Gen. 32.22 through 30 We Wrestle
Sunday, October 21th, 2007
“Wrestling With God?”
Our sermon text for today is the Old Testament narrative of Jacob at Jabbok… Grace and Peace to You from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. JACOB wrestles with God
Unlike Abraham, who has a reputation for being a Godly man and doing the right thing, we must use different words to describe Jacob; words like shyster, liar, manipulator, cheater, schemer, con-artist. I guess you could say his character was revealed at birth. He was the 2nd born of twins and came out holding his brother, Esau’s, heel and has been grabbing things ever since. I like how one person put it… “Jacob was the kind of person that could enter a revolving door behind you and come out ahead of you.”
Jacob has really led a “lost life.” He has been running from calamity to calamity and trying to leave his troubles behind him. Even his name means “supplanter.” He cheated his brother, conned his father, and swindled his father-in-law. In all that he did, Jacob was his primary focus. Up to now, he had been doing fine on his own as far as he must have been concerned.
Now he’s coming home. Many years earlier, after Jacob stole the blessing from Esau, his mother Rebekah was going to send for him after Esau calmed down. But there is nothing in the Bible that she ever sent word that it was safe to come home. God tells Jacob to “go home”. Now after many years had passed Jacob was returning and he was afraid that his brother might still try to kill him.
Jacob had come to the Jabbok River and crossing it meant crossing into Esau’s territory. Hoping to appease his brother he sent gifts across the river ahead of him. As Jacob was making these preparations he said to himself, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” Later that night he sent his wives and sons across the river and finally he sent the rest of his servants with the rest of his possessions across.
He is alone. He has done all that he can think to do on his own. So Jacob sees a shadowy figure sneaking up behind him. He’s not sure who it is. His brother Esau? A local thief? As far as Jacob is concerned, it doesn’t matter. No one’s going to mess up his plan now. The wrestling match is on. It was a desperate fight - maybe to the death.
2. WE wrestle with God
Have any of you ever wrestled? Most of the guys here today have probably wrestled before, at least for fun with your kids or grandkids. I have wrestled with my daughters for just a short time and when we get done I need a break. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a wrestling match with God? Talk about being worn out! Yet, that’s exactly what Jacob did.
And so God appears and wrestles with Jacob. Which raises the question, “Why did God want to wrestle with Jacob?” It was not for fun but to teach him some important truths. And we do know it is something God WANTED to do.
Jacob struggled all through his life. God wanted him to be God’s man; Jacob fought it with that old nature that says, "Forget what God wants...be your own man! Do what you want to do; hey, it’s your life isn’t it?" Each of us faces that tension today. There are struggles with relationships, morality…the physical realm. We struggle in every area of life. We struggle with why some things must be. Why do planes crash, or a bridge collapse? Why do children die? Even though we accept struggle as a part of life, we still question its value…its purpose. Along with our questioning, there is one immutable fact that, if accepted, will give your suffering -- your struggling some meaning... In life’s crucible, God is there! And He will help you through it all!
3. God lets us STRUGGLE
We need to understand that God wants to be actively engaged in our lives. This wrestling match was not only something that God wanted, but it was something that Jacob needed. This struggle with sin represents the struggle we all endure, everyday, believer, or non-believer.
Another question that comes to mind is, “How could a man possibly hold his ground with God in a wrestling match?” To me, the answer is obvious. God let Jacob hang in there with Him. When my girls and I wrestle, I toy with them, letting them prevail for a while. Their not big enough or strong enough to beat me…yet. And I’m sure Jacob could sense that in wrestling with God.
It’s clear from the text that Jacob didn’t “prevail” in the wrestling match in the sense of defeating God. They wrestled all through the night and it appeared that it was going to be a draw until God wrenched Jacob’s hip with a simple touch. It was as if God allowed Jacob to take his best shot and then showed He was still in control with a single touch. That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things the way he’d always done them. That is why the Bible says, “...the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
There is no fight left, but Jacob is holding on to God for all he’s worth. And though God tells Jacob to let go, Jacob can’t. He’s still grabbing hold of things. But now he’s grabbing hold for a different reason. Jacob grabs hold and asks for his most basic need - a blessing. Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” These are words God had waited forty years to hear!
God had told Rebekah before Jacob’s birth that he would receive a blessing, but Jacob had schemed for it, instead of getting it from God Himself. Yet this blessing came not through Jacob’s wit or strength but through the grace of God! Jacob has now received the blessing as a gift! He was right in desiring God’s blessing, for being blessed by God is no trivial matter. In Old Testament culture, there was nothing that was more important than securing the blessing of God. It was crucial. Life without God’s blessing was a nightmare.
- God BLESSES US through Our Wrestling!
So Jacob has met his match and he knows it. Suddenly he doesn’t feel so big or so strong anymore. His confidence is shot. He doesn’t feel so conniving anymore. Jacob’s arrogance is gone. He desperately grabs one last time. He grabs God. And the God of love, the God of compassion, the God of forgiveness changes his grasp to an embrace. God, who once had been unimportant to Jacob, who was not needed by Jacob to get by in life, suddenly becomes indispensable. Jacob realizes he is nothing without God. He realizes that no matter how big he is, no matter how strong he might be, no matter how sneaky he might be, there is One greater than he is. And Jacob, the wounded wrestler, is reminded of this by the pain in his leg, and his limp is a reminder for the rest of his life.
Jacob is a broken man, physically and in spirit. Because of that, he’s right exactly where God can use him. And when we are broken, we’re also right where God can use us.
This struggle is a metaphor – both spiritually and emotionally. Yet it is also a physical one. All of us have wrestled with God at times as we struggle to do our things in our way. We’ve wrestled with God over problems we don’t understand. We’ve wrestled with God over the things he has asked us to give up for him. We’ve wrestled with God and his call on our lives. Sometimes we’ve wrestled with God because of a deep desire for blessing.
I’m sure we can all think of nights when sleep eluded us and we tossed and turned, struggling over decisions to be made. We can remember being physically exhausted in the morning from the struggle we’ve endured the night before. Although we may not enjoy these times, we do have our wrestling matches with God. And we NEED these times. Because God wants us to engage with Him and yes, even wrestle with Him for blessings. Luther points out that, “This Man exercises Jacob until true strength and firmness of faith shows itself. For this reason, He changes his name.” The conferring of the new name makes Jacob a new child of God. We too are a “New Creation” through our struggle. Jacob has seen God in his struggle and we will see God in ours. It will be in His timing…and it may take all night.
Our victory comes through Him who we wrestle with. Without His blessing and His generating a new life through His death and resurrection we are lost. In the end everything in this text ultimately points to Jesus Christ, the “Man” that we encounter in the dark of night and must hang onto for everything we are worth. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.