I suppose you could say Jacob, the “supplanter,” was born wanting more. He had a twin; the two babies struggled in the womb for position. His brother, Esau, emerged first. Jacob followed, literally, “on his heels,” as he grasped Esau’s ankle. Jacob lost that first battle but set the stage for the early part of their lives: two brothers striving for supremacy. Because he was the eldest son, Esau pretty much had it made. He was entitled to the birthright (the greater share of the inheritance) and the blessing that came along with it. Esau was a hunter and he loved to be outdoors. Jacob was “a man who dwelt in tents,” or a homebody and favored by his mother. The two brothers could not be more different. Their mother, Rebekah, was cunning – I guess spending so much time with her was bound to rub off on Jacob.
There came a day when their father, Isaac, was old and thought he was on his death bed. Preparing to get his affairs in order, he called Esau to him so that he could impart the blessing he had reserved for his firstborn, and favorite, son. Now Esau, because he’d already sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of porridge, wanted to claim his blessing. Perhaps Esau “despised” his birthright in selling it so cheaply but I don’t think he ever really planned on parting with it. He probably figured he could just physically intimidate Jacob. But the blessing was his ace in the hole. It was important to him. If all else failed and he had to hold up to his bargain with Jacob, he would have that, at least. But Jacob didn’t even allow him that comfort. He and his mother devised a plan to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob, instead of Esau. And Isaac unknowingly blessed Jacob, giving him what belonged to the firstborn. Esau was furious and Rebekah was forced to send her beloved Jacob away to save him from his brother’s wrath. So Isaac sent Jacob on a mission – to go to his Uncle Laban’s house (the brother of Rebekah) and get a wife from among their kin.
There, he met his cousin, Rachel and immediately fell in love with her. He struck a bargain with the uncle. Because he came with nothing to offer, he would work for his bride for seven years. He loved her so much, the time flew by. But after the marriage he learned that he, for a change, had been tricked. Not the beautiful Rachel but her sister, Leah, had been wed to him. Laban agreed to give Rachel to Jacob if he worked another seven years. So Jacob worked hard for Laban for fourteen years, increasing his livestock. But Laban deceived Jacob repeatedly, changing his wages whenever it suited him. Jacob eventually tired of the games, gathered his family and possessions and set off for home.
By this time, Jacob‘s family had expanded to include the children of Leah, Rachel and their handmaidens. He was well on his way to becoming the father of twelve tribes and a great nation. Rachel, his favorite wife, had even managed to bear a child, Joseph – of The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fame. As they traveled home, Jacob received word that his brother, Esau was coming to meet them. Jacob was struck with terror for his vulnerable young family. He feared his chickens were finally coming home to roost and Esau must be coming for payback. Jacob prepared to meet his brother with trepidation, softening him up by sending many gifts of livestock in advance. He hoped to save his family and his own life. Envisioning the worst case scenario, he divided his family into groups, so that some of them would have a chance at surviving an attack. He kept Rachel and Joseph, treasured above all, closest to him. Their lives were on the line.
That night, Jacob went to sleep. In the middle of the night, he was accosted by a strange man. Jacob grabbed him and wrestled with him. They grappled into the dawn, dislocating Jacob’s hip but still, he wouldn’t let go. Finally the angel, for that is who he’d wrestled with, said to him “Let me go, for the daybreak is coming.” Jacob knew that the angel must surely carry a message – it’s kind of what they do. So he replied, “Not until you bless me!” He meant, “What have you come to show me?” There had to be a reason for this display. The angel asked “What is your name?”
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28)
Message delivered. His former name was an account of his life, to date – the deceit and trickery that he’d used to supplant his brother from his rightful position. The things he’d done which caused him to run away, rather than face his brother’s anger, he now had to deal with. During his absence, Jacob grew up and learned it wasn’t right to deceive people just to get what you wanted. Having been on the receiving end of such treachery, he was wiser. When the angel changed his name, he acknowledged that personal transformation. He let Jacob know, “That’s not who you are any longer!” Because God had blessed him so much, he no longer envied Esau or anyone their possessions. No longer would he use his inherited cunning and devious nature for ill gotten gain. He was not that person anymore, nor was he bound by his past. He came away from that experience stronger. His reality changed. He was able to face his brother, who was quite happy to see him, as it turned out.
Lately, when faced with situations, temptations or desires that used to defeat me, I get a mental picture of wrestling. I used to think it was me, grappling with that particular issue and trying to overcome it. “Wrestling with my demons,” so to speak. Now, I’ve come to another realization, for this story has stuck with me. God is giving me a message, too. “You can overcome what you’ve done, all of your past sins and defeats. And what you have become is not all there is – I want to bless you truly and give you a new name and a new future. You’re not wrestling with demons; you’re wrestling with me as I fight with you, for you. I want to improve you and to bless you beyond belief. I want to show you who you really are.” I realize now, the fight is to get me to let go of that person I was, so that he can show me who I truly am.