Jacob Wrestles with God – Held on Sunday, November 03, 2013

Outline of Session held on 11/03/13

  1. Previous Week’s [10/27/13] Review
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading
  4. Discussion

Previous Week’s [10/27/13] Review

Last week’s web post was food for thought as we opened of our conversation this Sunday.  I had focused attention on a great insight that Ken expressed.  As is my custom, I followed up Ken’s thought with a question.

There is so much in what Ken thought and said.  We need to realize though that there is a huge assumption in Ken’s thought.  We can only experience “it” through the “Book” if we … at this point I wonder if you can complete the sentence.  If we what?

To that question, Mark responded, “We can only experience “it” through the “Book” if we … can comprehend what “it” is trying to convey.”  Mark followed up with his own question, “If we cannot comprehend “it” fully, does this mean it thus remains a story to one whom still tries to believe? “

In both his answer and his question Mark was thinking about “comprehending,” or in other words, understanding.  But in my answer, I used the word “believe.” We believe many things that we don’t understand, and certainly don’t understand fully.  We aren’t doing the same thing when we believe and we understand.  If we take believe, not in a religious sense, but rather to mean something we haven’t figured out for ourselves but accept on the authority of someone else about 98% of what we know, in this sense, we believe. Everyone believes in that sense, even scientist.  We accept the doctor’s authority that someone has cancer, even though we don’t know what cancer is.  In fact, the scientific community has spent decades trying to understand what cancer is; hundreds of thousands of scientists over decades, learning more and more but not understanding fully what cancer is.  We also believe that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; even though we don’t understand that fully, and never will.

At this point Ken expanded the conversation by sharing an experience he had on the Internet just this past week.  Someone in a post referenced an audience  in Waco TX booing Bill Nye the Science Guy for saying that the moon reflects light from the Sun, it doesn’t shed light itself.  The post went on to say how the audience made up apparently of Christians who, in taking the Bible in a literal way, understood the Moon to be a source of light and, therefore, felt that Bill Nye was contradicting the bible.  The person making this post wanted to show how these Christians don’t understand even the most basic facts of science.  Ken responded with his own post.  He argued that the authors of the bible couldn’t possibly know about the science of the moon since they wrote thousands of years before the birth of modern science.

In response, I wanted to point out that those who booed not only didn’t understand science they didn’t understand the bible either.  As we have said for years now, the bible was written by people of faith, to people of faith, for the sake of their faith.  It is not a book on astronomy, nor on physics, nor on what modern science means by cosmology; it doesn’t have any modern chemistry in it, etc.  It is historical, in the sense that it was written at particular times in particular places but it isn’t history in the modern sense of a critical effort to recover and report what was happening in the past.  In much of the religious world, not just Christian, but  in the Jewish world, the Muslim world, etc., what often divides their views of the world, their thinking has more to do with accepting or rejecting a modern historical account of the very composition of their holy books.  Strong emotions prevail on both sides of this divide.

Again a discussion that took more time than I expected but it is further evidence of the wonder and beauty of a group feeling free to say whatever is on their mind, because it is what they are thinking and, at the same time, being open to what the other is saying even if it is different from their thinking.

Background to today’s our readings.

This episode raises so many questions.  In a single sentence we learn that Jacob, alone at night near the water’s edge, wrestles all night with a stranger; neither prevails.  Daylight approaches and in a series of dialogues, two initiated by the stranger and one by Jacob, we learn much of the meaning of this event.  Yet questions remain.

Who is this stranger? An angel, a messenger from God, God himself.  If God, who is this God who wrestles the night, does not prevail, strikes Jacob, leaving him with a limp, and changes his name.

There is no question that the wrestling was physical but, nonetheless, it is spiritual too.  And why is this passage inserted into the narrative that had as its seeming focus a meeting between Jacob and Esau.  It is as though our author wants to make sure we know that if we are to meet our brother to resolve our differences we must first meet our God, work t;hings out with God and not without a price.  The power of this Book to tell stories that transcend their own times to reflect light on our times, anyone’s  time, eternal.

We are reminded as we listen to / read the passages to wonder

  • Who are the characters in the story
  • What role do these characters play
  • What is the plot of the story, the author’s intent

Reading: Gen. 32: 23 – 33: Jacob wrestle with God.  http://usccb.org/bible/genesis/32


Tim couldn’t help but reflect the ambiguity of the story itself.  Who is this man?  Failing to succeed in this wrestling match; yet has the power to strike his hip, leaving Jacob with a new limp.  Kai wondered why he didn’t strike him at the very beginning.  Mark could not believe that God did not have the power to simply wipe Jacob off the face of the earth if God so choose.  Then he said something that was critical, maybe God was just playing, pretending.  That observation exists in Mark, but there is no evidence in the story that “the man” is just pretending.  All the evidence is that wrestling was real, the limp was real, it could have been different but it wasn’t; that is just a fact within the story.  God is not pretending.  A new image of God was beginning to be formed in Mark.

At this point Jodie, having read the notes, suggested that the Angel was carrying out a command from God.  She felt that Jacob was really asking a confirmation of what he already knew; I have seen the face of God and lived.

Faryl wondered if Jacob was familiar with the broader cultural account of similar stories.  I responded that I was not aware of any evidence in the story or in any other material that could support Jacob knowing such matters.  Faryl respond but if he did … I reiterated that since Faryl’s “if” is not supported by any other evidence then it remains a thought within Faryl.  We have great power to suppose just about anything and at the same time we desire not just to understand but to know if what we understand is true, is real.

Heber thought at the beginning being alone and in the dark Jacob was hallucinating; but when he was struck so that he ended up limping he knew that this wrestling was physical, was real.

Ken believed that the event is both physical and spiritual.  At the end of the story all that is left is Israel physically impacted by his encounter with God.

We moved to discussing the dialogue that occurred between the man and Jacob.  I would ask you to reflect on each part of the dialogue separately.

V. 27: the notion of daybreak can be a reflection of an early period in which demons lost their power at daybreak but it also can be a reflection that no one can live and see the face of God.  Jacob ever in need of a blessing …

V. 28 – 29: normally a change in name is a divine action implying a change in the very identify of the individual.

V. 30: Jacob’s request to know the name is not granted; it won’t be until Moses that we learn the name of God.

I would also suggest that you read Mk. 10: 35 – 45: http://usccb.org/bible/mark/10 to see if you can discern a pattern when James and John ask for a blessing and they too are told about drinking the cup, be baptized with the baptism that Jesus was baptized.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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