Jacob Wrestles with God
Have you ever woken to feel that you have been wrestling all night long? You are aching all over and your mind is spinning, your hot and you have thrown your covers off, your exhausted instead of rested and yet you feel you have won some kind of spiritual or physical battle ?
I don’t sleep well, in fact nearly every night for the last two weeks I've been woken in the night and during these times I turn to prayer, both my own personal prayers and prayers for others. At times I have felt these prayers have been like a battle, I have a strong sense of pushing through something, desperately trying to remain focused, holding onto my prayers not letting my mind wander, wrestling with the pain, the fear, the sheer hopelessness of situations. Looking for answers where I won’t and can’t find them, trying to find the way through the valleys all by myself without my guide, without my light. Resulting in feeling more lost, more alone and even more hopeless, crouching in the darkness, afraid. But over the last few nights I've really felt I've broken through something and God is starting to do big things in my life.
These night time experiences are what I think attracted me so much to this passage from Genesis today. At the beginning of the reading we find Jacob alone in the night, he has sent his family over the river Jabbok and here he is, just like we are when we cant sleep at night, in the darkness, alone with his thoughts. He is about to meet the person that he cheated out of his most precious possessions. Because in the past Jacob sinned, not only did he take his brothers birthright, but he cheated him out of his fathers blessing as well. He hasn’t seen his brother Esau for twenty years, he knows he has gathered an army of four hundred men and he is frantic with fear. But God has told him to return to the land of his father and he has promised to be with him.
Often when we are frantic with fear, as ridiculous as it sounds we don’t pray, we don’t turn to God, instead we allow the fear to paralyse us or we attempt to take on the problem ourselves, we look for our own solutions forgetting that our heavenly father is the only one who can bring us through the darkness into his light. But this is what fear can do, it is satans most powerful tool, because fear can distort, fear can lie and fear can break us – if we let it.
So what about Jacob, frantic with fear, what does he do all alone in the darkness? Unaware that he is at the verge of entering the promised land, of being one of the most significant men in the Old Testament. Unaware that this night, is the night that will turn his life around. This is the night when he will leave his old life of deceit and scheming behind and be the man that God planned him to be. This is the night that he will wrestle with God and the outcome will determine whether he receives his heavenly fathers blessing.
His story shows us that sometimes we have to wrestle with things in order to get Gods blessing. Because it is those times, when we wake up in the night alone and afraid that we can do no other than wrestle, we wrestle in order to change, to become the people God wants us to be. We wrestle to get closer to God, to learn to recognise our failings and past sins, to confess them, to determine to change, through Him and not through our own endeavours. When we wrestle we are the closest and most intimate with God, holding onto him for all we are worth, in wrestling we cling on, trying to get a better hold, desperate not to let go.
So what can we as Christians learn from Jacobs story, from his night of wrestling in the darkness? How can his story help us in our lives, how can we be encouraged, how can we use his example in our own personal walks ?
In this scripture we are shown four Godly techniques, four ways of wrestling with God in order to receive his blessing. Four ways of overcoming our struggles with Gods help.
The first is our mindset, our state of mind, our attitude and approach to our problems and struggles in life - when we are backed into corners and left to mentally wrestle with our thoughts and feelings. Unaware that it is those thoughts and feelings, those nagging voices in our heads and those painful emotions in our hearts which will trick us and deceive us. Unaware that it is those voices which could be our downfall. But through wrestling with God through prayer and the right mindset we can realise and understand that these worries and struggles are a result of sin, or un-forgiveness or hardened hearts. The act of wrestling with God brings about revelation and resolution. But this can only happen through God and not through our own actions. In order for Jacob to become the man who would head a nation for God he would have to wrestle with God in order to be humbled and then restored. He had to wrestle all night and as dawn broke he cried out in pain as his hip dislocated, he was broken and it was at this moment he cried out to God and at this moment God could work though his weakness. Because it is through this wrestling that God could work through him and through this fight for his life he was given a new life, a life where he was able to serve God. Jacob has a physical and psychological wrestle with God in order to prevail with God and man – in order to overcome his failings and past sin and to serve God, and in doing so, serve man.
Now lets look at Jacobs wrestling techniques, his moves, his stance. We know that Jacob was clever and he used his intelligence to be deceitful and cunning. From his work on the land he would be physically strong, a man able to defend himself. When he begins his fight he is unaware of who he is fighting with, perhaps one of his brothers men, after all he has gathered an army of four hundred. As Jacob wrestles you could say he uses his God given strength to try and win. But now these gifts are being used by God in order to bring Jacob to the place he needs to be to be transformed by God. God could have ended the match at any time, but by pretending to be weaker he is making Jacob fight, making him hold on because the fight must go on till the end, this fight is a lesson and this fight shows Jacob his past sins, he can no longer justify his behaviour, he must acknowledge it and confess. He cant steal Gods blessing as he did his fathers, he must win Gods blessing through his endeavours. Because sometimes we all have to wrestle till the break of day to develop our faith and become obedient. Jacob could have been defeated at any time, the touch of his hip shows us this. But God had to wrestle in human form, he needed to have that close human contact to bring Jacob to the place he wanted him to be, not a place of defeat but of realisation, confession and dependency on God. God wrestled with him as a man through love. He loved Jacob despite his sins, despite all the terrible things that he had done to his brother, because God could see beyond that, He knew that this fight was the only way to transform Jacob.
The third technique is our objective, our perseverance and determination. Jacob must have been exhausted, wrestling all night till break of day and then in excruciating pain from his hip and yet he kept going because he was determined to fight for his blessing. To earn it rather than steal it. He keeps going even though he knows he is losing and he cries, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” It is in his weakness that he finds Gods strength. Through this fight he learns not only how to deal with his brother Esau but how to lead a nation. He learns that he wont win over Esau through deception or technique but through prayer and Gods favour. Gods love allows Jacob to love and to be forgiven by the brother he wronged. In seeking God, in holding onto him and not giving up no matter how painful that is, Jacob prevails. Sometimes God has to weaken our strength, he has to use life’s struggles to get close to us. We have to be weakened for him to bless us because in our weakness, when we no longer see an answer, when we no longer trust in ourselves, in our most broken state as we weep on our knees at this moment we learn to trust in Him, this is what God is looking for. Because without God we can do nothing, we have to wait upon him, weep before him and yes, wrestle with him till dawn in order to see the light of day.
So finally we come to the restoration, the battle is almost over, Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” 28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” 29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said. “Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel,[d] and he was limping because of the injury to his hip.
I believe we all need to start limping. All of us run away from our problems at some times in our lives, and all of us sometimes find that in doing so we have nowhere to run. This is when God touches us. After his encounter with God Jacob could no longer run, he can’t escape and he can’t run away from his problems. He has to do what we all have to do – rely on God. In his weakness and pain he threw himself on God and as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10 “For when I am weak, then I am strong”. Jacob had great physical strength, probably in his legs from running away from his problems. In his wrestle that night he lost this natural strength.
I recently read that we all need to find our great natural strength and surrender it to God, God cant use us if we rely on our natural strength, but satan can. Whatever your stronghold of natural strength, God is going to touch it. He has to. By not relying on His power you are depending on your natural strength. And God can’t use you in that state. 2 Corinthians 12:9 ‘My power works best in your weaknesses. This scripture shows us that when we are in those corners that life puts us in what else can we do but cry out in faith? Surrender to our God and repent of our past misdemeanours. If we are to prevail then we can and must do this through Gods strength and not our own. We must be prepared to admit defeat and like Jacob make our last cry one of faith: “I will not let you go unless you bless me” v26
Jacob is broken and restored, lifted by God to be His man, to lead His nation. The sinful Jacob is forgiven and learns to be humble and obedient. He overcomes his sin in his weakness. His new name is Israel which is literally translated as ‘Prince of God’. What a wonderful name. Everyone of us here is a prince or princess of God, we may not feel it at times but each one of is, look around at your family and look at these princes and princesses of God and in our hearts lets bless each other and pray that we might all win our wrestles in the night, that we might all awake in awe and say;
"I have wrestled with God and prevailed." That in life’s hardships we can awake to give thanks and know that in the darkest of times we have “ seen God face to face and our lives have been preserved." Let us give thanks for those dark times because overcoming them with Gods help adds another jewel to those crowns that his princes and princess’s wear. Crowns which are symbols of His glory and his victories, not ours. Because each and every one of those victories which we obtain by wrestling with God must lead to humble thankfulness. The glory must be given to Him with humble and thankful hearts. And these victories wont be easily won, they will cost us something, they will be painful, they will be a struggle through the night and like Jacob "As the sun rises we may limp, we limp to remind us that we can only overcome our difficulties through God, because the victory and the triumph will always be His.
Father God, we thank you for those nights of wrestling and those mornings of light, we thank you for loving us, despite our sin and our shortfalls for loving us enough to take the time to work in us and through us even if it takes all night and we ask for humble and thankful hearts as you graciously lets us have the victory for your glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen