I am not a good man. I say this not in humbleness, but in all sincerity. The night I sat alone by the bank of the river, I knew that my past wrongdoings were about to collide with my present, which was, also, not exactly filled with good deeds.
Behind me was a father-in-law angry enough to kill me if I ever returned. Ahead of me was a brother who had every right to murder me on sight, and I don't think there were many who would fault him for doing so.
This penchant for inciting murder in others had been with me for a while. I'd like to say I tried to be good, but the truth of the matter is that God blessed me with brains, which I use to steal the things He didn't bless me with. Things like property, wealth and authority.
Many say it started at birth—that I was a deceiver from the start. Others will point to my childhood acts of lying and trickery. As a young adult I even conned my own father. That one forced me out of town one step ahead of a hanging posse (with my brother providing the rope).
I ran to my uncle's lands. Boy, were we a match. Him cheating me; me cheating him right back. Finally, I decided to get out while I was ahead in the game. I gathered up my family, my livestock and everything I owned, and snuck away like a thief in the night.
The only catch was I had nowhere to go, except back to my family. Most likely my brother still wanted to kill me, but, now that I was wealthy, I was hoping I could bribe him into forgiveness. It wasn't much, but it was the only play left to me in a game where I had consistently cheated.
Tomorrow I would meet my brother and find out if I was still clever, or if all of my past mistakes were about to catch up to me.
To prepare, I sent everything across the river. All my worldly belongings were gone. It was just me and the darkness of the night. Tomorrow I might lose it all. Tonight I wanted to know how that felt.
Maybe I thought that would give me reason to fight. I don't know. I really am not sure what made me do it.
I came out of my self-pity to notice a man standing across from me.
“Who are you?”
He looked at me strangely. “You first.”
“Is it to be a battle, then?”
The man came and stood before me. “A contest of strength. We will wrestle and the loser must declare himself.”
Just like that, the match began. I could not get a good grip on the man, but neither would I relent. At some point during the long night, it dawned on me that this was no man. Somehow I knew that this struggle was with God. On through the darkness we grappled; me trying to hold on for dear life; Him toying with me.
Why doesn't He just end it? He could destroy me like a fly.
Then, in a flash of rare insight, I thought I understood. He was waiting for me to try one of my tricks.
As if I would ever try to cheat God.
I felt something like a punch to the gut. Realization.
I had been cheating God my whole life.
My father, my brother, my uncle. My wives, my children, my wealth and all my worldly possessions had been accumulated through deception and lies. I had never waited one second for God to bless me, instead I had just stolen whatever I felt I should have.
Now the only thing I had never been able to steal, my God, was wrestling to get away from me. Desperately I clung to Him as the sun began to rise. I felt a sudden pain. An excruiciating pain where He touched me on the hip. Still, I held on. I knew that if I released Him now, if I didn't fight for Him through the agony, I might lose Him forever.
“Let me go!” He said. “The day is breaking!”
“Not until you bless me!” Desperation crept into my cry.
“Tell me your name, then.”
Suddenly, the struggle was over. “You will no longer be called Jacob. From now on, you are Israel.”
The deceiver no more.
**Author's note: Based on Genesis 32.
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