Jacob had sent his family on across the river Jabbok. Now he’s alone in the night with the river; this smooth talking, manipulating, deceiving Jacob. Here he stands in the dark by the river Jabbok; the river that runs in the darkness between the life he has lived up to this point and the new life that could lie on the other side in the land of Canaan – the Promised Land. All he has to do is cross it.
But to cross over into a new life is not an easy thing to do. It is not a simple process because before one can cross, unknown dangers may have to be faced and terrifying battles fought. This is what Jacob discovered. To cross over into Canaan was not just a matter of crossing a stream, because in the darkness a strange and mysterious Presence arises. Ancient tales had it that rivers had spirits which had to be defeated before the river could be crossed. But when we read on in scripture we learn that the antagonist that appeared into the night to seize Jacob for a struggle that would last until daybreak, was not a river spirit, but the God of Righteousness forcing Jacob to his reckoning.
There comes a time in our lives when every soul must give a reckoning by the river Jabbok. This Old Testament story is dramatizing the consequence that comes to every soul that has tried too long to evade the truth about itself. The soul must wrestle with the mystery of existence and the reality of God to whom we must give an account. It is a time in our lives when we cannot manipulate anyone or deceive anyone or con our way out of the situation because no one’s there but you and God.
Jacob is wrestling with the judgment of God flowing through his very core of being. Tomorrow he has a date with destiny; he sees Esau whom he so easily degraded into an object to be used for his own advancement. Jacob saw his world shadowed by his guilt. Old memories awakened; old fears rose up from the past. All his betrayals, deceptions, lies and manipulations converged in on him in fateful battle.
Here, by the river Jabbok Jacob had to find the God within. He had to face up to himself and admit deep down that he did not deserve anything. He had to give up the pride that thought he could work out his own peace of mind by his own wits. Jacob had to struggle with himself to break through himself to the divine. Who will win?
We too must fight many personal battles with our inner selves by the river Jabbok. We cannot cross over to the new life until we come to terms with ourselves and recognize ourselves for what we really are. Then we must make the decision as to which one of ourselves will win the battle by the river Jabbok. Who will win when we see in one corner dirty, broken, bleeding, unsuccessful people crying out to be loved and in the other corner clean and bright and upward rising stars? Who will win when we hear Jesus’ voice calling us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him and Satan’s voice offering us power and wealth and prestige? Who will win the struggle when a friend is in trouble or disgrace and to stand by him or her would mean that your own sweet reputation could also be tarnished? Who will win when power and status parade before our eyes and tempt us to betray ourselves and others in exchange for recognition, adulation or a high office? Who will win?
Who will win as we and Jacob wrestle with the God within our souls in the night beside the river Jabbok? Our true selves that were made in the image of God or the fragments of our selves that want to make idols of things like sex and power and money and recognition?
The Presence at Jabbok is stirring within us, calling us to wrestle with our depths until we find our true selves.
Scriptural Reference: Genesis 32:22-32(NIV).
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D. D. , is an ordained clergywoman, veteran social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach which can be reviewed on her site. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, is expected to be available soon.
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