First Lesson: Genesis 32: 22-31
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5
Second Lesson: Romans 9: 1-5
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14: 13-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was young, I was a huge fan of professional wrestling. One of the great thrills of my childhood was attending matches at the Target Center where I got to stand about three feet away from Hulk Hogan as he marched to the ring to Rick Derringer’s “Real American." There was no more exciting thing in the world when you were 11 years old than when Hulk Hogan was able to body-slam someone who had a listed weight of well over 400 lbs. There was nothing more exciting than seeing Hogan conquering a seemingly unconquerable foe.
Hulk Hogan leads us into an interesting question for this morning “what if someone an average Jake who lacked the muscles of Hulk Hogan was able to wrestle against seemingly the most unconquerable foe of all and live to tell about it?” Our Bible story for today centers around the idea of wrestling against God, and it centers on the person of Jacob.
Jacob’s story begins about twenty years before our lesson. Jacob had a twin brother named Esau. I should tell you a little bit about Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first brother out of the womb. Esau was a man’s man. Esau was a rugged hunter. Esau probably had more muscles than anybody in the whole land. Esau probably had a manly beard like one of the guys on Duck Dynasty. Esau was the type of guy who probably would eat a three-pound steak in a single setting then polish it off with a gallon of whole, raw milk. Esau if he lived today would have loved football, monster trucks, drinking beer, and professional wrestling. Esau on account of his manliness was the apple of his father’s eyes.
And then you had Esau’s brother Jacob. Jacob was quite a bit different from Esau. Jacob didn’t like getting his hands dirty. Jacob liked spending time with his mom in the kitchen. Jacob probably had about as much facial hair as a twelve year old boy. If Jacob were alive today, he would probably love drinking wine and wearing skinny jeans.
These brothers tended not to get along the best. Jacob had been jealous of Esau his whole life for what he was about to receive. Esau was going to receive his father’s “birthright." What Esau receiving the birthright means is upon Esau and Jacob’s father Isaac’s death that Esau was going to be rolling in it. Esau was going to have twice as much money as Jacob, twice as much land, twice as many flocks. Esau was going to be the big man in all the land of Canaan. Jacob knew this and Jacob was jealous of it all.
Esau though had a weakness; he was arrogant. Esau thought that he was pretty hot stuff even if he didn’t have the birthright. Jacob used Esau’s weakness to his advantage.
One day Jacob is cooking in the kitchen when Esau comes marching in from the field. Esau demanded something to eat. Jacob said he would feed Esau as long as he sold him his birthright. This offer would have seemed outrageous, an evening meal in exchange for great riches. Esau in a moment of foolishness went along with Jacob’s demands.
All Jacob had to do for his swindle to be complete was to receive his father Isaac’s blessing. Jacob knew that Isaac would not go along with his favorite son’s foolish decision. So Jacob decided that he needed to take advantage of his father. Jacob was going to trick his father into receiving the birthright. Jacob killed an animal, and then covered his arms with hair so that he could pretend to be his brother Esau to receive his father’s blessing. Jacob takes advantage of his father’s blindness by marching into his room claiming that he was his brother Esau, stealing his brother’s blessing and now Jacob’s swindle of Esau out of his father’s inheritance was complete. So to recap Jacob’s behavior to this point in the story he lied to his blind father and cheated his brother out of their possessions. Esau was so furious about this that he threatens to kill Jacob. Jacob then flees as far away from Esau as he could be.
Esau and Jacob would not encounter each other for twenty years. In the meantime, Jacob had gone to live with an uncle named Laban. Laban and Jacob were both cunning and made for each other. Laban got Jacob to agree to work for him for seven years to get his beautiful daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage. Only for Jacob’s wedding night, Laban pulls a fast one on him by sending his undesirable daughter Leah into Jacob’s bed instead. Jacob, the con-man, had been conned. Jacob would not stop though; Jacob agrees to work for Laban for another seven years finally marrying Rachel. Don’t worry about Jacob though. Jacob got his revenge on Laban. Jacob tricked Laban into giving him all of his spotted, diseased livestock, only for Jacob to develop a breeding technique which made the spotted livestock healthy, thus making Jacob into a very rich man. Now twenty years later, Jacob wanted to return home with all his possessions. Jacob figured it was time for him to enjoy the benefits of his father’s inheritance. Only one big problem stood in the way. The problem’s name was Esau.
So Jacob being Jacob started to think about how to outsmart Esau once again. Jacob at first sends messengers to spy on Esau, yet when Jacob hears back from the messengers he finds out Esau has 400 men to fight alongside him. Jacob was still looking for ways to avoid his brother. So Jacob then decides like the conniving coward that he had been his entire life that he was going to send his wives in two separate parties across the river into the Land of Canaan, hoping to let half his party along with Jacob escape. Jacob’s schemes were going him safe from Esau at least for the night. The night of Jacob’s supposed safety was going to change his life forever.
In the middle of the night, a man comes out of nowhere to begin to wrestle with Jacob. Jacob didn’t know who the man was at first. As Jacob begins to wrestle, he doesn’t follow his normal course of action; Jacob doesn’t make excuses or try to escape. Jacob for the first time in his life chooses to face the problem before him. In this encounter, Jacob was taken to the darkest places in his life. Jacob on this night was finally forced to confront the past twenty years of scheming that had led him to this moment. The wrestler reveals to Jacob on this night that he had wrestled with God. Jacob wrestled with God so he may receive God’s blessing. This encounter changed Jacob as he ultimately saw God face to face.
When the story says a “man wrestled with Jacob until dawn.” What we must remember is that dawn in a biblical passage is the signal of a man undergoing an epic encounter in one’s life that will change them forever.
We hear the story of Jacob wrestling with God and don’t know what exactly to make of it. We wonder what such a scene might look as within our own lives.
In 1997, Robert Duvall starred in a movie called The Apostle. Duvall played Sonny a Pentecostal preacher who like Jacob had his share of character defects. Sonny was a womanizer, whose wife Jessie played by Farrah Fawcett grew tired of his act then proceed to run off with his church’s youth minister much to Sonny’s dismay. Sonny’s failures to win her back fail. Sonny’s congregational elders side with his wife in the dispute and show him the door. Sonny then proceeds to snap at one of his kid’s softball games and savagely beats his wife’s boyfriend with a baseball bat into a coma. Sonny then proceeds to become an outlaw much like Jacob. Sonny stays with his Momma hiding out from the law, no different then Jacob hiding out from Esau leading to the film’s greatest scene.
Sonny snaps at God for his life ending up so wayward. Sonny begins to yell at God for taking his wife, and stealing church. Sonny yells at God for answers wanting to know if it was God or the Devil messing with him like this. All Sonny wants from God is peace. Sonny’s previous few weeks finally cause him to break down as he yells out “Lord I know that I’m a sinner, and I’m a womanizer, yet what should I do Lord, what should I do, so that you blow this pain out of me?”(The Apostle)
This scene was beautiful because like Jacob’s wrestling it paints the tale of a messed up preacher putting it all on the line. Sonny wrestled with God, lived to tell about it, and that Sonny realized that God’s forgiveness was even more powerful than our greatest sin.
Richard Hays describes this passage best when he says the message of Genesis 32 is that if we are transferred from darkness to light then God is going to have to wrestle with us in the darkness. We cannot see God any other way. Those who wrestle with God in the midst of their darkest hours will ultimately change before the dawn.
This idea of Jacob wrestling with God all night seems rather silly to us. We wonder what would be the point of a human prevailing against God in a wrestling match?
Pastor Nathan Asseng tells the following story, a number of years ago in Iowa there was a wrestling match between Ogden High and Humboldt High. “Humboldt had a senior wrestler on the team with Down syndrome”. The kid with Down syndrome possessed no physical threat to any other wrestler. “But the coaches asked if anyone on the opposing team would at least give the boy a chance to get out on the mat”.
A wrestler from Ogden High offered to take him on. The Ogden wrestler not only wrestled him for entire six minutes, but allowed the boy with Down syndrome to beat him on points. He gave this kid, not only the ability to compete, but even more graciously the opportunity to raise his hands in victory. “At the end of this match, both wrestlers got a standing ovation, and as you can imagine, there was hardly a dry eye in the house”.
In the midst of Jacob’s greatest challenge, God sought to touch Jacob. God did not punish Jacob for every decision that he had made for the last twenty years leading to that moment. God instead takes down Jacob so that he was never going to be the same ever again. Jacob’s life from this moment forward was no longer going to be defined by his cowardliness, cheating, or manipulating. Jacob was instead going to go forward with the promise that his God would not be distant from his everyday struggles.
What happens to Jacob and Esau? Jacob after being wounded by God has a newly found courage, the same type of courage that the disciples find after they encounter the risen lord. So, Jacob the next day rushes all of all his men finally to face Esau on the front line of battle. Yet as soon as Jacob sees Esau a shocking outcome occurs. Esau runs forward, puts Jacob in a beat hug then Esau the manly man begins weeping over his reunion with Jacob, only for Jacob to break down shortly thereafter along with him. As Jacob reentered the Land of Canaan after twenty years away he was no longer the spoiled brat who had left it twenty years before. Jacob was instead ready to be the Father of a great nation.
What we reminded of this morning as we hear Jacob’s story is a reminder of the nature of God. How God stuck beside Jacob for reasons that we are not able to fathom. God is not the terrifying presence that Jacob saw Esau being. We receive a reminder how we wrestle with God nearly every single day of our lives. Many of us have thrown everything that we possibly could at God from anger to doubt to despair to even cursing his name. Our God will not abandon us in the wilderness; our God will wrestle us through the darkest moments of our lives, to bring us safely forth to the dawn. Amen
 Genesis 25:27
 Genesis 25:28
 Genesis 25:27
 Genesis 25:28-29
 Genesis 27:11
 Genesis 25:30
 Genesis 25:31
 Genesis 25:32-33
 Genesis 27:15-16
 Genesis 27:18-29
 Genesis 27:41-45
 Genesis 28:1-5
 Genesis 29:1-20
 Genesis 30:25-43
 Genesis 32:7
 Genesis 32:8
 Genesis 32:24
 Genesis 32:25
 Genesis 32:28
 Genesis 32:30
 This scene can be found at You Tube- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5v5DOEF45E
 Hays, Richard. “Limping and praising”. Faith & Leadership. 14.Apr.2009. Web. July.28.2014
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”. Working Preacher. 18.Dec.2007.Web. July 28.2014
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”.
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”.
 Aaseng, Nathan. “Wrestling with God”.
 Genesis 33:4