Wrestling With God.
Genesis 31-32, Matthew 16
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel,saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” – Genesis 32:30 ESV
This is such a fascinating story, filled with equal parts of faith and faithlessness. Throughout the events that occur, we see the faithful hand of God working behind the scenes, orchestrating the path of Jacob, and fulfilling His promises to Abraham. We also see Jacob struggle with taking God at His Word and attempting to take matters into his own hands – just in case God doesn’t come through. Jacob acknowledges God’s sovereign control over his life, having prospered and protected him all during his time in Paddan-Aram, but he also fears for his life, anticipating a less-than-cheery welcome from his brother Esau. We see the continuing conflict between Jacob and Laban, his uncle. But the real conflict of Jacob’s life had always been between he and God.
What does this passage reveal about God?
The obvious lesson is regarding His sovereignty. God is always in control – in all situations – regardless of how they might appear to us at the time. While Jacob’s flight to Paddan-Aram was his mother’s idea, and one she had to come up with to protect Jacob from the revenge of Esau, God would use this “detour” to accomplish his will for Jacob’s life. Even Jacob recognized the hand of God on his life during his time with Laban. He told his wives, “You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me” (Genesis 31:6-7 ESV). God miraculously prospered Jacob, in spite of Laban’s ongoing attempts to cheat him out of what was rightfully his. Upon receiving news that his brother Esau was on his way with 400 armed men, Jacob prayed , “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children” (Genesis 32:10-11 ESV). Jacob feared. He lacked faith. And yet, His God had been proved Himself faithful every step of the way. Jacob was having to learn that Laban was not his problem. He was going to have to understand that Esau was not the one he needed to be worrying about. It was God. His real issue was with God, not man. He was going to learn that, while he could trick and deceive men, God was another matter. And while he could strive and work for the things of this world, what he really needed was the blessing of God. And it’s interesting to note that as Jacob lined up all his possessions and prepared to hand them over to his brother as a peace offering, the one thing he demanded from the angel with whom he wrestled was a blessing. “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Genesis 32:26 ESV). And Jacob received his blessing because he “prevailed.” This does not mean he beat God. It means that he wrestled with God until he received that for which he was striving. So God told him, ““Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). His new name was a combination of the Hebrew words for “wrestle” and “God.” Jacob had clung to God, demanding He fulfill His covenant promise to him. He knew that his future was in danger without God’s help. And God would prove Himself faithful yet again, delivering Jacob from his brother Esau and providing him a place back in the land of promise.
What does this passage reveal about man?
Jacob’s entire life had been a wrestling match with God. At every phase of his life, Jacob had been given full notice that the covenant promises of God would be his. At Jacob’s birth, God had confirmed to Rebekah that, while Esau was technically the first-born son and heir to the inheritance, “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). Jacob had cheated his brother out of his birthright. He had tricked his father into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. And yet, he still doubted that God was going to bless him. He lived in fear of Esau’s eventual retaliation. He had to constantly battle his own uncle just to make a living. He had watched his two wives bicker and fight, even bartering over their rights to have sexual relations with him. His life was a complicated mess filled with constant conflicts. And yet his real problem was with God. He was delaying the inevitable. At some point he was going to have to go to the mat with God and have it out over whether or not he was going to trust Him. And that is exactly what happened. That fateful night in the land of Seir, after having sent all that he owned and loved ahead of him, the Scriptures tell us, “And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24 ESV). All he held dear, his wives, children, and all his worldly possessions had been sent ahead as payment to his brother Esau. He was faced with the possible loss of everything, including his life – all that he had worked so hard for all those years. And he was left alone – with God. And they did battle. And Jacob, weary and worn out from the exertion of it all, clinged for dear life, demanding that “the man” bless him. Everything else was meaningless and worthless, but the blessing of God was essential. This would be a turning point in Jacob’s life, resulting in a name change, but also a significant change in outlook. Jacob had been a man of the flesh, prone to do things his own way. Israel would become a man of faith, a spiritual man who was learning to trust in and lean on His God for everything.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Over in the gospel of Matthew, we have that powerful rebuke that Jesus gives Peter. Jesus has just told the disciples that He is going to have to go to Jerusalem and “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21 ESV). Peter responds quickly and adamantly, telling Jesus that this is NOT going to happen. In essence, Peter is telling the Son of God that the will of God is wrong. And Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23 ESV). Oh, how easy it is to become a hindrance to God. That does not mean we can keep God from doing what He intends to do, but we can place ourselves in opposition to His divine will. That is not a place we want to be. That was not the place Jacob needed to be. He was going to have to learn to trust God and take Him at His word. He was going to have to learn to see God’s hand at work in his life and trust that what He had done in the past could also be done in the future. That night in his wrestling match with God, Jacob had learned the truth of Jesus’ statement found in Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Jacob had become wealthy. He had been blessed materially. But all of that meant little or nothing without the blessing of God in his life. What set Jacob apart was not his net worth or personal portfolio, but his relationship with God Almighty. His uniqueness was based solely on God’s divine determination to fulfill His covenant promises to him and through him. And the same is true for me today.
Father, I can see Your hands all over and around my life. I can look back and see Your activity all around me. But then I can look ahead and worry and fret over what I am going to do about future events or circumstances. I try to take matters into my own hands. I scheme and plan. I worry and stress out over what is going to happen. But what I really need to do is wrestle with You. I need to do business with You and strive with You to the point that I walk away wounded, but confident that You will do what You promise to do. You are faithful. I have nothing to fear. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men