God, thank you for your word to us: for Christ the living Word, and for the Scriptures that speak to us of comfort and hope. We pray that as we think and talk together, you’ll give us a deeper insight into this story. Speak to us according to our need, and bless us in our sharing together. Amen.
During the last few months the world’s been turned upside down by the coronavirus outbreak. There’s been tragedy and there’s been heroism; most of us have probably muddled along somewhere in between. What is the future going to be? No one’s really sure.
At Bible Society, we decided we were going to focus on Hope. Psalm 121 is a profound expression of faith in God; we can always have hope, because God is faithful. But hope can be tested; hope can be complicated. So we’re going to look at four Bible stories about hope.
The first is about Jacob wrestling with God; or a man, or an angel; call it the divine. It takes place at a crucial moment in his story. He’s had a life-long rivalry with his brother Esau; he stole his father’s blessing from him; the last time they met, Esau swore to kill him. Now Jacob’s on his way home; he’s been told Esau’s on his way to meet him with 400 men, and he’s terrified.
This strange encounter takes place at a ford. In the ancient world, fords were seen as thresholds or gateways to new lands. It was like that for Jacob: he was stepping over from one life to another, but before he did he had to do battle. Jacob wrestles with God; he wrestles with the Divine. At the end of their encounter, his opponent touches his hip and leaves him with a permanent limp, presumably in permanent pain. Out of that comes a new name, Israel. Israel can mean, he fights with God; or it can mean, God fights. & there also comes a blessing: and when he meets with Esau the next day, his brother runs to meet him and throws his arms around him.
Jacob’s uncertain hope is fulfilled; but it comes through suffering and pain.
1. Can you think of a time when you’ve been uncertain or fearful, and felt faith was a battle?
2. What stands out for you in this story? It might be something that challenges you, inspires you or confuses you.
3. The revivalist Smith Wigglesworth once said: ‘Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.’ How might Jacob have been changed by his encounter?
4. What does the idea of ‘wrestling’ with God convey to us today?
5. Jacob was left lame after his meeting. How do our experiences of conflict – whether with God or with other people – affect us?
6. In Charles Wesley’s hymn ‘Wrestling Jacob’, there are the repeated lines: ‘Wrestling I will not let Thee go,/ Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.’ His conclusion is ‘Thy nature and Thy name is Love.’ How do you see the love of God in this story?
7. What does the story say to us about hope?
Hope is sometimes hard-won. We might not see a way ahead, and we might be facing all kinds of conflicts. But if like Jacob we say to God, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me,’ we’ll find that he is faithful.