Then he prayed, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:7–12)
After that prayer of seeming trust, he came up with another idea; sending gifts to Esau thinking, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” (Genesis 32:20–21)
As Jacob trusted his schemes, then trusted God, then schemed again, it is no wonder the next passage is about his wrestling match with God. The text calls Him a man. Theologians call this a theophany, an appearance of the invisible God in human form, some saying this is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
The passage says this person did not prevail against Jacob, but He touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as He wrestled with him. Jacob wanted to know His name, but the name was not given. Instead, He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Jacob asked again, but instead was blessed and said, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:25–30)
This is the wonder of fighting with God; when we lose and become weak, God considers us winners and gives us a new identity. He thereafter continues to pour out his grace through weakness in order to bless us when we most need His blessing. Jacob realized the significance of what happened. He wanted to appease Esau (literally “appease his face”) and in wrestling with God, he realized whose approval was the most important. Then, once God’s acceptance and blessing was granted, he had the courage to face his brother.
Being prepared is not what the average person thinks it is. God’s way is to grant weakness that He might give strength.
In personal relationships, everyone wants acceptance and approval. As we seek it with others, the gospel tackles our desire from a divine angle. That is, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to make ourselves acceptable or somehow appease God to be approved. Our Savior has secured all that we need to be restored to God. In Jesus we can say, with Jacob, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (32:30).
Human beings let me down, particularly in this regard. I know only One upright man, as Solomon says, but as for the rest, “they have sought out many schemes” and most everyone has disappointed me in one way or another. (Ecclesiastes 7:27–29) Being prepared for life’s ups and downs means realizing that God will take care of my needs – in both extremes. He will not disappoint me, even though He must weaken me before He blesses me.
The last reading for today is also about being prepared, this time not for life, but for the afterlife and the return of Christ. In those days, when a couple became engaged, the bride was to wait in her home and the groom would come and fetch her at the right time, usually told to him by his father.
Jesus used this to illustrate the need to be ready, telling of some who waited with her and were not ready (no oil in their lamps). These went off to buy some oil, but while they were gone, the bridegroom came. Those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the others came, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But the bridegroom answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Jesus message was “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:10–13)
From this, I understand that preparation for the challenges of life and the event of Jesus’ return involve these principles (in no particular order):
- Pray and rely on God, not my own schemes. Seek His face!
- Realize that God will remove my so-called strength before He gives me His superior abilities. That might not feel good!
- God’s gracious approval carries more weight than my performance or the approval of others, and it is free, based on Jesus and not on me.
- Wait for His appearing, but in readiness with “oil in my lamp,” and by knowing Him, and by obeying His voice.