80% of the time I look at the assigned readings for the week, I say, “Ooooo! This one of my favorites!” But this week, it’s actually true—this week has one of my favorites stories from the Old Testament. I love it so much, I actually have a quote from it on the quotes section of my Facebook Wall (the Wall of All Truth and Accurate Information about Really Interesting Me!). It goes like this: “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”
It’s such a strange story. Commentators have twisted themselves into all kinds of contortions over this: is this a river demon or river god, that may have been commonly accepted in ancient times? Is this an angel of God? Is this God himself? And at the end of the story, the man, or demon, or god, or angel, or God, gives Jacob a new name: Israel, which means the one who strives or wrestles with God. And that’s the name of the children of Jacob, the house of Israel: the people who wrestle with God.
But here’s the thing: Jacob was afraid. He had to face his brother, whom he had cheated twenty years ago, who was a mighty warrior and hunter, who might very well have been waiting for this day just to kill Jacob. He did not know what awaited him. And suddenly, this mystery assaults him. And at the end, he receives a blessing, perhaps from God himself.
We live in tumultuous times. Fear has come into our political discourse like a virus that we can’t shake, much like the actual virus that has put many of us in bed over the past couple of weeks. But this story is a reminder for us that wrestling with God is our primary task, and it is only God that we should fear. We must not fear the fearmongers, or hate merchants, or bullies. Instead, we should fear the one who really matters, and we should seek to follow his will. When we wrestle with God, we train for these other things, and we see how paltry and insipid they really.
One of our presidents once said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Don’t be afraid. Wrestle with God, and be strengthened for your moment, now.