Friday, September 4, 2015

All Things New: Israel, the 'Face the Music' Road, part 2

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

When we last left our hero, he was standing on the shore of the Jabbok, having just sent the last of his family and possessions across.

And then what has always seemed to me to be one of the strangest events recorded in the Bible takes place:

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak -- (Gen. 32:24; NIV 84 on hand today).

The narrative in Genesis is extremely abbreviated in places, just conveying the most pertinent information. This is one of those places.  There was more to the story...much more, I'm sure...that Jacob never told a soul.  Where the man encountered him...what passed between them...why they wrestled.  I kinda think it was something Jacob didn't understand himself...something he kept private for the sheer awe of it.  But, as that encounter left him limping for the rest of his life, he had to tell something of the story.

So all we have recorded is that a man suddenly was there in the wilderness and they wrestled until daybreak.

Perhaps Jacob had seen him approaching as he sent the last of his goods over the river and remained behind for the purpose of engaging the man to keep him away from his family and belongings.  Perhaps he had stayed behind to spend the night in prayer again and suddenly found himself confronted with someone who could not give a credible account of himself...and Jacob was alarmed and wrestled with him rather than run the risk of having him go tell Esau that Jacob was alone on the far side of the Jabbok.

We just do not know what the context of the wrestling match was...but we do know that Jacob was determined to win.  Even after having his hip put out of socket, Jacob would not let go of the man and let him go free unless he blessed him...which may have been synonymous with promising to do him no harm.  They took those things seriously; if the man pronounced him blessed, Jacob may have reasoned that he would not be likely to act contrary to that blessing and so bring judgement on himself.

Jacob received more than a blessing; he received a new identity.  No longer would he be known as 'heel grasper' ...he would now be known as 'He struggles with God'.  Jacob didn't really start using that name until it was confirmed to him later, but after he let the man go he stumbled across the brook, limping, exhausted, but strangely exhilarated...I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.

If he had not only survived a meeting with God but had been blessed as well -- what could he possibly fear from his brother's hand?  It was a massive paradigm shift, and Jacob/Israel was still processing it once he got across the water and saw Esau and his army approaching.

There was no time now to decide what to do next; he just had to go with his first instincts.  Quickly he put the children with their mothers and lined them up...servant and their children first, then Leah and her children and lastly Rebekah and Joseph.  Then Jacob/Israel turned his face towards his brother and began limping towards him, bowing to the ground a total of seven times as he approached to show his brother honor.

This was it.  The watershed moment.  Esau would either kill him and his family...or not.

I think he was shocked when Esau ran up to him, threw his arms around him and began to weep.  His fear and dread washed away with relief as he realized his brother did not hold the old injury against him and he wept with relief and joy.   The 400 men blinked at the array of women and children they'd come against.  Esau may have very well assumed that Jacob was coming back with arms to assert his rights to the inheritance and was himself surprised that there was no army, no showdown...only a lot of livestock and ordinary folks.

When the initial flood of relieved tears had subsided, Esau looked up and asked who the women and children were.  Jacob/Israel introduced them in turn, and they all came and bowed to their kinsman.

Then Esau asked him about the droves of animals he had met, and tried to convince Jacob that he really didn't need them... I have already have plenty, my brother.  Keep what you have for yourself. (Gen 33: 9).

Jacob/Israel insisted, however, If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me.  For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.  Please accept the present that was brought to you; for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.' (vs. 10 - 11).

Eventually, Esau relented and accepted the gifts his brother had sent ahead.  He wanted Jacob/Israel to come to Edom with him, but Jacob declined, reasonably stating that he had herds and flocks and women with children and would not be able to travel fast.  Esau wanted to leave some of his men with them, but Jacob also declined that, saying he just wanted Esau's good will.

They agreed that Jacob would eventually come to Seir, and Esau and his posse turned around and headed home.

Now, Jacob/Israel had faced and gone through the second confrontation that he had feared on his journey home, and he was finally his own man with no threat hanging over him.  He took his herds and family to Shechem, and bought a plot of ground within sight of the city.

There he built an altar to the Lord and called it El Elohe Israel...'God, the God of Israel'.

It was a new day.

What is the thing I fear most?  How can I confront that and move through it to the other side?  How will I embrace the changes God will bring about in that process?

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