Watching my (Katie’s) boys wrestle can be hard - their bodies in awkward positions, faces red, sometimes on the verge of crying. The struggle is hard to watch, but, for reasons beyond me, they love it and I can see how good the wrestling and struggle against one another is good for them. Wrestling brings opportunities for learning. It is amazing what good things are produced even when they walk off the mat with sore bodies, bruised feelings, or jostled confidences.
The time I’ve spent mat-side has changed the way I read the story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, found in the Bible in Genesis 32. Jacob was one who strove and fought his whole life. He fought with his brother in the womb. He battled with his older brother for the wealth and prestige of the birthright. He fought within his marriage(s). He wrestles with God in Genesis 32:22-32. It’s awe-inspiring, watching God enter into our lives and wrestle with another human.
When Jacob wrestles with God, he is actually on a road running from his father-in-law, Laban. He is running from one family member but running toward the brother he deceived and cheated. Jacob looked forward and saw his sin and looked behind and saw pain and frustration. Why then, when life is already full of so much turmoil, does wrestling with God sound like a good idea? God is obviously more powerful than any human, right? But surprisingly the Bible tell us Jacob prevails in this particular wrestling match.
“When the man [God] saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” Genesis 32:25
You read that correctly. God wrestled with this man, yet God has some kind of plan, and in this plan, He sees Jacob prevailing. In this interaction, Jacob is changed. I’m pretty sure, he will never walk down a road again without thinking of this wrestling match. He has the limp to nudge him, to remind him. After the match Jacob is blessed by God and receives a new name. His gait is changed, but so is his name and his identity.
Jacob needed to wrestle with God before he saw his brother again. He needed to approach his brother with a limp and be reminded of God’s power and God’s presence. Jacob’s name by which he approached his brother no longer meant deceiver. That was the old name. His name now means one who has “striven with God and … prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). He no longer must strive to prove himself. He has met God face-to-face. He has wrestled with God and since God is for him, he has prevailed.
How is it possible for someone to ever prevail against God?
Here’s a better question: Why wouldn’t Jacob prevail?
In Jacob’s wrestling match, we find a piece of God’s character:
God works for us, not against us.
When our faces are red from the exertion of this life, He is for us.
When our thinking and our emotions are in awkward positions, He is for us.
When we are wrestling Him in a ditch or tumbling down the road in fierceness, He is for us.
If God was willing to have a physical altercation with Jacob, why am I so apprehensive to have a heated conversation, in prayer, by asking the hard questions I have about life and about the Bible? Why do I avoid the tension filled prayers when they are going to bring about a change in me? I don’t think it’s about reverence as much as the fact that confrontation scares me. I’m intimidated by the confrontation and the change that will come about. The more I open my Bible, the more times I ask questions in my prayers, the more I am going to change.
When have you wrestled with God?
When have you avoided wrestling with God?
What Bible passages — what narratives, stories, and verses — create a wrestling match each time you read them?
What parts of the Bible have changed how you walk down the roads of life?
Change does not come easily. It does not come out of our strengths, but usually from our weaknesses. Change comes because God causes it, God creates it in us. Change comes when we wrestle with God on the roads of our lives. Change may come in the form of a limp. But when Jacob wrestled with God, he won. When we wrestle with God, we also win. We win because we are changed.
We win because He is for us.
Up next — Stones and Guideposts
In the meantime — Listen in on today’s podcast release: The Church is just as imperfect as we are, but the message is the same… Church, we win because He is for us.