Insight from today’s reading Genesis 32-34 though it’s the final bit of Genesis 32 that’s relevant.
This thought has taken quite a while to develop. You could say I’ve spent the morning wrestling with it.
Jacob wrestled with God. That’s pretty amazing. Did Jacob really wrestle God? Or was it someone else? An angel? Is it a spiritual metaphor? Clearly Jacob knew the man was someone significant to have wrestled with him so intensely. But at the end the man clearly blesses Jacob and renames him, and Jacob himself says that he has seen God face to face yet lives. Thus the fundamental truth here is that Jacob wrestled with God.
What does it mean to wrestle with God though? How do you wrestle with God? It’s like asking a baby to wrestle with the Rock or something. It’s kind of a no-brainer who wins. And we look at this wrestling duel, and in fact there’s no victor, until God chooses to push Jacob’s hip out of joint, so he is unable to continue. But Jacob refuses to let go. He’s not going to win, but he will not lose it. He clearly wants a blessing.
It’s not the first time this happens though. Jacob has been wrestling all his life. He wrestled with Esau in his mother’s womb for the privilege of firstborn, and loses it barely but comes out clutching Esau’s heel. He wrestles with Esau his entire childhood for the privilege of his birthright, then for the blessing of Isaac. He wrestles with Laban for his wages.
But this is no ordinary wrestling match. It is in fact a turning point in Jacob’s life. Jacob’s name means ‘he cheats’. I don’t think you would quite fancy a name like that. It is here that God chooses to humble Jacob. All this while, Jacob has always managed to wrestle his victory. But finally he’s up against the ropes, he’s fearful of meeting his brother, and there seems to him that he has little chance of winning this encounter. It is with this desperation that Jacob wrestles this unknown man, and failing to win, clings on to him. God teaches Jacob to cling on to him. And then seeing that Jacob will not let go, it is clear that he has learnt his lesson, and he renames him Israel, which means ‘he strives with God’. And when He departs, Jacob suddenly realises what has just happened and how blessed he truly is.
Is that like us in any way? We wrestle through this life, trying to carve out our niche somewhere. Then suddenly the tables are turned and there seems to be no escape, and in desperation we turn to God and wrestle with Him, seeking His blessing. But there’s no way we can win that fight. Yet the amazing thing is that while we can’t win it, we can choose to not lose it. And in choosing to not lose, we inadvertently cling on to Him, and it is that very act of humility that ensures our victory.
Isn’t it funny how God works?