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Jacob Fights Back

Wouldn't it just be easier to walk away?

by Lia Scholl

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 32:22–31

For Sunday, October 20, 2013: Year C—Lectionary 29

It was just after the Cold War, and those kitschy Gorbachev forehead fake tattoos were for sale in all the Spencer’s Gifts. I had a bald friend. He had a fake Gorbie tattoo. And a gas station down the street had a huge blowup dog—undoubtedly used for some beer commercial that I can no longer remember. My friend stood, with his tattooed forehead, in front of the two-storied dog, and said, in a horrible Russian accent, “In Russia, man bigger than dog.”

In Bible stories, I expect God to be bigger than man.

The Bigger Dog

In this Genesis passage, though, God and Jacob struggle. They “wrastle,” as we say in Alabama. And it seems to be a draw. Face-to-face, they fight, struggle, wrestle, bend, probably slap, slug, toss, and all kinds of other things. But no one seems to prevail.

Until God strikes Jacob on his hip, pulling the joint out of the socket.

Is God playing fair?

Fighting Back

Admittedly, I’m a control freak. I want to be in charge of my own life. But too many times, each of us are crippled by things outside of our control. We fall prey to circumstances, which include things like the economy, relationships, natural disasters, illness, accidents, and so much more. But I want to make the decisions about where I’m going, what I’m doing, what challenges I will face, and how I will face them.

Like Jacob, I’m willing to fight for the right, too.

Jacob takes the bull by the horns. And fights back.

Jacob is fighting back in a much deeper way. Jacob is in the midst of a transformation of his life. He goes from this point to reconciling with his long-lost brother Esau, bowing along the way in an act of contrition and asking for forgiveness. He’s battling his own ego, the path he’s chosen in his life, the choices he made as a youngster. Jacob is possibly facing death in order to reconcile with his family.

Battling God

And while he’s at it, Jacob is battling God.

When we are battling God for our minds, our integrity, and even sometimes for our very lives, it seems like God has an unfair advantage. While God can help us strike it rich, more often it seems like God strikes us ill and strikes us dead. It’s an unfair advantage.

And even in this passage, God pops Jacob’s hip out of place. BOOM! Jacob, who becomes Israel, walks with a limp the rest of his life. But Jacob shows his doggedness. He insists that God give him a blessing. Jacob grips God by the shoulders, holds on, and won’t let go until God blesses him.

The Hardest Question

Finally, God relents. God gives Jacob a blessing—a new name, that basically recognizes Jacobs bullheaded perseverance. Is that much of a blessing?

But the question for me is this: If God is bigger than humanity, and perhaps doesn’t even fight fair, is it worth the battle? Wouldn’t it just be easier to walk away?

Rev. Lia Scholl serves as pastor at the Richmond Mennonite Fellowship in Richmond, Virginia and is a sex work ally, a Board member at the Red Umbrella Project. Her book, I <3 Sex Workers, is forthcoming from Chalice Press. Find out more at or you can find her on twitter at

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