I’m really not trying to make all my posts religious. I’m really not, but I’m going through the old testament, the part of the bible that, for the most part, is greatly misunderstood, and as I’m going through it, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that these simple stories were not merely simple stories.
They are dramatic. They’re cruel. They’re redeeming. They’re everything we encounter in our day to day lives, all wrapped up in a few paragraphs. And that’s what I think people miss when they read these stories, and I think that’s why many preachers don’t even preach out of the old testament. It’s because they don’t know what these passages mean, or at least how they are applied practically to our own lives in a way we can understand.
I want to look at the story of Jacob, and particularly, the end of his story, which I think is the most significant part, as well as the most misunderstood part.
You won’t really understand that last part, until you have some idea of who Jacob was. So I’m going to very briefly explain the story of Jacob.
Jacob, he was a reprehensible character, and that’d probably be an understatement, at best. He stole the blessing from his father, Isaac. He betrayed his brother, betrayed his father, left them both to, more or less, die, and then ran away. He “redeems” himself by way of self reflection, where he heard the voice of God speak to him. Again, for those who don’t believe in God, think of it more of your moral conscious speaking to you, rather than God, but in the Christian belief, it is said to be God.
So he hears God, and says that he will now listen, that whatever he must do, he is willing to take on the responsibility of what it means to “walk with God”, or to live a meaningful life, in other words.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of his troubles, but only the beginning. He goes to his Uncle, Laban, who says he has a wife for him, Rebecca, to which Jacob agrees to make her his bride. But his uncle betrays him (in the same way Jacob did it seems) and deceitfully gives his eldest daughter, Leigha, so that she may take the full blessing, similar to how he (Jacob) betrayed his own brother. Jacob (through sinister means) stole the full blessing from Esau, of his father was supposed to give him.
But even with this malicious sleight of hand, he and Leigha, they still produced many sons, of which greatly surprised, and discouraged, Laban, his uncle. Not only that, but later married his original “bride-to-be” Rebecca, as well, to which a son was produced from them (not quite, but that’s another story), Joseph.
His uncle was still intent on destroying Jacob though. He was not done betraying him.
Laban gave Jacob his “inheritance” in the form of goats. Seems okay right? Though, instead of him giving him a great gift, gave Jacob, his son-in-law, the flock of goats that was to never produce offspring, the speckled goats as it’s called in the Bible. Basically, he gave Jacob a meaningless gift that was designed to burden him rather than allow him to flourish. But Jacob, he still produced many, many, goats, ten fold, as it suggests in the story, and from there Jacob says, his uncle has deceived him many times, and will surely betray him (Jacob) again. So he takes Rebecca and they escape to a place afar.
There are more details, to which you can read the story, but this is all you really need to know, I think, in order to get the real significance of the what’s going on. The idea is, Jacob had a a lot of undesirable things happen to him, but because he “walked with God” (lived a meaningful life), he was able to turn the burdens into blessings. He turned the negative into a positive. He did not become resentful in the face of evil.
But all of this, it could not prepare him for what was to come. Or, at least, it doesn’t seem to matter. Or, maybe it does?
So then what happens?
A man appears to to Jacob, who, after the encounter, appeared to be God, himself. But again, didn’t seem so at first.
Let me just go ahead and give you the passage so you can interpret it yourself.
Here’s the first part.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
Kind of ambiguous right? Who was this man? Why is he suddenly wrestling with him? Why and how did he so easily dislocate Jacobs hip by merely touching it? Why did the man say to Jacob, Let me go, for it is daybreak?
There are an infinite amount of ways to interpret this, but I think, the way I read this passage, I’ve interpreted it in a way that seems the most practical, and that we may relate it to our day to day lives, even if you’re looking at it from a Non-theist viewpoint.
It means, that when we are left alone, even after we’ve seemingly overcome many struggles in our lives, such as Jacob did with his father and his uncle, there will always be something that will truly test us, and this “thing” that tests us, it will come when we least expect, and sometimes, this “thing” will be God himself.
Then it says When the man saw that he could not overpower him… What this means is, God (life) will test you over and over, and may find it cannot overpower you. It will not break you. Your walk with God cannot be deterred. You haven’t lost the meaning of life yet.
Then the passage says he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. This means that, as we wrestle with life, and we’re not so easily knocked down, but out of no where, and as simple as just touching the socket of our hip, we it can be dislocated, or put in great pain. Or, you can see it as, tragedy will strike us. Chaos will come. Something far worse than we’ve ever faced before, it’s waiting for us, and it will fall upon us with such ease as if what we faced in the past, it will be nothing compared to this new difficulty.
Then it goes on to say Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” This means, to my estimation, that if we keep wrestling, and we don’t let go, that we stay strong in our fight, and never give up, the new day will come. The sun will shine again. The day will break.
So here’s the second part of the passage. Go ahead and read it, and try to interpret it for yourself, again.
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
What I think this means is something like this. You will wrestle with life for what seems like all night, or even days, weeks, months, years, and if you keep fighting, the new day will come, and when it comes, and the “man” asks you to let go, you tell him, “I will not go unless you bless me.” And what this means is more like, I’ve wrestled with you, and I’m not giving up, and I’ve won, so show me what this means, and give me the direction to which I’m supposed to journey towards. In simple terms, it means, I will never become resentful, no matter how much life is suffering, and not only that, give me the answers to which I can continue living my life.
So the passage goes on with the man saying What is your name? to which Jacob replied, Jacob. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
This is where I think many people, I think, don’t give this somewhat short and random passage the credit it deserves, in fear that it might be taken as cynical or even offensive to God.
When I read this, this is what I’ve interpreted. He says, the troubles you faced in your life before, they were merely with humans, or small problems compared to me. Now that you’ve shown that you can overcome the small problem (the human problems) it is my turn to test you. I will come when you are alone, and you will not know it’s me, God. You will wrestle with me, and I will show you how easy I can break you, even as simple from a touch. You will fight, and feel as if the night will never end. But keep strong, and keep faith, as the daybreak will come. And then I will ask you to let go of me, you’ve won, to which you say you won’t, because you know it’s not that easy. You fought me through the night, and you showed me your strength. So then, it is up to you to demand I bless you. Although that seems selfish, it is what I always wanted, as I’m greatly misunderstood in my ways. And when you demand I bless you, that is when you’ve passed. You’ve overcome my test, and tests of humans. You inherit a new name. You become a new man. You become a redeemed man.
To wrap this all up, I want to put this in a short practical way you can implement this into your life. When life gets hard, and you suffer and you’re in pain, but can still manage to overcome and be strong, and not become resentful. You don’t become cruel or negative. But it’s not over. Because even if you do all of this, you might confront a problem where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, that all hope is lost. Keep fighting, and hold on, as the day will break, and you will overcome. But it doesn’t stop there. You need to demand, maybe from God (life) itself, show me what you really have planned for me.
thanks for reading