For there it was, gnawing away at the back of Jacob’s mind: the memory of how he had cheated his twin brother, and how Esau had been angry enough to wish him dead. He could hardly expect Esau to give him a happy homecoming after so long. Jacob thought hard about the best thing to do.
He sent this message ahead of him: “A message to Esau from his servant Jacob. I’ve been staying with our uncle Laban, and haven’t been able to get away until now. I’ve prospered – with flocks and herds, and been blessed with wives and children.” When the messengers returned they told him “Esau is on his way to meet you – with four hundred men!” Jacob blanched. It was worse than he feared. Quickly, he divided up his camp. “Esau won’t get them both!” he thought to himself. And he prayed to God, asking for help. He also prepared presents for Esau. They were some presents!
Two hundred female goats, and twenty male goats
Two hundred ewes, and twenty rams
Thirty camels with their young
Forty cows and ten bulls
Twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys.
Each had a servant in charge of them. He sent them on ahead, one after another, to meet Esau with a rich procession of gifts – peace offerings. Then, he took his wives and children and helped them back across the ford, to keep them safe. That night, he wrestled with a stranger, not letting him go until he received a blessing from the man who came from God. And the man called him Israel, which means God-wrestler.
Then, as the cool dawn began to warm, he saw Esau and the four hundred men coming towards him, He bowed down seven times, but his brother ran to him and held him, weeping. Esau had forgiven him, and welcomed him and his family with open-hearted love. “Seeing your face was like seeing God smiling at me!” Jacob said.
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The Genesis story is part of the ongoing family saga of Jacob and Esau, which, in itself, fits into a longer pattern of favouritism and rivalry, feuding and dysfunction. Here, the twins are about to meet again after a long separation. Jacob had run from Esau, whom he had wronged, and it seems he has felt the weight of that wrong ever since. He had stolen from his brother, taken his identity and his blessing, hidden his true self in his brother’s clothes. What would happen now they were going to meet again?
Jacob’s generosity is driven by fear, by self-interest, but nevertheless, it reveals his intent – his intent is for peace, for reconciliation if that is possible. Perhaps, in his relations with Laban’s family, he has come to appreciate the advantages of harmony and fair dealings. After the experience of his wedding night, he now knew what it was like to be deceived with false clothing. The onslaught of gifts he sends out, each one with a servant and a message, foreshadow the relentless wresting with God that follows in the night. He does not give up trying to show his brother his good intent, he does not wait for an answer before he sends the next gift, he keeps on suing for peace. He seems to adopt the same approach in the night vision that follows. All night long he wrestles, he will not stop until he gets a blessing.
Maybe he thinks God is like the angry brother he has wronged. Maybe he thinks God needs wrestling. Perhaps, thought, this prayer is more about changing him than about changing God. He stole a blessing, and now he is fighting for one. He is still in the mindset of struggle and fight. Perhaps he still thinks there is only one blessing to be had between him and his brother, perhaps he still needs to grasp that God is generous, and has enough to go round.
He is seeking to obtain a blessing in his own right from God – and he does. Did he need to fight? Maybe he did, but I do not think God needed him to. I think he found it hard to accept from God, after all he had done. Sometimes it takes us a long time before we come to see the truth about our situation, our selves, before we are ready to receive the blessing. God is not a reluctant giver, and even they give eventually. God longs to bless, but sometimes, it is hard for us to receive.
Take some time to contemplate picture below. What do you notice? Might you use this picture to help your prayers?
Notice the way the hands pull back the curtain, or the night. What do you notice about them?
There are many references to Jacob’s past. You can read the story by flicking back in Genesis – perhaps back to 25:21. Notice, even before they are born, how the brothers wrestle.
Can you make out who Jacob is wrestling here? Might the uncertainty be important?
The figure Jacob wrestles grips his heel – might the artist see this story as going back to the beginning of the trouble?
What do you make of the tumble of ladders behind?
Jacob and Esau found reconciliation in the end, and Jacob was reminded of this night for the rest of his life by the damage to his hip. Both brothers were blessed as a result of this determination to put things right.
Are there people we can work to be reconciled with? Are there family disagreements we can pray for the courage and strength and wisdom to help end?
Do we dare ask for a blessing?
Some prayers for our families, and prayers of blessing, from Prayers and Verses
O Loving God,
May you bless our family,
may you keep us safe from harm,
may you protect us from anger that
leads to quarrels and unhappiness,
may you help us to forgive each other.
As we go out into the world,
may we bring with us your love and your peace.
help us to be honest and kind.
Help us to be our true selves.
Help us not to do things for our
own gain, but to work
together, and learn to put each
others’ needs before our own.
May God make safe to you each steep,
May God make open to you each pass,
May God make clear to you each road,
And may he take you in the clasp of his own two hands.
From Carmina Gadelica
Wherever you go,
May God the Father be with you.
Wherever you go,
May God the Son be with you.
Wherever you go,
May God the Spirit be with you.
May the Lord bless you,
may the Lord take care of you;
May the Lord be kind to you,
may the Lord be gracious to you;
May the Lord look on you with favour,
may the Lord give you peace.
From Numbers 6:24-26