Hello, Scroll Eaters! An alternate, longer title for today’s post could be “Don’t Try to Out-Trick a Trickster, Especially When God’s Got His Back.”
Jacob is off to Haran where his uncle Laban lives, to find a wife from his clan. Jacob works for his uncle for a month, then asks him for Rachel in exchange for seven years work. Laban agrees, but pull the old switcheroo and gives him Leah instead. A modern reader may be confused, and even consider absurd, these events. In the ancient Near East, the custom was to enter the bridal tent, in the dark, and consummate the marriage. Sex was the first thing, then the wedding celebration would last a week! So, Jacob goes into the tent that night thinking he’s making love to the woman he loves, Rachel. Since there’s possible little to no talking going on, the ruse works. Rachel’s probably not even aware that this is happening! At dawn, Jacob of course realizes it’s Leah, and is righteously infuriated. Laban only says it’s wrong in their culture to marry off the younger daughter first, but if Jacob will keep Leah as his wife, at the end of the wedding week there will be a second wedding to Rachel, but it’ll cost seven more years of work. The trickster has been tricked! Jacob agrees, marries Rachel a week later and now has two wives – sisters and rivals, who begin an epic game of “one-upmanship.” God lets the least-loved have four sons, then the loved has two sons, then the least-loved realized she wasn’t having children anymore, so turns to surrogacy (again), offering her servant, then the loved does the same, and away we go. By then end of this accounting, Jacob has eleven sons and a daughter by four women.
Remember, Jacob has inherited the birthright of Esau and the blessings of Esau, and thus the covenant promises to Isaac. So Laban, who wasn’t exactly a prosperous man, has found himself significantly wealthy by the blessing “rubbing off” on him via Jacob’s stay there. Laban himself acknowledges this; he knows he’s been blessed by Jacob’s stay. So when Jacob decides it’s time to return home, Laban panics and wants him to stay. He offers him wages, and Jacob chooses the blemished goats and lambs only. Laban then secretly has his servants remove all the blemished ones and hide three days away. This is twice that Laban’s tricked the trickster, so God allows Jacob some tricky goat- and sheep-breeding, and then Jacob’s flock is bigger than Laban’s and he leaves with his family unannounced.
Jacob is heading home with his family. He left Isaac with nothing more than a walking stick, and is returning twenty years later with four wives, twelve children, dozens of servants, and enough animals that he has to break them into two camps before meeting Esau. Jacob realized how much God has blessed him while he was waiting alone for Esau. He was terrified. When he learned that Esau, whom he hadn’t seen in twenty years, was on his way to meet Jacob with 400 soldiers, Jacob thought he was going to be killed. So he sent his family and flocks off into two camps, pulled out many animals and servants and send them on ahead as gifts to appease Esau. I love how Jacob did this. He sent five different groups of animals, spaced apart. First was 200 female goats with twenty male goats. The servant was to give them to Esau and say “This is from Jacob, who is right behind us.” But Jacob wasn’t right behind them. Instead, a group of 220 lambs, then a group of over thirty camels, then a group of fifty cattle, then a group of thirty donkeys. Each time they said “This is from Jacob, who is right behind us.”
While Jacob was alone, waiting for Esau, a man suddenly arrived and started a fist fight. Imagine what that must be like. You’re alone in the wilderness, waiting on your brother who might want you dead, and a stranger approaches. You try to say hello, but he doesn’t respond. You are cautious, and as he gets closer you ask if he’s send from Esau. He still doesn’t reply. You’re getting concerned now, and then when he’s about fifteen feet away he suddenly breaks into a dead run and plows into you, you hit the ground and you start fighting. You have no idea who this man is or what he wants, but there’s no time to talk or think, you just fight – all night long. For all you know, it’s a fight for your life.
Jacob wrestles this man until daybreak, and finally has him beat. By now he’s realized that this man is no ordinary man, but the Angel of the Lord (we don’t have time here, but the “Angel of the Lord” is the pre-incarnate Second Person). Jacob has him pinned, and says he won’t let him go until he blesses him. I love what happens next. The angel, who’s been in physical contact with Jacob all night as they fought, simply touches his hip and it’s out of socket. Jacob limps for the rest of his life. It is Jacob’s mark that he has wrestled with God and prevailed. The angel blesses him and changes his name to Israel, which means “wrestles with God.”
Jacob is reunited with Esau, who has a family and vast treasures of his own, but instead of fighting, he’s forgiven Jacob and they are restored to great friendship and fellowship. Their descendants will fight, but Jacob and Esau do not.
The meditation for today needs to simply be this amazing symbol of Wrestling with God. Think about it: there’s never really any explanation given in Scripture as to why God did this. Why did he walk up and sucker-punch Jacob in the gut and tackle him? We don’t know explicitly, but we can infer. This can be viewed as what’s sometimes called an “enacted parable,” meaning a teaching lesson that’s shown, not spoken. Since his name becomes Israel, and later in Genesis he’ll be called Israel and his children will literally be “the children of Israel” and later in the Bible all his descendants, including all Christians, will be the children of Israel, what can we deduce here? As we’re spiritual descendants of Abraham, we’re also “Israel.” We are “wrestles with God.” Think about that: God names the people he’s chosen for himself “wrestles with God.” That’s not just a title; it’s a definition. To be a Christian is to wrestle with God.
For Tuesday, read Genesis 34-37.
The Lord bless you and keep you.