Giving up control is never easy, but sometimes it might be the only way forward. Ultimately, our efforts to control our destinies and manipulate our surroundings will never get us to where we are really meant to go and where we really yearn to be. This week, we’ll be discussing Jacob’s journey with God, his wrestling match with the divine, and the moment where he finally learns that limping through life depending on God is the only way he can walk into his destiny. Perhaps even we can learn how to say, as a modern sage once said, “Jesus, take the wheel.”
What is a mistake that you would never take back? Why?
Genesis 32 & 33
Read Genesis 32:1-21.
- Can anyone remember the context of this story? Who is Esau and what happened between him and Jacob?
Leader’s Note: Jacob is returning to the land where his colder brother Esau lives. In the past, Jacob tricked his father and stole the double-portion birth right of his older brother. Jacob is returning with the expectation that his brother will still be angry about this treachery.
- What is Jacob afraid of? What strategies does he use to alleviate these fears, and do they work?
Leader’s Note: Jacob manages his fear and the risk in several ways: splitting his family, a midnight prayer to God, and sending a series of generous gifts to his brother ahead of him.
- Do you think Jacob’s prayer is sincere? What does it say about his relationship with God?
- Have you ever prayed a prayer like Jacob’s? Is that wrong or alright? Why?
Read Genesis 32:22-31.
- In v. 22, Jacob continues to send everyone and everything in front of him. How do you think this reflects on his character?
- In v. 23, a mysterious man shows up and begins to wrestle Jacob. This is not a turn most of us would have predicted. Why do you think this is a fitting twist to the story?
- The mysterious man disable Jacob to stop him from wrestling, but he does not heal his wound. Why do you think the man disables Jacob, and why doesn’t he heal him afterward?
- The man renames Jacob, “Israel” because he had “struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Israel literally means, “wrestles with God”). Jacob lost the match, so in what way did he overcome?
Leader’s Note: Andrew Bloom comments on this passage saying, “Jacob began the night believing his greatest need was to escape from Esau. He ended the night believing his greatest need was to trust in the blessing of God’s promise. And what changed him from fearing man to trusting God’s word was prolonged and painful wrestling with God.” Sometimes, wrestling with God over hopes, dreams, and doubts is the only way we can learn that trusting God is better than trusting in our own ability.
- “Israel” would come to be used as the name for all of Jacob’s descendants, and can even apply to those who are “grafted” into that family through Jesus (Rom. 11:24). Why do you think that is significant? What does it tell us about the sort of relationship God values?
- This passage does not identify the man as “God.” But, Jacob concludes that it is God, why?
- Have you ever “wrestled” with God? About what? What was the outcome?
- What “limps” do you have in your own life and journey of faith? Do they help you trust in God, or do you often find yourself continuing to wrestle?
Diving Deeper: Esau’s Response
Read Genesis 33.
- How does Esau’s response contrast with what Jacob was expecting?
- What do you think of Jacob’s response to Esau?
Leader’s Note: Jacob essentially tricks Esau once again. Esau goes several days South to Mt. Seir, while Jacob travels North to Sukkoth. Despite his name being changed to Israel, Jacob is still acting like Jacob.