Today, as we crossed the Jabbok River, Dr. Wright mentioned that the stories of the Bible are still being lived out today. This idea has been in my mind since my arrival here. The Jews and the Arabs, the Arabs and the Christians, and all of the sects and divisions within each of these faiths are playing out a story that has already been written. What is the path to true, lasting peace in the Middle East? It can only be found in the peace and transformation offered to us by Jesus the Messiah.
We are brothers living in the same house who, like Jacob, have “cleverly” found our ways to prominence at different times in history. When Jacob came to the Jabbok and heard that his brother was on his way with an army, he panicked. The last time he saw his brother, Esau had threatened to kill him. Now, Esau was on the way with an army! What was Jacob supposed to think? He tried to wheedle himself out of trouble by appeasing Esau. He sent everything before coming himself, including his wives and children, in the hopes that Esau would be satisfied with this wealth and would allow Jacob to live. He did not imagine that Esau could be coming with peaceful intentions. So, when Jacob was all alone, on the north banks of the Jabbok, and was jumped from behind, who do you think he thought he was wrestling with? Probably Esau. Jacob thought he was fighting for his life.
When the people groups of the Middle East look to one another what do they see? Is it really more complex than one brother who has cheated the other out of what he considers to be his inheritance? I do not think so. Yes, there are all sorts of dynamics to the conflict that now exists in Israel/Palestine, but that is what happens when generations pass on their feuds, hatred, and anger rather than dealing with their issues and reconciling with one another. Fear, hatred and pride become the focus of generations. But, not all members of this family live in this way. People with families and needs live on both sides of this conflict. Yes, there are evil people on both sides. But why are they this way? Did those we call terrorists wake up one morning and decide to attack civilians? Probably not. The hostile environment of their youth has certainly contributed to the people they have become. But no matter what lives in their hearts, we have all been created by the same God. He knows every person on this earth and knows every thought of each of our hearts.
Jacob did not trust God to fulfill His promises. He thought Esau would kill him at their meeting. But, before they met someone jumped Jacob. They wrestled half the night until the stranger told Jacob to let him go. Of course, Jacob, who is always seeking personal gain, demands a blessing from this stranger. Then the stranger touches Jacob’s hip, dislocating it and incapacitating Jacob. Now it is that the stranger gives Jacob a new name. The one who’s name has meant deceiver, or maybe a better description is “one who struggles against” has his named changed to “one who struggles with” God. God does not simply readjust Jacob’s character so that he is a better man. When God created Jacob, he had placed everything within Jacob that he would ever need to be exactly the man who God desired. No, God changed his name to Israel, and in so doing, changed his identity and his direction.
God has created all people with everything they will ever need to be exactly who He desires. Every single one is his beloved child. Yet throughout the course of life we are influenced by the paradigms and beliefs of our parents, friends and neighbors, and these paradigms become our own. How is the teenager raised in Nablus ever to know that life is so much more than a fight for ownership of this tiny strip of land and the victory of a religion. It is not about the victory of a religion, but rather a victory that comes with the pursuit of the heart of the Creator. If Allah were so powerful, why would he continue to allow his holy sites to be desecrated? Why would he expend the lives of his followers to eliminate the infidels? Why does Yahweh not send the Messiah to free the Jews and rebuild the Temple? Why does He not bring peace to the world so that all of us can live in harmony with one another? Maybe it is because He already has brought peace to the world. Jesus has come as Messiah and has enabled us to be set free. But, we choose to continue living in bondage to the patterns and paradigms of a sinful world.
Why is it that we often disregard stories of the Bible and treat them simply as stories for children? Why do we act as though they are irrelevant to our “grown up” lives? Perhaps it is because of just how relevant they actually are. God has already told our story in the pages of the Bible. We are a part of His great story, no matter what we do. So, will we choose to keep up our efforts to be clever and in control of our own well-being, or will we trust our Creator with the life He placed within us and allow Him to reconcile our hearts with Himself and one another?
God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, sending Him in a brand new direction. He has done the same for us. Jesus the Messiah provided us with a new covenant-representative and through Him, we are able to take on a new name, identity, and direction. God’s conditions for granting this new identity are stiff. Giving up one’s life is not easy. But, why would we not trust the One who created us and who offers His heart, Spirit, and endless Life in return?