Have you ever had the feeling that you were being chased? Running through dirty, crowded alleys like in some action movie? Or perhaps you dreaded a coming confrontation so much tat you did all you could to prevent it. Could you imagine both happening at the same time? This is where we find our hero Jacob today. He had just been running from his father-in-law Laban. He was running toward Canan, the land promised to his grandfather Abraham, the land and blessing that he stole from his elder brother Esau, who he knew he would surely meet soon.
Why is he doing this? Looking previously in Genesis we see that Jacob had been dreaming, again, and was told by God to head back home. God has also explained to Jacob how all of Jacob’s wealth had been gained. God told Jacob where his blessings had come from. All of Jacob’s good fortune had come from God and it was not Jacob’s work that gained him these blessings, but a gift from God. God’s love allowed for Jacob to prosper, even when those around him did not want Jacob to prosper! Yes in the face of adversity, Jacob was able to prosper thanks to God. Jacob was able to prosper even though he was not the most upstanding of individuals. God still loved him.
Jacob then knew of God. God had come to Jacob in dreams. Perhaps Jacob had heard stories of this God when he was younger, from his parents. But like many, still today, here, now, he had just heard the stories. He was not able to internalize God’s love for him. Even when God stood next to him in a dream as angles moved up and down between heaven and earth, Jacob still did not know God.
Knowing of and knowing someone are two different things. An elevator ride does not make on intimately familiar with another, especially if you are just watching the action on the elevator. Making up stories of the person standing next to you does not make you friends with them. And making up stories of people who are standing next to you in the elevator definitely does not make you friends with them.
God wanted Jacob to know God, to respond to the loving nature of God. God wanted Jacob to know, to understand, that life was “clinging to God.”
What then is “clinging to God?” It is knowing that God’s nature and name is love. See, clinging to God is a two way street. God clings to you. And you cling to God. Sure, we have various images of God “lifting” us up, or “setting” us apart, or “redeeming” us. Each of these images illustrates God holding us. But this is not just holding like you do when you pick up a bag of flour. This holding is a clinging, a total wrapping of us in God’s-self. Like a parent holding a child close, shielding them from the downpour. This shows God’s nature. God’s nature and name, which is love. In the words of Charles Wesley:
Pure universal love thou art:
To me, to all, they mercies move-
Thy nature, and thy name is Love.
We know that God is love. We know this from a young age. We learn that even in the junk of life, as it pours down on us, that God is there, loving us, holding us tight, doing the best God can to shield us from the downpour love life in this broken world. And then, we unlearn it. We think that we can do better for ourselves than God can. We turn from God, relying on ourselves.
God’s nature is Love, God loves Jacob, and God loves you. God loves Jacob to the point that God, in many understandings of the text, God came to Jacob as a human to bless him in person. God limited God’s-self to meet Jacob in person. Jacob had been claimed by God prior to this story of wrestling at the Jabbok. Jacob had already seen God in dreams, had heard God’s call to fulfill the call of his family, his place as heir to Isaac, heir to Abraham, to be a part of God’s Redemptive work in the world. Just like God has already claimed you.
Part of the continuation of this claiming is the renaming of Jacob as Israel. This is not God just claiming Jacob; this is God claiming all of God’s people, including you! Jacob is no hero in the Biblical story. He makes a lot of poor decisions to say the least. He constantly deceives people, he outright steals from his elder brother Esau, and just after the reading today he is ranking his family so that the most important are in the rear in case Esau is still angry with him!
For all the awesome things that God is doing in Jacob’s life he is still susceptible to human nature and putting his needs over the needs of others, and his own needs over the needs of God. And we, who are here now, each of us, struggles with this same issue every day. We have a ton of great things and all we do is complain about what we don’t have. But, just like Jacob, we are claimed by God. We make poor decisions, but God still claims us. God still clings to us hoping that we will return the favor and cling to God.
God will show up in your life when you least expect God. God will chase you through the alleys in your dreams. God will hunt you down so that God can embrace you, to hold on to you. And we don’t make this easy for God do we? We happily run. Sometimes, we would rather die of exhaustion than relent and let God hold us. We would run off a cliff to avoid God’s activity in our lives. And then while plummeting, we ask, “God where are you?”
So, instead of running away, ask what it is you are running from. The most perfect love? Jacob was surprised by God at the Jabbok, yet he did not run. He grabbed on. He would not let go!
Tis all in vain to hold thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms thou shall not fly;
Wrestling I will not let thee go
Till I thy name thy nature know.
Grab on to God! Not because you should, but because you can! You have the ability to turn to God, confront God, hold on to God. Look into God, enquire “who are you God?”
Stop pursuing the shadow of God that is cast before you as God chases you. Turn to God, grab on to
God, hold God tight, ask God all your questions till you know God. Don’t settle for easy answers from God, probe God. By yourself in prayer and with others in group study. As God hems in the chaos, work to hem in God. This is impossible to do but in doing this, you will see how far God loves, who and where God loves. It is in asking these questions that Jacob is blessed, that Jacob, and you, are named Israel, for you have struggled with God. God chases you down, God clings to you, God’s love is, so that you too can confess:
Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin with ease overcome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature, and thy name is Love.