Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”
— Genesis 32:24-28
Although this was not one of the scriptures anyone selected as one of their “Difficult Passages,” it is one of the first that comes to mind when I think about how we relate with difficult passages of the Bible. Jacob is the patriarch of the people of Israel, and the act of naming always carries significance in the Bible. Jacob wrestles with God (or an angel, or a human, or himself!) and is given a new name, carried forward by a whole people. “Israel,” roughly translated, means “God-wrestler.” To be a part of the spiritual descendents of Israel is to be a part of a community that wrestles with difficult and even unresolvable matters of the spirit.
A few things that stand out to me in this Genesis story: Jacob refuses to let go until he gets a blessing. If he had let go and walked away, it seems he would have missed out on a blessing. Jacob “prevailed,” but he was also injured. Blessings and bruises often come together in the same package. Wrestling with God (and with the Bible) is not counter to the life of faith but is an inherent aspect of what it means to walk this faith journey.
In our “Difficult Passages” series in October we are attempting to hold on and not let go of those parts of scripture from which we’d simply like to walk away. Despite the injury they may have caused us and others, we are wrestling with them and seeking a blessing. We are entering the ring with the children of Israel and wrestling with angels –and maybe a few of our demons as well.
This Sunday Mark will continue to preach on the theme of the mistreatment of women in the Bible, and for the last two Sundays of October we’ll address Divine and human violence.