Wrestling With Rejection: Part I
Wrestling With Rejection
GENESIS 32:22-31 Part I:
Today’s text is a classic text about wrestling with God in prayer. But the Lord has shown me that this is not the way he taught us to pray. Indeed, I believe when we wrestle with God, we are actually wrestling with our own sense of rejection. And to truly pray we must free ourselves from that sense of rejection. I think the story of Jacob is a good illustration of this. So today we will talk about wrestling with rejection. Next Sunday we will talk about God’s Remedy For Rejection.
Jacob’s mother and father were Isaac and Rebecca. Scripture is clear that they deeply loved each other and that love was mutual. But trouble started brewing when Isaac and Rebekah had children. Rebekah had twins. Esau and Jacob. The scriptures tell us that the first came out with red hair covering his body, so they called him Esau, which means harry. Jacob was the second to come out and he came out grabbing his brother’s heel, so they named him Jacob, which basically means heel grabber. Sometimes I feel like people in the Old Testament are like Drax the Destroyer from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy. Drax is an Alien who doesn’t really understand metaphor, or sarcasm, and he takes everything literally. And that seems to be what Isaac and Rebekah are doing here. Isaac and Rebekah basically thought their first son looked like Big Foot from Harry and the Henderson’s so that’s what they named him. The second they named him heel grabber which isn’t exactly the most encouraging name. It would be like naming your kid’s Manly Lumberjack and Loser. If you do that there are going to be issues.
Issac favored Esau over Jacob. The scriptures tell us that when they grew up Esau was a talented hunter, a man of the field. And Jacob was a quiet man who dwelled in tents and worked in the kitchen. Isaac loved Esau because he brought him game but Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25). Esau was what Isaac expected a son to be. Jacob was not. Esau made his father proud. Jacob was a momma’s boy. They were four people living in the same house but they were not a family. Without thinking Isaac and Rebekah had set up dynamics that would result in dire consequences.
Near the end of his life Isaac lost his site. As he neared death he called his favorite son Esau to his side and told him to go hunt and prepare food so that he may bless him before he died. Rebekah overheard this conversation and had Jacob basically dress up in a hairy suit and pretend that he was his brother. He served his father a wonderful meal and tricked Isaac into blessing him.
Right when Jacob left the room Esau returned with his meal prepared. But his brother had stolen his blessing. Esau begged for his father to bless him. But his father said he had nothing left to give. And Esau was filled with rage and sought to kill his brother Jacob the usurper, Jacob the heel grabber. So Isaac called Jacob, blessed him, perhaps because he realized his role in all of this, and sent Jacob to his wife’s brother, Jacob’s uncle, Laban, to seek refuge.
On his way to seek refuge with his uncle Jacob rested in a certain place and he had a dream. Heaven was opened to him. He saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder. The LORD stood in the heavens over all the Earth, full of glory and might. He told Jacob that he would one day he would again return the land of his father, and the LORD would bless his descendants. He told Jacob that he would be with him wherever he went.
Now if I awoke from a dream like that I would never have any self esteem issues ever again. Stuff would happen and I would be like, “it’s okay God told me he’s got me.” But Jacob awoke from the dream and his first response was,
“Wow that was an amazing dream! But God can’t possibly love me that much because I am a heel grabber. So it must be the place I slept in. This place is special, I am not special, so I am going to build an alter to it and call it Bethel (which means house of God). Because I am a usurper, my parents named me that, God can’t possibly be with me, so it must be the place. And maybe, maybe if God is really with me, if he proves it by giving me something more than an awesome dream from heaven, then I will trust the Lord.” Jacob didn’t get the message. But the LORD wasn’t done with Jacob yet (Genesis 28:10-22).
Jacob headed east and he eventually encountered shepherds around a well. The sheep belonged to Laban his uncle. There he met Rachel, a shepherdess, a working woman, who was tending her father’s sheep. And the first thing Jacob did when he met Rachel was kiss her. It is clear from the text that Rachel was beautiful and Jacob was in love with her. But it is not clear that the feeling was mutual. Now I know marriage and dating rituals are different in every culture. But I am pretty sure in every culture kissing a woman you have never met before is a bad way to start out a first date. I mean I get it. Jacob saw his parent’s love. And he wanted a love like that. But Jacob’s actions show that it wasn’t about Rachel. It was about Jacob’s rejection and Jacob wondering if he was worthy of a woman like Rachel.
Laban had two daughters. The younger Rachel, who was said to be beautiful. And the older Leah who is only described as having soft eyes. Jacob agreed to work for Laban for seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Unlike with Rebekah and Isaac, Rachel doesn’t seem to have any say in this. Laban agrees to this. After seven years they held the marriage feast and Jacob was given his bride only to discover the next day that she was Leah not Rachel.
My creative writing teacher in college once said in every marriage there comes a time when you wake up one morning look at the person next to you and wonder who that person is.
People in the Bible are just like Drax the destroyer. They take things a little too literally. This is an extreme example of that.
Jacob was so desperate to get married that he didn’t even check to see if he was marrying the right woman. That just shows it wasn’t about the woman. It was Jacob trying to have the type of marriage his parents had. It was Jacob wrestling with his own rejection.
In the morning Jacob was furious at Laban even though it was sort of his own fault. He asked Laban how he could do such a thing? Laban responded it is not tradition in their country to give the younger daughter before the older and if Jacob wanted to marry Rachel he would have to work another seven years. Now I didn’t research this. But this sounds like a pretty common middle eastern practice to give away the older daughter first. And even if it wasn’t Jacob had been working for Laban for seven years. You would think in those seven years he might have inquired about Laban’s character or the cultural traditions around marriage in that area. Laban used Jacob. But at the same time Jacob let himself be used. Because when we are wrestling with rejection people become objects to sooth our own wounds. We look past obvious character flaws because we are more interested in the idea of the person than the person themselves. I am not just preaching to you. I am guilty of this myself. At some point in our lives we are all Jacob. We all feel like heel grabbers doing what we need to do to get the love, respect, and affirmation, we have been longing for. And Jacob agreed to serve Laban for another seven years in return for Rachel’s hand in marriage.
So now Jacob is married to Rachel and Leah. And Jacob does to his wives what his father did to him. He favors one over the other. He favors Rachel over Leah. And Leah feels rejected and hated. God saw Leah’s rejection and opened her womb to have children. Leah had six sons and a daughter. With each son she said, “Look I have given my husband a son now he will love me!” But Jacob did not love her. Sometimes the LORD gives us what we want even when it is not what we need. He does so to show us that though we think we can find love through these means they are dead ends. Rachel also had a child. His name was Joseph. Jacob would repeat the same pattern. He favored Joseph which caused his brothers to hate him. They sold him into slavery. But God used that and made Joseph a ruler over Egypt and saved his people from a great famine. God can use rejection. God can use evil for good. God can work out the evil in your life for the good. But that is not how God wants us to live. God doesn’t want us to live in cycles of rejection.
Jacob prospered under Laban. His sheep herds increased. And he decided that it was time to go back home. So he asked for his proper wages. But Laban tried to trick Jacob again. But this time Jacob was not deceived. He had gained confidence in himself. He caught on to Laban’s tricks so he took his family and fled back to his father’s house with his family and livestock. He left in the middle of the night without allowing Laban to say goodbye to his daughters or grandchildren. Laban managed to track them down and was able to say goodbye and he let them go. Laban had deceived Jacob. And because of that Jacob had become Laban. He had done the very thing that Laban had done to him. In his rejection he had become no better than Laban.
Jacob wanted to go back to his father’s house. But it had been at least fourteen years and he still feared his brother. He sent some messengers to go talk to his brother. They returned and said he brother was coming to see him, but he was bringing 400 men with him. Jacob is afraid. Was his brother coming to kill him? He prepared a huge offering of livestock hoping that his brother might spare his life because of this gift. He sent the offering ahead of him. He sent his family ahead of him. And that night he wrestled with the Angel alone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what today’s passage means. And the LORD gave me a good analogy. A couple of weeks ago I attended the boyscouts raingutter regatta. They basically build these little sail boats and race them down a water track, blowing the sails with straws. At the end I asked if I could race. As you know preachers are full of hot air so I easily won that race. I was mentioning this experience to one of you and one of you replied, “ you know Will you were supposed to let them win.”
And that is what is going on here. Jacob had stolen his brothers blessing. But he knew that wasn’t a real blessing if it is not freely given. He didn’t believe He was loved. He didn’t believe he would survive the next day. So the LORD sent an Angel to wrestle with Jacob and he told the Angel to lose. The LORD put Jacob’s hip out of place just to remind Jacob that he could decimate Jacob, he could have turned him into a pillar of salt, or a duck bill plateaus (God does have a sense of humor) but that was not his intent. The LORD was trying to build Jacob’s confidence while reminding him that the path he was going down was unsustainable. So the LORD wrestled Jacob much like we might play fight our children. He even gives Jacob a new name, the name of Israel, which means one who strives with God and man and prevails. And the Hebrew people would adapt this name for their nation. God says to Jacob, “Israel I have appeared to you in a dream, I have provided for you in all your mistakes, and I have gotten rid of that awful name your parents called you. It’s not about the place or the wrestling. I love you Israel. That’s what I am trying to teach you.”
And yet Jacob still goes to his brother the next day with fear and trembling. The LORD has given him a new name. But it is not our names it is what is beneath the name that matters. It is not what people have said about us it is what God has said about us that matters. And Jacob accepted his new name but he did not accept that God loved him. For inside he was still a heel grabber. And he was still terrified that his brother was going to kill him.
But Esau ran to meet his long lost brother. He embraced him and kissed him. Jacob offered him all these gifts to make up for stealing his blessing but Esau told his brother that he didn’t need those things, the LORD had provided everything he needed. Jacob said that seeing his brother was like seeing the face of God and he must present something to make himself worthy. But the LORD had given enough to Esau. And the LORD had given enough to Jacob. Esau did not need his brother’s offering but he accepted it because he knew his brother needed him to accept it. Jacob did not need to be afraid. He did not need to feel rejected. Because God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is the God of the movers and shakers, the lucky, and the rejected.
Derek Prince, author of God’s Remedy for Rejection says this about the results of rejection, “ I believe the primary result of rejection is the inability to receive or communicate love. A person who has never experienced being loved cannot transmit love. Scripture expresses that truth this way: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It is the love of God that stimulates our love for Him in response. Love lies dormant until it is stimulated by another person. Without such interaction, love never comes to life.
Hence, if a person does not know the love of God or parents, an inability to love can be passed from generation to generation. A little girl is born into a family where she does not experience love, for example; she has a wound of rejection, so she cannot communicate love. She grows up, marries, becomes a mother, and has a daughter. Because she cannot communicate love to her daughter, her daughter has the same problem. This terrible problem is thus perpetuated from generation to generation.
In ministering to such people, I have often said, “At some point this thing must be stopped. Why not let it happen now so that you don’t continue passing on rejection to the next generation? Is rejection the legacy you want to leave to your children?” (Prince, 42)
Maybe you feel that God is like Isaac, arbitrary, requiring you to bring an offering for his love, favoring others over yourself. But Jesus tells us that is not who are Father in heaven is. He tells us that though we may curse God and tell him to die, though we may take our inheritance and spend it in a far away country, that our Father waits for us to embrace us and even pursues us though we have no interest in Him. He tells us that there is enough to throw a feast for two sons the prodigal and the good son, both of whom are lost, if we would only ask it of Him. The Remedy for Rejection is to cry out what Jesus our Lord cried out in his darkest hour in the Garden of Gethesenme. The Remedy to Rejection is the cry of our hearts, it is to cry out, “Abba, Father.” Come to Jesus all who are weary and heavy laden and he will give us rest. As we embrace the Remedy to Rejection we shall strive and struggle no more.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen .