My Jabbok, my border experience which will become a blessing Genesis 32, 22-31
Dear Congregation, with today’s tellling from Jacob’s fight at the Jabbok, we will complete the readings about Jacob which we have heard during the past few Sundays. This also ends the little sermon series about Jacob, which Stefan and I have offered. Today it is about Jacob again and about a flight. A fight between Jacob and a „man“. It is about a victory prize for this fight and it is also about a blessing. This time not about a surrepititious but about a fought victory.
I think that the these are the deciding questions about the story:
Who is this „man“?
What kind of a fight is taking place here? And which blessing has been Jacob been promised?
Let’s begin with the first question: who is this man?
Where does he come from? So suddenly? Why does he have a problem with dawn? How strong/weak is this man, that Jacob wrestles with him the entire night and which magical powers does he have that he can wrench Jacob’s hip just by touching it?
Is it a demon, a normal person, an angle or even God? Or is it perhaps something else?
It could be a demon because he is apparently afraid of the sun. Just like a vampire which turns into dust. And why should Jacob take a blessing from a demon? What can one expect? What does the demon have to offer that could be of use to me? I do not think that it was a demon.
A person? Just like you and me?
I doubt that on some night, at some spot along the 65km long Jabbok River, that someone is hanging around curious to fight Jacob. Jacob, a person, who has already brought his entire possessions across the river and it just alone on the bank.
I also do not believe this.
Was it an angel, was it perhaps God?
Naturally, God can make himself so weak that others can nail him on the cross. Or that someone, like Jacob, can fight through the night with him. I can imagine this. But doesn’t it say in Moses (2.Mos 33,20): „for no man can see my face nor be alive“. This again speaks for an angel, but can one attack an angel? Can the name of the place, Penial – God’s face – be taken literally?
Honestly, I doubt it.
I especially doubt, that one can force God to bless a person. „I will not let you go, if you do not bless me.“ Can a person stand up to God like this? Are blessings simply available? Are they not something that can only be given?
If I look at this whole picture with the impossible form of this man’s appearance, then I come to the conclusion that perhaps this is Jacob himself.
Better put: something that is inside of Jacob, that is stuck in him, a part of him.
Who this „man“ is leads to the inevitable question, what is being fought here.
It is important to examine again the place, the river. Jabbok , the border river. The border between home and foreign. The border between Esau and Jacob. The border between „your life“ and „my life“. The border between „here I am“ and „there you are“. Do you dare to cross this border?
Do you still know what you did to me 20 years ago, Jacob?
Here on Jabbok you encountered God, you saw the ladder to Heaven and received the generous promise: „Look, I am in you, I protect you, whereever you go, and bring you back to this land.“
But I, your brother Esau, come towards you with 400 men. Four hundred men, that is not a normal welcoming committee, that is a horde. That is a small army which can melt down some things.
What is this fight at Jabbok?
Perhaps it can be looked at the way in which Philipp Greifenstein describes:
„Whoever is drawn to Jabbok, wants to make a decision. Whoever goes wants to return, go home again, wants forgiveness and reconciliation. Whoever goes wants to make peace with someone whom he/she has injured. Make peace with oneself and ones own way.
Whoever is drawn to Jabbok wants clarity and honesty. They do not want to be called Jacob, the liar, anymore.
Whoever is drawn to Jabbok, wants to repent, wants to apologize because they cannot take the fighting in the night anymore.“ End of quotation.
If this fight at the Jabbok is viewed as an internal fight, like Jacob fighting with his fears, his worries, his guilt and his past, than I find that many of the images make sense.
Then I can better understand the night, the hint about dawn and the demanding, the „forced“ blessing.
This matches our own experience in which we are more susceptable to our worries and fears during the night. Theres a fight, a match.
During the day we can distract ourselves, there are other people around us. But in the night, it is still, we are alone and many fears and worries show their power at night.
These powers become weaker with the onset of dawn, they want to be freed. To be freed so that they can come again another time, in another night, at another time.
This is the point where Jacob says, „no“.
„I will not let you go if you do not bless me.“
One could say it another way: I, Jacob, am tired of being surrounded by my fears and having to fight. Now, here on the border river, Jabbok, I want a decision. And a good decision. I want to be able to have lasting trust of a good promise which I connect with this border river. My fears have to be changed. I would like to be blessed again.
This change, this new certainty which is demanded here, finds itself expressed in the new name that Jacob receives: Israel.
A new name. A new identity A new beginning.
Jacob the liar, the cheater, mommy’s boy, the courageous, the refugee, the deceived – all that we have heard about Jacob is now history.
This stops at the Jabbok River.
Starting here the name Jacob is still being used but Jacob has become Israel. „Founding father of God’s people, whose descendents will be so numerous like dust on the earth.“ (1.Mos 28,14)
Let me summarize by answering the questions I posed in the beginning of this sermon.
Who is this „man“?
Jacob himself. His fears, worries in the form of a person.
Which battle is being fought?
The fight: who conducts my life? My fears and worries or my wish for reconciliation and my trust in God and his promise.
Which blessing does Jacob get this time?
He gets a new name. And what a name! This name – God’s fighter – clearly shows who Jacob is and confirms the previously made promise of God.
The obligatory final question: what does this mean for me?
I believe the answer is right infront of us:
We also have fears, worries and unreconciliated construction sites in our lives. Naturally, we could let the dawn rise again without taking advantage. But it would also be possible to really work on these fears and situtations so that they become a blessing instead of always returning to us.
I am not going to give up until you have changed and do good.
Let’s also become God’s fighters.
Which simply means that together with our God we can overcome the mean, the frightening, forgiving refuing, fighting.
Inside and outside our lives.