Many of you may know that I was a football player in high school and college. As a matter of fact, in high school I participated in about every sport imaginable. I did track one year, baseball two years of high school, basketball three years of high school, and I even ran with the cross-country team half-time my senior year until school started in order to improve my condition for football. But, by far the sport I most enjoyed in high school and the sport that I was best at was wrestling.
There were a lot of things I liked about wrestling. I loved the trips. We flew to Fairbanks and to Kodiak Island my senior year. We had a lot of trips where we would leave on Thursday night and get back home on Sunday afternoon. And I have ALWAYS loved travel and getting out of school. In a lot of ways, the wrestling team was my social life for several months.
I also loved that if you used the gifts you had, you could be successful no matter what your natural ability. I have to coordination of a elephant with a broken ankle on a three-day bender, so I had to practice a lot. I remember a lot of times to execute a move my coach would often have to literally put my body where it needed to go to execute the move. But after a few times of going back to elementary school methods of learning wrestling moves, I would get pretty good at them. And being average to good at every style of collegiate wrestling, I became half way decent at reading my opponent, finding where I had the advantage, and forcing the matches to my stronger suit. So if the person had poor conditioning I would push the pace of the match, if he was weaker I would make the match into a contest of strength, if he was stupid I would bide my time and wait for him to make a mistake, and if he was cocky I would play possum and then strike with full force and surprise him. And the one time I had to wrestle a girl, I just tried to get in and out of the match as soon as possible.
Probably my favorite thing about wrestling though is that is one on one. In football, you have teammates that you can blame or be blamed by for the loss. The same is true with basketball and baseball. But wrestling, it is just you and the other person. Face to face. Toe to toe. And you are forced to come to terms with who you are. Your strengths and your weaknesses.
Which brings me to the story of Jacob. Jacob’s name means foot-grabber. Other synonyms are supplanter, overcomer, wrestler, and grappler. And now, in a moment of crisis in Jacob’s life, he comes to a point where he is wrestling with God. Wrestling for a blessing. A blessing that he has already stolen. A blessing that he has been struggling and wrestling to understand all his life.
As some of you remember from the last time I preached, Jacob started stealing Esau’s birthright for a bowl of lentils. Later, he steals the birthright by a cunning deceit while his brother is out hunting. God has saved his life, provided wealth for him, and given him a whole brood of children. Yet as he is about to meet his brother again, fear grips his heart. So he sends his wives and concumbines, children, animals, and servants ahead in case his brother wants to kill him. Then he wrestles this mysterious being in the late night/early morning before dawn.