Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From Jacob to Israel

Today we have what for modern readers can be one of the most hard to understand stories in the Old Testament. One of the key difficulties is the tendency in some stories to interchange God and his messengers.

Today's reading is a story of redemption. Until now his name is Jacob, the usurper. God then sends a supernatural being, capable of defeating any natural being. Jacob defeats the being but only with the help of God, for only the power of God can defeat another supernatural power.

God forgives him. But because God is a just God he doesn't get off scot-free. He is left with a limp, a constant reminder of his dependence on God. As the final sign of his redeemer he is given a new name, Israel, the champion of God.

In our culture we hear lots of stories of people trying to "reinvent themselves." The only correction the Christian faith would make is to say, only God can remake us; we cannot remake ourselves. Thankfully the Bible is full of stories of the divine extreme makeover: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul. In the last case he went from murderer to apostle. It doesn't get much better than that. It may require wrestling; it may involve pain; and it may leave a scar, but it can be done. By the grace of God.