From a petulant refugee and a mama’s boy to a powerful chieftain in his own right, Jacob has finally gotten the better of his sly uncle Laban.
It’s all up to Jacob now. What will he choose to do? Where will he choose to go?
Is there really any doubt? Jacob knows he has unfinished business with Esau. Esau represents all of Jacob’s deepest guilt and fear. Like many secretive fearful people, Jacob prepares to meet Esau by planning contingencies that assume that Esau will do his worst. And then, like a small child seeking approval from a tough parent, Jacob shows his plan in detail to HaShem. “Look Daddy! I’m going to split my forces in two in case Esau decides to go after me. Aren’t I smart?”
With his family dispatched ahead of him, Jacob waits alone for HaShem’s response. Perhaps he expects one of those lovely oozy dreams like the one that features a ladder to paradise. Or perhaps yet another bellowing assertion from HaShem that the covenant is Jacob’s. If so, Jacob may have been disappointed. HaShem sends another one of those nameless men who, as we’ve seen, appear throughout Genesis. His mission? Give Jacob a swift kick to the backside.
In this bout of wrestlemania, Jacob manages to stand on his own. So well does he hold off this man, the man tries to cheat by wrenching Jacob’s hip socket. Jacob could easily have limped off into the sunset, but presses on in the match until the man cries uncle. Remarkably, without cheating or whining, Jacob has earned HaShem’s respect. He is renamed “Israel” for he has contended with a being both human and divine, and won. (Gen. 32:29 After that growth in self-confidence, could Jacob be anything other than ready to face Esau?
Questions for discussion: Why do you suppose HaShem sends a cheater to fight Jacob? Does Jacob’s response remind you of a certain film from the 70’s? What spiritual values does that represent? How does Jacob’s new identity reflect an important shift in his consciousness?