Genesis 32 – Jacob Wrestles With God
When was the last time you wrestled with God like Jacob did? I mean, with-all-your-heart-and-strength-through-the-middle-of-the-night-refusing-to-give-up-until-you-got-what-you-came-for type wrestling? That’s the kind I believe God delights in.
“So Jacob was left alone.” (v24) Jacob wasn’t planning on a nightlong struggle, he was actually sending everyone ahead of him to see if his life would be spared by his brother Esau. He took everything he had, including wives and children, and used them as a shield against his brother, who had every reason to desire revenge on the twin who stole his birthright. Without knowing it, however, Jacob had created the space in his life for an encounter with God. He “cleared the arena” if you will, and unintentionally took every obstacle or excuse or crutch or misdirection he could have used in the match, and God entered the ring.
Jesus did this intentionally when he regularly went off by himself to pray. He escaped the noise and the crowds, the healings and prophecies, the good and beautiful work he was called to, in order to commune with the good and beautiful One who sent him to do the work in the first place. And we have one clear example that Jesus too wrestled with God, which took place in a garden as men approached to take his life.
“And a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” (v24) Jacob wrestled with God, the God of the universe, for hours. He wouldn’t give up! Through pain and sweat and dirt and blood and tears, stinging the eyes and choking the lungs, Jacob wrestled with God, refusing to let him go. I don’t know that Jacob knew that it was God from the start, but I firmly believe that as soon as he found out he gripped tighter, not wanting to lose an encounter with the living God.
So too Jesus, in the garden on the eve of his death, wrestled with God, weeping and shedding blood in agony over the torture he was about to endure. And he persisted in the struggle as long as he could, until torches glowed on the edge of the garden and mutinous whispers could be heard that sounded both of fear and excitement. Yet he persisted until the last possible moment, trying to catch glimpses of the Father and his plan in the face of confusion and sorrow that was about to come.
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (v26) Jacob wanted assurance from God, assurance that he would be blessed, that he would find favor with God, maybe even that he would survive the impending encounter with his brother. Jacob had previously appealed to God according to a promise he had been given, remembering that God called him to return to the land of his fathers and had promised to bless him there. How was that to happen if his brother killed him? So he appeals to words that had come from the very mouth of God, and now looked for the reassurance of that blessing as he gripped God in the ascending light of dawn.
Jesus also appealed to his Father in the midst of his wrestling, asking for the cup to be passed from him. He knew what was coming and asked for another way, and no one could ever blame him for asking. But Jesus confesses that he desires the Father’s will to be done instead of his own, knowing that if he remained in the will of God he would be blessed, just as Jacob had been as he struggled, on a night much like the one Jesus was weeping through.
Both Jacob and Jesus were given reminders of their wrestling matches with God. A limp for Jacob, and scars for Christ. Wrestling with God will take its toll and leave us with places on our souls that are forever marked by the touch of God, who is willing to do anything necessary to bring us into communion with him. We can either create the space for that to happen intentionally as Jesus did, or we can be caught off guard as Jacob was. It’s our choice. We can also choose stubborn faith, one that will stay up through the night asking God for blessing, or answers, or faith, or trust, or hope.
Jacob and Jesus had things worth wrestling with God over. An angry brother and an angry humanity, both threatening their lives and causing them anguish. What is causing you anguish? What is the question you want to ask God so badly, but won’t because you’re angry, or afraid of the answer? Is it distance from God? Do you want to know if he is real? Are you agonizing over a failed marriage? A fatal disease? Joblessness? Hopelessness? Jacob didn’t anticipate a lifelong limp, nor did the night go how he thought might. So too our encounters with God might not be exactly how they want them to go, but he is God and good and loving, and we are the objects of his affection, so we can trust his ways. If you truly want to meet with God and bring him your hardest question, your deepest pain, your greatest fear, the depths of your heart, be prepared for a proper encounter with God, a wrestling match.
Go wrestle with God like Jacob did. A with-all-your-heart-and-strength-through-the-middle-of-the-night-refusing-to-give-up-until-you-got-what-you-came-for type wrestling? That’s the kind I believe God delights in.