Jacob is Jibekking at the Jabbok
Today, we are confronted with a man named Jacob. We find Jacob at the Jabbok. And there, at the Jabbok river, Jacob Jibeks… That is, in the Hebrew, wrestles. Jacob wrestles.
And I think it is no coincidence that this name, this place, and this action are all tightly linked in this story, Jacob Jibekking at the Jabbok.
No, this is no coincidence. This alliteration is illustrating a point. This jumble of Js, B’s and K’s are holding up this whole story.
And so, I want to tell you all a little something about Jacob Jibekking at the Jabbok.
Jacob Jibekking at the Jabbok.
Oh Jacob. Your name linked to a constant struggle.
Grasping your brother’s heel within the womb. Grappling your brother’s birthright from him in a moment of hunger—selling him out for some stew. Grabbing his blessing from him by tricking your blind father Isaac. Wrestling wives, riches, and more from your father-in-law.
And here in the night, at the Jabbok River it all catches up to you—all that struggle. As you rush away from your father-in-law, you rush back, toward your brother, your brother who you double crossed.
Yes, you are wrestling with what this name has done to you and what you’ve done with this name.
Yes, there at the Jabbok River you are confronted with the depths of your life.
You are so frightened by your brother, who is coming forth to meet you with an army of 400. You expect him to be angry at you for all you’ve done against him. This furry red mountain man brother of yours, who is good with a bow, who you have defeated only with your cunning—is coming at you.
Yes, this man is bearing down on you and you hide there on the other side of the Jabbok.
You split your herds and wealth up into two pieces and send them forward to your brother in two waves. Then you sent another wave of your wealth toward that brother you tricked. And still more, you sent your wives and children on ahead of you, to the other side of the Jabbok.
Yes, for his wrath to get to you he’d have to go through herds and harems, and women and children, and that river—the Jabbok River.
Yes, you feel secure there on the other side of the Jabbok…alone.
But, rivers at night are strange places. Water crossings are, as Celtic Christianity will later call them, thin places. (EG Billy Goats Gruff, Dryads, Trolls)
Places where past and present,
God and Humans,
things seen and things unseen,
have a way of crossing over to one another.
And something does cross over. A man, a man whom you wrestle, you Jibek with.
Yes, there, that night into the morning, you wrestle with … someone.
You wrestle with your nature—being Jacob who tricks and wrestles, and always must come out on top at the expense of someone else.
You wrestle with your brother Esau, just as you did in Rebecca’s womb—
yes that night you were born and that night you Jibeked at the Jabbok
—that night you wrestled with all you’d done to your brother.
That night, you also wrestled with God—the God who formed you in that womb, and who has followed you through all of your wrestling and trials and been with you despite your trickster nature.
And you cling to God there—you cling to the infinite in this finite person—clinging to God in the form of a man, there by the Jabbok river.
Yes, Jacob Jibekks at the Jabbok. Jacob clings to God in the form of a man.
He wrestles with his past,
his relationship with those he’s hurt,
his name and his very nature.
He steps through that thin place and comes out changed.
Night turns to day.
He receives a new name—Jacob becomes Israel. The Grasper becomes the one grasped by God.
He is changed, made to limp, to humbly go forth always aware of God’s action that night.
He meets his brother, and they are reconciled to one another
—embracing one another,
becoming family again and journeying alongside one another
—no longer wrestling to see who is on top.
Yes, Jacob stepped through a thin place and was changed, that night when Jacob Jibeked at the Jabbok.
And we too, in our Baptisms, have stepped through a thin place.
We too, in that moment, are at a thin place—a watery crossroad of sorts.
A place we step through and are changed.
Where we are grasped by God in a loving embrace.
Where we receive a new name “Child of God.”
Where we are marked by the cross of Christ forever.
Where we can find reconciliation and family alongside us in this journey.
Where the infinite comes to us in the finite—God in the person of the man Jesus Christ.
Behold, the water—the thin place—our Baptism.