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Called to be born in darkness
The crisis of life What time is it now in your life? Is it daytime when you can enjoy the beautiful sunshine or is it midnight, a time to sleep. But you can’t sleep because you are worried about your future. There are times in our lives that we lay awake worrying night after night. Sometimes we are filled with the fear of losing all the things we have built. How do we manage this kind of crisis in our lives? In today’s Scripture in the Old Testament, we are told that Jacob spent all night, worrying about the possible destruction of his life.
The night of Jacob It had been 20 long years since Jacob left his family. In the previous chapter, we saw how Jacob was tricked by his uncle Laban and how he had to go through hardship for 20 years just to marry Rachel whom he loved with all his heart. In spite of all these hardships, however, life had gone pretty well for him during this time away. Now he had 4 wives (polygamy was the ancient culture), children, servants, and numerous flocks of animals. With an abundant family and possessions, he must have been a rich father and lord in his own household. After the birth of his eleventh son Joseph, Jacob began to think about going back to his homeland. He was no longer a young man but the head of his family; he had more than enough and didn’t want to live as his uncle’s servant. But homecoming was not easy for him because he was still afraid that his twin brother Esau was seeking revenge against him. (Remember, he cheated him out of his father’s blessing and Esau was so furious that he vowed to murder him). So, on his way back home, Jacob sent his servants ahead to meet Esau and search his heart. They returned and told Jacob, “We went to your brother Esau; he’s coming to meet you, and he’s bringing 400 men with him” (v. 6). Who needs 400 men just for a friendly family reunion? Esau’s retinue was nearly a small army that must be far larger and more powerful than his own. “What if my brother really attacks me? Then, my 20 year-labors in exile would turn to be nothing but ashes in a flash.” This was the worry that kept Jacob awake all night. He took his family and all possessions and sent them across the river. But he couldn’t cross over the river with them. He stayed behind and spent the whole night alone at the camp beside the river Jabbok. Maybe this was the most important night of his entire life. In the darkness of the night, Jacob came face to face with his own fear. Actually, he was not alone there but visited by a mysterious man who was either God or an angel of God (see Hosea 12:4). Jacob figured out that he was an extraordinary man. He felt great anxiety and wrestled with these thoughts with all his power until before daybreak (v. 24). Amazingly, this unexpected wrestling with God that night changed Jacob’s life forever. While wrestling, the man asked Jacob, “What is your name?” And he answered, “Jacob, and the man replied, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,” meaning “he struggles with God.” Previously he was Jacob, who was struggling with his own selfish ambition, but from now on he became Israel, who was called to struggle with God. In other words, with this new name Israel, Jacob could turn away from the
past and start a new life as a man of God. This name change is about conversion or transformation in terms of our Christian language. For this, we must not miss the point that in his wrestling with God, Jacob had a moment of confession, “I am Jacob.” When he confessed his name, he must have felt ashamed because the name Jacob means the grabber, the cheater, or the trickster and throughout his life, he had been a schemer. He knew how to manipulate people to get his way. In his encounter with God of holiness and righteousness, however, he couldn’t avoid the truth about himself. Out of his deep heart, he came to confess his sinful identity and surrender himself. In terms of our Christian language, Jacob confessed or repented and was forgiven and justified by God. [Just like Jacob, we too should confess before God if we desire to live a new life: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9)]. In addition to his new name, there was another thing that changed in his life. That is, Jacob had been wounded while wresting with Jacob. God struck him on his hip socket, and his hip was wrenched. Since then, Jacob had to live his life as a cripple. What Jacob wanted more than anything else was blessing. He had been so competitive, full of his own ambition, and only caring about his own success. But all of his life struggles ended up with brokenness. What does that mean? This physical brokenness looks like an unfortunate accident, but we must not miss the point that because of his own physical wounds, Jacob came to be born again as a new person. Before this brokenness, he had lived by his own power. But after this brokenness, he became limp, he couldn’t hide or run away, but he had to rely on God. Hard as it seems, our hardships or trials may be one of God’s ways of bringing us his blessing. When we are in trouble, we don’t feel blessed at all because we have to walk with a limp. But through it we turn to God and God is with us. I don’t know how that works, but maybe that is the best blessing one can receive. Lastly, I’d like to note that Jacob experienced this life-change not during the daytime but during the night. Speaking more correctly, God’s blessing was given to him not just in the nighttime itself, but when he wrestled with God all night. Jacob was born again as a man of God in his own darkness. In his own struggle with God, Jacob said “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Just like Jacob, we too shouldn’t give up but cling to God until we receive new hope and a new life.
Time to be blessed What time is it now in our life? Is it after midnight for us? But we can’t sleep well because of the worries that burden our hearts. Where are we going now? Is it a desert where we don’t have enough to survive? What is our name? Is it still Jacob? Is it grabber? Is it trickster? Is it selfishness? Is it disobedience? Is it stubbornness? Is it “my own way?” Whatever our name is, whatever our character is, whatever our emotions are, whatever our life has been, we must confess, surrender, and wrestle with God if we want to experience a life-change. To God’s people, the darkness is not a time of failure, not a time of worry and fear, but it is a time we face God; it is a time we must be honest about our identity; it is a time we feel desperate and wrestle with God until a new day comes to us. For my closing comment, I will read again what Jacob said when he wrestled with God: “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Amen.