Have you ever watched a wrestling match? Wrestling is a very popular sport all over the world. Amateur wrestling is popular in schools, colleges, and in the Olympics. There is also professional wrestling like we see on television. I think most of that kind of wrestling is fake, but people still enjoy watching it. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world dating back thousands of years.
How many of you have wrestled with God and ended up being changed by the experience? If you have, you know what happened to Jacob in Genesis 32:22-31.
Jacob was preparing to return to his homeland. He did not have to go near his brother Esau’s territory, but he knew that it was only a matter of time until they met. He sent messengers to Esau to announce his return, but the messengers returned with the news that Esau and 400 men were on their way to meet him.
Jacob was scared. He sent gifts to Esau to appease Esau’s potential anger. Then he sent his wives, maidservants and children. Jacob was left alone with his fears and thoughts, so he did a wise thing. He prayed to God.
Jacob was vulnerable. He was ashamed of the way he had lived despite God’s grace. He was afraid for his life and the lives of his family. He was alone, just like others who have suddenly felt inadequate to deal with life’s trials.
All of us have said or done things in the past that we regret. At some point these things come to the surface and confront us. How can we apply Jacob’s wrestling with God to our lives when this happens?
Jacob did not initiate the contest. God wanted to separate the self-willed Jacob from all supports until he was left alone before Him-something the Lord still does with some of His followers. The fact that Jacob wrestled with God shows that there was still a part of him that resisted God’s rule in his life. Jacob’s prayer showed an element of reliance, but the underlying attitude was one of resistance. Jacob’s language was the language of dependence, but there was evidence of a latent defiance in the way he fought God’s grip on his life.
The Hebrew word for “touched” may indicate any type of touch, from a gentle caress to an affecting strike. Apparently, Jacob experienced the latter. Jacob proved strong as the pair wrestled through the night. Yet one outcome was a lifelong weakness in Jacob’s hip. The man was apparently the Lord himself.
When God touched Jacob’s hip, He showed that there is a limit beyond which He is not prepared to go in His dealings with mankind. At that moment Jacob realized that his wrestling with God was puny. When God chose to reveal the true nature and extent of His power, Jacob was powerless to withstand it. Jacob was powerless to move. The moment of truth concerning the true nature of Jacob’s finiteness occurred to him. Jacob’s defiance turned to reliance. Jacob decided to come clean about himself the same way he decided to admit having arrived at the end of his own resources. God dealt graciously with Jacob. Despite his many failings, weaknesses and sorrows, Jacob was chosen and loved by God. Through his wrestling match, he became the model of effort required for effective prayer.
Like Jacob, we sometimes fight with God. God says, “I want you to do this,” but we’ll refuse. He will let us have our wrestling matches with Him, and eventually we’ll realize that we’re tired of fighting with God. What we need to do is honour God and do what He tells us to do. When we do, God will open doors for us.
Strange as it may seem, we often win over our enemies only after we have been soundly defeated by God. God defeats our enemies by defeating us. When God foresees that we must meet a deadly opponent, he assures that we will win by bringing us down in humbleness at His own feet.
Jacob was missing God’s will for his life because he was always winning. God put him in a holding pattern. Sometimes on our journey of faith God puts us in a holding pattern, especially when we are always running. Sometimes what God does in our lives while we’re waiting can be more important than what we’re waiting for. God might want us to put our priorities, our vision statement, mission objective and other issues on hold as we experience His will for our lives.
We celebrate wealth, power, strength, bravado, confidence, prestige and victory. This celebrating starts with Little League baseball for our children and continues on through their college admissions, first job and first address. We are afraid of weakness, failure, struggle and doubt. Even though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement and depression are a part of our lives, we see these signs as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. In real life, naïve optimism and rosy rhetoric are a recipe for disappointment and discouragement. Sooner or later reality catches up with us.
What does God have to do in our lives to remove the controlling and manipulative nature that is so often a part of our lives? It might require a time of immobilizing, loss of a job, loss of income, loss of health or loss of a close relationship. Our new nature won’t be complete until we stop relying on ourselves and start relying on God. If God is taking us through this process, we can be encouraged because of the inheritance He has for us-an inheritance that can only be received when we become totally dependent on God.
The toughest bout we will face is not saying “no” to a profitable career, but saying “yes” to God’s prompting. It is not saying “no” to happiness, but saying “yes” to holiness. It is not saying “no” to temptation, but saying “yes” to righteousness. God does not want us to be miserable and unhappy. He wants to give us the desires of our hearts, but saying “yes” to God’s leadership can be a struggle, if not a downright battle.
The phrase, “no longer called Jacob,” is evidence of a remarkable transformation. Jacob’s birth name described the heel of his brother, Esau. The nightlong wrestling match, however, made him Israel, a positive name meaning “God Prevails.” Going forward, Scripture uses the names interchangeably.
After the encounter, Jacob limped on his hip, each step reminding him that he no longer operated in his own strength but in God’s. Jacob was changed for the better—from cunning to clinging, from resisting to resting, from the crafty one to the conquered one.
Jacob’s battle scar was a limp. All of us have battle scars. What are yours? Have you accepted them for what they are and for the person they have made you? Have you allowed the pain of your wrestling match with God to turn you into a better, more compassionate person? Whether we need time to wrestle with God or simply talk something out with God, finding time when we can encounter God alone is important.
There are many of us who are wrestling with God now, hanging on with the hope of finding new meaning and new power for our lives. Even more of us are on a journey to another moment in which we can find renewal and refreshment to a life tattered and tainted with our compromises and failures. To each of us, God calls with this promise that we hear in the Communion liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer: “Come unto me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 47-48)
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: Genesis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 259-264)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Pastor Greg Laurie, “Fighting with God.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
- Pastor Dick Woodward, “The Tenth Step: Learn to Wait on the Lord.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Os Hillman, “Wrestling with God.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- A.W. Tozer, “Spiritual Warfare and Sin: Victory Assured.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
- Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., “Dark Struggles, Divine Blessings: Jacob at the River Jabbock.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
- The Rev. Dr. Jimmy Allen, CBF, “Life’s Turning Points.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- “Jacob Wrestles with God.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com