Jacob wrestled with God.
If you grew up on Bible stories, that statement has lost the impact it should have.
Jacob—a human—wrestled—up close and personal—with GOD!
And here’s another thing to ponder: GOD initiated the wrestling.
This blog entry is a follow-up to “The Guilt of Simply Being Human” (2/28/13, just below this one). After I finished my snow walk, I studied Jacob’s story and realized that God invites me to wrestle, too; that, in fact, wrestling is often necessary before I can enjoy the kind of peaceful fellowship described as “dining with Christ” or “being led beside still waters.” This blog entry is simply the way I unpacked the Jacob-wrestling-God story (influenced by Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary [which, by the way, is available for free viewing at BibleGateway.com and Biblos.com]).
Up until this time of wrestling, Jacob had habitually done things his own way. He was an I’ll pray for God’s blessing, but then do it my own way sort of person.
How do I know this? His whole story tells me this. His name (which means “trickster”) tells me this.
But Jacob was facing a BIG situation; and he knew that all his wonderful trickery could not save him. Oh, he still connived, still planned, but then he cried out to God.
And God came and wrestled with him. And Jacob wouldn’t let go or give up. So God damaged Jacob’s hip and blessed him.
What? To be honest, it seems like a strange story.
I’ve heard people telling this story say things like this: God had to damage Jacob’s hip because Jacob was so strong.
Jacob was wrestling with a God infinitely stronger than he (Jacob). God had the power to crush Jacob, to annihilate him.
But Jacob was also wrestling with an infinitely good God.
Jacob was not going to say, “Uncle! I give up. I acknowledge that I am human and You? YOU are God! I thought I was pretty good, pretty capable, but then I saw YOU and realized truth.” Jacob, like so many of us, was far, far, far from recognizing this essential truth.
So God wrestled with him. He held back from using the full extent of His limitless power. He even let Jacob have the upper hand. I don’t fully understand why, but my suspicion is that this was best for Jacob. Perhaps this was the only way that Jacob would learn who God is. This wrestling was specifically chosen because of Jacob’s past and his personality type.
It seems to backfire at first because Jacob thinks he is winning.
But then God tweaked his hip—with a touch!
That was a wake-up call.
God has given us humans a lot of autonomy, and we think we’re doing okay. We think we’re capable.
But it doesn’t take much to remind us of the limitations of our humanity.
Suddenly Jacob realizes, “Oh, no, He let me have the upper hand. This is way bigger than I ever imagined. I’ve been playing with God, and He is too great to play with.”
But even though Jacob wrestled out of limited knowledge, Scripture actually commends him for wrestling with God. It commends him for not letting go.
It commends him because Jacob learned SO much when he wrestled with God.
When Jacob demands a blessing from God, Jacob learns instead who he himself is. God asks him a simple question: “What is your name?”
When Jacob answers, he realizes his own nature, because when he says “Jacob,” he is essentially admitting, “I am a trickster, a schemer, a swindler.”
But Jacob still has more to learn. Ever the comparer, always wanting to assess the situation and see how he stands, he then asks, “What is YOUR name?”
But God simply said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” In other words, do you really need to ask? Don’t you ‘get it’?
Jacob must have; he didn’t say anything else, and when God blessed him, Jacob accepted it. The GREATER always blesses the lesser in Scripture. So by accepting the blessing, Jacob was finally saying, “I give myself to You. You are God, and I am not. I am nothing like You, and I need you.”
THAT was what God wanted to Jacob to learn. So, finally, after a full night of wrestling, Jacob is ready to face the situation that had so terrified him the night before. Jacob names that place Peniel: “the face of God,” and he went on his way knowing that he carried the blessing of God with him: he now knew through experience that the all-powerful God would never fail him.
Man, I wish I were less like Jacob. I wish I didn’t need to wrestle, again and again, to come to knowledge. But God not only knows what I need to learn, He also knows the best way for me to learn it.
And He is willing to even wrestle with me, if that is what it takes.
God wrestling with a human! AMAZING!