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Between The Rock and a Hard Place

In the spring of 2003 a young man named Aaron Ralston was hiking alone in the canyons of Utah when an 800 pound boulder shifted and pinned his arm to the canyon wall. He struggled for five days to free his arm, but was unable. He had left no itinerary for anyone to come searching in case he went missing. Knowing this was a life or death decision, he first broke the bones of his forearm then proceeded to amputate his arm below the elbow with a dull pocket knife.1

When we find ourselves pinned between a rock and a hard place, the choices may not be as dramatic, but sometimes the solution can be life changing. Sometimes the changes can even be liberating.

Jacob and his family are headed home to Caanan and an encounter with Esau.
The reason they are headed home is because Jacob's relationship with his father in law, Laban had taken a turn for the worse.
Through a bit of very curious trickery, Jacob had ended up with the majority of . . .

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip
 was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Gen. 32:24-25


In the spring of 2003 a young man named Aaron Ralston was hiking alone in the canyons of Utah when an 800 pound boulder shifted and pinned his arm to the canyon wall. He struggled for five days to free his arm, but was unable. He had left no itinerary for anyone to come searching in case he went missing. Knowing this was a life or death decision, he first broke the bones of his forearm then proceeded to amputate his arm below the elbow with a dull pocket knife.1

When we find ourselves pinned between a rock and a hard place, the choices may not be as dramatic, but sometimes the solution can be life changing. Sometimes the changes can even be liberating.

Jacob and his family are headed home to Caanan and an encounter with Esau.
The reason they are headed home is because Jacob's relationship with his father in law, Laban had taken a turn for the worse.
Through a bit of very curious trickery, Jacob had ended up with the majority of Laban's flock and one day he noticed that his father in law's attitude toward him had changed. Laban had gotten the better of Jacob once, but he didn't reckon on Jacob over the long haul. Jacob had returned the favor and now decided that once again, it was time to hit the road.

And so the night before he will meet Esau, he is encamped by a brook
He is between a rock and a hard place.
The last he heard about his brother many years before, Esau was muttering to himself how he would kill Jacob. Esau has prospered and word has it he is headed to greet Jacob with a significant number of men...more than Jacob can deal with.
And he cannot go back. He and Laban swore a peace but it was conditioned on Jacob staying out of Haran.
He can't go back and he is afraid of what will greet him going forward.

During the daylight hours he split his household up and sent them on ahead. Esau would have no quarrel with them and they had gifts for Esau to appease him when they met. Jacob hoped this would soften Esau's attitude, but there was no guarantee. And now he waits by the brook for daylight and his meeting with his brother who he swindled.

Jacob is alone.
He is ambushed by God.

While he waits the coming dawn we are told that he wrestles with a man.
Jacob has survived and prospered on his wits and finding an angle on everything.
Not this time. Now it is just Jacob and the stranger. They wrestle 'til break of day.
Jacob is trapped between his rock and a hard place and now God has him in his grasp.
It is characteristic of Jacob that he meets God as a challenge to overcome. From the moment of his birth, he has been in a wrestling match with someone or something. Only when he is smitten by Rachel does he let down his guard and is bested.
And now he wrestles with God.

In a fashion, God has Jacob cornered.
This is not to say that God could not do with Jacob whatever He pleased anytime he pleased, but it is necessary to Jacob's salvation and it is about God's timing.

It's funny how God sometimes does that.
Have you ever thought about your relationship with God that way?
Do you find yourself wrestling with God, trying to find some way you can gain the advantage?
No, we would never say that, but on the other hand do you accept joyfully the situation in which you now find yourself?
Or do you, like Jacob push and twist life this way and that to make it come out the way you want it to?
Confess to yourself now, and to God. You have your own vision of how life should go.
I know I have mine.
I pray and know how to say the right words hoping I can get a step on God and show the almighty what the right way would be to bless me as I want to be blessed.
I bet you do too.

Maybe not.
Maybe you are totally content with life just as it is. You wouldn't change a thing in relation to your family.
You would not want anyone in your life to treat you any differently than they do.
You have no one in your life like Jacob has Esau and Laban. No one whose attitude you would like to change.
You are a most unusual person.
Most of us have situations or people we would love to have God to an extreme makeover on.
You know, Extreme Makeover...divine edition.

I wonder if we ever consider those dead ends we encounter as times when God picks us up like the potter picks up the clay and starts to work on it.

This particular piece of clay named Jacob pushed back.
God lets him.
In fact it seems that it is God's intent that he should do so. Or at least God knows he is going to and so he allows him to fight and wrestle through the night. I have done that a time or two and I suspect you have had a sleepless night time to time yourself while you wrestle with God over some issue.

Then at daybreak God touches Jacob's hip and puts it out of joint.
The fight is over. But Jacob hangs on and asks for a blessing.
God comes to the heart of the matter.

"What is your name?" he is asked.
"My name is Jacob"... true.
Jacob means " to struggle, or to supplant. It also means "the heel".
Jacob is forced to reveal the true nature of his being.
He is a struggler, a fighter with God and man.
Jacob does not take life as he finds it. He has to bend it into his will according to his desires.
But now he has met his match. He will not bend God to his will.

Then God does something remarkable.
Jacob gets a new name. He is now called "Israel", which means "God will prevail"
The man whose name was "the struggler" is now called "God will prevail"

What a wonderful message to carry in your soul.
You struggle against life. You want life to come out the way you want it to.
You find yourself struggling even with God to have Him bless you the way you want to be blessed.
And you squirm and twist with God from the dark of night to the break of dawn.

And God's wonderful gift to you is this:
To remind you that you are the clay and God is the potter.
God will prevail, is the message.
Not, pray for God to win. Not "you better hope God wins". Just, "God will win."

We struggle and we twist with life.
Half the time we probably don't even recognize that it is God who has us in a hammer lock and we assume its the devil up to his tricks.
Has to be. Things are not going the way we think they should.
So we push against God and man to make it work out the way we want it to.
But the simple message is, "God will win."

Now in the morning Jacob and Esau do meet up and Esau has totally forgiven him and welcomes him home like a brother.
That is God at work in Caanan while Jacob was in Haran.
God does that.
God works behind scenes miles away in the lives of people we have no influence over.
Then when the time is right, God brings the pieces together in a way we could never imagine.
God will win.
I am glad.

Sure I have my version of reality and my version of how life should go.
But one of the things that helps me sleep better the more I learn is that simple statement. God will win.
I don't suppose I will ever totally stop resisting, though I hope I can cooperate more.
But I take strength and reassurance knowing that my misguided attempts at running the universe just will never get off the ground.
God will win.

Aaron Ralston lost part of an arm in his struggle.
Jacob was made lame.
You and I may pay a price too, but the result will be to become more of what God wants for us.
You may have to let go of some cherished notion or some goal you have hung onto, but what God gives in its place is always superior.

Take heart.
Take heart the next time you lie awake 'til all hours of the night over some issue.
Engage God in prayer.
And take heart.
God will win.

Preached  July 31, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


1. Aaron Ralston has his own web page for more information. http://www.aralston.com/

Resources Consulted
Brueggemann, Walter, The Old Testament; The Canon and Christian Imagination, Westminster Knox, 2003
Sailhamer, John H Genesis, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan, 1990
Von Rad, Gerhard, Genesis, The Old Testament Library, Westminster, 1972

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