So you’re the one with a limp, and perhaps under your breath you even call yourself a gimp. It is definitely not a ‘pc’ term in today’s vernacular. I would never use it when speaking of someone else, but in the raw reality of Summer 2014, my inner monologue could care less about appropriate speech (if you’re yet to read my previous entry, Strong To The Finish, it’ll provide context).
I was a gimp with a limp. How do you respond to those inner voices or stigmas that press in, overwhelming you with a cacophony of doubts and despair? Maybe you stuff it, puff your chest, and prop yourself up, trying not to let others see the weakness you’re hiding. Why do we do this? Maybe you’re still doing it. Maybe I am too. To some degree, if we are honest with ourselves, we’d rather call ourselves Esau than admit our true name.
Perhaps I lost you here, presuming upon a shared narrative. Let me back up and tell you a story, an old story, even for those who’ve heard the story before…
There once were two brothers, twins by the names of Esau and Jacob. Yet hearing their names in this order feels odd, when we usually speak of these brothers, we say Jacob and Esau. Yet Esau was the older, so what gives? Jacob was born after Esau and he came out holding his brother’s heel and an oracle was spoken that ‘the older would serve the younger.’
Esau grew up a man’s man, a rough, ruddy, outdoorsman. Jacob, not so much. Quiet, domestic, that’s about all the description we’re given. Who’d you want to be? For me, Esau, no question: 1st born, tough, rough, Bear Grylls. And yet ‘the older would serve the younger.’ Their parents sadly were split regarding the veracity of this oracle; Mom favored Jacob, Dad favored Esau. One could write a tome on the disaster that ensues when parents are partial and play favorites.
As this family drama unfolds, Esau, our man of passion, is sadly short-sighted. One day Jacob takes advantage of his brother’s weakness. Famished from a hard day’s work, a long day of hunting, exhausted Esau staggers back home. His domestic brother is doctoring up a tasty stew. Esau wants some grub, Now! Jacob says No! Not until you sell me your birthright. At that moment, Esau’s god was his belly and he threw aside the gift of a birthright for a tasty pot of stew. Historically, the birthright went to the firstborn. Once the father died, the son with the birthright would be the head of the family, responsible for all the affairs of the family and within God’s covenant, the one that God would deal with. So the oracle was coming true, ‘the older would serve the younger.’
Yet even if this was the technicalities of the birthright, the father also bestowed a blessing to his firstborn son, extending his abundant favor, imploring God to prosper and bless his son. Fast forward a few years. Jacob and Esau’s dad is getting older, quite old. Blind as a bat, he recognizes his time on earth is drawing to a close. He wants to give his blessing to his older son Esau. He’s earned it, he’s provided well for the family, a skilled hunter. He calls for Esau and asks him to hunt once more for his old father whose health is failing; bring home a fresh, wild, rugged kill. His father will enjoy a final savory meal, bless his son and finally rest his weary bones in the earth. Esau, longing to please his dad as all men do, hastens to the hunt, excited for a final blessing from his father.
But Mom overheard and again she favors Jacob, she remembers the prophetic utterance, ‘the older will serve the younger.’ She cajoles Jacob into dressing up as Esau and delivering this last tasty meal to dear old Dad. Jacob is fearful of being found a fraud and cursed, despite his longing for the blessing of his father. The costumes are donned, the meal is prepared, and Jacob enters his father’s presence. Jacob presents the meal to his father, whose veiled eyesight keeps him from identifying the younger. Yet his ears still work and he hears the voice of Jacob. He has concern and asks the boy, ‘Who are you, my son? What is your name?’
And rather than walk in the light, Jacob deceives, Jacob supplants. Jacob once again grabs his brother’s heel, pulling his brother down and lifting himself up. He responds to his father, “I am Esau, your firstborn son.” And so, Jacob: quiet, domestic second born, masquerading as rough and tough firstborn, receives his father’s blessing. At last, Esau arrives, but too little too late. The blessing has been given, there are no take backs, no do overs. His father’s word is his bond; Jacob has stolen both the birthright and the blessing. Esau wants blood.
Jacob flees for his life. He returns to his mom’s family, way up north, welcomed in by his uncle. He quickly experiences the favor, the blessing. He doesn’t deserve it, but he has it. He eventually weds and weds, and prospers and prospers. Lots of livestock, lots of bounty. Many years pass and growing tired of his uncle’s antics, he finds a way to break away with his wives and a glut of goats. He ventures back home, the land God promised to Grandpa Abe so many years before.
As he ventures home, the realities of his dark deception sink deep. He fears his brother, he fears God. He cries out to God, “Deliver me.” His brother has heard of his return and word reaches Jacob that his brother is headed his way, with hundreds of men. Jacob, birthright and blessed Jacob, one whom God has shown steadfast love and mercy towards, still feels like that weak, quiet, domestic Jacob, fearful of being pounded by his older brother. He creates a concentric circle of gifts, and hidden in the center, himself and his nearest and dearest. He hopes to provide a peace offering of sorts, so that by the time Esau pushes through all the circles of gifts, his hatred and vengeance against Jacob will have softened, subsided and perhaps his life and loved ones will be spared.
On the eve of Esau, Jacob secures his family across the river Jabbok. He is left alone and here our story finds its zenith. That night Jacob wrestles with God. It’s an enigma of a story and yet in it we find shadows of the One to come. All night long, Jacob wrestles with this man, and puts up a decent fight; perhaps he anticipates his struggle with Esau and knows this is only round one, he can’t tap out yet. Yet as dawn approaches, this mystery man, yet to prevail against Jacob, touches his hip socket, disjointing Jacob’s leg. And yet heel-grabbing Jacob hangs on for dear life. The man appeals for him to let go. Jacob replies, ‘I won’t let you go unless you bless me.’ And then these crushing words, more powerful than the touch to his hip, ‘What is your name?‘
The last time Jacob longed for the blessing, his father asked him, “What is your name?” He responded, ‘Esau’ and through deception received the blessing. And blessed he was, but no doubt it felt phony, like stealing a gold medal. You got the gold, but the way you got it wasn’t legit. You’re no Olympian, you’re a fraud.
“What is your name?”
Jacob responds, “Jacob.” And Jacob is changed, a broken man, confessing his trickery, remembering the way he deceived his father and stole the blessing. No more pretending, no more pretense. “I am Jacob. I am the heel grabber who supplanted the birthright and blessing.’ And rather than condemn him, the God-man blesses. “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Confessing Israel forever walked with a limp. Keenly aware of his deep brokenness and yet even more so, powerfully struck by the marvelous and massive mercy of God. God had chosen Jacob. Before Jacob or Esau had done anything to merit the blessing, God chose Jacob. God chose the heel grabber, God chose the deceiver, God chose to redeem and rescue Jacob and God changed him and by grace, Israel prevailed.
So I ask you, and I ask myself, ‘What is your name?’