Genesis is the book of beginnings.
The first eleven chapters reveal how the world and humanity began and fell into sin, and chapters twelve through twenty-four displayed how God began to enact His plan of global redemption through the family of one man, Abraham. God pulled Abraham from his family, took him to a foreign land, and promised to bless him and all the nations of the earth through him. We know from God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 that a Serpent-Crusher was coming into the world to restore the pre-sin blessings of Eden. Thus, God promised Abraham that the Serpent-Crusher would come through him, as the seed that would bless all the families of the earth. Humanity’s redeemer would be from Abraham’s family.
This promise seems fitting when we consider Abraham’s life. Of course, he committed his fair share of sin (i.e. selling away his wife to save his own skin… twice…), but in general, Abraham appeared to be the model of a godly life, especially in regards to faith. God asked Abraham to do some truly incredible things, yet Abraham did them without hesitation. Abraham was the epitome of how to trust God, earning him the title, the man of faith (Gal. 3:9).
From Abraham to Jacob
The same cannot be said of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Being the second born to his twin brother, Esau, Jacob was not entitled to the blessings of the firstborn, but that did not stop him from claiming them. In an act of blatant deception (encouraged by his mother), Jacob pretended to be Esau before his blind father, Isaac, in order to steal Esau’s blessing. Of course, this was after Jacob had already talked Esau into trading away his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Then, after fleeing from his brother, Jacob marries two sisters and takes their two maidservants as his concubines. This leads to a massive amount of family drama of which Abraham’s Hagar fiasco was but a taste. And Jacob brings it upon himself by blatantly favoring Rachel above his other wife, Leah.
If Abraham’s life was dotted with lapses into sin, Jacob’s life is littered with foolish behavior and deceitful intent. In fact, it would not be without merit to liken Jacob to a gunslinging outlaw in Westerns. In Western films, the gunslinger trope is typically a semi-nomadic outlaw with a questionable moral code of his one, fighting for his own survival. Jacob certainly fits that description. Throughout these chapters, he struggles to get ahead then runs for his life from those whom he angered. In fact, the Western similarity only significantly falls apart when considering that Jacob had none of the courage of a typical gunslinger; instead, Jacob was marked by fearfulness, insecurity, and anxiety. His life is one great struggle that he continuously attempted to run from.
Indeed, in light of these things, Jacob seems to the opposite of his grandfather. Where Abraham boldly trusted God, Jacob feared at every turn. This can be seen throughout the story when God is always referred to as the God of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 28:13, God speaks to Jacob saying, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” Jacob later repeats this language in 31:42 to Laban, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.” Likewise in 32:9, Jacob prays to God saying, “O God of my father Abraham and the God of my father Isaac…” Through most of the story, Jacob tentatively serves God as the God of Abraham and Isaac.
Wrestling with God
Everything changed in Genesis 32:22-32.
There Jacob found himself preparing to face Esau for the first time since he ran away. His uncle, Laban, was still behind him in a less than agreeable mood. So he was pressed between two enemies, and in an attempt to calm Esau, Jacob had sent presents for his brother and all his servants and family ahead of himself. So it was nighttime. Jacob would meet Esau in the morning, and he was all alone.
Suddenly a mysterious man appears and begins wrestling with Jacob. The two men struggle throughout the night, until the man demands Jacob to let him go. Jacob responds by demanding a blessing first. The man agrees, but not without dislocating Jacob’s hip first, giving Jacob a permanent limp for the rest of his life. Jacob soon concluded that this man was more than he seemed saying, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (32:30).”
Jacob wrestled with God, and God spared him.
God renamed Jacob as Israel, and in the next chapter, we see Jacob erect an altar called El-Elohe-Israel, which means God, the God of Israel. Jacob now claimed God as his God, not merely the God of his father and grandfather. God became personal to Jacob. And though Jacob appeared victorious in his wrestling match with God, his permanent limp would forever ensure that he could not continue his modus operandi of fleeing from danger. Jacob was now physically forced to trust in God. The very best of Jacob’s tenacity was displayed in his struggle with God, only to realize that he was completely weak and defenseless before him.
The story of Jacob is one of pride, fear, and the fight to survive. Most societies equate pride in one’s own achievements and survival of the fittest with the best of humanity; however, Jacob’s story strips away the vainglory of these notions, revealing the underlying fear beneath. Like Jacob, our lives are one massive struggle for blessing and survival, and we pride ourselves in capturing them through sheer determination. However, true blessing can only be found in surrendering to God. Jacob’s life became full only after God physically wounded him, so too God will often destroy our pride that we might find our comfort and rest in Him.