I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Jacob and one thing that always eluded me was why he begged God for his blessing that dark night of wrestling when God had given him his great and timeless blessing twenty years before—the promise of the land, of a vast nation and this:
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Genesis 28:14-15).
“What more can he say to you than he hath already said?” The problem, I think, was that Jacob was not fit to carry such a promise. He didn’t have the quality of faith necessary to carry it.
Pastors are emissaries of Christ, the great fulfilled Promise of God, but we are not made adequate to the task by our education, experience, nor even our calling. Our message depends on our faith, and the means God used to make Jacob a man of faith (albeit a weakling in it), are the means he uses with us. In past columns we’ve looked at that pivotal night at the Jabbok when Jacob wrestled with God in human disguise, outfitting him, as he does with us, with a God-leaning limp and a new identity—Israel, God Wrestler. One more thing is required to equip God’s courier.
“Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’” But Jacob, hanging on for dear life, gasped, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” I suspect the Wrestler smiled. Then, finally ... finally, “God blessed him there,” which I assume means that God reiterated his promise of 20 years before.
So Jacob called the place Peniel [Face of God], saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip (Genesis 32:31-32).
That’s not only a fact, it is pure poetry. Apparently the dawn gave Jacob a glimpse of the divine Wrestler and what he saw was like … well, what was it like? It was like seeing the rising sun shining on him!
We all know the heavy shadows that come sometimes with “these people you have given me,” (to quote Moses), the disappointments, criticisms, and self-doubt that so often eclipse the bright face of God. Return to Peniel, “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Ever since Aaron, our God-given birthright has been spoken over us, including the words, “The Lord make his face shine upon you.” It is a beaming image, like a mother seeing her infant walk or a father seeing his prodigal while he is still a long way off. So is our Father’s beaming face when he looks upon us; when he sees you.
In his book, The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning told this story, one of my favorites:
Several years ago, Edward Farrell of Detroit took his two-week vacation to Ireland to celebrate his favorite uncle's eightieth birthday. On the morning of the great day, Ed and his uncle got up before dawn, dressed in silenece, and went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. Just as the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight at the rising orb. Ed stood beside hm for twenty minutes with not a single word exchanged. Then the elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.
After catching up with him, Ed commented, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell my why?”
"Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me" (pp. 25-26).
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.