Genesis: Roots, Relationship, Redemption
At The River Jabbok
I made it to the banks of the Jabbok just in time to see dusk’s light sink into its waves and ripples. As night was settling in fast, I quickly rolled out my bed in a near by grassy place to wait out the morning.
And I was just bending over to slip into my camp bed, that’s when I felt the hard brutal impact of a shoulder land right in my back. The power of the blow tossed me back down towards the water’s edge. End over end.
Once I was still, I laid there sucking in a hiss of air through gritted teeth and waiting for the foggy moisture to clear out of my eyes… but through my shocked stillness I then felt a hand wrap around my knee pulling me away from my landing place. Pulling me through the mud and reeds of the river. I twist my body around painfully trying to make it up to my knees. To make it up onto my elbows to pull myself away. But another hand grabbed a hold of my ankle and my face hit the slick ground once again.
Who is this that has a hold of me? What is happening?
Then as sudden as this all started, I was released with a quick recoil. I got up to my feet with a wince, and looking around I saw… nobody.
But then, seemingly from above me, a hand came down on my head, wrapping an arm, an elbow across my throat. I pulled and twisted again, feeling the release from around my neck! I stumbled back, stepping into the cold river, once I found a solid footing I looked up to finally into the face my attacker. This was a stranger’s face – a face I did not know or recognized.
Why? Why would this be happening?
The frustration of the moment boiled inside of me as I bent my body low, digging my feet into the soft earth and throwing myself into the fight.
I barreled my shoulder into the stomach of my attacker. I laid him out! Straddling his arms, I drove my fist into flesh. But then legs, I had not considered, flew up behind me jerking my head back.
And around we went, twisting and pulling, squeezing and hitting.
Between the blows, my mind cleared enough to again ask:
Who is this? What is happening? Why? Why would this be happening?
In no time at all, my attacker pinned me to the ground. His powerful arms locking around me. And as I examined my steely trap, looking for a way to break the hold, I noticed that the arms that had a hold of me were the red and hairy arms of my brother! “Esau, this is his revenge!” I thought. “This is it, this is the moment when my brother finally reclaims the birthright that I took from him! He will end my life, as he once vowed, I know it!”
But just as I was about to call out to my brother.
The arms around me molded and changed! Not the red hairy arms of my twin, but the feeble arms of my blind and aged father. Just the way they looked on his deathbed as I deceived him so long ago.
In my surprise and terror, I easily tossed these limp arms aside. In a stunned silence I pushed myself free and onto my exhausted feet.
But I stared, looking at my father’s long ago form. I stared in awe. Amazed.
I bent down to once again look into those hazy, clouded old eyes. “Father?” I asked. But the eyes I looked deeply into started to clear, the iris darkening and reforming into… “Leah!” I cried as I stumbled back, “Is that you?”
But rather than respond. She launched herself at me. With a sneer on her face, she swung wild fisted hands. Landing a blow on my startled cheek.
“Leah, why? My wife, why?”
The dark eyes of my wife began to float as tears came to her. Hand over hand, distraught fists land on my check among anguished moans.
But still she said nothing.
I wrapped my arms around her tightly, restraining those wild hands, and sank us both to the ground.
After a moment of breathing heavy and listening to my wife’s sobs, the body in my arms became still and relaxed… but then again began to shift and change. The hair on her head became course, the arms thickened, the body grew larger… I looked down into yet another face. One that I knew so well. To look into familiar eyes. To see a nose that I knew better than any other’s. I looked down to trace the lines around the mouth, to see the small scars from nicks and cuts. The result of a lifetime of labor.
I released this man from my arms. Looking at him with a mix of curiosity and shame. Pushing him away. I stepped back to see myself standing in front of… me.
“What cruelty is this?” I demanded.
But the man in front of me did not hear, he just bent his body low as if to lunge, just as I had done earlier to the stranger. And with a growl… he unleashed a new wave of furry upon me.
“No!” I cried. Just as a hand came up to grab the heel of my foot out from under me, sending me flying back into the cool Jabbok!
And again the game of first and limbs began… We again twisted and pulled and hit. Wrestling without knowing the score. Wrestling without knowing the cause.
My brother! My father! My wife! My very self!
Like soft earthly clay, my attacker shifted and molded into those people whom I had wronged again and again in my life.
But worse than the sting of the physical blows landing on my body, was knowing that each grab, each punch, each and every hard landing was earned!
This was my guilt made flesh. This was my lust of power made into a living thing. This was my own disregard turned against me.
Around and around, hour after exhausting hour… We waged war.
As the Jabbok began to glow with the new day. My attacker eased back. Molding back into the face of the stranger who initiated this battle last night.
But I couldn’t. There was too much heat in me still!
“Stop!” he cried.
With my relentless arms still locked tight around him… he issued one last blow, his fist crushing into my hip.
I let out a guttural scream as lights flickered in front of my stunned and overwhelmed eyes!
“Let me go!” I heard through the ringing.
“Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
“No!” I shouted at him! Still locked tight. After hours of this war, was that it? Did we just call it a draw? What was this all about? I thought. No! He can’t simply just walk away. Not after he had laid before me those I had wronged. After he had made me pay for my deception of my brother. After he made me come face to face with a father that I had loved yet destroyed with my disloyalty. After he made me own the tears of my wife who I never loved. After he made me come face to face with the trickster and the schemer that I was down to the core. The sinful, broken man that I am… No! He had unearthed these old wounds and curses… He can’t simply walk away as the sun finds its place in the sky for the day! Finding my words, I call to him. “No! I will not let you go unless you bless me!”
This all had to be for a purpose, right? This war? Was I now free of it all? Had I now earned something? Surely I had. I climbed with great effort to my feet again. Every inch being an explosion of pain in my hip.
“What is your name?” the man asked.
“Jacob. My name is Jacob.” I said with force.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
I dropped the finger that I had been pointing at him. Struggled with God, He had said. With God! “Please, please, tell me your name!” I called.
“Why do you ask my name?” He replied.
He was right. Why would I ask his name? I knew the being that stood in front of me. This was the God of my father, Isaac. The God of my grandfather Abraham. This was my Lord.
Then, slowly, with a humored smile on his face he walked towards me. Not with fists curled. But with an outstretched palm. Not with brutal force, but with the gentle concern of a Father. He then laid a hand upon my head speaking words of blessing and then simply faded into the light of the day.
I made it through the night… the darkness that had shadowed me my whole life had been overcome. I made it through the night. And I not only lived, I prevailed.
I faced my own sins, my most damning skeletons that I hid away in the closet and I fought them. I didn’t just bruise and hit them… but I shattered them. Releasing me into blessing. Here at the banks of the Jabbok. I prevailed.
I pray that you prevail as I did. That you not only survive until the light of day returns, but that you make it through with the blessing of God. To live a life washed clean of guilt, shame… with no more darkness or need for battles. A life that is wholly blessed. May God grant us the strength to prevail and to own that blessing.
Each and everyone of us, will find ourselves dropped onto the banks of the Jabbok at some point in our lives. The question is, what would you find here, children of God? As you meet God in battle what do you find there? What struggles do you harbor in your heart? Is it an addiction, an illness? Is it a person whom you have wounded? Is it an idol that you hold higher than God? Is it yourself? What is there for you to wrestle with on the banks of the Jabbok River?
Let us pray for strength,
God who challenges, we pray today for the strength to wrestle with the bruised places in our hearts. For strength to bring them to light, and hand them over to your care, for that is truly the battle. To release them. Make room for your blessing. God of power and might, arm us for all that we encounter at the River Jabbok. In Christ’s name, Amen.