“Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.””
— Genesis 32:28
The account of Jacob wrestling with God is one of those parts of the Bible that makes me realize God is far more mysterious and unfathomable than I sometimes give Him credit for being.
Just to recap: Jacob had spent a good part of his adult life serving Laban. After marrying Laban's two daughters, having twelve children, and many quarrels about wages and possessions, Jacob decided it was time to return to the land he had left. So, with a nation of people and a multitude of possessions he left Laban's territory to return to his own, or more truthfully, his father's.
There was just one problem. He didn't know what he was going back to. He had left in a hurry after manipulation and deceit aroused his brother's fury. There was plenty of blame to go around as to the why and how and who was the cause, and I suppose if we were to sit Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau down in separate rooms to hear why they did what they did, we may sympathize with them all.
Isaac thought he was near death. The custom was to bless the oldest. He was following the example of his forefathers.
But how could he, Rebekah might ask, after God said the older would serve the younger? If she hadn't
tricked him he would have gone against God.
And wasn't Jacob just obeying his mother and Esau just obeying his father?
Justify it however we want, we so often make a mess of life, too. Sometimes we do it in the name of good intentions. Sometimes we do it in the name of God's will.
But so often we do it wrong. We take hurtful actions when we should be praying for God to motivate the heart. Or we take the action we ought to take, but with the wrong tone, deleting love from the equation.
And sometimes we do exactly what we should do with our heart in the right place and the tone we ought, but when we touch the insecurity of the other, he or she responds with hurtful words or angry actions, and we're hurt and no longer willing to help or advise with a right heart.
And a mess ensues. A mess that we would rather run from than face.
But at some point we will find ourselves there, at the point Jacob was at when he spent the night wrestling with God. He had sent servants to tell Esau he was coming and they informed him Esau was headed his way with four hundred men.
Jacob reminded God he had crossed this stream before with nothing but a staff and was returning with a great multitude of people and more blessings than a person could count.
Jacob had gone across the stream to pray, to beg God for favor when he deserved none. He went to God to spiritually win a battle he couldn't physically win. He was outnumbered and vulnerable. God would be his only hope.
And in the struggle God made sure Jacob understood that. He could fight and claw and try to manipulate, but doing so would never bring him the things God was willingly able to give when Jacob quit conniving and started trusting.
And that is what the struggle does for us, too. When we struggle with God, He strips us of our pride and helps us recognize our faults. In the struggle we don't defeat God, we overcome our sinfulness; we learn that like Jacob, we are so very weak before the God, who with one simple touch, can bring us to our knees. Once Jacob's hip was out of his socket, he lost his ability to fight and all he could do was cling to God and beg for blessing.
Sometimes I wonder if I wrestle with myself more than I wrestle with God. I wrestle with my idea of how things should go and where I should be, and what my life should look like.
At some point we all need to quit thrashing and start clinging; holding for dear life onto the One who could pin us down in a moment, but who often lets us wrestle till we understand our spiritual condition, and understand the freedom we seek has already been won.
Dear friend, face the mighty army looming ahead. Face whatever and whomever the year brings, not as a fighter, but as a clinger; someone who may have wrestled with God and maybe has a limp to prove it, but who has overcome, because God was merciful enough to let you wrestle, and merciful enough to meet you there in the struggle to work it out and make sure you walk away victorious.