Day 7 – Walking With A Limp: Reflection, Questions, and Art During Advent

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About the Art:

Eugène Delacroix, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, c. 1857, fresco, 758 × 491 cm, Saint-Sulpice Church, Paris. Click here to learn more about this work.

This painting is a large mural on the wall of one of the side chapels in the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris. A fresco is technique where the artist paints on fresh plaster, which absorbs the pigment into the wall itself. Most murals were frescos, making them features of the architecture itself. The most famous fresco may be Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (see image below).

Delacroix’s landscape bears little resemblance to the actual Jabbok River named in Genesis 32, from which this scene is derived. Without the benefit of photographs or easy travel, many renaissance artists who painted Biblical scenes had never personally been to Israel or the surrounding regions. As a result, their landscapes depict a more European topography.

But topographical realism did not matter as much as what the landscape conveyed. In this painting, the land looks gnarled, lush, and jagged—a world that is hard to navigate but teeming with life. This sort of world is true to the world Jacob knew.

In this scene, Jacob’s sons ride on to cross the river while their father stays behind, entangled in a fight with the angel of the Lord. Jacob is the dominant figure in the fight, making an aggressive move. We know he left the fight with a limp, but as also know that he did not surrender.

 

Consider

“God promised Adam and Eve that life would be a struggle. Jacob’s whole life had been marked by struggles of his own making. He came out of the womb scheming, and he never looked back. He wrestled the birthright from his brother, the blessing from his father, and two brides from his uncle.

He knew he was a good schemer. He could wrestle away pretty much anything he wanted from anyone he chose. All he ever did was wrestle. Still, none of it made him happy, and none of it brought him peace.

“But now, exhausted and stripped of leverage, he had nothing left but to cling to God for his blessing. A flicker of hope sparked in Jacob as he realized there would be no stealing it this time. He couldn’t wrestle anything away from God. Even with all his wealth and family and ambition, in this moment nothing mattered except who he was before God.

“He was all at once fragile. Maybe he could finally know peace. Maybe now he could yield. Though his brother could trade it and his father could speak it, only God could bless him. Only God could actually do what he had promised.

“The angel of the Lord spoke a blessing over Jacob, saying, ‘From now on, your name shall no longer be Jacob (Deceiver) but Israel (God fights) because you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’ As Jacob, he was the scheming son of Isaac. But as Israel, he would become the namesake of the nation the Lord swore to make of his grandfather Abraham’s seed.”[1]

 

Examine

Where are you wrestling with God right now? What is it you want or feel you need? Why do you think this struggle feels like a fight?

What do you make of the fact that God seems to declare Jacob the winner of the fight, but Jacob walked with a limp from that day forward? Is there a parallel of this in your own life—a place where you came away from a struggle with God changed?

_______________________

[1] Ramsey, Russ. Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2011. pgs. 46-47.

 

Eugène_Ferdinand_Victor_Delacroix_06 Full

A view of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Stunning.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Russ Ramsey
Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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