Do you find the Old Testament a tough read? Me too. It is full of gripping narratives, at times extremely disturbing and confusing; at times beautifully redemptive. I struggle with so many questions in Genesis – what is literal and what is allegorical? Does it even matter? Why is the human race such a selfish, grasping mess? Why does God put Abraham through an incomprehensible test? But, when we come to these difficulties, we can’t just explain them in platitudes or skip over portions. We look to Jacob as he camped near Jabbok, waiting for his encounter with Esau.
“And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 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.” -Genesis 32:24-28
So many narratives in Genesis – Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Abraham/Sarah/Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Judah and Tamar, and Joseph (my favorite). Our examples are imperfect and God at times does things we don’t understand until we put it in the full context of scripture. If we look closely, we see that He pursues His people with the hope of a second chance. He changes our names and our entire story, pulling us up out of the mess we’ve made (Jacob) or found ourselves in (Joseph).
Genesis is the story of our beginning. Both science and religion offer many theories of this beginning and they are just that – theories. We cannot prove anything; but we are here. If there is no Creator behind these stories, then we weep with Solomon:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!” -Ecclesiastes 12:8
But, if we believe in intangible things like Good and Evil, Love, or Justice, then we must also believe there is something more to the universe than matter and chance. Our stories have meaning and value because Someone created them and helps us along. When we struggle with life or with scripture, we can return again to this tenacious figure, and await the blessing of God’s Presence.
“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…” –Genesis 32:29-30