Wrestling With God
So Jacob was left alone, and a Man [came and] wrestled with him until daybreak.
Some of us feel guilty for questioning God, but human faith has a long tradition of wrestling with Him. Jacob’s life had been characterized by lies and deceit. Over and over again, he resorted to deception to get what he wanted, but finally, his sins caught up with him. It was nighttime, and the next day he would face his brother he had defrauded. Jacob feared for his life, and he was desperate for God’s help.
In a wonderful act of grace, God stepped into the ring that dark night to wrestle with Jacob. The two went after each other. Jacob begged God to bless him and protect him, and surprisingly God seemed to let Jacob win the fight. At the end though, God touched Jacob’s side and dislocated his hip. Walking with a cane would be a permanent reminder for Jacob to lean on God instead of his own cunning.
God never criticizes us for asking questions, or even for being angry with Him when we ask questions. He can take it, and He is thrilled that we will pursue Him even- and especially- when we feel so hurt and angry. Our wrestling match may end with a flash of insight that gives us the answer to our problem, but more often, God reminds us that He is God and that He rules in the affairs of men and nations. We, like Jacob, have to keep leaning on Him as we limp along in life.
Our struggle with God, though, deepens and enriches our lives. We’ll never forget that He didn’t blast us into oblivion and that He didn’t run away. He wants a relationship with us even when we want to wrestle.
Trouble handled rightly honors God and strengthens us.
Most of the time winning is a good thing thing but when we get into a wrestling match
with God, when we lose is truly when we win. At the point of our surrender fully to God is really our winning moment. Jacob had spent his life trying to get ahead and plotting how he could acquire his desires and accomplish his goals. He begins by taking the advantage of his hungry brother who he convinces to trade his birthright for a bowl of beans. Later he disguises himself as that brother and deceives his father who is blind to give him the birthright blessing. After being found out, he flees for his life to his uncle’s house and there he enters into business. He and his uncle engage in a game of seeing who can take the advantage off the other for gain. Jacob works so that his flock increases and the uncle tricks him into marrying the wrong sister after seven years of labor and forces Jacob to work another seven for Rachel. Finally they reach a point where they can no longer stand each other and the uncle sends him away. As Jacob is traveling back home, he gets word that his brother is coming to meet him with an army. Fearing for his life, he sends his family on ahead and he stays behind. Here is this man that God has great plans for, but he can’t be used in his present form. He has to be brought through a transformation. All his life he has been a deceiver, a cheat, selfish, and one who takes advantage of anyone he can. Certainly his character isn’t one that God can work in its present condition. Jacob, at this point in his life has no problem sacrificing his family if it means preserving his own life. What he doesn’t realize is that God has been patiently waiting to get him to this place. As Jacob is left alone in the night and with no place to run or hide, God pays him a visit. We don’t know all that was said or done. What we are told is that Jacob begins to wrestle with God. Jacob’s nature is contending with God and again we see the self-centered motivation as Jacob requests God to bless him. While God wishes to bless Jacob, those blessings would be detrimental to Jacob unless his character was changed. Jacob had lived a life in which he seemed to be in control and to be able to orchestrate how it turned out. It seems that even with God, he’s trying to move God to give him what he wants. It’s interesting that God seemingly let’s Jacob win. I believe that God wanted Jacob to reveal to himself who he really was. You see only when we begin to see ourselves as we really are and see how desperately we need a change; you might say to come to the end of our strength and capabilities, will we learn to depend on God. In Jacob’s story, we read that God touched Jacob’s thigh and Jacob became crippled. From that day forward,he walked with a limp, leaning on a crutch. What Jacob teaches us and what his physical handicap reminded him is that we are all cripples who need a God to lean on. There’s a old song that says:
Learning to lean, I’m learning to lean
Learning to lean on Jesus
Finding more power than I’ve ever dreamed
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.
Paul tells us that it’s when we’re weak we become strengthened by Christ and when we feel the most foolish, then we receive the wisdom of God. In other words, when we lose, we win and when we win, we lose. In the wrestling match with God, when we can prevail, we will find our old sinful nature directing our decisions. When we get our way, it’s usually destructive. But when we have to throw in the white flag of surrender, we position ourselves to receive all that God has for us.
God who loves us so knows that unless our pride, selfishness, and deceitful nature is conquered we will continue to live destructive lives, useless to the kingdom of God. Consider Christ, who according to Philippians 2 showed us the way to become all that God desires us to be. In this book, Paul says that Christ humbled Himself and laid aside everything He had right to. Though He was equal with the Father, He became obedient to the will of the Father and clothed Himself in human flesh. What a surrender that the Son of God would lay aside all His glory and power and become a tiny baby in a human womb and then be born not in a palace but in a stable. I don’t think God will ever ask us to give up that much, but Christ did. Paul goes on to say that after Christ had made such a surrender, He went further in yielding by becoming obedient and dying on the cross. The Bible says that “He who knew no sin became sin….” You talk about giving up rights and desires! We read in the Garden of Gethsemane that Christ wrestled with the Father as He prayed, “Father let this cup pass from me,” but what a powerful display of surrender when He continues, “nevertheless not my will but Yours be done.” Because He became totally obedient to the Father, Philippians says that “God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name that is above every name…” When we consider all the power, glory and honor that Christ has been given, we must also understand that it came through His surrender.
So how does this apply to us? I believe that God has a perfect plan for every life but because we have been corrupted by sin, even those things in our character that God has given us for good quite often are corrupted and become used for the wrong purposes. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham to whom God had made a powerful promise and he was the one through whom God had chose to continue the promise through. Sadly, though, Jacob’s character wasn’t capable of being the instrument through which God could carry out His plans, so Jacob had to have a character remake. I think that’s also true for us. What I want you to see is that when God made you, He placed within you everything necessary to become everything you were made to be. Many of us try to become someone else not realizing that the real issue is that the wrong party is controlling the attributes. Everything in us including those things that cause us trouble, when fully surrendered to God become assets. For example, Peter’s impulsiveness under his control got him into trouble but harnessed by the Holy Spirit stood him in the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming Christ. Paul’s zeal for God under his control moved him to try to stamp out Christianity but controlled by the Holy Spirit moved him to plant churches around the world. We spend a lot of wasted time asking God to remove some part of our character and it never goes away. Why not spend that time asking God to give you grace to yield fully to Him and I think you will be amazed how God will take that part of your character that has been so detrimental and work through it to bring glory and honor to Him. That what He did in Jacob and that’s what He do in us.
In the paradox of the kingdom of God, only cripples can be princes. That night as Jacob became a cripple, leaning on a staff and God, he received a character change and a name change. His name Jacob which means trickster or deceiver was changed to Israel which means prince with God. As Jacob learned to lean on God, he became the prince that God could use. We can too.
Dr. John Thompson