Is God, by His silence, creating space for us to wrestle as Jacob did?
Caught in-between. For some of us, it’s a space between jobs or transitions between life stages, especially the years between active parenting and the empty nest. For others it may be changing locations or churches. There are times in everyone’s life where one chapter closes but the page has yet to be turned to begin the next. And it doesn’t seem to matter how clear God’s plan is at the closing of doors. The in-between is uncertain and a little scary.
I’ve been there. I’m there again. That uncomfortable liminality of knowing what’s over, yet not having a clear vision of what’s next is a struggle, especially for someone goal-driven like I am. And for all my pleading God for direction, He has been silent about His plan for 18 months that feel like an eternity. I have to wonder whether I’m missing something or looking the wrong direction. I know there is a plan, but I’d sure like to know what it is and, maybe more importantly, when it begins.
Jacob knew what it was like to be caught in-between. He left his father-in-law, Laban after more than two decades of working for him and headed toward his childhood home. But he knew his brother, Esau, was there. Jacob had tricked Esau twice: once for his birthright and then for the blessing of their father. Esau had 20 years to grow in bitterness and anger. When Jacob sent word that he was on his way home, Esau responded with a greeting party of 400 men. Genesis 32:7 says, “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” I guess he was! The door was firmly closed behind him, and it appeared his brother was not going to welcome him with open arms. Jacob put together some generous gifts to both slow his brother’s progress toward him and to assure Esau that he wanted nothing from him. Then Jacob crossed a stream, and Genesis 32 tells what happened next:
And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip (Genesis 32:24-31).
Scholars are divided about Jacob’s injury, but the Hebrew word יָקַע (yāqa) literally means “dislocated, severed, or alienated.” I think it’s safe to understand that the angel who wrestled with Jacob caused an injury that would be slow to heal and be a constant reminder of that night. It was the same night that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “God strives.”
So what does that say about the silence of God? The text only relates a conversation at dawn, which implies the entire night was Jacob wrestling the angel without words. For that night of struggle, God was silent. After the battle, Jacob moved forward, but in pain even after the blessing. That seems to say our struggles in the in-between may leave scars to remind us of both our battles and the fulfilled promises of God. The power of night is limited, and dawn will come. And in the drawing of a new day, there is a blessing available. The psalmist echoed, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Like Jacob, the unknown ahead may be cause for dismay and even fear, but perhaps wrestling with God in silence weakens our resistance to moving forward without his blessing. Maybe in the act of wrestling we learn to let go of both preconceived ideas and fear of the future. We can be confident that God will complete the work He began in us (Philippians 1:6), so we hold tight to the promise as we continue striving until the break of dawn.