Deliverance, Decline, and Renewal

February 21, 2021 ()

Bible Text: Genesis 32-35 |

Series:

Deliverance, Decline, and Renewal | Genesis 32-35
Brian Hedges | February 21, 2021

Let me invite you this morning to turn in your Bibles to Genesis 32. We’re going to be looking at several chapters together this morning as we continue our study through the book of Genesis. If you’re following along in one of the Bibles provided in the chair in front of you, we’re going to be on page 27.

I think all of us love great stories of the heroes of the faith, but did you know there are also antiheroes in the faith? You know what the difference between a hero and an antihero is? A hero, of course, is someone of exemplary character, someone that we want to model our lives after. An antihero has been defined as “a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.” You’re thinking of a protagonist in a story, but someone who’s not necessarily an exemplary character. You might think of Hamlet if you’re thinking of Shakespeare; you might think of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter stories, or you might think of Rick in the great classic film Casablanca. These are protagonists in the story, to some degree, but they lack heroic qualities.

In church history, I think of one of my favorite songwriters and singers from the 20th century, who was Johnny Cash. He was certainly a Christian, but you wouldn’t call him a hero of the faith by any stretch of the imagination. He was a man whose life was broken in many ways, yet a man who found redemption through Jesus Christ.

Well, when we come to the Bible, Jacob is one of the antiheroes of the faith. He’s not someone that’s really an exemplary character most of the time. The good thing about antiheroes is that they are relatable, because we are often like they are. We see in Jacob a mirror for our own lives. We see how Jacob is characterized by fits and starts, by both backsliding and renewal, by ups and downs in his walk with God; and the same thing is true in our lives as well.

I think it’s helpful for us, as we study these stories from the Old Testament, it’s helpful for us to just remember that these are written in order to give us hope. The apostle Paul in Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” A story like this, the story of Jacob, is just one of those stories. It’s a story that can give us hope, because in it we see how God works with a broken man, transforming him, changing him, drawing him through all the ups and downs of life into deeper relationship with himself, and through him fulfilling his gracious covenant promises.

Well, this morning we’re going to look at really the last chapter of Jacob’s life before the focus shifts to his sons, Joseph and, to some degree, Judah, but especially Joseph in the last 14 chapters or so of the book of Genesis.

It begins in Genesis 32, where Jacob has just left Laban. You remember that God has given him a command, and this command, given in Genesis 31:3 and then repeated in verse 13, this command is really central to the story. God has commanded Jacob to go back to the land that he has promised. He has said, “I am the God of Bethel,” and the implication is that Jacob is to go back to Bethel, back to where God had first revealed himself to him back in Genesis 28, where he saw the stairway to heaven. So Jacob is on his way back, but there is a looming threat, because to go back there’s also going to be an encounter with some unfinished business in his past; namely, his brother, Esau. That’s kind of where we pick up in Genesis 32.

As we look through these next several chapters, we’re going to see several things that happen in Jacob’s life, and I think we could describe them in this way. There is, first of all, a mysterious deliverance in chapters 32 and 33; then there is a spiritual decline. You would think that Jacob would come out of this deliverance just growing, from that point forward, in his spiritual life, but that’s not the case at all. There’s decline in chapter 34; but then there is a covenant renewal in chapter 35. I think as we look at that pattern we will see that there is a similar pattern, often, in our own lives as well.

1. Mysterious Deliverance

Okay, first of all, let’s look at the deliverance, the mysterious deliverance in chapters 32-33. Genesis 32:1-2 begin as Jacob encounters the messengers of God, the angels of God, an encampment of angels that Jacob gets the privilege of seeing. This should serve to assure him of God’s gracious purposes in his life; nevertheless, he’s aware that Esau is out there, so he sends out messengers to Esau. Let’s pick up in Genesis 32:3. I’m going to read verses 3-8.

“Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, “I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.”’” You see, he’s looking for a gracious acceptance from Esau. Just remember, when we left Esau in chapter 27, Esau was ready to kill Jacob, okay? And it’s been 20 years.

Pick up in verse 6. “The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” No message, just, “Esau’s coming, and he has four hundred men.”

Jacob is now trembling in his boots. Look at verse 7. “Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” I’d imagine he was! He had wronged his brother; he had tricked him out of a birthright, he had stolen his blessing. At every turn Jacob was supplanting Esau, was deceiving Esau, tricking Esau, taking advantage of Esau. Now Jacob’s going back to his land, but in order to get back into the promised land there’s going to be this encounter, and Jacob is afraid. That’s why he needs deliverance.

So what does Jacob do? He divides up the people in his camp—his wives, his children—he divides them all up, and then he goes to the Lord in prayer, and there’s a prayer for deliverance in verses 9-12.

This is the first time we really have a recorded prayer from Jacob, and in many ways this is a model prayer. You can learn a lot about prayer just by what Jacob says here. Notice this, in verse 9, he addresses God, first of all, in terms of the covenant relationship God has already made with him.

“And Jacob said, ‘O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, “Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good—”’” He’s reminding God of the command the promise that God has given to him.

Then notice this, how he humbles himself in verse 10. He says, “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant,” and then he recounts his situation, recognizing what God has done. Also in verse 10 he says, “For with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.”

Then in verse 11 he specifies his request, his need. He says, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers and the children.”

Listen, brothers and sisters, the Scriptures tell us over and over again that we are to fear not. We’re not supposed to be afraid of what man can do to us. But if you’re afraid, this is how to handle it. You take that fear to the Lord, and that’s exactly what Jacob does. He takes his fear to the Lord, and he says, “God, deliver me.”

Then notice this; in verse 12, he reminds God of his covenant promises. In verse 12 he says, “But you said, ‘I will surely do you good and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

You see what he’s doing? He’s taking God in hand, he’s reminding God of his word and of his promises, he’s bringing his needs before God, and he is pleading with God to deliver him. Christian, do you pray like that? When you have a need, when you find yourself in the grip of fear or distress, is this how you pray? Do you bring your request to God armed with promises from God, praying his word back to him? That’s exactly what Jacob is doing, and it’s what we need to learn to do as well.

Jacob prays, and then Jacob—still planning, still the planner—in verses 13-23 he sends gifts to Esau. I’m not going to read all of it, but it amounts to 550 animals. It’s a lot of livestock, and he sends it ahead to Esau, this wave of gifts, of presents. He’s trying to appease Esau, he’s trying to win his favor before he sees him. Then Jacob divides up his flocks and his family into these different groups, hoping that if Esau comes and wipes out one group at least some of them will get to escape. He sends his wives and children over the ford, over the little stream.

It reminds me of the saying of the old soldier who used to say, “Trust God and keep your powder dry.” Well, that’s what Jacob is doing here. He’s trying to manage things the best that he can, but he has prayed, and it’s a genuine prayer. He’s learning here to live by faith.

Then something really mysterious happens in verses 24-31. Jacob is left alone in verse 24, and it says, “A man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” Now, we’re familiar with this story, but just think about what this must have felt like for Jacob. Here’s Jacob, he’s expecting to meet Esau. There’s no floodlights, there’s no electric lights, it’s in the dark, and somebody attacks him! Who is this? Is this an assassin sent from Esau? Somebody attacks him, and it’s a wrestling match.

Now, I’ve never been a wrestler, but our own worship pastor, Josh, used to be a wrestler. He was a wrestler when he was in high school. We were talking about this a few days ago, about wrestling, and he was just saying how when you’re wrestling every muscle of your body is involved in the wrestling. It is the fullest possible workout, because you’re struggling with all of your might against someone else.

That’s what Jacob is experiencing here, and notice this, he wrestles with this man until the breaking of the day. This is a personal encounter where every ounce of his being is engaged, a life and death struggle, all night long, until the man just touches him. Look at this in verse 25. It says, “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.” A dislocated hip simply through a touch. You’re starting to get the sense here that this more than a man who’s wrestling with him, that there’s supernatural power here, and he wounds Jacob.

Now, what’s going on here? Why is this happening? I think a comment from the 20th-century writer, author, preacher A.W. Pink is very helpful. Listen to what Pink said. He says, “Jacob was not wrestling with this man to obtain a blessing; instead, the man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him.” Notice the man is the one who initiated this; the man attacked Jacob. What was this object? “It was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless, and worthless creature he was. It was to teach us through him the all-important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.” The man throws Jacob’s hip out of socket in order to wound him, so that Jacob is left without any strength of his own. He’s taking away Jacob’s self-sufficiency.

I recall a story that the preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to tell. I think this was in his book on preaching. It was about a young, very gifted preacher; a talented, gifted, speaker/preacher, could really expound the word. But he was a young man, and there was still something missing. The older ministers commented, “He hasn’t been humbled yet.” What they knew that the young man didn’t know is that before God would really be able to use this man he would have to be broken.

It was Tozer who said, “God never uses a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” Well, this is what has to happen in Jacob’s life. God has to break him, so the man in the wrestling match touches his hip and throws it out of joint, so that Jacob is now wounded. What can Jacob do? All he can do now is cling for dear life. Look at verse 26.

“Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” The very tenacity that has characterized Jacob throughout his life, as he has been striving to get a blessing from people, to secure a blessing for himself, that tenacity is now directed to this mysterious man with whom he wrestles. The prophet Hosea tells us he wrestled with an angel. So it is directed towards this angel, this messenger from God with whom he wrestles, and he holds on for dear life and says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Then in verse 27 the man says to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Now remember that a name in Scripture always carries significance. Name represents character. So when Jacob here is confessing his name, he is in essence confessing who he is. It’s a confession of the whole character of his life. He is the heel-catcher, he is the supplanter, he is the deceiver.

The confession is then followed by transformation and new identity in verse 28. “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.”

This passage shows us that God’s deliverance happens through transformation, and it’s the kind of transformation that, while it changes us deeply on the inside, giving us a new identity, sending us off with blessing, it also wounds us and breaks us and leaves us humbled. We never encounter God truly unless we walk away from that encounter with a limp. We never encounter God truly unless it humbles us! This is one of the genuine marks of a real spiritual encounter with God: it humbles us. It takes away our self-sufficiency.

Nobody put this better than John Newton. Newton was the great hymn-writer of Amazing Grace, but he wrote another hymn that goes like this. It’s all about spiritual growth, and the principles here, by the way, are illustrated in Newton’s letters, which you should read. John Newton’s spiritual letters are wonderful reading. But here’s what Newton said.

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.

“’Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.”

What is that God did?

“I hoped that in some favored hour
At once he’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

“Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

“Yea, more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair desires I schemed,
Humbled my heart, and laid me low.

“‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?’
‘’Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

How is it that we grow spiritually? By being humbled, by being broken, by seeing our need, by being stripped away of self-sufficiency. It’s through that transformation, through this mysterious encounter that Jacob has with this messenger from God—he goes on to say, “I’ve seen God face to face and I’ve been delivered”—it’s through this that God delivers Jacob.

The result of this deliverance is that Jacob is reconciled to Esau. It’s an amazing story, chapter 33. I don’t have time to read it, but you should read chapter 33. There is a reconciliation story as Jacob is reconciled to Esau. The most notable thing in the story is this, that Jacob, as he gives these gifts to Esau, as he bows to the ground before Esau seven times, he’s humbling himself before Esau his brother, and the very language he’s using, he’s giving the blessing back. He’s restoring to Esau what he has stolen. He’s gotten the blessing from God now; he’s even received the blessing, though he stole it from Isaac his father, but now he is giving back materially everything that he would have taken from Esau. There is a reconciliation. It’s not without the defects in Jacob’s character, because there’s still a little element of deception at the end of the encounter, but they are reconciled, at least in some degree.

That’s the mysterious deliverance. That’s chapter 32 with the result, the reconciliation, in chapter 33.

2. Spiritual Decline

Then you get to the end of chapter 33, and we see what can only be described as the beginnings of spiritual decline. After all of this grace and mercy that God has shown to Jacob, you would think that he would move forward in the strength of God, never to backslide again. That is not the case. There’s a compromise as he settles in Succoth and then Shechem (chapter 33:18-20). It is a failure on Jacob’s part to go all the way back to Bethel, where God had revealed himself. He was supposed to go back to the land. God had said, “I am the God of Bethel; go back to the land.” He’s not going all the way back. He’s on the borders, but he’s not back to Bethel. This leads to the events of chapter 34. Pick up in 34:1. This is a tragic story.

“Now Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land.” Dinah here is probably just a teenager. “When Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated.” Notice the sequence of the verbs there. What clearly happens here is that Shechem rapes Dinah.

Verse 3 says, “His soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.” This is obviously not agape love, this isn’t biblical love; this is a romantic infatuation.

Then verse 4, “So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this girl for my wife.’

“Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah, but his sons were with his livestock in the fields, so Jacob held his peace until they came.”

You read this and you have to wonder what is going on with Jacob. You already see that he’s compromised, he’s not gone all the way back to Bethel. There seems to be no protection here, no impulse, even, to protect the honor of his daughter, Dinah. Maybe he doesn’t view her as a full-fledged heir, because it’s Leah’s daughter, this is not the daughter of Rachel, by the way, it’s the daughter of Leah. He holds his peace. He waits for his sons to handle it.

Verses 6-7, “Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter. For such a thing must not be done.”

You see two contrasting responses to the abuse: silence on Jacob’s part, outrage on the part of Jacob’s sons. Jacob’s sons were right, by the way, in their outrage. What’s wrong is how they respond.

In verses 8-12 a new threat emerges. Shechem and Hamor want to build an alliance with Jacob and his children. Shechem has committed this crime against Dinah, and now they want to build an alliance by intermarriage. Remember that Genesis has warned us again and again—you see it in chapter 24, Abraham warned that Isaac was not to marry a Canaanite; in chapter 28, Isaac said that Jacob was not to marry a Canaanite. Now you get to chapter 34, and there is the potential of all of Jacob’s children marrying Canaanites! That’s the threat.

Well, the way the sons respond is by deceiving Shechem and Hamor. They essentially say, “Yes, we’re game for that. We’ll marry, but we can’t have marriages as long as you’re uncircumcised, so undergo this circumcision.” They’re using the sign of the covenant here, but they’re using it to deceive Shechem and Hamor.

The men of the village agree to be circumcised, and then, when they’re recovering from this surgery, when they’re sore after the circumcision, Levi and Simeon, two of the full-blood brothers of Dinah, go in and slaughter all the men of the city. Then the rest of Jacob’s sons come along and help, and they plunder the city, carrying away women, children, and livestock. You see all these in verses 25-29. I won’t read it, but it’s tragic and awful.

What I will read is verses 30-31, where you have another threat now emerging. Remember, these threats are threats to the promise, they are threats to the promised descendants, the promised family, the inheritance of descendants and land. Here’s the threat; look at verses 30-31. “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?’”

It’s a new threat, and it’s all because of Jacob’s compromise and Jacob’s passivity and indifference. He settled where he should not have settled; that led to a growing worldliness in his family, the threat of intermarriage with the Canaanites, and then eventually to this terrible injustice.

It shows us the danger of compromise in our own lives. There’s always a danger of us growing insensitive to God because of increasing worldliness in our hearts and in our lives. It shows us the danger of silence and the failure to act.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t read a passage like this without thinking about Me Too, the whole Me Too movement. We’ve seen in the last several years the stories—stories both outside the church and inside the church—of horrific coverups of abuse of women and children. Those are stories in which leaders are implicated for their silence and their failure to act. Well, Jacob was guilty of that here.

We also see here the danger of wrong reactions to evil. There are two wrong reactions. One wrong reaction is indifference, that’s Jacob; the other wrong reaction is violence, that’s Jacob’s sons.

All of it, I think, shows us the threat of spiritual decline or what the older writers used to call backsliding or spiritual decay. John Owen, the Puritan, especially called this spiritual decay.

I like that story because it gives me a visual picture, because when I think of decay I think of tooth decay. I had the very unfortunate experience a few years ago of needing a root canal. I want to tell you, you don’t know pain until you get to the point where a tooth is decayed to the point where you need a root canal. I had neglected this—I had a cavity, and I knew this needed to be done, and I kept putting it off and putting it off, putting it off. I was driving north on Highway 31 one day, and my tongue just touched my tooth in just the right way that it hit a nerve, and I’ve never felt pain like I felt at that moment. It was like lightning radiated through my head. I was on painkillers and on the phone within 15 minutes, saying, “Get me in as soon as you can for a root canal.”

You know what had happened? I had neglected decay, and it led to that unfortunate event.

We do the same thing spiritually. We neglect the decay of spiritual vitality in our lives. We let disease and sin and unhealth and worldliness, we let it set in and compromise, sometimes until it’s too late and we find ourselves in serious spiritual trouble. Well, that’s what happened with Jacob, it’s what happened with his family, and now there’s a new threat, the threat of extermination, if the Canaanites take vengeance on them.

Everything seems to be up in the air again! He’s worked through the issue with Laban, he’s worked through the issues with Esau, and now he has the Canaanites ready to kill him! What is God going to do?

3. Covenant Renewal

Well, we see the answer in chapter 35, and this brings us to the third point, which is covenant renewal. This is the wonderful thing about the antiheroes of Scripture; we see again and again and again that when God’s people decline, when they backslide, when they begin to fall away, that God in his grace comes running and he restores them and he rescues them, he draws them back to himself!

You know, Calvinists believe in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and I think maybe a better way to describe it is the perseverance of God with the saints, because God is the one who keeps pursuing and working to restore his people. That’s what you see in chapter 35. Look at 35:1.

“God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’” He’s reiterating the command, “Go back to Bethel, Jacob!”

Look at how Jacob responds in verse 2. “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’ So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.”

That shows us the pattern for spiritual renewal, covenant renewal, that is repeated again and again in Scripture. You could boil it down into three steps: Put away your idols, spiritual/moral cleansing (that’s repentance), and prayer, seeking God. That’s what Jacob does, and he leads his whole family to do it.

Then God protects them in verse 5. “And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.” Once again, it takes divine intervention to protect Jacob and his family, Israel, the children of Israel now, to protect them from their enemies. But God does protect them, and in verse 6, “Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people that were with him, and there he built an altar and called the name of the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.”

Then in verses 9-15 you have this wonderful passage where God one more time appears to Jacob, and it is the fullest affirmation of the covenant promises that God makes to Jacob in all of these narratives. Look at it again. There are reminiscences here of Genesis 17 and God’s words to Abraham, as well as chapter 26 and God’s words to Isaac, and 28, God’s previous promise to Jacob.

Verse 9 says, “God appeared to Jacob again when he came down from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’” What is this? It is a reminder to him of his new identity. This is what has to happen in our own spiritual renewal; we have to be reminded of who we are, who are in Christ. We’re sinners, yes, but listen, when you’re in Christ your identity is no longer sinner, it is saint. You are one who is joined to Christ. You’ve been changed. God is reminding him of his new identity.

Verse 11, “God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.’” There you have it again, the descendants promise and the land promise; the descendants promise now a promise of nations and of kings.

Verse 13, “Then God went up from him in the place where had spoken with him. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone.” Remember chapter 28, where he had set up a pillar as well? “He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it.” This is sacrifice. Verse 15, “So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.” He’s finally come full circle, and it shows us that he is now back in fellowship with God, the renewal of his relationship with God. There is now fellowship restored, reconciliation in his life, spiritual renewal.

We’ve seen here a pattern, haven’t we? Deliverance, then decline, then renewal again. I wonder if you’re familiar with that pattern in your own lives. You know, the Christian life is a life that is marked by slow, sometimes really tedious progress, and sometimes it’s three steps forward, two steps back; and then there are points of crisis where it seems like we really take a leap forward. That’s what you see with Jacob. Then, unfortunately, often decline again, until God pursues and once again we are restored to God.

What is the basic secret of that restoration in the life of the Christian? Well, I began this sermon by talking about antiheroes in literature as well as in Christian history, and I mentioned Johnny Cash, one of my favorite songwriters. If you’ve ever seen the film about Johnny Cash, Walk the Line, there’s a place in the film when he’s a little boy, and he asks his older brother Jack, “How can [you] remember all the stories in the Bible?” Jack responds by saying, “You can’t help people unless you tell them the right stories.”

Well, what is the story that helps us the most? It’s not just the story of Jacob wrestling with God, it’s the story of another man who’s wrestling with God, with "strong crying and tears" in the garden of Gethsemane, who then goes all the way to the cross not just to be wounded in his hip, but to be wounded in his side, so that he dies for us as the covenant keeper on our behalf. It’s through him, it’s through Jesus Christ, that we receive the grace and the redemption that renews us.

Johnny Cash sang about this; I want to close with these words from my favorite song of Cash, called “A Redemption.” He said,

“From the hands it came down,
From the side it came down,
From the feet it came down
And ran to the ground.
Between heaven and hell
A teardrop fell;
In the deep crimson dew
The tree of life grew.

“And the blood gave life
To the branches on the tree,
And the blood was the price
That set the captives free.
And the numbers that came
Through the fire and the flood
Clung to the tree
And were redeemed by the blood.”

Jacob encountered God, and he clung to the man, the messenger, the angel of the Lord (probably a preincarnate Christ). He clung to him, and he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Now we cling as well. Who do we cling to? We cling to the crucified Christ. We cling to the tree, we cling to the cross, we cling to Jesus, and we say, “Bless me.” I hope you’ll do that today. Let’s pray.

Gracious God, we thank you that there is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared and loved and worshiped. We thank you for stories, like the story of Jacob, that give hope to ordinary sinners such as we are and that show us that just as Jacob’s fundamental identity was changed, so our identity can be changed and is changed through an encounter with your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that there is blessing to be found through Christ. Lord, may we walk away from our encounter with you this morning humbled, feeling less self-sufficient. Like Jacob, we cannot manage our lives, however much we strive and try, but we can cling to you, the God who blesses. I pray that that would be the case for us this morning.

As we come to the Lord’s table, may we view it this morning as a covenant renewal ceremony, a time for us to turn away from idols, to cleans our hearts and our lives, and to seek you in prayer and in worship. May the emblems of bread and juice point us to the new covenant that Christ has inaugurated with his blood. May we see in his wounds our forgiveness, the source of our grace and our pardon. So draw near to us we pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.