The Jews never eat of the sinew that joins the thigh and the hip of any animal. They have a story to tell behind this dietary rule – the story of Jacob’s wrestling with God (Genesis 32). Through a dietary practice they have memorialized an event that happened in the life of their patriarch Jacob. An interesting practice to try. What if we start a particular practice in memory of an unforgettable blessing from God!
Jacob’s fight with God occurs in the night before the dreaded day of the encounter with his brother Esau. Jacob was on the way to Canaan, his homeland. Some twenty years back he had to leave Canaan fearing the wrath of his brother Esau. When he left Canaan his mother had told him that she would send him word when Esau keeps no more grudge against Jacob. But Jacob never heard anything from his mother. Naturally, Jacob thought that Esau was never able to accept the deception he suffered from Jacob.
Why did Jacob want to meet Esau before settling in Canaan? After all, Jacob was not going to settle in the house of Esau, not in his neighbourhood and not even in the land where Esau lived. Still he wanted to meet Esau because Esau was his brother, the only brother, the offended brother, and Jacob wanted to reconcile with him. On the other end, Esau continued to be a hunter, now eager to hunt down his younger brother at the very first opportunity. Jacob’s servants informed him that Esau was coming with four hundred men to meet him. Clearly, these group of men were no reception committee, rather they were intent on attacking Jacob.
The continued animosity of Esau could have been an excuse for Jacob to severe all relationship with Esau. Instead, Jacob tries to appease Esau with some expensive gifts in the form of some 580 animals. Besides, he instructs his servants to call Esau “Lord” and refer to Jacob as his “servant.” All this shows that Jacob was serious about reconciling with his brother and he was ready to forfeit a part of his possessions and even his ego to achieve it.
But, Jacob was not sure about the impact of his gifts and good words on Esau. It was in the night of his turmoil that he was attacked by another opponent – God! The amazing thing is that Jacob prevailed in his fight against God. God could not over power Jacob! Jacob was able to hold God in a way God could not escape from the clutches of Jacob! Here we have another facet of the God of the Bible – He is not a God of brute force, and He is the one who hesitates to conquer. His request, “let me go for the day is breaking” indicates that even in the midst of a fight he is concerned about the safety of the opponent because if Jacob sees God’s face in day light he will surely die (It is the biblical faith that no one can see the face of God and live).
Jacob’s insistence that he would not leave God unless God bless him reveals an admirable facet of Jacob’s personality. He treasures divine blessing more than anything else. By refusing to let God go even in the face of the approaching day light, Jacob manifests his willingness to risk even his life for divine blessing! He valued the divine blessing more than his life itself.
The aftermath of Jacob’s encounter with God is twofold. He became lame and blessed – what a contradiction! Can a blessed man be lame? On a second thought it appears that blessedness involves some kind of laming or limitation. Self-imposed restrictions are signs of true encounter with God, signs of a blessed person. God is the “Blessed One” and he limps too. Jacob experienced the “Blessed one of Israel” as restricting himself from using his unlimited power! Now Jacob is a blessed man and he goes to meet his infuriated brother not with the power and glory of the one who has prevailed over God but as a limping man who depends entirely on God’s mercy which preserved him from death even when he was fighting against him!