Does anyone enjoy watching boxing? Rocky 1-59? Mixed martial arts? That Kevin James movie Here Comes the Boom?
I think most people like a good fight, or at least a fight where people either have a worthy cause to fight for or they’re particularly good at their sport. Or, maybe you just like watching Silvester Stallone get hit in the face repeatedly. There seems to be something in us that likes to fight just a little—sometimes a lot.
In the chapters I’m covering today (I’ve gotten behind in writing because of finals), Genesis 32-34, we see Jacob in a wrestling match with God. I like this passage because I relate to it so much.
So often, trying to live like Christ, living a repentant life that fights against sin, and living in a way that tries not to conform to this world feels like a wrestling match. Colossians 3:2-11 tells us that our nature is sinful and that we have to die to those desires. (Anyone reading this ever died before?) If it takes something as drastic as death to overcome our naturally sinful desires, how could the Christian life not feel like a fight? This kind of life goes against our very nature. Ephesians 6:10-18 even points out that it is like a war that we need full armor to fight against. Honestly, I feel like I probably spend more time limping around with a hip injury than I do making actual “progress.”
Like Jacob, I wrestle with God in my own life: over decisions big or small, over where to go, over what to say, over how to present myself in this world, over my beliefs. Basically, if it’s a part of life I’m probably wrestling with God over it at some point.
But, does God get angry with Jacob over this? I guess that’s the weird/nice part about this passage. Even though God could have said, “Listen Jacob, enough of this wrestling business. This is getting old. I’m tired of letting you struggle with me. I’m going to go find someone else who’s more cooperative. Sorry (but not really sorry) about your hip!”
God wrestles him until daybreak and then He takes out his hip; but, He doesn’t just take off and say “well, good luck with Esau!” Nope. God changes his name saying: “your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28). So, Jacob struggles with God and then gets blessed? What?
If God really wanted to, He could have taken Jacob down faster than you or I could blink. He didn’t have to wrestle with Jacob, and He certainly didn’t have to let Jacob walk away from this match or bless him.
Out of this passage a few things I noticed were: one, that Jacob doesn’t ‘win’ in a conventional sense. When God says Jacob ‘overcame’ He doesn’t seem to mean that he beat God at a wrestling match. (Being omniscient, God knew about boxing before boxers knew what a punch was or wrestlers knew anything about what holds were; and, being omnipotent means God has all power and authority over everything. He has the advantage…in every category).
Now, I’m not a biblical scholar by any means, but it seems like maybe God means that Jacob ‘overcame’ by the fact that he wrestled with God in the first place and that he was pursuing Him. That is, the fact that he encounters God means that he was at least on the right path.
One of my friends recently told me her pastor said that being “holy” means being set apart, not that when we’re saved we are suddenly perfect and don’t still deal with sin or with wrestle with God over certain things. Our walk with God is an active, always in the present kind of walk.
Romans 6:16-19 talks about how, before Christ, we habitually offered ourselves up to sinful ways, but with Christ we have to choose to “offer ourselves to righteousness which results in sanctification.” A relationship isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process of learning, growing, and loving deeper every day.
I believe that God wants us to grow in our faith and learn to love Him more daily, which would be hard to do if we were unable to make mistakes along the way. It seems complicated, and maybe a little counterintuitive at times, but that’s because God is the author/omniscient narrator who can see the full picture and we’re a character in the story with a limited point of view.
Ultimately, the very fact that we wrestle with certain issues instead of just dismissing them and going our own way is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in our life—that we are growing in our faith, even if we take a few steps backwards along the way (doesn’t mean we should keep on sinning/living in sin!).
In looking up that word, “overcome,” it says that this word could also be “to prevail” or “to endure.” Perhaps God means that Jacob ‘endured’ this encounter and he persisted even when he knew he wouldn’t ‘win,’ because he was trying to ‘grapple’ with the things of God—something you have to encounter God to do.
Even though part of me wants to say that Jacob shouldn’t have been fighting with God because that seems wrong, I’m reminded that, over this past weekend during the D-Now I volunteered at, the speaker said something that has stuck with me: “God can do a lot more with our honesty than with us faking a ‘good Christian exterior.’”
That being said, I believe a lot of these wrestling matches are about us working things out with God. Maybe we’re resisting or hesitating over something that He has for us, something He’s called us to, or maybe there’s something that we’re struggling against that God is allowing us to work through. Like Jacob, maybe God just needs that honest encounter to give us a hip injury in order to slow us down and change our perspective. Sometimes ‘injuries’ are the only way that we stop our wrestling long enough to look up and realize that sometimes (I could even say “often”) we’re fighting against the One who wants to fight for us.
(Hopefully that doesn’t get lost between me working it out in my head and typing it out on the computer).
I think it’s also worth noting that Jacob was fighting for a blessing at the end. He refuses to let go of God until He blesses him. Talk about boldness! Maybe this is where we find ourselves sometimes when we put up a good fight against sin.
“God, I’m fighting against this and I won’t let go until I see Your blessing in the end!”
However, with this idea of wrestling, we should be careful. When God calls us to something, our first response should be obedience and trust. There is a time for prayer/conversation with God working things out with our own understanding and trying to grasp what His will/plan is, but resisting His will is never a good idea (see Hebrews 3:14-15).
I do believe that God extends grace and mercy to us when we hesitate and that He will not forsake us even when we really really mess up (reread what happens when Lot hesitates to leave Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19). However, we need to stop relying on our own understanding—the plans that we have and the ways that we think are right—and rely on the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God of the universe because He knows what is best for us (Proverbs 3:5-8; Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28).
Also, with the last part of this—dealing with blessings—I will say that there is a difference between testing God and claiming His promises for us (I’m not sure how to phrase that properly, but hopefully you get what I mean).
Testing God is not something we should do (Matthew 4:7). God is not on our timetable. He doesn’t work according to our agenda and expecting Him to operate according to what we want when we want it is a risky game we shouldn’t play. That doesn’t mean we can’t pray and ask God for help when there are time-sensitive needs (Philippians 4:19). What I mean is that we can’t demand God to meet our deadlines, like: “God, you promised to make me prosperous, so I need a million dollars by Thursday” or “you promised to give me the desires of my heart so let me meet my future husband at Winter Jam this year.” You get the idea.
On the other hand, wrestling with God over His promises and ‘claiming’ our belief that He will be faithful to deliver entails trusting that He means what He says when He made those promises, and it means holding onto that hope while fighting the good fight against our doubts and against temptation until we see those promises fulfilled (Titus 2:9-14).
In other words, we are wrestling with trying to fit God’s infinite wisdom into our finite understanding. Imagine trying to fit an entire ocean into a solo cup… but the ocean is infinite (yes, I’m using the title of Josh Wilson’s album “Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup” to make my analogy).
Wherever you may find yourself in this ‘wrestling match,’ however your fight is going (*spoiler* God’s probably going to win), I’m praying that you continue to press on towards God. I hope that you’ll see His blessing for your life—in whatever form that takes—in the coming days (though, I’m praying for God’s perfect timing). And, I pray, if your hip gets dislocated like Jacob’s, that you’ll keep holding on through that lesson/trial until you see what God has for you.