Reading through the Bible together

Saturday, May 19, 2012

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"I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ‘ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (II Corinthians 12:7-10, NIV)


After wrestling with Jacob at Jabbok, God gives Jacob a new name and a thorn in his flesh.  Jacob limps away from his encounter with God with a disability that calls him for the remainder of his life to live as Israel (One who Wrestles with God) and not as Jacob (One who Schemes).  Jacob will need the reminder.  The next four or five decades will be more challenging than the past two.  Just as Paul needed his “thorn” to remind him to rely on God, Jacob will need his own thorn. 


Defining as the Jabbok experience has been for Jacob, it does not erase all his old tendencies.  Just as we may experience new direction with our baptismal vows or our marriage vows and then spend a lifetime learning the significance of living out those vows, so Jacob has yet a lifetime of living out the newness of his name-changing experience with God.  This chapter and the next reveal the ups and downs of that process.


As the new man, Israel, he humbles himself before Esau (v. 3), makes restitution for his theft 20 years earlier (vs. 8-11), references his night of wrestling with God (v. 10), shows tender consideration and protection for his family (vs. 13-14), and sets up an altar and claims God as his own, “The God of Israel” (v. 20).  However, as the old man, Jacob, the deeply ingrained patterns also surface.  He displays favoritism in the family (vs. 1-2), he offers gifts to Esau but no confession of his sin against Esau (vs. 8-11), and he promises to meet Esau in Seir but instead heads the opposite direction to Shechem (vs. 14, 18-19).  Old patterns die hard.  Jacob needs God’s gift of the limp, his thorn, his reminder to rely on God.  Tomorrow’s tragic story in chapter 34 seems to be an indication of Jacob forgetting his limp and paying dearly for it.


Douglas Tilstra

Director of Outdoor Leadership and Education

Southern Adventist University