. He came to him in his aloneness. That night Jacob met God in a decisive and transforming encounter. It was in two stages.

First God wrestled with Jacob. We know that it was God (a theophany) because Jacob later called the place Peniel, meaning 'the face of God'. God wrestled with him in order by love to conquer him and continued the struggle until daybreak without success. Then when he 'saw that he could not overpower him' (v. 25), God touched and dislocated his thigh. A single touch of the divine finger was enough; Jacob surrendered. With us too God begins gently and perseveres in love. But if we still resist, he resorts to more drastic measures until he touches and breaks us.

In the second stage the wrestlers change place, and Jacob wrestles with God. 'Let go,' God said, but Jacob responded, 'I will not let you go until you bless me' (v. 26). It is as if Jacob said to God, 'You promised to bless Abraham, my father Isaac, and me. Now fulfill your promise and bless me!' So 'he blessed him there' (v. 29). God wrestles with us in order to break down our stubbornness; we wrestle with God in order to inherit his promises."
—John Stott

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