Wrestling Under the Moon {into the story}

Jacob was left alone, but a man wrestled with him until daybreak. {OT reading for the 24th week after Pentecost, Genesis 32:22-31}

It is not good to prevail when one is wrestling an angel.
{John Walton}

Such a strange story. Jacob embarks on the long trek home after his exile for stealing his brother Esau’s birthright when he receives word that Esau and his warriors are heading their way. Jacob fears the worst. Though decades have passed and both brothers have aged and secured their own wealth and powerful family-clans, Esau may still have a taste for revenge. No one loves like brothers, but no one hates like brothers too – it’s a sad theme of the human saga.

So late in the evening, Jacob sends his people across the river, with an elaborate, ingenious stratagem for how the family is to split up and how they are to meet Esau in waves and what they are to say with each encounter – all scripted, just as we would expect from one whose name means schemer. Jacob schemed to get his father Isaac’s blessing. Jacob schemed to snatch Esau’s birthright. Jacob schemed to secure the cattle he wanted from his father-in-law. Jacob was a schemer par excellence.

But now Jacob was alone, alone with his fears and the weight of his years maneuvering and plotting and working the angles. Jacob must have sensed everything crashing, unraveling. He’d put together his best plan – but Esau was stronger, more powerful. Esau’s warriors were men of the sword, and Jacob’s conniving efforts were futile if Esau decided on payback.

What do we do when our skill and ingenuity are spent, when there is nothing else we can do – and when all indicators point to the fact that our best effort simply won’t be enough?

Jacob sat alone, under the dim moonlight, when a figure leaps from the shadows. And an epic wrestling match ensues. At this moment in the story, we are told that Jacob is grappling with “a man,” but later we discover Jacob is actually wrestling God – or an angel sent by God which, though I have no experience in such things, I would imagine is (for us mortals) pretty much the same as wrestling God.

Jacob and the angel wrestled through the night, and Jacob, true to form, proved scrappy. He had spent his life fighting, and he wouldn’t go down easy. Only this time, Jacob couldn’t win. When the angel tired of the contest, the divine wrestler touched (only touched, a flick of the finger, as if to say, “Now, you didn’t really think you had a chance, did you?”) Jacob’s hip.

And Jacob was done. Incapacitated. Finished. All Jacob could do was hang on, as Buechner says, like a “man drowning.”

This is the moment all of us schemers must come to — the point where we are finished, worn out, exhausted. Drowning. So long as we are convinced we’ve got life by the scruff of the neck, we will scheme and manipulate and keep God a safe distance. At some point, though, if God is kind, God will wrestle us to the ground and hold us there until we cry “mercy!” Mercy is what God longs to give – but we have to receive it.

God will love us with mercy that heals or with mercy that hurts – but from God, it’s mercy all the same. In the wise word of George MacDonald: “There are victories far worse than defeats; and to overcome an angel too gentle to put out all his strength, and ride away in triumph on the back of a devil, is one of the poorest.”

7 Replies to “Wrestling Under the Moon {into the story}”

  1. Thank you, Austin, I think it may be a regular rhythm, even if not weekly. I enjoy the space to ponder the upcoming readings.

  2. I really like that painting – who is the artist? It was good to read this in the midst of my current wrestlings. I am in need of some of that sweet mercy.

  3. Hi, Lisa, it was good to meet you. I just got back tonight.

    Juli, it is Chris Cook (chriscookartist.com). Check out his stuff. I could use some sweet mercy too. I think I know where we can find it.

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