[Genesis 32:22-32] … And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered”…
Wrestling with God
Jacob was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… Jacob’s brother - older brother - was Esau. In the Old Testament there is a line of sons through whom the promise of the coming Messiah, the Christ, would eventually come.
The the promise of the Christ, the Savior, was first made to Eve - that some offspring of the woman, who turns out to be Mary in the end, would conquer sin, death, and the devil, and deliver man. That promise, or blessing, however is passed down through sons.
That promise was handed down through Adam and Eve’s son, Seth - then down through his family tree and through the man Noah and through his son, Shem. The promised blessing was eventually given to Abraham and was passed down through the son promised to him and barren-Sarah in their old age, Isaac.
Isaac had Esau and Jacob for sons. Though Esau was the older, God promised the blessing to the younger, Jacob. Through Jacob’s line, the promised Savior would come.
God’s ways are not our ways. God’s promise to pass this blessing down through the second-born instead of the first-born caused much family strife. Isaac seems determined to pass his blessing down to Esau, despite God’s will.
Jacob, though promised the blessing, seeks to get it through cheating and trickery. Their mother, Rebekah, plays a part in that too.
In the end, Jacob so cheats and tricks his older brother Esau, that Esau, in a rage, is seeking to kill Jacob. Their mother, Rebekah, warns Jacob to flee. Jacob flees to a household of their kinsmen, Laban, and there finds his two wives Rachel and Leah.
When Jacob fled from Esau, that was the last the two brothers saw of each other until shortly after today’s Old Testament reading. In the meantime, both Jacob and Esau had become prominent men with many children and servants, much cattle, and much wealth.
Now, in today’s reading, Jacob has become aware that his brother Esau is coming to meet him. Jacob fears the worst, assuming - and still feeling, due to guilt - that his brother Esau hates him and intends him harm.
So, Jacob is preparing his family and all the people in his care. Jacob sends his family far past himself on the way, in the opposite direction of Esau, to keep them safe. Jacob sends gifts of livestock far ahead of him to Esau in an attempt to appease Esau. Meanwhile, Jacob stays in the area all alone, waiting.
In the night, Jacob is met by a man - apparently - with whom Jacob wrestles all through the night until morning. Jacob, who apparently - perhaps - still doubts that the promised blessing from God is really his, refuses to let this mysterious figure go, saying to him, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
This man, who is the Lord, blesses him. He changes Jacob’s name to “Israel” - “for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” “Israel” means, “He strives with God”.
Next, Jacob, now named Israel, says to this man, “Please tell me your name.” This man replies, “Why is it that you ask my name?” - as if to say, “Didn’t you know that I AM WHO I AM, that I am the Lord?” - And there he blessed him. The Lord, once again, renews the promised blessing to His child Jacob.
“So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’”
What happens next? Jacob encounters Esau. Jacob bows himself to the ground, but “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” [Genesis 33:4]. “These gifts and your fear were unnecessary, brother”, Esau says in essence.
Jacob is living in the forgiveness and blessing of God, but hadn’t quite known it.
And that promised blessing of the Savior is passed down through Jacob, after whom the whole nation of Israel is named, through is son, Judah. Then through King David, Solomon, and so on, down to to the woman, the virgin woman, of that tribe of Judah and lineage of David, Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.
That promised Savior has now come to the world, brothers and sisters. You live in this time, this time in which the Savior promised to man from the beginning has now already come. That Savior, Jesus, has died for all, is risen, and has given you the promised blessing of forgiveness, life, and salvation through your Baptism.
That cross-won blessing is yours. You are each called His in your Baptism - baptized in His name [Matthew 28:19]. Because of His blood shed, you live forgiven as Joseph did, though your heart and mind don’t fully know it and believe.
Because of your sins - because of the devil’s whispered doubts - because you, in your ways, have been a cheat or scoundrel like Jacob - you doubt that blessing.
What should you do in times of doubt about God’s love and forgiveness for you? Wrestle with God. Wrestle with God all night as Jacob did, saying, “I will not let You go until You bless me.” “I will not let You go until You give me the peace that surpasses understanding” - “I will not let You go because You have promised me.”
Faith recalls God’s promises and reminds Him, in fervent prayer, of what His Son Jesus has done for you. “Your Son has died for me; I am forgiven in His blood; I will not let You go.” It is God’s desire that we wrestle with Him, calling upon His name, and bringing to His mind His promises to us in Jesus.
Consider today’s Gospel. That Canaanite woman whose daughter was in dire need of help endures being ignored by the Lord, being called a dog - for her sins - by the Lord. Yet she continues steadfast in prayer, and reminds Jesus of His grace as Master - “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.” Jesus answers, “O woman, great is your faith!”
Your Lord wants you to remind Him. And He has given you a remembrance of His mercy and love - not a symbol, but a true, real, present, remembrance of His body given for you and His blood shed for you on the cross - by making that very body and very blood present for you in the bread and the wine.
Through His Word of Gospel preached to you - through Absolution, the forgiveness, following your confession of sin - and through this Supper - your Savior is always doing for you what He did for His troubled child, Jacob. He keeps giving you that promise that is already yours.
Just as He gives the blessing often, be here to receive it often. Amen.