It was an encounter that forever changed my life (Gen 31-32).
Ever since I can remember I’ve known that I was destined for greatness. When I was a kid, not a day went by that my mom didn’t remind me that God had marked me out for a special purpose. And while that purpose wasn’t entirely clear as a kid, I knew it had something to do with my grandfather and the legacy that he passed down to my dad. I also knew that it was not good news for my older brother…although we were twins, he still narrowly beat me out of the womb. And as the older brother, he had the obvious right to all that belonged to my grandfather and father through his birthright and the expected blessing that would be bestowed on him by my father, including this unbelievable covenant with God. That was going to be a problem. Somehow I had to get my hands on both the birthright and the blessing.
So as time went by, I waited and looked for opportunities to gain the advantage over my brother. Now my brother was an excellent hunter; but he was never particularly bright, so acquiring the birthright was a snap. The blessing, however, was more difficult…mainly because it involved deceiving my dad.
The idea was actually my mom’s. She knew that my dad intended to bless my brother, and it looked like my chances of realizing the destiny that she had promised me were in jeopardy. A plan was hatched and pulled off to perfection, and I left my father’s tent with his blessing. Only when my older brother returned to meet with my dad did my dad find out that I had tricked him. I felt bad about it, but it would be a small price to pay for greatness.
My brother was fuming mad, so my mother sent me to stay with her brother and find a wife among her relatives. On the way there, I met the most beautiful girl I had ever seen and found out she was my cousin, my mother’s brother’s daughter! I fell in love, and agreed to work for my uncle for the right to marry her. Seven years seemed like only a few days, but then I learned something about my uncle that I had somewhat expected…he wrote the book on deception. He tricked me into marrying his eldest daughter, and then for another seven year stint, he allowed me to marry the girl of my dreams. Fourteen years. Then he asked me to stay on to tend his flocks. We determined my wages, and I turned the tables on him. Six years later I was the master of most of his livestock, and it was clearly time to go.
My family and I fled from my uncle, but he caught up to us. We had words, but parted in peace. Now it was time to reenter the land that had been promised to my family by God. I remember when I left the land, I saw a vision of angels ascending and descending and called the place Bethel. Now as I neared the border, I again saw angels. Preparing to meet my brother, I sent a gift to try and dissuade him from taking retribution on me. I had planned to spend the night alone, but I encountered a stranger and wrestled through the night. As the day was dawning, he tried to pull away, but I wouldn’t let him. Then he touched my thigh, and all my strength left me. I clung to him and asked him to bless me. He asked my name…curious. I told him, and he gave me a new name, saying that I had wrestled with men and with God and had prevailed. What! At that moment, I knew that somehow the man I had been wrestling with was God! And I named the place Peniel (face of God) and limped away.
Reflecting back on that episode I realized something. That wrestling match was a metaphor for my life up to that point. Even though God had promised great things for me, I always felt the need to fight for myself. I had lived up to my name, “heel grabber” (Jacob). All my life I had been grabbing the heel of my brother, my father, my uncle and of God. But God changed my name, and my outlook changed as well. My new name was “God fights” (Israel). And now God would be the one who would fight for me. The ironic thing is, He had been fighting for me all along, but I never realized it. Twenty plus years of struggling to make things happen for myself…broken relationships, lies, deception…but now a new chapter. And my prayer for you this new year is that you will cease striving and recognize that God is the one who wants to fight for you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a role to play in the working out of His design, His destiny for your life. But it does mean that you need to trust Him with all your heart and not yourself, acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths.
Until next time…stay salty.