“Sorrow and Struggle” Genesis 32:22-31 / Romans 9:1-5

A brief review of the events leading to where we are this morning:

  • Abraham and Sarah receive the Promise
    • Remember, that’s “Promise” with a capital “P”
  • Worried about Sarah’s age, they decide to help God, and take matters into their own hands
    • Sarah tells her maid Hagar to sleep with Abraham
    • Abraham and Hagar have a son, Ishmael
  • Abraham and Sarah regain their patience, and Isaac is finally born
  • Isaac has twin sons by his wife Rebekah – Esau is born first, with Jacob second holding onto Esau’s leg
  • Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup
  • On his deathbed, Isaac blesses the younger Jacob instead of the older Esau
    • Esau loses his rightful blessing, and wants to kill Jacob
  • Jacob escapes Esau’s fury
    • One night while he is on the run, Jacob has a dream – he sees angels going up and down a ladder taking with messages to God
    • God tells Jacob not to worry, the Promise is still there
  • Jacob marries Leah, and then Rachel

Years go by, and thanks to God’s blessings, Jacob’s flocks increase – Jacob is quite wealthy. Esau finally catches up with Jacob, and Jacob prepares to meet Esau. To appease Esau, Jacob sends a multitude of flocks, herds, and produce ahead of him.

Once again, isn’t it amazing to see the folks God chooses to carry out his plan! Here we have Jacob, grandson of Abraham, father of us all. He may be one of the patriarchs, but he also is a liar, a trickster, and a deceiver. But he is a wealthy liar, trickster, and deceiver nevertheless! It is now the night before Jacob comes face to face with his brother, whom he tricked out of his inheritance

Genesis 32:22-31: That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”   27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

This is the first time the word Israel appears in Scripture. It means “God’s fighter” or he who struggles with God.

Jacob is about to meet with his brother, but before that meeting, he has another encounter, one with a stranger. Most scholars believe that Jacob actually wrestled with a man; some say it was an angel; others say it is simply a metaphor, Jacob wrestling with himself.

On the other hand, God can make Christ human, so certainly God can come down from heaven and wrestle with Jacob!

Jacob’s struggle with God epitomizes Jacob’s life.

His whole life has been characterized by struggle, particularly by a struggle to obtain a blessing from God. From birth, Jacob had struggled with his brother; he had struggled with his father Isaac; he had struggled with his uncle, then father-in-law Laban; and now his struggle is with God.

Jacob’s own words express the substance of this struggle: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Struggling for the blessing, struggling with God.


This account is not about a particular encounter, but about the formation of Israel. Jacob’s new name was transferred to his descendants, who were called Israel as the covenant nation. God had promised Abraham, and now, after a night of struggle, God blesses Jacob, now called Israel.

The remainder of the Old Testament continues the story of Israel and God.

The story is about Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, and God’s faithfulness to Israel, time and time and time again:

  • Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, is sold into slavery by his brothers
  • 400 years of exile and slavery in Egypt
  • 40 years in the wilderness
  • The building up of the Kingdom
  • The division of the Kingdom
  • The warnings of the prophets
  • The collapse of the Kingdom, and the exile
  • The return

Throughout everything, God is faithful! The covenant is between God and his people, Israel. Israel is the chosen people.

  • God promised the Messiah to Israel
  • The prophets promised it for thousands of years before it finally happened
  • As promised, the Messiah was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
  • As promised, this Messiah became human, and lived among us.
  • As promised, this Messiah was betrayed by those whom he loved, unjustly tried, and executed.
  • As promised, he died, and was buried in a borrowed grave.
  • As promised, his followers deserted him.
  • As promised, God raised this Messiah from the dead.

But one thing must surely trouble us all – why didn’t the Jews realize that this man called Jesus, killed by them, was the Messiah? They had been waiting for this Messiah for thousands of years – why didn’t they see him?

The Apostle Paul, himself a Jew, was in deepest sorrow that his Israelite brothers and sisters did not recognize and receive Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah.

Listen to what Paul writes to his Christian brothers and sisters in Rome, Romans 9:1-5: I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah,who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

Paul was willing to be separated from the love of God so the Jews could be saved. Paul wishes that he could be cut off – the Greek word means to be “delivered up to God for destruction.” His anguish is all the more poignant because of the privileged position of the Jews. Paul loved his Jewish brothers and sisters so much he was willing to give up his own salvation for them.

Israel had the glory!

Israel had the covenants, the rainbow and circumcision!

The Israelites could never plead ignorance – they had the law!

They had worship in the Temple, they had the promises, and they had the fathers!

And yet, to Paul’s great despair, this chosen nation had rejected the very Christ who was born from their race and for their redemption, as he was born for the redemption of all humanity.

Has God’s plan to redeem all humanity been thwarted by Israel?

If Christ came to save all humanity, but if God’s chosen covenant nation rejects that mission, what about us?

If that particular part of God’s plan is not carried out, are we doomed as well?

Let me stop there and, very briefly, make some comments about Israel and scripture. The Bible DOES NOT say that Jews are going to hell. God made his promise to Israel, and God keeps his promises. When Christ comes again, scripture tells us the Jews will recognize him as the Messiah, and Israel will be gathered along with the rest of us.

Now, just as there are Christians and there are Christians, there are Jews and there are Jews. Just as not all Christians will be saved, not all Jews will be either. God will keep his promise to those who have kept the covenant as well.

Now as for us, don’t worry – we are saved by God’s grace, not by obeying the law. Paul tells us as much in his letter to the Ephesians. Rome. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

My brothers and sisters, God’s plan has not been thwarted. Since the beginning, God has been in control. There is no reason for us to despair.

Because of Christ, because of his birth, because of his saving ministry, because of his death, and because of his resurrection, we will live eternally with him.