Wrestling With God- Genesis 32:22-30

In this familiar story, we find the account of Jacob “wrestling” with God. This story is often understood as an example of persevering prayer, of Jacob “prevailing” in prayer due to his perseverance and great faith. A closer look will show us that this is not at all what this story teaches us, and to properly understand the message here, we must look at the back story, at who Jacob was and what had happened in his life to bring him to this wrestling match. We will first note that Jacob’s name means “conniver or usurper”, and this name fit him very well, His life to this point was a long string of him conniving and usurping, of his clever manipulation of others to get what he wanted. This is seen in his stealing the blessing of his father Isaac from his older brother Esau, his deception of Isaac to do so, his obtaining of his father in law Laban’s flocks through conniving, and his stealing of Laban’s possessions as “gifts” to give his brother Esau to keep Esau from attacking him. His life to this point reflects one who has spent his life “wrestling” with others through conniving and manipulation and “prevailing” through his own cleverness, his own strength. At this point in the story, Jacob has manipulated his way into obtaining Laban’s flocks and goods, and is on the run from Laban, who is not pleased with Jacob’s actions and seeks retribution. Jacob has also learned that his brother Esau is now coming after him, seeking retribution for what Jacob had done to him many years ago. Realizing he has two men after him and is now surrounded, he finally turns to God in prayer, asking God to “Save me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me” (Gen. 32:11). This wrestling match is the result of Jacob’s prayer. In the story, Jacob has sent his family and tribe across the river, and is now alone, and a “man wrestled with him until daybreak”. This “man” is plainly revealed to be God himself in verses 29-32, and it must be noted that the Hebrew term “wrestled” here is one which essentially means to “strive or contend”. What we have here then is Jacob “striving” with God himself all night long, relying on his old ways of contending with God and trying to manipulate God in order to get what he (Jacob) wanted, and refusing to give up. God realizes that Jacob is not going to give up without some “motivation” to do so (verse 25), so God “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, so that his hip was wrenched”. The fact that God disabled Jacob’s hip here shows that Jacob is not able to win this “match” in his own strength, that his old ways will not work in manipulating God, and the disabling of the hip is the symbolic way of God bringing Jacob to the end of his own strength, disabling the muscles of the upper thigh, which are the strongest in the human body. What this story portrays then, is not of Jacob “prevailing” in his own strength, but prevailing by being broken, by being brought to the very end of his own strength, to the end of himself, to the place where he realizes that his old ways will not work with God. He is brought to the place where he learns that he must rely on God alone to rescue him from Esau, and his striving has brought him to this place, to the place in which he is “broken”, in which he realizes he can no longer live as a conniver and usurper to get his way, but will now live as one who strives with God, not to manipulate God to get what he wants, but as one who will be continually broken, who will learn to rely less and less on his own strength and more and more on God. So what, then, is the ultimate message of this story for us today? It is that this is a story of Jacob “prevailing” by being broken, of finally coming to the place where he depended on God, not on his own “flesh”, to rescue him from Esau, it is a story in which Jacob wins by being broken. This concept is still true and valid for us as well, that we “prevail” with God by being broken, by being brought to the place in which we learn to rely not on our own strength, ingenuity and cleverness, but on God. May we all learn to “wrestle” with God in this way, that we may be brought to the end of relying on our own strength, and learn to rely on God and God alone to “rescue” us from whatever may be threatening to destroy us.

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