Archive for October, 2012

This is a very short book, but it is extremely dense.  Berkhof makes several observations about the Powers.  First, it is important to recognize that the Powers were created by God as part of the “good” Creation.  They are instruments to bring order to the Creation and they find their purpose in Christ, who is their Head.  However, the Powers are broken due to sin.  This legion of Powers now often works in ways that are not reflective of God’s character and nature.  They are coercive and their way always leads to death.  On the surface, they promise well-being and stability.  In some sense, they deliver on that promise, but always at the cost of our very lives.  It is both a material and spiritual problem.  We are enslaved to the system.

The work of Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection breaks the dominion of the Powers.  Christ’s crucifixion actually unmasks the Powers for what they truly are.  The resurrection is the sign of Christ’s reign and the Powers “dethronement.”  The Church is also a sign that the Powers no longer rule.  The Body of reconciled believers that contains both Jews and Gentiles, demonstrates Christ’s reign once again over Creation.  The Church is called to stand firm against the Powers, not defeat them… that is Christ’s role.  Rather, the Church unmasks the Powers by living out Christlikeness.  The Powers are further destabilized by preaching and teaching Christ, which opens our eyes to the true reality of our broken world.

The Powers can never really come back to autonomous authority.  But, we live in the “now and not yet” which means that the Powers still vie for dominion.  They do so in three ways: secularism, legalism, and “restoration.”  Berkhof suggests that the Church is largely responsible for these trends and offers the only worthwhile response to the de-stabilization of the Powers: following and embodying Christ.  In other words, we recognize that the Powers are still at work, but we maintain their proper role, which is subordinate to Christ.  We recognize that the “authorities” are broken people needing to be reconciled to Christ.  We do not follow “ideology” but continue to pray that Christ would be made manifest through the Powers’ work.

Berkhof states it succinctly, “It can happen that Christ’s church, by her preaching, her presence, and the patterns of life obtaining within her fellowship, may represent such a mighty witness and so forcefully address the consciences of men far beyond her borders, that they generally orient themselves by this reality, tacitly accepting it as a landmark.  They do so because they know of no better gaurantor of a decent life, of mercy, freedom, justice, and humanity than a certain general acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Christ, or (as they prefer to say it) of ‘Christianity’ and ‘Christian values'” (58).

We are increasingly in a Post-Christian context.  The Church and the world are disillusioned.  Taylor makes the argument that this is a great place to be, if one has eyes of faith to see.  In fact, disillusionment unmasks the lies and urges us to search deeper.  Our idols are unveiled and a more mysterious, dynamic vision of God is revealed.

The call is an essential part of the preaching task.  We are all called to follow Christ (vocation), but each is called to follow Christ using their unique spiritual gifts (office).  The pastor is one among many equal callings.  But, it is still a lofty calling to equip the believers to do every good work.  Christians are called to be mindful of the sacramental nature in the mundane elements of life.  God is at work and calls us to see grace already present in the world.

This is an imaginative act.  That’s not to say that it is an act of fantasy.  Instead, it is the ability to see with eyes of faith the underlying reality of God present and at work.  Scripture plays an important role in this imaginative work.  We don’t only read Scripture but Scripture reads us.  That is to say, that life is viewed through a new light that gives us new eyes for the situations in which we find ourselves.  We wrestle with the text (despite its “human fingerprints”), finding that there is something more at work than the human element.  The Spirit breathes new life through the pages of these texts, even if we cannot “explain” them all.

The liturgy of worship connects us together, both past and present.  Worship, as Taylor suggests, is like a dance whose elements we have practiced for so long that they have become engrained in us.  They become secondary nature.  Word and Table shape the identity of the community by engaging all of the senses.  God is made known through the tangible elements, teaching us that there is no real separation between the sacred and the secular.  The rhythms of the liturgy inform the rhythms of our daily life outside of the sanctuary.

The sermon is an interesting phenomenon.  Taylor states that the parts of sermon construction can be taught, but it is difficult to teach how those parts go together.  In mentioning her own “best” and “worst” sermons, she highlights the fact that there is more at work than just the preacher.  It is a triangular relationship between God, people, and preacher that make up the sermon.  Imbalance in one area is like a three-legged stool that is unstable and likely to fall over.  As preachers, it is important to recognize this and not take ourselves too seriously.  What may seem like brilliance to us can fall flat to a congregation.  What may feel like a poor sermon may be given life by the Spirit in ways that we cannot imagine.  What matters most is that we are entrusting ourselves in that preaching to the One who is the Word.

The final chapters are a few of Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons.  I will summarize what I learned from those sermons for the art of preaching.  One of the things that struck me about her sermons was the fact that she weaves stories throughout her preaching of the text.  These stories unlock or unfold something in the text that may not have been directly visible before.  The use of stories invites the reader, sometimes unwittingly, to go along for the journey to meet the God of Scripture.

Taylor also wrestles with the text and the questions of the congregation effectively.  She gives voice to their concerns and acknowledges the difficulties in the passage.  However, the sermon always ends with a Gospel message revealing how God is at work and present in the text.  There is concrete language used, but her sermons utilize language to evoke the realities of the text in her hearers.

The bibliographic material contained recent scholarship from tremendous Biblical scholars.  Bailey also included sources outside of the Western tradition that were more akin to the culture of Jesus.  This helped to provide insight into parts of the text that might otherwise be foreign to us.  As Bailey mentioned, it is important to dialogue with other cultures because our interpretations can be challenged and corrected in the process.  However, Bailey does not include women in his bibliography, which is an unfortunate area of lack, considering Bailey’s emphasis on the female characterization of God in the text.

To better understand Jesus’ parables, it is important to understand what type of teacher he was.  He was often called rabbi and taught in rabbinic fashion.  This suggests that Jesus had formal training as a teacher of the Law.  As such, when Jesus engages the scholars of his day in discussions of the Law, he is teaching in a deeply theological manner.  In other words, these aren’t merely the words of a simple carpenter, but they are carefully constructed metaphors that clearly communicate Jesus’ theology.

All stories are bound up in language and the culture that language inhabits.  As such, to truly grasp a story, one must understand the context from which that story emerges.  The Western Church is far removed from the Middle Eastern way of life and it should pay careful attention to that culture’s way of life and the interpretations of Scripture from that culture.  It may be that light could be shed in new ways where our cultural blinders prohibit us from understanding more fully.

It’s also important to understand the story of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son(s) together, not separately.  Each is connected closely with the next and sheds light on God’s character, as well as Jesus’ character.  Furthermore, we cannot read these as allegory without inherent dangers.  We cannot read something that the original hearers would not have understood.  That does damage to the intent of the parable.  And, a parable can have one meaning, one meaning with sub-points, or multiple points of meaning.  We should keep this in mind as we read these texts.

It is interesting to see how Jesus uses Old Testament images for God and helps them to re-function in these parables.  The shepherd, the woman, and the father are all given new life that is now centered on who Jesus is and what Jesus does.  To claim equality with God, while at the same time confronting the religious leaders in this way, would have been grounds for death (which is what happens later).  Parables can be a dangerously subversive method of communicating.  Using Old Testament texts, such as the Jacob saga, in new ways was a typical method of communication.  The difference is that Jesus utilizes the Jacob saga to create dissonance in the audience by using both similarities and differences in the two stories to highlight his particular vision of God.  More importantly, Jesus paints the story to show that he is the key to properly understanding those Old Testament stories.

INTRODUCTION

The story of Jacob wrestling has long been a text of confusion and difficulty.  The character of God testified to in this text does not fit the typical framework for understanding God’s power.  How is it that a human might prevail against God?  And, what might that say about the kind of God depicted in this text?  Jacob’s wrestling may help re-shape our understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This text, although it center upon an individual, is about a nation.  In fact, one might say that Israel is given birth in Jacob’s wrestling with God.  This grappling match will forever characterize Jacob and Israel’s relationship with God!  Identity is named by God in this passage.  For those experiencing exile, this story serves as a powerful reminder of Israel’s call and identity, which is given by God in their wrestling.

IN THE TEXT

Verse 22 And so the gift went on ahead, while he remained in camp that night.[1]

Verse 23 That same night he arose, and taking his two wives, his two maid-servants, and his eleven children, he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.[2]

Verse 24 After taking them across the stream, he sent across all his possessions.

Verse 25 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

Verse 26 When the man saw that he had not prevailed against Jacob, he struck[3] him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

Verse 27 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

Verse 28 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”[4]

Verse 29 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Verse 30 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.

Verse 31 So Jacob called the place Peniel[5], saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

Verse 32 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel,[6] limping[7] because of his hip.

Verse 33 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck[8] Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.[9]

BEHIND THE TEXT

Genesis, as the name indicates, is a book of “beginnings.”  Origins of the world are not the only beginnings that are recorded in this text.  Instead, we see brokenness enter the Creation through disobedience and violence escalate exponentially.  The Flood narrative watches God repent of the Creation, but exercise mercy in the midst of divine judgment.  God gives the rainbow as a sign of God’s commitment to the Creation, a new reality has emerged.  And, Abraham is the beginning of the promise that will find fruition in Israel and, ultimately, Jesus.

Genesis 32 plays a unique role in this sequence of beginnings.  Israel is foreshadowed in the name change of Jacob.  Likewise, there is a new reality that erupts for Jacob in this encounter with God.  No longer is he the “supplanter” but his character is shaped toward a different telos.  Namely, one who wrestles with God and prevails!  But, more than this, perhaps it is a new beginning for the way that God will engage the world.  It is a position that entails much risk, not only for humanity, for God.

Genesis is a narrative following the Creation of the world to the blessing of the family of Abraham as inheritors of the covenant.  The narrators (J, E, P) that compose Genesis are not simply interested in the historical accuracy of these patriarchal stories.  There are definitely elements that bear the weight of history, but there is more to the narrative than documenting the past.  Simply reading Genesis gives one the overwhelming sense that this story is just as much about God as it is about the patriarchs or even the creation of the cosmos.  Genesis records the deep theological reflection of the community concerning the world and their calling as descendents of Abraham.  If Genesis is a history, it is a theological history.  More appropriately, it is a theological narrative that establishes the foundation for the Abrahamic covenant and God’s relationship with this unique people called Israel.

Genesis 32, in particular, must be carefully understood as theological narrative.  Fretheim notes that the story is not a dream or a vision (i.e., Jacob’s ladder).  Instead, there are real, tangible consequences for Jacob (and God?) in wrestling all night.  In other words, the author does not construe this story as something that occurred in Jacob’s imagination, but calls for incarnation of the divine.

The cultural context of this pericope is essential to comprehending the conflict that Jacob faces.  Jacob’s fear of Esau coming to meet him with a large cohort of men (presumably an army in Jacob’s mind) stems from Jacob’s past underhanded dealings with his brother.  Primogeniture named the firstborn as primary heir.  Esau, as the first son, was entitled to Isaac’s possessions.  However, Jacob tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup.  Granted, Esau was not very wise, but Jacob was equally crafty.  Discovering Esau’s plot to kill his brother (thus making him the rightful heir again), Jacob flees Esau’s wrath, living in exile with Laban (Jacob’s uncle).

Before their birth, Rebecca is given a notice about her children.  Wrestling in her womb are two great nations!  However, these two great nations, embodied in the two sons, will not follow the way of primogeniture.  Rather, the older will serve the younger and the younger will rule over the older.  The story of Jacob is the unveiling of that promise, which Jacob seems to try to accomplish under his own power.  Through conniving manipulation, Jacob seems to be on the verge of fulfilling that promise.  However, the promise is soon precariously close to being killed, literally.

Jacob’s name even gives away Jacob’s character.  Names are of utmost importance in this culture because they reveal something about the person that is named.  Their identity is contained in this moniker.  “Heel grabber”, which can also mean something akin to “backstabber” in our current context, is Jacob’s name.  Immediately out of the womb, Jacob begins to live up to his name as he wrestles with Esau in the womb and follows him in birth, grasping Esau’s heel.

Our pericope follows Jacob’s departure from service to Laban.  Jacob has become quite wealthy off of his father-in-law.  Of course, Laban’s sons are far from impressed and are likely extremely wary of Jacob taking their inheritance as well.  Needless to say, Jacob senses the trouble and decides to leave in secrecy.  Laban finds out and pursues him.  In this altercation, Jacob takes final leave of Laban, reminding Laban of the great service that he has given during those twenty years.  Jacob notes that God has seen Jacob’s affliction and has rebuked Laban.  At that time, they covenant together not to bring harm to the other and to depart in peace.  Jacob subsequently enters into Esau’s territory and receives word that Esau is coming with a troop of men.  Jacob is immediately fearful, perhaps having had already tense interactions with his father-in-law, Esau is coming for retribution.

Jacob’s response once again highlights his cunning, as well as, a knack for saving his own skin.  He separates out everything out in two groups, leaving himself alone behind everyone and everything.  He has placed a buffer between Esau and himself.  To ease Esau’s anger, Jacob sends gifts ahead before passing before his “face.”  “Face” is a repeating theme in Genesis 32-33 that ties Jacob’s wrestling to his meeting with Esau the following day.

Verse 25 states that Jacob is now alone after having sent everything across the Jabbok.  The audience might be tempted to wonder if Jacob is going to flee again, as has been his modus operandi for so long.  It seems that his past has finally caught up with him and there’s only one way to escape: run.  Although the context is slightly different, there may be parallels here with Exodus 14 where the Israelites find themselves trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s marching army.  At this point, there are no more options.  God called Jacob (and Israel) to go back to Canaan and now both find themselves confronted by an army they cannot hope to defeat.

A mysterious stranger shows up during the night and begins to wrestle with Jacob all night until daybreak.  There have been conjectures about the identity of this “man.”  Is it Esau?  A river demon (which are said to be found at river forks in some religions)?[10]  Is it God in human form?  In beginning to answer this question, I want to give two answers that are not mutually exclusive.

First, I think it is important to think about how wrestling fundamentally works.  Wrestling is a full-bodied endeavor.  Both parties are grabbing, pulling, pushing, and rolling around.  The physicality of this match is portrayed in Jacob’s injury to his hip that is sustained when the stranger realizes that Jacob cannot be bested.  This is more than a vision.  After all, Jacob limps the next day when meeting Esau.[11]  This is a bodily encounter, not an ethereal dream or ghostly haunting.  Real flesh and blood are involved.  If this is Esau, Jacob would have had a clue as to the identity of the stranger given his hairy body.  Jacob probably could remember the early wrestling matches that all brothers engage in when they are young.

Jacob would have also heard his voice when they conversed, which would have been further confirmation of identity the next morning when talking with Esau.  In fact, near the end of the altercation with the stranger, Jacob asks to know the stranger’s name.  Does he begin to recognize who he has wrestled with all night?  Is the response, “Why is it that you ask my name?” a surprise from Esau at Jacob’s lack of recognition?  We will return to this subject.

Terrence Fretheim suggests that regardless of the stranger’s identity, Jacob’s interpretation of the event is what matters most.  Jacob summarizes his wrestling experience, saying, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.”  Jacob understands his flesh and blood wrestling match to have been a wrestling match with the divine.  How is that possible?  Issues of divine power, as they are understood by many, seem to necessitate separation between the finite human and infinite divine.  How can both be present?

The text necessitates an investigation into this tension.  After all, Jacob wrestles a “man”, then he is renamed Israel because he has “striven with divine beings and human”, and Jacob reflects upon his experience by saying that he has seen “God face to face”.  The story transitions from human to human-divine to divine.  The line between them is blurred so that it is difficult to separate one from the other.  Somehow, both are working in conjunction with each other.

Terrence Fretheim recently stated in a lecture on violence in the Old Testament,[12] “God acts directly but always through agents.”  Those agents can be human or through other parts of the Creation.  In essence, this means that God’s presence is always mediated and it is always embodied.  This is true of God’s judgment issued in the Exile through the Babylonians.  It is also true that the word of the Lord comes to Israel through judges and prophets.  If this is God’s typical way of interacting in the world, it creates issues with our conception of divine power.

Verse 26 suggests that, if this is indeed God, God can be equaled.  It seems that Jacob in some sense has control and power over this other individual.  Is God limited in power and strength?  Verse 29 further suggests that Jacob has “prevailed” over God!  In answering objections about God’s limited power and God’s use of agency, Terrence Fretheim writes:

I would claim that God’s assuming a human form for a specific venture in the world does not compromise divine transcendence.  The finite is capable of the infinite.  In such theophanies God takes on human form in order to be as concretely present as possible.  In assuming such a form, the personal and relational dimension of the divine is more sharply revealed; there is greater intensity of presence.[13]

The limiting of God’s power is not a new concept within the Genesis text (or in other parts of the Bible).  In fact, covenant is such a limiting of God’s power by God!  Covenant restricts how God will act in the future (i.e., no more floods to destroy the earth).  Furthermore, God’s use of power will not violate God’s character and nature, which is Holy Love!  Thus, even the use of power is restricted in its use.  The relational God that is attested to in the Scripture uses power to engage in relationship, not simply to accomplish tasks!  The greatest act of God’s power may really be God’s willingness to be imminent in the Creation, which includes experiencing suffering.

God’s power is demonstrated through weakness.  God is not threatened by the prospect of losing, even to humanity.  In fact, time and again God reveals God’s character to be one of patience and willingness to allow humanity to make decisions that matter, even decisions to reject and disobey God!  God does not use God’s power for coercion, but encounters with the divine do leave their mark.  Incarnation might prove to be God’s fundamental movement toward humanity, to engage humanity where they are.

Returning to Jacob’s face to face encounter with Esau in Genesis 33, there is a further hint indicting Esau as the mysterious man from the previous night.  Esau questions the gifts sent to him by Jacob.  Jacob says that he wanted to find favor in Esau’s eye because seeing Esau’s face was like seeing God’s face.  Jacob notes that Esau has received him favorably.  Esau then tells Jacob to come and start their journey together and Esau will go at Jacob’s “pace.”  Did Esau know about Jacob’s ordeal?  It seems plausible, if not probable.  Yet, even in this encounter Jacob recognizes God’s presence in the midst of the meeting between estranged brothers.

Jacob’s interpretation of the encounter must be allowed to carry weight.  Jacob does not deny his wrestling with another person, but in that great struggle Jacob recognizes something much great at work: God!  Not only is Jacob allowed to live, Jacob prevails!  This throws all categories of power out of the window.  What kind of God is this that holds all power and yet can be bested in a contest of wills?  Perhaps, it is the same loving God that is depicted in the Exodus wrestling with Pharaoh, whose power will not bend the knee.  Ultimately, it leads to his destruction (as well as the destruction of others).

Yet, in Jacob’s wrestling match, there is a notable difference in that Jacob prevails but is not destroyed!  Jacob’s prevailing, unlike Pharaoh’s prevailing, leads to recognizing God.  There is a marked difference in how Jacob now encounters the other.  It is demonstrated in Jacob’s act of humility that prostrates himself (exposing his neck for the sword) before his brother.  The scene with Jacob ends with day; Pharaoh’s encounter ends with darkness.[14]

God is a wrestling God, who can be bested.  Imagine that!  But, in those wrestling matches, “There are those who say to God ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God say, ‘Thy will be done.’”  The difference between the two scenarios is the difference between life and death.

FROM THE TEXT

Henry F. Knight wrote, “Jacob wrestled with a lifetime in one night.”[15]  In this encounter, Jacob wrestles with his brother (whom he had deceived), he wrestles with himself (something about his identity and character is different after this episode), and he wrestles with God.  It is a contest between people where the lines between God’s actions and the actions of the agents becomes fuzzy.

This intriguing text leaves us pondering the mystery of God’s work through human agents.  Brueggemann states, “In the night, the divine antagonist tends to take on the features of others with whom we struggle in the day.”[16]  In other words, the conflict and interactions of our daily life becomes the means of God’s redemptive and transformative work in us.

Jacob, from before his birth, was chosen by God to be the heir of God’s promise to Abraham and Isaac.  God chooses Jacob over Esau, although both appear to be poor candidates.  Esau is unwise and flippant with his birthright.  Jacob uses God’s promise as the justification for his deception.  The result is a chasm in the relationship of a family.  Esau is left with a full stomach but no longer having his birthright.  Jacob is now the primary heir to his father, but is driven into exile by Esau’s threat.  Yet, despite Jacob’s deceitful nature, God sees something in Jacob that Jacob has yet to see about himself.

Jacob’s wrestling with man and God brings two worlds colliding together.  He finds himself between a rock and a hard place.  Left alone, he begins wrestling with both his past and God’s future.  God’s future calls him to go to where he cannot avoid his past, but must come “face to face” with it.  And, in confronting his past head on, Jacob comes “face to face” with a God that is able to direct Jacob’s character from “backstabber” to one who “wrestles with God and man and prevails.”

Does this change the reality of the past?  No, Jacob can no longer run from his past actions.  But, he can limp forward into a hopeful new future that God has set before him.  Seeing his past in a new light, rather than shrouded in darkness, is like seeing the “face of God.”  Jacob’s wrestling with his dark past leads to seeing the bright dawn of reconciliation where exile is a distant memory.

For those in the Church, those who have received the new covenant and become heirs and co-heirs with Christ, Jacob’s story is a familiar one to us.  We have received a great promise.  Although we were not the wisest or the strongest, God chose us to be inheritors of the blessing which was first given to Abraham and fulfilled through Christ Jesus.  It is an amazing gift we have received.

However, like Jacob the Church has often used this promise as justification for being “heel grabbers.”  We think that because we have been chosen that all avenues are open to us to ensure that God’s promises are accomplished in our time and in our way.  It’s no wonder that the Church, at times, finds itself alone alongside the Jabbok.  It’s afraid of the impending doom of facing its past.  It’s scared to look Esau (the world?) in the eye and recognize its past deceptions.

Even as Jacob could not ignore God’s call to return to Canaan, the Church cannot deny its call to fulfill its mission (Matt. 28).  In order to fulfill that mission, it is necessary that we wrestle with “a lifetime in one night.”  The Church cannot ignore the way we used Scripture to excuse slavery or validate the denigration of women.  We cannot hide behind our vows of silence while children are harmed.  We dare not ignore our hate disguised as righteousness, our patronizing masked as discipleship, or our greed veiled as stewardship.

If we are to encounter a God that is able to shape our identity in a new way, then it requires us coming face to face with our past darkness.  We can run back to the comfort and convenience of Laban, forsaking our call to go.  Or, we can limp into a new future that marks us as those who have wrestled with God and humanity… and have prevailed!

 

Bibliography

Blumenthal, Fred. “WHO WRESTLED WITH JACOB?.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 38, no. 2

(April 2010): 119-123. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2012).

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

Fretheim, Terrence E. “Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Genesis 32:22-32).” 1-12. This article will be published in a year and was used with permission from the author.

Fretheim, Terrence. Earle Visiting Scholar Lecture, “The God of the Old Testament and Issues of Violence”. Nazarene Theological Seminary. Personal Notes. August 28, 2012.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003. New American Standard Bible: Reference Edition. Anaheim: Foundation Press, 1973.

Knight, Henry F. “Meeting Jacob at the Jabbok : Wrestling with a Text–a Midrash on Genesis

32:22-32.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 29, no. 3-4 (June 1, 1992): 451-460.

ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2012).

Smith, Marsha A. Ellis. Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993.

Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.


[1] The first two verses are the Tanakh’s translation. This translation connects to the previous context of Jacob trying to conjure a way out of this dilemma. I also used the Tanakh’s verse numbering, since it provided connections with Jacob’s preparation for Esau’s arrival.  The following verses are based more upon the NRSV, with notes on changes.

[2] Smith, Marsha A. Ellis. Holman Book of Biblical Charts, Maps, and Reconstructions. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993.

Jabbok is a tributary of the Jordan River that flows East. Deuteronomy 3:16 (also Joshua 12:2) sets Jabbok as a border for the Reubenites and the Gadites, separating them from their neighbors, “the sons of Ammon”, to the East of Canaan.  Jabbok would elicit the memory of foreign nations serving others gods (perhaps river gods?) and the call to come out of those nations.  However, in connection with the Abrahamic covenant, Israel would be reminded that God intends them to bless the nations, even as Jacob blessed Laban (although Laban wasn’t entirely thankful).

[3] Fretheim, Terrence E. “Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Genesis 32:22-32).” 1-12. Fretheim argues for this translation over using “touch.”  Although the word can be translated either way, Fretheim makes the case that “strike” language is more congruent with the grueling wrestling match.  The use of “touch” may be betraying the translator’s desire to preserve God’s power from question.  The Tanakh translates this word as “wrenched”, which also demonstrates the struggle appropriately.

[4] Jacob means “deceiver” or “heel grabber.”  In our context it might be translated “backstabber.”  Hebrew names were thought to convey the nature of the person named.

[5] Peniel means “face of God.”  Also, read 33:10 for connections to Jacob’s meeting with Esau.

[6] See citation for “Peniel” in verse 31.

[7] Knight, Henry F. “Meeting Jacob at the Jabbok : Wrestling with a Text–a Midrash on Genesis 32:22-32.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 29, no. 3-4 (June 1, 1992): 451-460. ATLASerials, Religion Collection.

Henry F. Knight states, “For a tradition that speaks of the way of right living as halakhah, to be permanently hindered in one’s walking could never mean just a simple physical wounding. The linguistic echoes penetrate far deeper. Right living, or ‘halakhah’ is literally derived from the verb ‘to walk.’ The lingering limp of Jacob could not have been just in his legs. It would have reached to every fiber of his identity as he stood before God, now as the ‘Godwrestler.’”

[8] See citation for verse 25.

[9] This is an obvious addition to the story that connects Jacob’s wrestling with Israel’s dietary laws.  The dietary laws do not come into play until much later in Israel’s story, which suggests a history of redaction to the oral tradition concerning the patriarchs.  This redaction interrupts the flow of the narrative of Jacob’s wrestling and Jacob’s meeting with Esau.

[10] Fretheim, Terrence E. “Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Genesis 32:22-32).” 1-12. 9.

[11] Blumenthal, Fred. “WHO WRESTLED WITH JACOB?.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 38, no. 2 (April 2010): 119-123. Academic Search Elite, EBSCOhost. Blumenthal argues that Genesis 32:22-32 is a prophetic vision.  However, he does not take into account that Jacob is limping the next day.  There was a physical altercation, according to the text.  This is more than a vision.

[12] Terrence Fretheim. Earle Visiting Scholar Lecture, “The God of the Old Testament and Issues of Violence” given at Nazarene Theological Seminary on August 28, 2012.

[13] Fretheim, Terrence E. “Jacob’s Wrestling and Issues of Divine Power (Genesis 32:22-32).” 1-12. 11.

[14] Exodus 12:29-32.  Pharaoah asks for a blessing, even as Jacob asked for a blessing at the end of the wrestling match.  However, Jacob’s name is changed and receives the blessing.  Pharaoh is not changed and ultimately receives the destruction that had been planned for the Hebrew boys in Exodus 1.

[15] Knight, Henry F. “Meeting Jacob at the Jabbok : Wrestling with a Text–a Midrash on Genesis 32:22-32.” Journal

Of Ecumenical Studies 29, no. 3-4 (June 1, 1992): 451-460.  ATLASerials, Religion Collection, 452.

[16] Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982, 267.

Sermon 1: Dr. David Busic on the Lord’s Prayer

Dr. Busic integrated a couple of different styles throughout his moves.  He employed narrative preaching, implementing stories from his personal experience.  The sermon was primarily inductive.  Initially, Dr. Busic began with the general conclusion: God is Father.  Then, looking through the window of human experience, Dr. Busic weaved the sermon back to our conception of father experienced through our earthly fathers.  After addessing the congregational blocks, the sermon then went back to the original assertion of God as Father setting the standard for fatherhood.  Roughly, the pattern of sermon plotted: trouble in the text, grace in the text, response called for in the text.  Thus, the message moved the audience to experience each move, followed by a call for response to that movement.

The big idea of the sermon is God is Father.  God is relational and desires to have relationship with us as God’s children.  God’s character is that of a loving Father that goes beyond the love of even the best earthly father.  In fact, God defines fatherhood, not humanity.  God is not distant, but continuously draws near.  As we trust God, we are drawn closer to the Father.  The Kingdom breaking into the world means God is near and among us.  As such, we can speak to the Father as children, not as “professional religious leaders.”  God doesn’t need His ego stroked but genuinely wants us to be in intimate relationship with Him.

The theological strength of the sermon was in the image of father.  In our context, we often view God as cosmic, transcendent, and omnipotent.  In other words, God is distant and cold.  However, the sermon brought God into our world and made God accessible and loving.  It broke the barrier of believing that God keeps us at arm’s length.

This sermon can be powerful because sometimes earthly father are distant and relatively unengaged in the relationship.  It creates dissonance in understanding God as Father.  The sermon reminded me that God really does care and sets the standard for earthly fatherhood.  It helps me to see that God values me as a dearly loved child.  It’s really not a matter of making myself good enough or acceptable enough to God.  Instead, I am loved for who I am.  The same is true for others that I come into contact with.  The prayer reminds us of this fact because it is not simply “My Father” but “Our Father.”

I think I benefitted from this style of preaching because it felt like I was being led, not pulled, to a different understanding of God that opened up a new possibilities in my relationship with God.  Also, the form was not rigid but was utilized like a painter’s brushes.  Different brushes created different effects.  Seeing how the congregational blocks were given weight while being addressed with the Biblical text reminded me that these are always important elements to address in the sermon.  The preacher must be able to listen to the audience before speaking to the audience.

Sermon 2: Dr. Dan Boone on Exile in a Postmodern World

Dr. Boone utilized narrative preaching primarily.  Essentially, he set up two windows or parallel worlds.  The first world was our world and the resulting sense of Exile that had occurred between generations of moderns and postmoderns.  The second world was the world of Isaiah in the Babylonian Exile.  Drawing parallels between the two allowed Dr. Boone to walk back and forth between the windows with the audience.

The big idea was surrounding the idea of exile.  There is a sense where people that lived in “Yesteryear” or Jerusalem before the Exile want to go back to those days of security and back to where “home” is.  The culture assaults us at every front and threatens our identity.  Those that have grown up in the Exile don’t remember the “good ‘ole days.”  They are more likely to be syncretistic and follow after the false gods.  Despite these real threats, God is moving Israel forward into a new future… not back to “Yesteryear.”  God is doing a new thing and it may be in ways that make us uncomfortable (Cyrus).  Rather than reacting in fear, we need to trust in God’s ability to bring us into His future.

The image of God was Creator and alive!  God is able to create new realities for the people and God is quite capable of defending Himself and taking care of God’s people.  We don’t need to defend God, like the gods of Babylon need defending.  God is described as a Potter.  God is shaping Israel and us as we move into this new future and uncharted territory.

The theological strength of this sermon was showing God to be strong, capable, and intentional.  God is able to do what God sets out to do.  God doesn’t need us to carry Him or defend Him.  God carries us!  God was also shown to be caring.  A potter’s work is a work of love and careful attention.  God works in a similar manner in bringing God’s people into this new future.

This sermon really impacted me because I am dealing with some of these same tensions in the church I serve.  There is a great deal of fear from older members and there is very little serious reflection from the younger members.  This creates a divide rather than a unity that is characteristic of God.  The sermon instilled hope in me because it gave voice to my frustration with both sides and allowed me to see how God might be working to move us toward a new future… uncertainties and all.  In the midst of that, I don’t need to carry God, God is carrying us.

The narrative style that was utilized really helped to diffuse the potential conflict or tension that might otherwise have characterized this topic.  Dr. Boone was able to open up the congregation for self-reflection while doing so with a “gentle hand.”  The creative imagination that permeated the sermon helped me to see how narrative is more than simply telling the story.  It allows us to enter the story in our own world.

Sermon 3: Dr. Fred Craddock on Lazarus and the Rich Man

Dr. Fred Craddock uses the inductive style of preaching.  It utilizes narrative by creating pictures and images that invite the congregation to explore and engage the text.  It is like wondering thought that leads somewhere, which is not to say that it is aimless.  It is intentional, but it is done in a stream-of-thought mode.  In this way, Craddock leads the congregation from what is known in their world back into the text to understand better what is happening.

The big idea of the sermon was that shock tactics will not convince people of their need for salvation.  If people will not believe the Scriptures, then even someone raised to life from the dead will not convince them.  It also affirmed the idea that having Scripture alone does not save us.  Obedience is a necessary response to the God we encounter in Scripture.  As such, knowledge alone does not save.

The image of God in this sermon is a God that does not force us to believe and come into proper relationship with Him.  In fact, God seems to allow us the freedom to choose or reject Him.  God is a God that continues to try to communicate without violating our freedom.  God desires relationship and communicates it through the Scriptures as we are saturated in its pages.

The theological strengths of the sermon revolve around a God that is just, yet is trying to extend mercy to us by calling to us.  God empowers us to understand and hear God’s desires for us as communicated through the Spirit in the Word.  However, God does not force feed it to us, but invites us.  The text also reminds us of God’s justice, which will eventually make all things right.  The poor will be comforted and the unjust will receive the consequences of a life of greed and injustice.  In other words, God is on the side of those that are weak and disadvantaged.  In Scripture we are confronted by our own lack of holiness, while being drawn toward a God that desires to make us holy.

Craddock’s style is very conversational and humorous.  His use of humor was appropriate, poignant and timely.  It did not distract from the message, but helped people to stay engaged overall.  Because his style was conversational, it was accessible.  His use of language painted a vivid mental image.  Also, his overall sermon strengthened my view of the importance of Scripture in life and in preaching.

I will benefit from his preaching style by seeing how humor can be utilized in helpful ways.  This is a better alternative to sarcasm.  Also, you could tell he had done his homework on the passage and there was a deep care and commitment to the text.  However, he was not using lofty theological language but was communicating in a way in which anybody could have understood and related.  We are not merely communicating information but are looking for transformation.  As such, it is important that we are not explaining the text as much as we are evoking a response to the text.

The bibliographical content is packaged with noted scholars, theologians, pastors, and preachers. However, it is not limited to that alone but incorporates writers, poets, and communicators of other genres. Boone also implements content from the female perspective on preaching, which supplements a different viewpoint. He includes perspective on preaching from those of other cultures, as well. But, the sources could potentially be strengthened by adding further perspective from other ethnic groups.

We are first introduced to the concept of narrative and calling. Pastors are called to participate in the narrative of God by communicating that same narrative to others and inviting them to join in as well. Through stories, Boone weaves the narrative of his calling and early introduction to preaching and pastoral ministry. We are reminded that preaching isn’t just a task that others expect us to perform. Instead, we are called to preach as a response of love to God. Next, we dialogue with Scripture.

Through dynamic interplay between human and divine, God has communicated the story of salvation. It is a means of God’s grace in the life of the community. If the words on the page are not enlivened in believers, then these are little more than quaint stories. However, when we allow the Spirit to breath through the texts, new life can happen in profound ways. As such, we have to be careful with the text and allow the text to read us rather than merely reading a text and assuming we have understood correctly.

Our first step is not to consult commentaries but imagination. We attend to the text through our senses and ask questions that go beneath the surface of the text. We look for trouble in the text, which will help shape our understanding of the plot of the narrative. We name the images and human experiences in the text, looking for connections in our world. We allow the text to shine light on our “shadows.” Next, we dialogue with scholars. Finally, we exegete the congregation and address competing narratives opposed to God’s narrative.

There are many options for sermon form (i.e., Lowry’s Loop, Episodic, Straw Man, etc.). The form implemented should not be noticeable, but should move the plot along to its intended response. We are also commended to watch our body language in preaching, while keeping in mind audience expectations for a sermon due to setting or calendar.

Boone also lists several things not to do during a sermon. He suggests not making the sermon overly complex but simple, not making yourself the exemplary model at the end, not explaining what you can evoke, not allowing the text to dictate the most important idea, not trusting too much in your own skill, not using fill-in-the-blank sermons because of distraction, not reciting homework in the sermon, not preaching grace equally with the judgment of the passage, and not having a life outside of the pulpit.

The Plot of Worship should also narrate the story of God through the service. We are gathered together, experience the bad news, hear the Gospel, respond to God’s grace, and are blessed as we are sent back out into the world. In this way, we become storied people that enact and embody God’s story. Part four of the book contains several sermon examples.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic. Boone writes in such a way that it mimics his style of preaching. His writing demonstrates carefulness with the Scriptures, as well as, guiding the reader through steps to build the sermon that engages the text and lets it speak. I appreciated Boone makes it clear that preaching is more than making a series of points or even telling stories. Rather, preaching is a means of communicating the life of the text so that people can enter into the story of God.