Jacob Wrestles with God
This morning we arrive in Genesis 32 as we progress through this book of beginnings, and what we have been keying in on the book that begins God’s Covenantal promise to his people.
We’ve seen the promise start with Adam and Eve that after they sinned and rebelled against God, he would one day send a redeemer to crush sin and its destructive consequences. The covenant has progressed through God’s dealings with Noah and then was made even clearer with the patriarch Abraham, where God promises to be his God, and bless all the nations through the lineage of Abraham.
And one particular theme we have seen all along is that God has been faithful to faithless people. Now, we get to the life of Jacob who is Abraham’s grandson. And the theme of God being faithful to the unfaithful will continue with Jacob, whose name literally means “he cheats”.
Start Reading Genesis 32:22-32 then stop.
Corrie ten Boom was a writer and historian. She was born in the Netherlands in 1892. In February of 1944, an informer turned the ten Boom family into the Gestapo for hiding Jews in their Watch and Clock shop. Six family members and 30 friends were arrested. Corrie and her sister Betsie, were sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Betsie and her two brothers, Casper and Christiaan ten Boom died as prisoners. But because of a clerical error, Corrie Ten Boom was released, one week before all the women her age were killed. ten Boom went on to tell her message of survival for the next 32 years in countries throughout the world.
While Corrie ten Boom is most notably known for her book, The Hiding Place, she also wrote many others including Don’t Wrestle just Nestle, in this book she encourages Christians to trust in God’s promises and ability to provide the courage and strength needed to face the future unafraid, asserting that obedience to his will brings peace and security.
It would have really helped Jacob if he had read this book…
Jacob has been wrestling his whole life.
- Even before he was born he was wrestling with Esau his twin brother in the womb of their mother Rebekah.
- Early in his life he continues his struggle with Esau and buys his birthright for a pittance.
- Then Jacob deceives his father Isaac and steals the blessing from Esau.
- Esau is so mad that he says he is going to kill Jacob so Jacob flees to live with his uncle Laban, who will hopefully give him one of his daughters in marriage.
- But Jacob wrestles with Laban too, as they bicker and trick each other with the outcome being that Jacob marries both of Laban’s daughters.
- Once Jacob has had enough of wrestling with Laban, he decides to leave with his wives but makes sure he doesn’t leave empty-handed so he devises a plan to steal part of Laban’s flock of animals.
- And honestly, I don’t see Jacob having much of a spiritual walk with God up to this point in his life.
- In summary, Jacob is a cheat, liar, deceiver, he is stubborn, conniving, and a swindler.
Jacob’s current situation is this:
Jacob has just left his father-in-law after stealing his livestock and he is about to meet his brother Esau – who has vowed to kill him. And what does Jacob do? He sends his wives (plural/problem) and children and the rest of his family ahead of him to meet Esau. So let’s add to that list that Jacob is a coward.
How about you? How often do you find yourself wrestling with God? with others?
What we see in Genesis 32 is this strange yet profound encounter that Jacob has with God. The night before he goes to meet Esau (and possibly die) Jacob wrestles with this “man” all night long. The wrestling match seems to end in a draw, except that the man touches Jacob’s hip and puts it out of socket leaving him with a permanent limp. Jacob, being the stubborn wrestler that he is, still won’t let go of the man until he gets a blessing.
The man asks him, “What is your name?” He makes Jacob say his name, Jacob of course knowing what his name means (and knowing that he has lived up to it his whole life). Then the man gives him a new name: “Israel” which means “strives with God”.
This becomes a linchpin moment for Jacob. He now realizes that he hasn’t been wrestling with just any man, but with God. And Jacob says, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
I think this statement reveals that Jacob knew he needed a change. The name change is just the beginning, and it is only by the grace of God that Jacob’s life is spared and that God does bless him and chooses to continue to use this flawed man to carry out his plan for all the nations.
Do you ever look at your own life and failures and think, “Why in the world is going God using me? He is gonna give up soon…But he will not give up on you.
We have seen all along God’s faithfulness to carrying out his promises, and it’s mindblowing to think and try to understand that God keeps his faithful covenant with such faithless people.
But its exactly God’s faithfulness that brings about faith in the faithless. Let me say that again, “It’s exactly God’s faithfulness that brings about faith in the faithless.”
Our faith in God does not come about from our own desire to just one day relinquish ourselves.
God is an incessant pursuer. As the late 19th-century poet Frances Thompson called God, “The Hound of Heaven.” God is on the hunt, he tracks you down over hill and dale. He searches behind every tree and under every rock, not to kill you but rather to rescue you and show his love for you and bring you into a right relationship with himself.
The problem that Jacob had was that he was constantly wrestling…with people and with God. When in reality he didn’t need to wrestle with either.
Life is not supposed to be a wrestling match. The only reason it does look like this is that we want what we want, not what God wants. We want things our way, not God’s way.
Jacob already had the blessing, he was literally living in the promise of God, for him to bless the nations through him, to fulfill his covenant. Jacob had 12 sons, and one of them, Judah, would carry the lineage all the way to Jesus. Jacob had a God who was merciful and gracious, even when Jacob was acting with malice and hostility. I just think that Jacob was so self-centered that he was blind to what he already had. He didn’t need to wrestle with everybody, much less God.
So, what does this mean for us? This is where we need to take a look at our own lives and ask some questions: What is your current situation?
Are you wrestling with God? With others?
Are you frustrated with how things are going because they are not going the way YOU planned for them to go?
Are you running away and hiding from God?
Are you blind to the blessing that God has already given you?
I understand that there are times in our lives when we will wrestle with God and with others.
- Like when you lose your job because of someone else’s personal gain
- or when you lose a friend over a political misunderstanding
- or when your marriage is struggling because it’s not working out the way you had hoped
- or when your teenage son dies of cancer
I get that there will be those times because we live in a broken world. But it doesn’t mean that you have to wrestle your ENTIRE life! Every relationship, every trial and hardship does not have to end in a wrestling match.
I’ve had a few personal struggles over my lifetime (fire, alcoholic father, divorce parents, best friend killed in motorcycle, wife cancer, heart attack, depression, daughter tried to commit suicide, and I’ve struggled with Covid like everyone else)
I’ve have wrestled with God at times but I think there are two main reasons why I’ve been able to avoid a lifetime of wrestling:
- Understanding we live in a broken world and none of us is getting out alive
- Romans 8 tells me all things will work for my good and God’s glory.
That’s not just a platitude but deep truth for us. Don’t you think that Jesus had to believe that truth when he was unjustly condemned to death and hung on a cross to die?
The more we see God for who he is and what he’s doing and what he has done, the less wrestling we will have to do and the more peace we will find with God and others.
As NT Christians we know the end of the story. We know that Jesus was born, from the lineage of Jacob and that Jesus lived a perfect life for us, and that Jesus sacrificed himself. Jesus wrestled God in the garden of Gethsemane until he sweated blood. Jesus wrestled with God while he hung on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus wrestled God for us so that we don’t have to spend a lifetime wrestling with him ourselves. And we know that Jesus rose from the dead to give us life. Of all people, we should know and believe that God has fulfilled his promise to us and that he continues to do so.
I would like to end by reading a passage from 2 Peter, I just can’t sum it up or explain it any better, so I will let Scripture speak for itself.