TITLE: Wrestling with God
By Betsy Markman
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From Genesis 32:24-32 (see footnote)
I can relate to Jacob of old who wrestled with God all night. Sometimes I wish God would let me go a few rounds with Him the same way, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one. Despite the differences in the details of our problems, deep inside we’re all the same. Our fallen, sinful souls enter this world aching for a brawl with the Holy One, and that ache has a name. It’s called “sin.” Because we’re sinners, it’s really no surprise that we’re itching for a fight. The surprise comes when God graciously accepts our challenge, as He did with Jacob.
Why would God do that? And why, of all the options available, would God choose wrestling?
When God slew the firstborn of Egypt, He sent a death angel to fly overhead. In the final judgment, God says that His angels will pour His wrath out of bowls. This is the distance of warfare. God reserves this kind of distance for His enemies. “The One who rules in Heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them.” (Ps. 2:4)
But there’s a different kind of confrontation. We’ve all seen it, at least in the movies. We’ve seen armed combatants approach each other, then throw down their weapons in favor of raw, one-on-one combat. They want to get their hands on their enemy, to feel the reality of the human being they’re fighting. These aren’t soldiers, strangers to each other, enemies only because of political abstractions. Such fighters prefer the emotional and physical safety of their armor and their distance. No, these foes want to be as up-close-and-personal as they can get. They want a knock-down, drag-out, sweating, pounding release for their wrath. Oddly enough, they often emerge with a new respect for each other, out of which a true friendship eventually grows.
God gives us, His people, the privilege of meeting Him in that kind of fight. He does not mock our weakness, or snuff out our lives in omnipotent irritation. He lets us get our hands on Him, so to speak, and feel the reality of the One we’re fighting. He seems like a mortal enemy as He pries off our religious veneer, revealing all of the stubbornness and pride and anger inbred in us as children of Adam.
We fight Him with all of our strength, picturing a victory that will bend Him to our will, or at least punish Him for refusing to yield.
He accepts the pummeling of our puny rage until we exhaust ourselves and He decides that we’ve had enough. And then He administers that touch, the one that puts an end to the struggle and leaves us unable to fight any longer. It might hurt, as it did in the Genesis story. It might leave us with a telltale mark of some kind, like Jacob’s limping on his injured leg. Yet somehow it transforms our hearts and turns us into victors.
After that one devastating touch, Jacob didn’t simply stop fighting and surrender, defeated. Instead he began to cling to God, asking for a blessing. At that moment God declared him a winner, a “prince with God” (that’s what “Israel” means). God told him, “you have prevailed.”
God wants His victory to be our victory, too. The God who triumphs is the God of sacred love, the God who defeats us only to win us to Himself. As we learn the secret of holy surrender, we begin to want nothing more than to cling to Him and ask for the blessing He already longs to give.
Then He declares us winners, too.
“…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37, WEB translation).
Genesis 32:24-32 (WEB translation)
24. Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a man there until the breaking of the day.
25. When he saw that he didn’t prevail against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled.
26. The man said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” Jacob said, “I won’t let you go, unless you bless me.”
27. He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.”
28. He said, “Your name will no longer be called ‘Jacob,’ but, ‘Israel,’ for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29. Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” He said, “Why is it that you ask what my name is?” He blessed him there.
30. Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
31. The sun rose on him as he passed over Peniel, and he limped because of his thigh.
32. Therefore the children of Israel don’t eat the sinew of the hip, which is on the hollow of the thigh, to this day, because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.
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