Jacob, יַעֲקֹב, stands alone. The swindler who swindled, bested by a better swindler in Laban, לָבָן. He faces, it would seem, utter destruction at the hand of his brother Esau; the very one he swindled in the house of his father. He prays:
הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי, מִיַּד עֵשָׂו
“Deliver (save me, exodus) me, I earnestly pray Lord, from the hand of my brother, the hand of Esau” (Gen. 32:12, paraphrasing mine).
He is beseeching the God of his fathers (Gen. 32:10), to rescue him; but immediately he executes a plan to save his household (Gen. 32:12).
In Laban, Jacob finds not a role model, but an antimodel. Defining an antimodel is rather easy, not imitating an antimodel who has influenced your life or surroundings is quite another endeavor. Laban causes Jacob to look in the mirror of his own behavior as he stands utterly alone beside the stream of Jabbok (Gen. 32:23-25).
Jabbok is derived from the root בָּקַק/bāqaq, meaning to empty, void or spread out. Phonically it would remind you of the sound of a bottle being poured out. Jacob now stands beside a dry wadi, bereft of his family, even as dysfunctional as they could be, facing certain death.
In the moment of his greatest emptiness, the Lord who has stood heaven side above, in Genesis 28, now wrestles him in that empty place on the earth. All night they struggled, until the Man touches the Jacob’s hip socket, dislocating his hip, even then he would not let go.
Seemingly sensing the significance of the moment, Jacob answers the Man requesting to be let go, “I will not let you go, until you bless me” (Gen. 32:27).
The blessing Jacob had received so many years before was the result of a scheme that soured his life. This blessing would be the result of his desperate need, in emptiness, wounded, to fill the void his disposition had reaped.
Touched by God, Jacob limps to face his brother, utterly convinced of his own demise, but blessed of God. This blessing was not the result of theft, or deceit, but wrestling with God who overcame Jacob’s old nature by a touch that forever changed his walk.
Yes, his children would do unimaginable things breaking Jacob’s heart, but Jacob went from an antimodel to a godly role model for them, and those difficult children would have to wrestle with the consequences of their own deceit as they mirrored the father and uncle they knew in their youth; but even they, through another antimodel turned role model, Joseph, would learn how deep the touch of God’s grace is, when Joseph, welding absolute power of life and death over a nation, says to them:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Ex. 50:20).
I remember vividly morning breakfast in Vellore India in 2016. I was sitting with a man of God I had, and still do, looked up to in faith for many, many years, Dr Karl Coke. We had been having a heart to heart about life struggles and ministry. He looked me squarely in the eye and said, “I do not trust a man who does not limp.” Of course, he was referencing the experience of Jacob.
In order to become modelers of faith for our family, friends, and community, we all need to have that moment beside the Jabbok, empty/void, when God arrives, wrestles with us, then changes us, not only internally, but externally.
Maybe you feel like you are wrestling right now. Perhaps you wrestled, and things seem to be remaining the same. Hold on, and as you see the new day dawning, the blessing of His presence there, in that empty place, will become apparent. Don’t despair. Endure.
Messiah said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Jacob prayed: deliver me, save me. And he was. He walked out the salvation of the Lord. His walk may not have looked like ours, and that really does not concern me. Why? We are fruit from that night. We are the infilling of the void Jacob faced. We are evidence of what was yet unseen to Jacob (Heb. 11:1), but known to the Man who wrestled, touched, and then ascended to heaven until the fullness of time had come.
If you are limping in life right now, drop the cane, and take hold of Yeshua/Jesus’ hand. He will walk with you, as He bears the weight of your circumstance, even as you limp along. In the limp, you are saying to all those watching, and they are watching: I know in Whom I have trusted!
“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (II Tim. 1:12).
Be well. Shalom.