The Word for today:
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. (Hebrews 11:21)
A long, long time ago I grabbed my duffel bag and my track spikes and set out for Williamsburg, Virginia, to attend the College of William and Mary. It was 1971 and the world was as young as I was.
William and Mary was the east coast mecca for middle-distance runners. If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere. And I was going to try. By god, I was going to fly or die.
We weren’t, in 1971, within a million miles of the technological sophistication we take for granted today. We had transistor radios and record players with weak speakers. So when I got to William and Mary, I was blown away by the music I was hearing.
Some of those students were made of money. They didn’t have cars, they had imports. And they didn’t have radios, they had sound systems. So it was like hearing the music all over again. I was particularly taken with a song called “The Boxer,” by Simon and Garfunkel. I’d heard the song before, but not the way it sounded through a Yamaha receiver and Advent speakers.
The first lines seemed particularly appropriate to my situation:
I am just a poor boy.
Though my story’s seldom told,
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles,
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.
When I left my home
And my family,
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station,
As the months went by, I learned that William and Mary wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and neither was I. And I kept on hearing that song, with its one-word chorus:
Lie-a-lie, lie la lie lie lie la lie, lie-a-lie
During my first season, I did not light up the skies at the east coast middle-distance mecca. Then the winter came on and I began to perceive, between the lines of my Mother’s letters, that all was not well with my Dad. About a week before the college emptied out for Christmas, I heard from the Boxer again:
Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone,
And I did.
When I first encountered Jacob in the book of Genesis, I distinctly remember thinking that I’d met my twin. He was a confidence man and a usurper, cutting the corners and playing the angles.
I read familiarly about his first trip away from home, when he dreamed of a ladder reaching to the stars. But time passed him by in the far country until, one night, he fled. Behind him were the lies and broken promises of his Uncle Laban. Ahead of him waited retribution, at the hands of his brother Esau, for his own lies.
Sending his family and possessions ahead, he was alone again. Or so he thought, for that was the night he wrestled with God:
And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok. He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. (Genesis 32:22-25)
God, ever the Savior — and by whatever means necessary – had broken Jacob’s leg in order to save Jacob’s soul.
One of the dear scenes in scripture is when—wouldn’t you just know it– God calls Jacob back for a curtain call. It doesn’t happen until way down at the other end of the Bible, in the New Testament book of Hebrews:
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. (11:21)
What staff? Remember that he had been crippled by God, so he had a staff that enabled him to walk. That verse always carries me back—to Genesis; to races run and lost; to wishes, lies, and dreams; and to a clearing where stands a boxer,
a fighter by his trade
and he carries the reminders
of ev’ry glove that laid him down
I don’t know what God broke in you to save your soul. He may have blessed you with a broken spirit, a broken heart, broken promises, or a broken leg.
What I have learned from my own wrestling match with God is that he will mend your heart but leave the stitches. He leaves just a little reminder of every glove that laid you down.
I’m not sure why. All I know is that there was another Man in that wrestling match long ago, who to this day carries the marks, in His hands and side (1), of the battle that saved your soul.
But the Fighter still remains.
(1) see John 20:25-28