Reflection: August 6

Published on Aug 11th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

 When I was a young man, in my early and mid-20’s, I was part of a meditation group; we meditated in a variety of ways and talked about spirituality. We talked about healing and dreams, using Carl Jung as a template. It was a fascinating experience that lasted for a few years and then gradually, we all ended up going in different directions.

We read Morton Kelsey and John Sanford, two American Anglican priests who were also Jungian analysts. They were prolific writers and wrote about the intersection between psychology and religion. They wrote about dreams, about symbols and metaphor, about the healing capacity of developing our spiritual lives, the importance of meditation and prayer.

John Sanford in particular wrote a book about the story of Jacob wrestling with the stranger. It was a metaphorical account of the many wrestlings that occur in our lives at different moments: wrestling with a hard decision; wrestling with our own specific temptations; wrestling with new directions; wrestling with trauma; wrestling with society’s expectations; wrestling with hopes and dreams that seem to get dashed; wrestling with the injustices experienced individually and on a grander scale; wrestling with the dilemma that our lives haven’t turned out the way we wanted. It was a provocative book.

Who knows what went on in the ancient story-teller’s imagination as this story was first told; it was, after all, the conclusion to the saga involving Esau and Jacob. Jacob stole Esau’s inheritance and fled; Jacob was a trickster and liar. He was treated badly by his father-in-law and uncle, Laban; and yet, God chose him over Esau. There are many twists and turns in this saga, and it is a saga. God appears unexpectedly; grace happens in surprising circumstances. Love is celebrated and hopes are realized

It is interesting to note that Jacob in Hebrew is “Y’acob” and his foe is “Ye’hbek,” which means “wrestler.” I read one scholar who suggested that these names are close linguistically; we have to remember that there were no vowels in written Hebrew. 1

Who was this “Ye’hbek” is the big question? The Hebrew itself says he was a man; some have said that it was Esau or Laban, who stole into camp in the night to exact revenge. Some have suggested the wrestler was an angel; some have suggested God. In today’s reading, to capture the ambiguity of who the wrestler is, I chose the word “Being.” 

For me, and this comes out of Sanford’s book as well as my reflections about this wonderful story in Genesis, is that Jacob simply wrestled with himself. These primordial stories in Genesis are full of multiple layers of meaning and symbolism, just like origin stories all around the world from many cultures. You can take them at face value, but you lose a great deal of meaning. They are stories that are timeless and convey truths about ourselves and our society. Jacob wrestled with himself.

He had cause to wrestle with himself. He perhaps regretted his past capers; dressing up as his twin brother Esau to steal his birthright. Conniving with others through his childhood and early adulthood to get what he wanted. And even his time with uncle Laban, who became his father-in-law, he stole and connived to get what he wanted. Yes, Laban did the same, but that doesn’t mitigate Jacob’s behavior. In all likelihood, Jacob wrestled with himself and what he had become and what he might face. He fully expected Esau to kill him. He expected to meet an humiliating end. And Esau was well within his rights of the time, in a shame culture, to exact revenge. So, Jacob wrestled with himself. And isn’t night-time the time when this happens, this wrestling and stewing and going over and over and over things? I can vouch for that as one who has wrestled in the night many times!

And in the end, as Jacob wrestled, and as we surprisingly come to know when we wrestle, God was in the midst of it. We don’t just wrestle with ourselves; we wrestle with God and sometimes… sometimes!… we end up with a blessing. I’m not saying always and I’m not saying that that blessing is even obvious. But sometimes we are surprised that after a time of wrestling, we encounter a gift of blessing, a new direction; we receive a new name.

Jacob became Israel, meaning, “I have seen the face of God and prevailed.”

Well, God’s face was in Esau when they finally met. The surprise was that Esau met Jacob and instead of having arms of revenge or hate, used his own arms in a great embrace of love and reconciliation. God was in Esau’s face offering forgiveness and welcome. Esau threw his arms around his brother and kissed him.

We may wrestle, and wrestle sometimes we must, but in the end, when it is finished, look around. You will be surprised by God’s grace and love in an unexpected place. You may get a new name or you may come away with a new sense of self. God’s face appears in the unexpected and surprising people and places we encounter… if we’re ready to see.


1 See John C. Holbert’s reflections at


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