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Why did Jacob wrestle with God?
To best answer this question, it helps for us to know the deep-seated family hostilities that characterized Jacob’s life. He was a very determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. In fact, the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “grabber.”
If we want to know Jacob’s story, we must know that his life was one of never-ending struggles. Even though God promised Jacob that through him would come not only a great nation, but many nations, he was a man full of fears and anxieties.
A pivotal point in his life was when he is about to meet his brother, Esau, who has promised to kill him. All Jacob’s struggles and fears are about to be realized. Sick of his father-in-law's treatment, Jacob has fled Laban, only to meet up with his resentful brother, Esau. Fearing for his very life, Jacob dreamed up a bribe and sent a caravan of gifts along with his women and children across the River Jabbok in hopes of calming his brother.
He was physically exhausted, and all alone in the desert wilderness, facing sure death, and stripped of all his worldly possessions. He is powerless to control his fate. He collapsed in a deep sleep on the banks of the Jabbok River. With his father-in-law behind him and Esau out in front, he was too tired to struggle or worry any more.
It was then, that his real fight began. Running away from his family history had been bad enough, but wrestling with Almighty God Himself was something completely different! That very night an angelic stranger visited Jacob. They wrestled all through the night until daybreak, when the stranger crippled Jacob with a blow to his hip that crippled him with a limp for the rest of his life. It was then that Jacob knew what had happened: Genesis 32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (KJV) . . . In the process, Jacob the deceiver received a new name, Israel, which likely means “He struggles with God.” What is most important happens at the end of that struggle. We read that God “blessed him there” (Gen.32:29). WHO was the angelic stranger? I believe that it was the pre-incarnate Christ.
In Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of no power, exhaustion and relentless pain . . . physical and mental.
The apostle Paul experienced like discouragements and fears: 2 Cor.7:5 For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. (KJV) . . . Our God is a God of love and compassion. He does not want to leave us alone with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. What we can learn from Jacob is that in our conflicts of life, God extends to us a matching divine gift. It is through Him that we can receive the power of surrendering to Him, freedom and endurance, faith and courage.
Jacob did what we all must do, confront his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that were hurting him . . . and he faces God. What can we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob? Our lives are not meant to always be easy, especially when we decide to wrestle (struggle, fight) with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as TRUE Christians, even with our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life never lack God’s Presence, and His blessing always follows any struggle. Real spiritual growth always include struggle and pain. As TRUE believers in Christ, we may struggle with Him through the dark lonely night, but come daybreak His blessing will come.
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