Jacob and his wives leave Laban’s land to return to Jacob’s home, and on the way Rachel performs a little trickery of her own by stealing the household gods. According to the handy footnotes in my Bible, this would grant authority over the family, which actually makes some logical sense.
Laban is understandably angry but when unable to prove that Jacob stole them, the two declare a truce, accompanied by a sacrifice and feasting. It’s clear that one’s word is far more paramount here than we tend to think of it — and the spiritual element (of sacrifice) and communal (of breaking bread together) that accompany it are interesting, and I admit strike some primal chord in my soul.
Then we move on to what seems to me one of the weirder parts so far. Jacob finds out that Esau is coming and prepares, and in the course of doing so finds himself alone. At which point a man appears and wrestles with him until dawn? Jacob is winning and demands a blessing — the price of which is to tell his name. He’s so blessed, but the man will not reveal his identity in return. To name something is to have power over it, and so the man (God) has power over Jacob but Jacob has no power over God. We also see the development of one dietary rule; because Jacob’s hip is dislocated, out of this grows the prohibition against eating the thigh muscle of an animal.
What I find really fascinating here is the idea of wrestling with God. So often we think of God in terms of surrender — if we let go and give up to God’s will all work out. Give into the divine plan. Accept things and take at strictly face value. But what if that’s not it at all? What if it’s about wrestling with God — with struggling and fighting and sometimes resisting. And along the way perhaps finding out things that we need to learn — uncovering parts of ourselves we need, growing in our gifts and abilities, and perhaps learning that we are in fact far stronger than we may believe.
I also find the theme of a new name from trial to be interesting; Abram is tested and becomes Abraham. Jacob becomes Israel. It gives possibilities here, too. We have our one name in our culture, the name given to us by our parents as an infant. But we grow and change — and sometimes I know I’ve felt that I am not the same person, that my given name is a trap that ties me to a past I’ve outgrown. It makes me wonder, this idea of a name changing after something significant. How closely is our name bound to what we are?
Then Esau and Jacob meet and come to some sort of tentative truce. Only Jacob is skeptical and engages in a bit of trickery to send Esau ahead with a promise to meet up later. The whole exchange puts me a bit in mind of the Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride.” You know that Esau has the sense that there is something off — but he’s not smart enough to outwit Jacob.