Last week in our look at the life of Jacob (through the book "Escaping with Jacob" by David Ramos), we looked at how Jacob finally, after decades of deception and turmoil in his life, turned to prayer. Jacob is almost home now, and his brother is on his way to meet him. We are still left with the question: will there be violence or will their relationship be restored? But before we get the answer, it seems God has work to do yet in Jacob.
Week 14: Read Genesis 32:22-32 (Forgiveness and Transformation)
"This is a strange event in the life of Jacob. As he prepares to face his brother in the morning, he sends his family and possessions across the river ahead of him. For an unspoken reason he decides to stay alone in the dark of night. During this night, a stranger finds Jacob and begins to wrestle with him. Perhaps Jacob thought it was one of Esau's men, or even Esau himself, coming to take revenge. But it turns out to be no normal man because with a single touch the stranger is able to dislocate Jacob's hip.
Defeated and confused Jacob cries out for, of all things, a blessing The stranger asks him his name. Painfully, Jacob tells him A commentator helps us understand why Jacob would've wanted to stay anonymous. "By divulging his name, Jacob also divulges his character. It is here a confession of guilt." Then something incredible happens. The stranger renames him from the "deceiver" (Jacob) to "Israel." Somehow, Jacob has just had an encounter with God and survived.
Many of us are like Jacob. We have something incredibly shameful in our past. A weight that is so heavy, it has defined and shaped who we have become. The first time Jacob ran away from home he was escaping his shame. Now, on his journey back, he was seeking to have it forgiven. And that is exactly what happened.
Jacob was marching back hoping that his brother Esau would be the one to forgive him. But this is when God stepped in. God grappled with Jacob throughout the night, handicapped him, and then wiped away his shame by granting him a new name. The name "Israel" wasn't just to signify what had happened that night Instead, it was the symbolic restart Jacob had been seeking. The name Jacob symbolized the patriarch's past. He had been known for his deceptive practices - cheating his father, brother, and uncle - and those actions had nearly gotten him killed. But he was a new man now. A person touched by God and given a completely new identity: Israel, the one who has overcome.
This is what forgiveness really is. We fall into the thinking that forgiveness is a weak practice. That it's like washing dishes. They get dirty so we just have to throw them back into the sink and clean them again. We see ourselves as just another one of God's dirty dishes. However, God sees so much more. When God forgives, God is not just wiping away the dirt. We are being transformed. A paper plate becomes a golden platter. A sinful human becomes a child of the Most High God.
Israel's shame was no match for the furious forgiveness of God Like Israel, we no longer have to be defined by our shortcomings; instead, we can be known by what we have overcome."
Takeaway from today's lesson: God's forgiveness does not just clean us, it transforms us.
Prayer: God, thank You that You are willing to take a life like mine and make it extraordinary. I can overcome because You overcame. Amen.