Not Letting the Birds Nest in Our Hair

Pentecost 22 Tuesday

Genesis 32:24

“Then a Man wrestled with Jacob until dawn.”

Now, although this struggle cannot be understood or borne except by the saints, we must nonetheless have this teaching and comfort in order to strengthen ourselves lest we be devoured by the devil: God is faithful; he will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability, 1 Corinthians 10:13. For this is what this example of Jacob teaches us: He was too weak for this battle but is nevertheless not overcome. Yet God appears in such a form that Jacob cannot know that God is the fighter; Jacob thinks it is some minor angel. Yet it is God who appears as his antagonist as if he wanted to kill him, deprive him of the promise of the blessing and give it to his brother Esau. No one can express with words the kinds of thoughts Jacob had in this struggle. Yet his thoughts undoubtedly were like these: “What a poor, miserable man
am I? Have I only been created to experience only misfortune? Must I alone always experience one misfortune after another so that I never find rest? For there no one more miserable than I am. I see that my brother Esau rules, triumphs, increases, and becomes great in great glory, great possessions, with children, grandchildren, and with great income. What if our Lord God had changed his mind, rejecting me but receiving my brother in grace?” These were Jacob’s thoughts; yet they remained thoughts. For nature and weak faith cannot abstain from such thoughts, just as they cannot easily get rid of other affects and emotions of impatience, anger, and evil lust. Yet make sure these things remain thoughts lest they turn into words that are finally confirmed by our judgment and conscience…In this matter we must follow the advice of that old hermit. When a young man lamented before the hermit that he often had evil thoughts about unchastity and other sins, the old man responded: “You cannot prohibit the birds from flying over your head; but make sure they stay in the air and do not build a nest in your hair.” Let your thoughts be and remain thoughts; but do not let them turn into a resolution to act. For this is the manner of those who despair like Saul, Judas, and others who turn thoughts into resolutions–they say: “My sin is too great to be forgiven,” Genesis 4:13. “I have betrayed innocent blood,”
Matthew 27:4. They reject the Word, faith, and prayer. This is what it means to turn the temptation into the kind of
sentences that are handed down in a court of law. Jacob, however, does not let go of faith, although he experienced a grave temptation and countless thoughts which those who never had such an experience do not understand.

Walch ed., 2:1148-1150.

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