Wrestling with God
Grab a cup of coffee; these devotionals won’t keep you more than a cup – two at most. Settle down with God as you start your day.
Later that same night, Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his children; and he crossed the Jabbok River. He sent them all ahead across the stream along with everything he had; but Jacob stayed behind, left alone in his distress and doubt. In the twilight of his anguish, an unknown man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw he was not winning the battle with Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was thrown out of joint as he continued to wrestle with him.
Man: Let me go; the dawn is breaking.
Jacob: I will not let you go unless you bless me.
Man: What’s your name?
Man: You will no longer go by the name Jacob. From now on, your name will be Israel because you have wrestled with God and humanity, and you have prevailed.
Jacob: Please, tell me your name.
Man: Why do you ask what my name is?
Right then and right there the man blessed Jacob. So Jacob called the place Peniel because as he said, “I have come face to face with God, and yet my life was spared.” The sun began to rise as Jacob passed by Penuel, limping because of his dislocated hip. And to this day, the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached near the hip socket of any animal, since that is where God struck Jacob when He dislocated his hip.
Genesis 32:22-32 VOICE
This past weekend I attended the South African Wrestling Federation Presidents and Masters Championships. I don’t know anything about wrestling, but the skill of the wrestlers was apparent even to a complete noob like me. It can be a very fast paced sport; sometimes a match is over in less than a minute. Other matches, especially between older wrestlers, took much longer.
This brings to mind the confrontation between Jacob and God at the ford of Jabbok. We read that Jacob and this angel of God wrestled the whole night and that ultimately the angel had to dislocate Jacob’s hip to bring him down. Not the outcome one expects in a confrontation between a divine being and a human, is it? We hardly expect them to be evenly matched, yet Jacob held his own. I think the reason for this is that Jacob was fighting tooth and nail. One gets the idea that he poured everything into this fight, much like the wrestlers at the SAWF championship in the very final rounds. Their fighting was more brutal, more aggressive, more desperate. Jacob, down by that river, was desperate and terrified. He was on his way back home, back to face his estranged brother Esau – you know, the hairy one whose inheritance he stole? For Jacob, wrestling with God that night was a fight to the death. He believed that if God did not bless him, he would die at his brother’s hands – a punishment he probably recognised he deserved.
And Jacob did die – Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel” and carried connotations of deceit – became Israel. “Israel” probably means “he struggles with God”. Another cursed name, we think, but this name is the blessing Jacob sought. The fact that Jacob wrestled all night with God was the blessing. The fact that his hip was dislocated was the blessing. Think about it – every limping step he took would have been a reminder of what happened at that river. He renamed the place “Peniel” – “face of God”. It was a tribute to the fact that he wrestled with God, saw his face, and walked away from the encounter not only alive, but remade.
I think we’re very nervous about being at odds with God. We’d rather pay him lip service than confront him, like he doesn’t know we don’t really mean it! We’d rather avoid him than fight. But, oh boy, does he want us to fight! If the only other option is a lukewarm faith, I think God would prefer that we get up all in his face, even if our faith is ice cold. He would rather we fight for our relationship than just walk away and check in every time we need a small miracle. He would rather that it be a long, drawn-out process of honesty, pain, confusion, anger and disappointment, than a quick microwave that warms up the outside but leaves the middle raw. Is this a pleasant process? No! But at the end of it, we will be renamed “Israel” – people who have fought with God. People who have seen his face. People who have walked away from the encounter with the truth of whose they are burning brightly inside them.
As we start the month of May, let’s commit to fighting God. With him, for him, even against him, if needs be – but let’s not stop. Let’s not allow our faith to become something lukewarm and watered down, something comfortable, unthreatening, something routine or timid. Like wrestlers in the final round of a championship, let’s give it all we’ve got. God’s waiting for us in the ring.
God, we’re not leaving here without the blessing of encountering You. Remake us in your Son’s image. Dislocate the hips of our pride, our fear and our selfishness, and send us away with a new name, the name of one who has invested in fighting with You. In Jesus’ holy name, amen.