Monday, July 17, 2006

The Face of God (Genesis 32-36)

Esau is on the move, coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. The terrified Jacob makes contingency plans as best he can, splitting up his family in different camps so that at least some may escape the ensuing massacre. He then lifts up this agonized prayer, filled with horror and hope, fear and faith:
O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’
A strange man then attacks Jacob after dark. Wrestling with all his might, the great patriarch remains locked in combat with the intruder all night long. Though his hip is knocked out of joint, Jacob is winning, and demands a blessing from his assailant before he’ll let him go. And so the stranger blesses him:
Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.
In a mystical and mysterious turn of events, Jacob has not been wrestling with a mere mortal: the intruder was God himself. And Jacob won! With wide eyes he realizes that he has “seen God face to face” and lived to tell about it.

There is something big going on here that I can’t quite get my finger on. Remember God’s words to Cain back in Genesis 4?
Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will there not be a lifting of the face? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is against you, but you must rule over it.
The next day Jacob bows to the ground before his brother Esau. Despite his fears, Esau embraces him in friendship, lifting up his face. Jacob marvels and says, “I have seen your face,
which is like seeing the face of God.” He would know.

Was Jacob’s fear of Esau groundless? I don’t think so. The Bible seems to be implying that Jacob’s victory over God caused the warm reunion. Does that mean God was playing the part of sin? Did God make himself “to be sin who knew no sin” in order that Jacob might “do well”? I have no answer but mystery.

So Jacob returns to Canaan with God’s protection. Though his sons treacherously massacre an entire town after the rape of their sister Dinah, God preserves Jacob from violent retaliation. Despite their former animosity, Jacob and Esau bury their father Isaac together in Hebron. It is the place where Abraham himself “strove with God” over the life of the righteous in Sodom.

great thoughts- I'll check back now and and again to get your insights. Thanks for the heads up!

could it be that "wrestling with God" gave him the courage to face a much less powerful adversary? Is God just doing some confidence boosting here?

I'm so glad that you contacted me- it's refreshing to find people bravely searching for truth and not just following the party line.

Can you send me your email address? I'd love to chat further with you.

Hi Chip,

Hmmm... I don't know - Jacob's plans don't seem to have changed much, nor does he necessarily display much confidence the next day (he simply bows his head down). I'm thinkin' along the lines of something more mystical - like the Lord representing the enmity with his brother and Jacob prevailing. But I'm just guessing.

As far as my own courage goes, well, it's hard to call a psudononymous blogger all that brave! I do strongly believe that scripture can take the scrutiny and that our faith will be enriched by us doing a little bit of our own "striving with God" over the parts we find troubling.

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