Thank you to all the faithful readers who have returned to these pages through the months of no new posts. My father passed away earlier this year, and my mother two years before that. It’s been a difficult transition losing both my parents, as I feel relatively young for this phase of life. And as new phases often do, this one brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings that drained my mental and spiritual energy.
Over the past several months, I have gone back time and again to the story of Jacob in the book of Genesis. A cheater, conniver and manipulator, Jacob had deceived his father and stolen his brother Esau’s birthright, and then run away. Over many subsequent years, he gained two wives through hard labor for a dishonest father-in-law, had many children and grown rich. Despite his flawed character, however, God stayed by Jacob’s side (remember his heavenly encounter in Bethel, which he called “the house of God, the gates of heaven,” Gen. 28: 13-22). Like the Christian bumper sticker says, God loved Jacob for who he was, but wouldn’t let him stay that way. Jacob changed over the course of time through hardship and pain, as well as joy.
Finally, in Genesis 32, Jacob’s past caught up with him. He knew his brother Esau was fast approaching, and he feared for his life as well as the lives of his family members. Jacob did not understand the concept of forgiveness; quite possibly there was a part of him that had never forgiven himself for what he’d done to his father and brother. Certainly, he didn’t understand God’s forgiveness. So one night, after sending waves of lavish gifts ahead of his caravan to Esau, he sent his family away to spare their lives, and spent the night alone.
But he wasn’t alone. The Scriptures tell us:
…a Man wrestled with him until the break of day. Now when He saw that He did not
prevail against Jacob, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip
was out of joint as He wrestled with him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel:
“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” —Genesis 32: 24-25, 30
I am not a theologian and don’t attempt to explain what is obviously a spiritual encounter of the highest magnitude. What I think is important to glean from this mysterious passage is that Jacob wrestled with a heavenly being (be it God Himself or an angel of the Lord), and in the words of the “Man”, Jacob prevailed.
Don’t think of ‘prevailed’ in the sense of a conquest. One never conquers over God or His angel! But we can wrestle with God and survive…still, we are never again the same. Any close encounter with the Almighty will leave us scarred but blessed, as wounds are reopened and cleansed, and renewal takes place.
A couple things happened to Jacob that night. He experienced forgiveness from God, when (I believe) he expected condemnation and destruction. His heart was permanently changed, along with his name. The next morning – having braced himself for days against his brother’s wrath – Jacob was met by a tearful Esau, who embraced him with love and acceptance.
Powerful stuff. But we serve a very powerful God. Do you feel forgiven today? Have you been an instrument of forgiveness in the lives of others? While God can redeem the past (Jacob’s life is proof of that!), there’s no better time than the present to experience God’s forgiveness, and share it with others.