Redemption in the Storm Part 3 - Fear
As I write this chapter I find myself in a sea of fear. Or rather, facing a huge thunderous wave of it.
You see, my wife is 12 weeks pregnant, and today we are going to see the baby under ultrasound for the first time. it is a wonderful event, and, especially being our first, I am filled with feelings of excitement, wonder and awe. But I also find myself crippled with fear.
I don’t know if it’s shameful to say, but I threw up 3 days this week, as soon as would wake up, and I’m not even the one who is going through morning sickness.
No , my sickness is the stomach churning disease of fear.
Since I was still myself a child, I have been afraid of disabilities. I’m embarrassed to say it, especially as a Christian because I know that God makes no mistakes.In Exodus 4:11 God says to Moses “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”.
I know these things, and I know that God is in control, that He loves us, and that all humanity, abled or disabled were made in God’s image, and that God doesn’t make mistakes.
But I still find myself overcome with fear. Fear that our sonographer will, in the middle of the scan, say “ oh, that's strange” and then call the doctor.
That the doctor will sit us down and explain the irregularity of our scan, and that our child is lacking some chemicals or has too many chromosomes, or somehow isn’t as ‘normal’ as we had hoped.
I’m so ashamed to write this because I know that we all have value. And I’m not trying to devalue people that have disabilities, God forbid that I say such a thing because it simply wouldn’t be true.
But it would also be untrue to say to you that I am still afraid.
I remember a few years ago another crippling tsunami of fear that I carried everywhere I went.
I was single.
Most of my friends were dating, or engaged, or married.
It felt like everyone else was finding love, settling down, travelling the world together, and I was left behind.
I could hear the clock tick tick tick my life away.
I remember nights where I had the option of going out with my friends and being the spare wheel (one night I distinctly remember being the 13th wheel. I remember sitting in a restaurant with 6 pairs of madly in love people, some of whom were unashamed to show it, and unwilling to stop showing it), or rather stay home ...alone.
And neither of these options were very helpful.
Neither of them quelled the raging storm inside my chest, eased the burden on my back, silenced the voices in my head.
But then I met my wife.
And we started dating.
And I felt for a moment that my fear would shrivel up and die..
But I was wrong.
My fear began to evolve.
What was once a fear that I would never find someone grew into a fear that now I had found the love of my life, that I would lose her. And if I lost her, what would I do then?
The fear that she would leave me began to shrink as we got closer and closer to marriage.
But it never left.
After our wedding, I felt the fear release itself, but one day I turned to find that my fear, though quiet was not quite dead, but was evolving again, into a new fear.
A fear my wife would die,
that there would be a disease, or that I’d get a phone call telling me that there was an accident, that lightning would strike, or a tree would fall, or some raving lunatic would drink and drive, and crash into my beloved.
A few years have passed now and we started thinking about having children.
As sure as ever, fear reared its head once more and revealed that it had updated, into a new fear.
Fear that we wouldn’t be able to have children.
That something didn’t work, mainly with me.
I had visions of my wife and I surrounded by our friend's kids as we grew older and older, deathbed scenes in my mind with no progeny. Our names forgotten forever, a new loneliness. Like the opening scene from Pixar’s UP.
Then, on my birthday, my beloved wife presented me with a positive pregnancy test.
The joy of it all, the excitement and the jubilation that I was a dad! The bliss, and excitement knowing that my wife would be such a wonderful mum, and the possibilities of what could come.
Which leads me to today as I write.
You see my fear has clearly changed once more.
And I face him yet again. This monster, this wave, this storm.
For this chapter, I want to talk about fear.
A seemingly universal, timeless, ever-evolving monstrosity, able to infest and invade every facet of our lives and, if left unchecked will consume and drown a person’s mind, body and soul.
Jacob and Esau - A story of fear
One story which springs to mind when I think about fear is the story of Jacob and his brother Esau which occurs in Genesis 32 - 33.
Before we go to Genesis 32, I’d like to start with the preface of this story which is found in Genesis 27.
Jacob was the younger twin of Esau.By virtue of the fact that Esau was born first, he had right to a birthright, and a blessing from his father.
Jacob, true to his name, which means supplanter (a supplanter takes over or takes the place of someone else, usually on purpose. If usurping thrones is your thing, then maybe you have a future as a supplanter). Jacob supplants his brother, Esau, not once, but twice. First conning him into giving Jacob the birthright, and then in a much more sinister fashion, he takes advantage of his blind father Issac and tricks him into giving Jacob the blessing.
So Esau, blood boiling and enraged, vows revenge.
41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now, therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran 44 and stay with him for a while, until your brother's fury turns away— 45 until your brother's anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?”
This story BEGINS with fear.
20 years before our story in chapter 32, chapter 27 happens. And a key component in Jacobs motivation and action is fear, even there.
Jacob leaves his family and his home, in fear.Fear that his big brother will kill him.
Now, you might say that fear of being murdered is a valid fear. Especially when you kinda deserve it?
And I’d have to agree with you.
If I enraged someone with the means,capacity and motive to kill me, in a culture of justice by revenge, I must admit, I would be afraid too.
But the thing is, fear doesn’t have to be invalid to be wrong.
Did you get that?
I’ll say that again.
In fact, I'll put it in italics and increase the font.
Fear doesn’t have to be invalid to be wrong.
Jacob acts in fear,
He runs in fear,
And, as we will soon find out,
He lives in fear.
I'm not sure if you noticed, but Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, after telling him to flee, promises that she will send for him to return when Esau’s anger has subsided.
But this never happens.
Rebekah never sends for him.
For 20 years Jacob lives in Haran waiting for that message, telling him he could go home and that his brothers murderous wrath had passed.
I can’t imagine the sleepless nights. The moments of dread every time someone appeared over the horizon,
The skipped heartbeats when someone called Jacob’s name, and somehow for a split second caught the exact sound of his brother. The nightmares, the violent daydreams. I can’t imagine it.
And yet I can,
because I threw up this morning from it.
Because yesterday I ran to the toilet 6 times, because my heart is in a flurry, and my chest knows what it’s like to quake. Because I’ve had nightmares of things I dared not allow myself to think while awake:
What if loneliness overtakes me?
What if I’m left behind?
What if she dies?
What if I’m fired?
What if it all comes crashing down?
I know that many of you have too.
Jacob’s story isn’t one of historical significance because it is unique. It’s significant because it isn’t.
The storm clouds over his life are reminiscent of the ones that block out our own sun.
But life moves on.
Jacob goes to his uncle Laban, he settles down and marries 2 of Laban’s daughters. Leah and Rachel.
He has children, he builds his career and amasses wealth.
20 years pass.
And God speaks to him again in Genesis chapter 31:
13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.’”
And Jacob obeys.
But even there, in his obedience is a drop of fear once more. See if you can spot it:
17 So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. 18 He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. 19 Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father's household gods. 20 And Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. 21 He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.
Jacob, still clinging to some fears, tricks his father-in-law, and leaves without telling him.
Laban pursues, and catches up to Jacob, and confronts him:
27 Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? 28 And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly.
31 Jacob answered and said to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.
This is a side note, I mean, we aren’t even at our main story just yet. But this story is here deliberately.
Jacob is a man who acts out of fear often.
Our fears are never limited to one season or aspect of our lives. Fear has the ability to infiltrate and infect any and every part of us.
Facing your fears
I remember a few years ago I was asked to sing a special item at a wedding.
I’m not a professional singer.
I wouldn’t really even call myself a singer. I had led worship a few times at church and this couple who had attended our church desperately needed someone. So for the low low price of a $25 gift card, they had enticed me to sing this item.
I had practised. I had sung this song driving to work for a month. And I’d practised with the guitarist as well. I was well prepared.
But that morning, as the seconds drew closer, I had to face this once and for all.
My item was to be sung as the bride walked down the aisle. I knew that if I stuffed this up it would be noticed.
The church hall was packed.
The guitar began to play...
Chapter 32 was that moment for Jacob.
Jacob finds himself on the way home, in obedience to God’s voice.
He sends messengers ahead to tell Esau that he is coming.
And then, the reply comes:
6 And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Genesis 32:6
If you’ve ever seen the lion king, you’ll remember the scene where Simba is in the gorge and there is a cloud of dust that rises into the horizon. The music swells and speeds up. Simba looks and sees the stampede of tens of thousands of wildebeests charging at him.The camera zooms right into Simba’s face as his features shrink in terror.
That’s the image I see whenever I read this passage.
Except the face isn’t a cartoon lion cub, it’s a man who is being hit by a wave of terror as he realises that his brother, who vowed to kill him, is coming to meet him.With 400 men.
Not 400 sheep, or his family or 400 servants.
But 400 men.
Jacob doesn’t have an army.
He doesn’t have 400 men.
And he’s afraid.
Fear doesn’t have to be invalid to be wrong.
Jacob has a valid, real reason to fear.
Sometimes I feel that I get a little disjointed from reality when I read the bible because I know the ending of the story as I'm reading it, so the tension is really not quite there. But the thing is, Jacob doesn’t know what will happen.
So Jacob immediately rationalises.
7 Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, 8 thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”
He rashly thinks of what he could possibly do and then makes a quick decision.
This isn't the part where I bash him for doing this, because all in all, I don’t think this is really a terrible move.
Now, I get that you might be thinking “wait hold on, if he had complete faith he wouldn’t have done this” and I agree, I think the same.
BUT he is only human after all.
The main reason I won’t be focussing on this much, is that I think the real focus of the chapter lies in what Jacob does next.
Check out my alliteration here.
He prays and pleads about promises provided.
Let’s go back to Genesis 32:
9 And Jacob said, “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,’ 10 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. 11 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. 12 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.’”
Jacob hears the news. The camera pans into his shocked and terrified face. Jacob falters and makes a quick decision.
But then, in the moment of terror...
The camera slows down.
The noise disappears and Jacob is left in silence,
His heart beating quickly and loudly,
But it starts to slow down.
Jacobs world is frozen now.
And he begins to pray.
His prayer has 3 parts:
Jacob remembers 2 things.
He remembers who God is: 9 And Jacob said, ”O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac”.
Please don’t brush over this.
Because it's significant.
Like honestly, it's huge. Because when we are afraid, our first instinct is usually not to think properly.
And not to remember. And not to take even a moment to think that God, the world-breather, time-inventor, universe-author, is even there.
Which is insane. It's like if I was scared of bees, and I was standing at the top of the grand canyon and saw a bee.
That I might completely and utterly forget the grand canyon. Or if I was an astronaut in space, looking at the entire earth, and the thought that bees exist came into my mind, that I would forget the entire world.
Over a little bee.
Because the thing is, if we were to truly remember that God is who He says He is, I don’t think fear would be possible for other things.
I’ve always thought it weird that God is often called the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. Even though Jacob didn’t know at this point that his own name would be added to the list, Jacob knew what God had already done for his father Issac, and his grandfather Abraham.
Jacob knew the dangers and trials that God had saved Abraham and Issac from.
And if I may, I think Jacob also knew what God had done for the significant women in Jacobs Lineage as well.
You see Jacobs grandmother Sarah, and his own mother Rebekah had been barren. Sarah had waited till she was 90 years old before being able to conceive and Rebekah had waited for 20 years to have a child.
Even his own beloved wife Rachel, had been barren for years before she had given birth to his son Joseph ( and a few years after this story, Benjamin). In this time, all 3 couples had prayed fervently to God that He might be gracious to them and open their wombs.
And God had.
So taking a moment to remember the God of Issac and Abraham, to Jacob would have been a moment where he refreshed the knowledge that if it were not for God’s continuous faithfulness, that neither he nor his entire family would exist at all.
He also remembers what God said to him. “O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’”
Jacob remembers that this whole episode was God’s idea, not his own. That God told him to return home, and also that God promised to do him good.
My friend, I promise you that in any and every fear you face, you can remember as Jacob did.
That God is not only the God of Issac and Abraham but also rightly called the God of Jacob. And the God of You. He has already done wonderful things, great things, impossible things. And without His continuous and repeated faithfulness, you or I wouldn’t even be here to be afraid in the first place because we simply wouldn’t have existed. It’s not just our current circumstances in which God needs to be faithful in, but past ones, millions of them that have come together for our good thus far.
And that promise that Jacob recalls in his prayer, where He quotes God telling him that He will do him good,
That’s for you too.
God is God.
And God is doing good.
10 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.
Jacob realises that he isn’t worthy. Of anything that God has ever done for him. But it’s not a self-bashing realisation of worthlessness though. Sometimes in our attempts to be humble, or less arrogant, we make the mistake of telling God in our prayers that we are wretched worthless beings. That we fail all the time and that we don’t deserve His help or love. It’s simply not ok to pray like this. It might be true that we in and of ourselves don’t deserve God’s love and attention, but that doesn’t make us worthless or pathetic. God’s willingness to love us and pay for us makes us worth a lot.
Jacobs realisation isn’t only one where he realises his unworthiness, because understanding that he was never worthy before, and yet God protected him and was faithful is a freeing truth. You see, if the reason that God had done good for Jacob in the past was that he used to be worthy, or more worthy than now, then perhaps he wouldn’t be able to stand to the level of worthiness that he needed to be in. This is especially helpful when we are afraid in our darker seasons.
Picture this; you are afraid. Of whatever it might be, disease, death, loneliness, bankruptcy etc.
But you’re also in a place in your life where your faith isn’t the greatest. You AREN’T on the mountain top.
If it is true that God was good to you before because you were worthy than instead of removing fear and giving you hope, coming to God would only amplify your fear and give you more anxiety.
But the truth is, you and Jacob were never worthy. Not even on your best day.
Jacob realises that he wasn’t worthy, but God was faithful regardless. In spite of Jacobs unworthiness.
And Jacob knows he still isn’t worthy. Nothing has changed on his end. So nothing will change on Gods.
This realisation gives Jacob the courage to move forward with the next part of his prayer.
11 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. 12 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.’”
Jacob requests that God would deliver him from the hand of his brother.
I love the simplicity of this prayer.
He is honest, and straight to the point.
In this prayer Jacob gets it. God is listening, no sugar coating is needed, no lofty prayers of thees and thous and a million thanks for other random things to get God all buttered up for the request.
Just the request.
“ Lord I am afraid of ___________. I'm afraid that _______ will happen and do _________ to me. Please protect/ rescue/ save/ help me.”
I wonder if as you are reading this something that comes to your mind. Something that you would put in those gaps.
I can think of many that I have put in the past. And many that I could put even now.
Be honest with God. He already knows your fears. He isn’t waiting passively for you to ask either. He’s already acting, but sometimes the truth is not that God doesn’t know your true fear, but that you don't. When you are afraid, you need to pray more than God needs to hear it. You need to know your fear and say it out loud so that you can hear it and realise it for yourself.
Prayer isn’t informing God of things He doesn’t know, as much as it is making a decision to giving it over to God.
Can I plead with you to do the same as Jacob does here?
There aren’t too many stories in the bible where Jacob’s actions are commended and recommended for readers to follow, but this is one of them.
Go to God when you are afraid.
Even if you don’t hear Him answer go to Him.
Remember who He is and what He has done for you in the past.
Tell him your fears and worries. Spill them out and be honest. Even if you are too afraid to say them out loud, write them down. Get them out and give them over to God.
And then make your request. Small or big, as silly as you might think they are or as serious as they might be.
Jacobs next move.
Jacob sends to Esau a big gift.
13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
Jacob comes up with a plan. A plan to appease his brother. Now let me be honest here. Personally, I don’t think he did anything wrong here. Because the reason Jacob is in this mess, to begin with, is because he stole from his brother. He stole his birthright by deceiving him, and then he stole his blessing by deceiving their father.
Sometimes your fears are quelled by paying your dues.
Sometimes you are afraid of financial trouble because you were financially unwise. Sometimes you are afraid of relationship trouble because you were relationally foolish. Sometimes you will be afraid of the police, because you did the wrong thing.
So in many ways, Jacob giving an enormous gift of his best stuff makes sense.
Because that was his due.
Sometimes when we go to God asking for help, we expect God to pay our fines and overdue fees. We expect that God would wipe out our debt and fix our problems, that we cause with our lifestyle. But even though God may work like that from time to time, there is wisdom and virtue in paying our due. Especially when we are afraid of something that IS our own fault.
If you are afraid of your health failing, then as well as praying for rescue, maybe stop eating at McDonald's.
If you are afraid of not having enough money, as well as praying, maybe stop buying excessive things you don’t need.
If you are afraid of losing your drivers licence, as well as praying, maybe you should slow down on the road.
If you are afraid of marrying the wrong person, as well as praying, maybe you should look for a partner in a place that you would find the right person.
Acting pragmatically isn’t an enemy of faith. Sometimes it is its companion.
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.
This is my favourite part of this entire chapter. Because my imagination runs wild here.
Jacob is alone. With his thoughts and with his fears.
And then he is alone with God.
And they wrestle.
And Jacob refuses to let go.
And yet I wonder why it’s here. Why is it part of the story?
At least I used to wonder.
But now that I’ve been afraid, as a christian I understand.
You see this happens a few other times in scripture.
Someone is afraid. They are alone with God and they wrestle.
None so physical as this, but none the less. They wrestle.
It’s the same story.
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah the prophet has a similar encounter.
1 Kings 18 is an amazing story, where Elijah calls down fire from heaven and God answers this prayer and the entire country sees that Yahweh is the real God.
But then in chapter 19, queen Jezebel is so angry that she pledges to kill Elijah and the following happens:
“3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
1 kings 19:3-4
Elijah is afraid.
He wrestles with God mentally and spiritually and asks that he might die.
He is so terrified and depressed that he almost gives up.
But then the rest of the chapter happens.
5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat
At the beginning of this chapter, Elijah is done. He is so afraid that he wants to die. So dejected that he doesn’t want to continue. He angrily replies to Gods question in the cave and then waits for a reply.
God’s reply comes by waves of destruction. There is a great wind. A terrible earthquake and deadly fire.
And then when the earth has finished shaking, there is a whisper.
And God calls Elijah to go and continue his mission. And Elijah goes.
The fear is gone.
God wrestles Elijah, and then Elijah isn’t afraid anymore.
Even Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene :
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Luke 22:39-45.
Jesus is afraid. So much so that his blood pressure spikes, bursting his capillaries and causing him to bleed from his skin.
He prays to the Father. He wrestles with Him to take this cup.
And then He returns ready to face his death.
Jacob is alone with God.
They wrestle and Jacob refuses to let go.
And this leads to the end of his fear.
Let me answer that with a story about school. I went to a public high school. It wasn’t the safest place to be, in fact, I am often reminded of it when I watch either nature documentaries about the African Savanna or movies or shows about prison.
When I was in year 8 there was a bully called Sam. He was big. Sam carried a knife at school and everyone knew it ( public school…)
One day some friends of mine had thrown waterbombs at him and his friends while I was in detention and then somehow pinned it on me. (they weren’t the greatest of friends).
So when I returned from detention there he was. Knife in hand.
Rage in his eyes.
And I was afraid.
He threatened me, swore at me and even spat on my shirt. All the while waving his knife in the air and towering over me as he did.
But that’s not the end of the story. I knew another bully in year 12. His name was Vartan. And he was even bigger.
And he also carried a knife. In fact, all his friends did.
Vartan and I had an understanding, we hung out in the same area and played football together. One time I tried tackling him, and he knocked me out. So we became friends after that. Sorta.
Shortly after Sam and his friends left me, shaking against the wall, Vartan and his friends approached. They had just found out what had happened. After explaining what had happened, Vartan nodded at me, took out his knife and together we went to where Sam and his friends hung out.
Vartan did some things to Sam that day…
And I was never afraid of Sam again.
Jacob wrestles God.
The biggest, strongest, most powerful force in the history of the universe,
And all of a sudden, Esau didn’t seem so big.
This situation didn’t seem so big.
Jacobs own life didn’t seem so big.
And when the things you were afraid of don't seem so big, then your fears shrink as well.
This wrestling match defined Jacob for the rest of his life.
His identity, his understanding of God and even the way he walked.
When we wrestle with God and refuse to give up, our lives are never the same again.
I want to encourage you to take your fear and wrestle with God.
That thing that you are terrified about. Go to God with it and let Him know that you will not let go until He blesses you.
That you won’t stop until it’s done.
That you won’t give up.
You won’t stand down.
That you won’t let up.
Until it’s done.
*what does it mean to wrestle with God? Where do you cross the line into blasphemy?*
The trophy and the cost.
It’s strange to see how quickly this story ends. After the wrestling match, Jacob continues walking over to meet Esau.
And then this happens.
4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
After this whole episode, in an almost anticlimactic finale, Esau embraces and kisses his brother.
They talk briefly and then move on their way. And the story is over.
The first time I read this story I felt a bit let down by the ending. There wasn’t an epic battle, nothing huge happened, in fact, all of Jacob’s fears were apparently unwarranted in the first place.
But I had missed it.
The point of the story.
The point wasn’t the ending.
It wasn’t about meeting Esau, and seeing what he had become.
The story was about seeing who Jacob had become.
The point of the story happened a few hours before Esau hugs his brother.
At the end of the wrestle.
25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
The wrestle had a cost. It always does. Wrestling with God doesn’t leave you the same. Ever.
And if you are the same coming out as you went in, you didn’t really wrestle God.
Jacob ends the wrestle with a life-defining difference. It affects the way he walks and lives for the rest of his life. It changes his posture and how he moves, it even changed how his descendants behave.
32 Therefore to this day, the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
But the wrestle was also a trophy. Jacob was changed from a supplanter into a prince.
You see, even though most bible commentaries will initially say that Israel means one who struggles with God, the Hebrew structure of the word is tricky and not defined easily. Other suggestions for the meaning include: He Will be a Prince With God, God Strives, He Retains God or El (God) Perseveres.
Regardless of which it means, the significance is the same. Jacob’s very identity changed after that encounter. And it was for the better because the “blessing” that Jacob asks for is answered by his name being changed. Jacob’s fear is quelled because Jacob is changed.
That’s what wrestling God with your fears does.
It changes who you are, fundamentally as a person. It breaks you and remakes you. And just like Jacob, after you have wrestled God and refused to let go, your identity is changed. You walk through the rest of your life with a new pattern of steps.
You become one who has struggled and overcome. A Prince With God, a reminder that God Strives and perseveres and one who Retains God.
I hope that you get through this storm. I’ve seen a lot of people let go of God in times of fear, and the result is never one worth writing home about. Fear is cancer that can kill, or it is a season and storm for God to redeem and transform into a glorious future.
There is redemption, my friends, even in the storm of fear.