The tinkling of sheep bells was the last sound audible to him fading away up the path and over th hill on the other side of the small river. The crunch of foot and hoof on the sandy gravel of the path had been lost to him fist, washed away by the splash and rush of the little river across the rocks and pebbles of its bed. The quiet murmur of the voices of his people — his much-loved wives and children and servants — had also faded from his hearing, swallowed up in the verdant shrubs and reed beds covering the
opposite bank. But he had with aching ear followed the sound of the sheep bells well up and even over the opposite bank of the river. They had been pin-points of sound piercing the smothering darkness and the white hiss of the water over gravel. Then they, too, were gone, and he was alone.
The darkness of the night was otherworldly. It pressed in on his eyes, as they strained outward seeking something distinct to grasp. But there was nothing except gradations of blackness. Occasionally, a floating patch would drift through the blackness before him, a bit of froth on the tarry water, hissing just beyond his feet. His eyes clambered up toward the sky. The pin-points of light piercing the inky sky relieved his aching eyes with their crisp distinctness. The old familiar shapes and patterns were there, the lines and features that his ancient father had drawn for him through many long nights in his childhood. Now, in the hissing, riffling darkness of that night-time river bank, his father’s voice seemed almost to speak to him out of the world of his youth. His ears strained to hear that familiar, long-ago murmuring voice. His eyes strained to see his father’s outstretched hand pointing out the stories of the light-pierced night sky. But his ears and eyes could not quite capture that long-gone scene.
And then the stars themselves seemed to lose their distinctness, as if a smoke or mist had begun to dissolve them before his sight. His mind began to boggle, to reel as the world around him began to fold in on him.
And then he heard it, the sound of powerful pounding feet coming toward him from down the riverbank to his right. As if the air were being driven before the on-rushing feet, a wind pushed up the river bank toward him, blowing back his robes and hair as it came. He turned to face the onslaught of wind and sound, the pounding, charging feet, a man’s feet, crushing the gravel of the river bank as they bore down on him. What sort of man could run in such darkness, could drive forward with such purpose, such focus, through such impenetrable night?
Along the rushing wind now came a rushing, unearthly sense of dread. His skin prickled. His hair stood out from his head. He
staggered back, but he could not flee. Something in him set roots into the river bank, and so he stood.
Then with such force that seemed to seek to tear through him as if through a sheet, a shoulder of stone crushed the breath from his lungs, and arms of iron wrapped mercilessly around his ribs, and his body was driven into the gravel of the river bank.
Yet, out of the dreadful, icy terror of his bowels, there rose up a fiery, longing rage. he fought in the blackness. He fought for his life. He fought for all he was worth. And so, as if he had been swept outside of time itself, he struggled with his attacker in a chaos of crashing and thrashing in the sand and gravel of the river bank in the black darkness where moments and eons were all as one, where throwing down and being thrown down followed no meaningful order, where all was grit and grunting, bruising and abrading. And on they struggled. Until, somehow the black darkness drifted toward purple blackness, and blurred movements began to rise up out of the sightless oblivion of the night. Would this mindless chaos of night finally end with a new dawn of light and order and sense?
But the light that broke in on him next was not the light of dawn but rather the lightning of white, fiery agony beyond any agony he had ever yet know in all the troubled days of his life. The agony was focused and purposeful, not like the wild thrashing and flailing of the endless night. With intent and deliberation, the attacker tore the man’s leg, surely tore the man’s leg straight away from this body. In the white flash of agony, the man knew the tearing of sinew and muscle, knew the grinding of bone out of its joint, knew the desperate destruction of his body’s wholeness. He screamed out his excruciation into the purple blackness of the ending night. Following the blazing white agony came the darkness of death and dereliction. Inside, his body and all his being was now hollow, drained, empty, but his hands were not empty — no, his hands had become links of iron and his grasp an unbreakable chain binding his attacker to him.
The attacker sought to rise up, but the man would not be shaken off. No longer could he fight, but still he clung desperately, longingly, hungrily to his attacker.
Shaking himself yet again, the adversary sang, “Let me go! The day is about to break upon us.”
“No,” came only a voice of grit and gravel. “No, I will cling to you like death unless you bless me.”
“Hmmm!” sang the voice. “Hmmm! and so I will. Once, you were the ‘Sneak,’ the “Short-cutter,’ the ‘Snatcher of Other Men’s Blessings. But, now, you are ‘God Wrestler.’ You have clambered with God, and still you live.”
Already, the adversary’s voice was moving away in the waning darkness. “Wait,” cried the grit-gravel voice. “What’s your name? Tell me your name.”
“Why would you ask me that?” Then the voice and the adversary were gone with a gust of wind that filled all the emptiness of the man’s body and being. And the man’s eyes were dazzled by the sparkling brightness of the pebbles where he lay face down on the river bank — depleted and filled in an ecstasy of exhaustion and hope on the bank of the whispering river Jabbok.
©2012 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
3 thoughts on “Bible Note #16 — By the River Jabbok”
Then Jacob was called Israel. Jacob already knew who the “adversary” was, didn’t he? Was this God in the form of a man?
The story seems to say that Jacob realized by the end that he had been “face to face” with God, and it frightened and amazed him. Asking the name in this context taps into a rich notion of the power of names and the relational implications of knowing names. Its a very interesting topic about which I don’t know enough to say much more. You see a different sense of the power of naming in Genesis 2 where Adam is given the responsibility and privilege of naming the animals.
Your writing engages the senses. I can almost feel the darkness of the night and the pain of the “white flash of agony”. I would have to call it sensational. 🙂 The style reminds me somewhat of Chris Van Allsburg who is also very descriptive. Do you have a favorite author who has influenced your writing?