Wrestling, Part II

Click here to read wrestling, Part I.

The bottom line is that it is so easy to trivialize the idea that Jacob wrestled with God.  It is tempting to not look at the big picture.   Doing this leads first to a failure in recognizing how his whole life lead up to this event.  And this failure leads to me not recognizing how my whole life leads up to the event of my wrestling with God.

Consider his birth.  The man who would come to be known Jacob was a twin.  His brother was Essau.   Genesis 25 says: ” The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

From the very beginning, things are not the way they are supposed to be.  The kids parents pick a favorite.  In some ways it’s understandable why each parent chose the favorite they did.  But it’s also wrong.

As I read this, this was a point of connection for me: it’s not that I think for one second that my own parents had a favorite.  And it’s not that I have a favorite among my own children.

But I can recognize that in my childhood, things were not as they were supposed to be.  Things happened that are understandable but wrong.  Even more convicting, in my own life, as a father, things are not as they are supposed to be.  I do things that are understandable, but wrong.

Nearly everything that happens later in the story can be traced back to this dysfunctional beginning.  So much of what has happened in my own life, too, can be traced back to the things that didn’t go quite right.

Early on we get a sense of the tension that rose up betweeen the brothers.  Jacob is jealous of Essau’s birth right.  I’ve never been clear exactly what this birth right is.  But it always struck me as wierd.  The boys were twins.  Essau came out first… but does beating a sibling by a few minutes at most really entitle the “older” to everything? 

At any rate, Eassau demonstrates poor impulse control and poor planning when he comes in from the hunt so very famished that he is willing to sell his birth right.  And Jacob  demonstrates a manipulative heart in setting the whole thing up.

This all connects to me: those early dysfunctions impacted me.  They lead me to do things that were wrong.  Like Jacob and Esau, I grow increasingly more responsible for the decisions I have made as I have grown up. 

We have the potential to get past our histories.  Without God’s intervention we so rarely do.  But as he grew, Jacob could have been more than a mama’s boy.  Esau could have been more than a wild child.

The parents, meanwhile, show a similarly mixed record.  The family grows powerful.  And yet the dad commits exactly the same error as his ancestors.  Rather than standing up for his wife, he convinces her to pretend to be his sister.  It’s clearly an act an of cowardice.

But none of  them manage to fufill their potential.  Essau marries people that bring misery to his family.  The mother concots schemes  to foreward her own interests.  Jacob allows himself to continue to be a mama’s boy.

In a general way, it’s both reassuring and sad to notice these things.  It’s reassuring because noticing in general the sins of biblical figures helps me to feel a connection.  They are no more or less sinful than me.  It’s sad because God wanted so much for us.  He deserved so much more.

But there’s a deeper connection for me in this case.  It’s hard to become bigger than my circumstances when those around me continue to be smaller than theres.  This does not mean I have an excuse.  It does mean that a healthy community, striving together, is where real change most often happens.

The result of this scheming and manipulating is so ironic.  The ultimate home-body mama’s boy appears to have everything he wants.  I’m not completely clear on why Esau’s blessing and birth right are so important for.  But they are clearly incredibly important.

And Jacob ends up with them both.  But what good does it do him? 

He ends up so much worse than he began.  The one thing that he wanted was so stay in his safe little home.  And as a result of the scheming and planning, he feels forced to flee.

How often do we scheme, plot, and plan?  And how often do all our of our own plans lead to the thing that we feared the most?  We hold so tightly to objects that they slip through our fingers.  We lust so desperately for more that we lose all that we have.  Our actions are so motivated by fear of losing a little that we end up losing everything.

After he flees, things go for him as they go for many of us.  His life in many ways is not dissimiliar to his parents.  Nor is it disimiliar to my own.  He makes a name for himself.  He is succesful in some areas.  He has set backs in others.  God is with him.  Sometimes he obeys God and is blessed for it.  Other times he does not obey God and he is not.

Jacob continues the patterns of his past.  He is sometimes self-serving even in his relationships with his family.  He demonstrates poor boundaries.  When he is caught trying to gather more than he has a right to, he grows afraid and runs away from his home.

His father in law catches up with him.  And he discovers that the confrontation wasn’t what he feared it would become.

Perhaps it’s just me projecting my own stuff on this.  But when Jacob’s father in law catches him, when he basically says “Look, I didn’t care about all this stuff so much as I cared about the fact that you’re taking my daughters away without offering me a chance to say good bye.”  I wonder if he suddenly realized that perhaps he didn’t have to flee his first home.  I wonder if he realized that he was a coward.  I wonder if he recognized that he didn’t have to leave the only home he’d ever known all those years before.

If he’s anything like me, he’d probably realize that God’s hand was in that.  No matter what happened, he never would have an easy time severing ties with his mother.  As long as he was there, he never really could have grown into a man.

I’m not saying that poor boundaries or cowardice are my issues specifically.  But I am saying that I have done stupid things.  And God has used even these stupid things (maybe especially the stupid things) to teach me things I’m too stubborn to learn in any other way.

Wow!  Two posts and I haven’t even reached the great wrestling match.   More on that later.

Sometimes others wrong him.  Sometimes he wrongs others.  He experiences joy and sorrow.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Wrestling, Part II”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Hope you do not mind, but I will be quoting your work here in an answer for my class this week.

    If I can get your last name – I will ‘cite’ it properly.

    Thank you.


  2. Campbell, huh? Any relation to the late great Joseph Campbell, master of Myth?

    My essay is one for my Catholic Biblical School class. I am in the first year of the four year program and there is a question on Jacob’s wrestling. We either have to approach it fro our personal point of view, or in regards to Israel as a nation, past and present. I actually think the personal would be harder to develop, but you did a wonderful job here.

    Thank you.


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