Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the 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 is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with humans,[c] 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 place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”
I couldn’t sleep. The anticipation of what was going to happen the next day rolled through my brain. I was going to do a Bible Study Interest Group at our Jr. High youth event...and it was going to be like Robin Williams in “Dead Poet’s Society.” I mulled how we were going to walk all over Louisburg College’s campus and talk about scripture passages. And we did. Those next two days changed my life and set it in directions that I’ve never regretted. But I couldn’t sleep that night.
Sleepless nights can be caused by anticipation. They are more often than not caused by stress and fear and worry. A sleepless night is a terrible thing. We toss and turn. We can’t get comfortable. Something hurts; we move to fix that and something else hurts. Problems become huge. Niggling fear becomes paranoia.
Lack of sleep kills. We already know that it’s hard our bodies not to get good sleep. How many people have tragic accidents every day because they fall asleep at the wheel. Sleep is a weapon because, you see, eventually we will sleep...and it will come at a bad time: when we were supposed to stay...awake.
The story of Jacob wrestling with God is confusing. Is it God? It is an angel of God? It says it’s some kind of human but, in the end, Jacob calls the place “I have seen the face of God and lived.” Jacob was stressed, you know. He was about to meet his brother Esau. He had wronged him. Twice. He was a conniver and a coward. He ran from Esau’s anger. Of course, Genesis tells us that God blessed Jacob. So when it’s time for the reckoning, Jacob couldn’t sleep. He wrestled with God...all night.
Jacob is given a new name; Israel which means “God wrestler.” And I suppose, folks, that no nation was ever named so appropriately. Because Israel wrestles with God throughout the Old Testament and Israel wrestles with God...even today.
So do we. We have been wrestling for many months. I’ve looked at the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or mountain vista or ocean vastness in these past few months and thought “The world is so beautiful...and yet under that beauty lies a virus that is deadly.” We are wrestling with one another. We wonder how this is going to end. We know that humanity is going to outlive the virus. We always do. But will we, personally, be among those who survive?
Maybe I’ve had too many restless nights. Maybe I’ve wrestled with God too much. Maybe I’ll limp out of this. And maybe I won’t. But it won’t be because I haven’t tried. It won’t be because I haven’t been cautious. It won’t be because I’ve been cocky. It will be because I’ve trusted in good people, good words, good thoughts, and in a power that is far beyond my understanding but not beyond my proclaiming. The golf hasn’t been so bad, either.
Thanks to John Greenleaf Whittier for these words:
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful minds,
In purer lives, thy service find;
In deeper reverence, praise.
Pastor Rick Moser