Bible stories : 08 Jacob, part 4.

Part 4 : twins Face-off.

1700-ish BC.

Big bro Esau and his four hundred men. Maybe they’re bringing...pie? As a quick recap: a couple decades ago, Jacob stole his birthright, then his blessing, then ran off before Esau could kill him. So maybe things are all good now?

We can hope. Maybe those 401 fellows are packing pies. But just to be on the safe side, Jacob divides his people and supplies up into two separate caravans, in the hope that if Esau attacks one, then perhaps the other one can make it.

Then he goes one step further. “Take six hundred of our best animals,” he says to his top workers, “and divide them into five herds.”

“Uh, okay?” they say. “And then what?”

“And then,” he says, “you’re going to leave some room between the five herds, and head out to meet Esau. When you meet him, tell him the herd is a gift from me. And then he’ll get to the next herd, and the next guy will say the same thing. And so on. I’m hoping that he’ll be super excited about the gifts and maybe things will be cool with us.”

His guys look at each other warily. One of them raises his hand. “Can I not go with the first herd?” he says.

Jacob points at him. “You go with the first herd.” So sometimes be careful about volunteering, or more importantly, trying to get out of something, because it might vault you to the top of the list.

So that’s the plan. They head out. Jacob goes to bed. And if he thinks he’s had some weird stuff happen at night before, it’s nothing compared to what happens now. He’s getting ready for bed, grabbing a quick pre-bed snack, when a man steps out of the darkness and challenges him to a duel. Now, you might be used to swords-and-sandals stories, or Old West stories, with sharp objects or six-shooters or that kind of duel, but this isn’t that. It’s a wrestling duel. Much as Jacob wants to run, he instinctively knows that that’s not an option; that this is no ordinary fellow.

“Is that a deer behind you?” he says, trying to distract the stranger with one of his famous crafty moves.

The stranger doesn’t flinch or break eye contact in the darkness. So much for craftiness.

Jacob has been smart enough to stay out of fights as much as possible throughout his life, and rely on his wits and intelligence to get him out of tough spots, which is usually the best way to go, but to his credit he’s also not a coward. With his best version of a masculine grunt he dives at the man and they wrestle.

And they wrestle. And wrestle and wrestle and wrestle. And keep wrestling until dawn. Then the stranger pulls a killer move: he touches Jacob on the thigh. Being touched on the thigh is something Jacob is okay with Rachel, or even Leah, and sometimes Bilhah or Zilpah doing, but he’s not super excited about this stranger doing it. Especially when the stranger’s touch dislocates his thigh and leaves him writhing in agony. Dislocated thighs are no joke.

The stranger turns to go, but Jacob grabs hold of him and refuses to let go. “Bless me,” he says. “I know God sent you”

The stranger finally agrees. “Your name is getting changed to Israel. It means basically “he who wrestles with God.” You’ve wrestled with man, and more importantly, you’ve wrestled with God. And you’ve stood your ground. Nice work.”

Jacob makes the smart decision to take this advice and does, in fact, change his name, making him a worthy person to become the father of God’s People.

Of course there’s still the whole Esau situation. It seems anticlimactic after the wrestling with God bit, but he’s still got a date with destiny. Destiny being named “Esau.”

Far off, Esau approaches on foot. Jacob watches with trepidation as he gets closer and closer, and as he gets closer, Esau starts running toward Jacob, and lifts up his arms, and…

...we’re going to make this a cliffhanger. What happens next? Does Jacob die? Does Esau stick his brother into a dungeon for the rest of his life? Does he steal Jacob’s fave wife?

Stick around.

Additional notes

For fans of the AMC adaptation of The Walking Dead, this “split ‘em up” strategy seems like inspiration for some of the leadership depicted on the series: pragmatic, strategic allocation of resources to ensure survival, starting with people. Also, despite it not being a religious show per se, The Walking Dead has many profound spiritual and religious insights about humanity, the quest for both survival and purpose, and the capacity for people to change and find redemption, even when they’ve been awful.

Who did Jacob actually wrestle? An angel of God? Actually God? Was it a vision? There are differing Biblical accounts. Regardless of the exact details, Jacob viewed this experience as “a struggle with God,” and accepted the blessing and name change.