Sermon on Genesis 32:22-30
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
1. In forgiveness
2. With persistence
3. For blessings
Text: Genesis 32:22-30
For as long as there has been written records in this world, there has been wrestling. Egyptian tombs have pictures of athletes wrestling over 4,000 years ago. The Chinese also have records of Eastern wrestling around the same time. The great Greek writer Homer tells stories in the Iliad about wrestling during the Trojan War over 3,000 years ago. (For those who prefer movies, think of Brad Pitt as Achilles in the movie Troy).
That Greek style has become very popular in the world today. Greco-Roman wrestling is an Olympic sport, as it has been for thousands of years. Freestyle wrestling is also an Olympic sport. High schools, colleges, and even elementary schools all across America have wrestling teams that compete against one another.
Unfortunately this sport of power and strategy and power isn’t the most popular kind of wrestling in the world. What started as a bunch of kooky characters in the early 1980s with Hulk Hogan, Jake the Snake, and Rowdy Roddy Piper with the WWF has morphed into a billion dollar industry filled with steroid-pumped men and scantily clad women. It’s called professional wrestling, but it is far from professional and far from wrestling as it once was.
Maybe you wrestled back in the day. Maybe you’ve watched some of the nonsense on TV. Maybe you spent more time wrestling with your siblings when you were younger. Whatever the extent of your wrestling experience, all of you can and should wrestle—with God. That’s exactly what we are told to do today in our worship. We’re told to Pray!
If ever you wanted the definition of a dysfunctional family, look no further than Jacob in the book of Genesis. My mother, a psychologist, could make a career out of Jacob’s family alone. From the day he was born Jacob was mixed in controversy. He was born grabbing hold of his twin brother Esau’s heel, which is why his parents named him “he grabs the heel,” (which also means “he deceives”), Yakov, or Jacob.
Once when they were growing up Jacob did deceive Esau as he convinced him to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. This did not make their relationship any better. Later, Esau and Isaac were both deceived. His father Isaac openly and plainly declared that he loved Esau, the ruddy, outdoorsman, more. His mother Rebekah openly and plainly declared that she loved Jacob more. So Rebekah and Jacob schemed to steal Esau’s blessing from Isaac. Jacob scented himself with wildlife and put some furs on his skin so he appeared to be Esau to his nearly blind father. This infuriated Esau who now wanted to kill Jacob.
So Jacob fled to his uncle Laban’s house. There Jacob fell in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel and agreed to work seven years for her hand in marriage. But Laban pulled a last minute switcheroo and substituted the older, less attractive Leah for Rachel. So then Jacob worked more to marry Rachel. Now he had two wives—both of whom had problems conceiving. So Jacob had relations with their maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah. Thus, Jacob ended up with four wives, twelve sons, and one daughter. Finally, he tricked uncle Laban so that he and his massive family could return back home.
All of that dysfunction, all of that deception, all of that sin is the background for the first lesson this morning. Jacob was about to return home, yet was very afraid of his enraged twin Esau. So they stopped at the Jabbok River. Here’s what happened: “That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven sons (Benjamin had not been born yet) and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”
This wasn’t any ordinary man that Jacob wrestled with. While they were wrestling verse 25 says, “He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.” He didn’t give Jacob a suplex or a pile driver. He simply touched his hip and it was wrenched out of socket. Jacob quickly realized this was no ordinary man. Verse 30 tells us that Jacob called that place Peniel, which is Hebrew for the face of God.
So here God is, wrestling with Jacob, playing along and letting him win. God gave him a little reminder of the encounter that would be with him the rest of his life, a bad hip. But just think what God could have done, or should have done. Jacob certainly had moments when he failed to trust in the Lord, so he took matters into his own hands and used deception. Jacob clearly did not have the kind of family and marriage situation that was not pleasing to the Lord. He had committed plenty of sins in his life. God could have squashed him right then and there. God should have body slammed him all the way to hell!
But our merciful and loving God forgave Jacob his sins. He allowed Jacob to live. He allowed Jacob to wrestle with him and to ask for blessings. He allowed Jacob to be blessed. That’s why that place was so special. Again verse 30 says, “Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.’” Jacob could wrestle with the Lord because he had been forgiven.
The Bible tells us that God does not listen to the prayers of unbelievers. There is a huge barrier and wall in the way between humans and God. It’s called sin. And we have done plenty of it, just like Jacob. There have surely been times when we haven’t trusted in the Lord and his promises, just like Jacob. We want to take manners into our own hands and do it ourselves, thinking we don’t need God at all. There are surely times that our families are every bit as dysfunctional and troubled as Jacob’s was.
There is sin after sin after sin. What right do we have to ask God for anything? Why should God answer our prayers? Why should God listen to any of our prayers? We have done nothing but disobey and sin against him. God has every right to ignore our prayers, even worse, to punish us for our sins.
Yet our merciful and loving God has forgiven our sins too. An amazing thing happened while Jesus was on the cross. When he had finished suffering and paying for all of our sins and then gave up his life and died, the curtain in the temple tore in half. That curtain had been the divider between God’s people and the Most Holy Place, the symbol of God’s presence. It would be as if we had a giant curtain around our chancel hiding our altar from you people. But when Jesus died, the curtain was torn in two, meaning that sins had been forgiven and sinners could now have access to God. We can stand in God’s presence and live, just like Jacob.
God tells us today in our worship Pray! And so we do. We wrestle with God, asking for blessings, asking for help, asking for his guidance. And we can do so because Jesus has torn down the dividing barrier of sin. So Christian friends, Pray! Pray in forgiveness!
Jacob was a stubborn man. Sometimes that was to his detriment. He stubbornly wanted Esau’s birthright so he schemed to get it (even though God was going to give it to him anyway). He stubbornly wanted to marry Rachel, even if it meant being a polygamist. But this time, Jacob’s stubborn persistence was a good thing.
As this epochal night of wrestling continued into the wee hours of the morning, God said in verse 26, “’Let me go, for it is day break.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” Jacob would not let go of the Lord. Even with a bum hip that must have been hurting him, Jacob would not let go and would not give up. Why? He wanted God to bless him. I guess it ran in the family. You may recall that two months ago the Old Testament lesson was about Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, who persistently prayed to the Lord, asking that he would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
So we too are to be persistent. Sometimes we are stubborn to our detriment like Jacob. We have our stubborn will that always wants it our way. We have our stubborn arrogance that always thinks we are right. But in prayer, God wants us to be persistent. The second shortest passage in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually,” or in the King James Version, “Pray without ceasing.”
What a challenging thing to do! Sometimes we forget to pray at all. We are too busy getting ready when we get up. We have too much on our minds at work. We are trying to wolf down our food too quickly at meal times. We are too tired at bedtime. Pray continually? How about pray sometimes! In the same way, we often forget to pray about certain things continually. We might ask the Lord once or twice and then forget. Or we might think he isn’t answering our prayers, so we just stop.
Learn from Jacob. Pray! Pray with persistence! Our loving God has vested interest in us. He came to this world to live amongst us. He carried our own sins on his shoulders. He died in our place. With so much love and mercy shown to us, certainly God will listen to all of our prayers. So Christian friends, Pray! Pray with persistence!
There was a reason that Jacob did not let go of the Lord. He had been through so much. He was driven away from home because of his own deceitfulness and his brother who wanted to kill him. He had fled from his cruel uncle Laban with a massive family of wives and children and an even greater collection of possessions. Now he was about to be home but knew that Esau and his 400 men were waiting for him. Jacob refused to let go of the Lord because he wanted to be blessed. “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel (which means he struggles with God because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob was able to wrestle with the Lord because his sins had been forgiven. Then Jacob was persistent with the Lord in his wrestling because Jacob was asking the Lord for blessing.
This is how we are to pray, too. We might pray, even persistently, for nice weather for our kids carnival in two weeks. We might pray, even persistently, for God to help us pay off our bills. We might pray, even persistently, for a new iPod or a new tool. God will answer these prayers as he sees fit. But when we pray for God’s blessings, that we know he will always answer, “Yes.”
When we pray for patience to endure difficult situations, when we pray for wisdom to make good choices, when we pray for joy in our hearts that we might be happy, when we pray for kindness in dealing with others, when we pray for self-control to curb our anger, when we pray for love to show to God and to others—God will always answer these prayers for blessings that are according to his will with a resounding, “Yes.” So Christian friends, Pray! Pray for blessing!
From ancient times wrestling has been very popular. Today, wrestling (if that’s what you want to call it) has become more popular than ever before. But follow Jacob’s example. Do a much more important kind of wrestling. Wrestle with God. Wrestle in forgiveness. Wrestle with persistence. Wrestle for blessings. God will answer.
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