Today’s Scripture passage presents a physical illustration of something that many a Christian has experienced many times in their life: wrestling with God.
Most of us wrestle with God in prayer when it comes to making a crucial decision or interceding for a loved one, but Jacob actually physically wrestled with God in the flesh! And he does this while he is stressed and concerned about a family reunion that could lead to his death.
Please read Genesis 32:22-32.
The person who wrestles with Jacob is referred to throughout this narrative as both a “man,” and “God.” This has led some to believe that it is the preincarnate Christ who appeared in what is known as a Christophany to wrestle with this Patriarch of Israel. However, a closer look at the context will give us a better understanding.
The Hebrew word that is most often used in Scripture for a human male is “adam,” but that’s not the word used here. Here, God inspired Moses to use the Hebrew word “ish,” which can be translated as “man,” but is often translated as “individual.” So Moses isn’t saying that Jacob wrestled with a biological man as much as he is saying that Jacob wrestled with someone.
Later in the passage, Jacob himself identifies this someone as Elohim, a common name for God Almighty. But even Jacob appears to be slightly mistaken, for the person with whom he is wrestling is not the Almighty Infinite God who is not contained by a physical body, but His messenger: an angel. Hosea makes this clear by declaring of Jacob: “He strove with the angel and prevailed” (Hosea 12:4).
But what is the significance of Jacob wrestling with an angel? Everyone understands it is significant. For instance, even modern day Jews avoid eating the interior cord and nerve of the hind quarter of animals because this angel touched the hip of Jacob. No law against eating this part of the animal is mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament, but the Jewish Talmud regarded it as sacred law, all because of this event.
But the true significance of this event is not found in dietary habits. What’s truly significant is that Jacob, who spent his whole life fighting for himself and deceiving others, and is even willing to wrestle with God’s messenger, finally comes to a point where he willingly submits to God’s authority.
When God changes Jacob’s name from Jacob (“heel catcher’ or ‘deceiver’) to Israel (‘God’s fighter’ or ‘may God strive [for him]’), Jacob submits to God’s authority over him—not only in the change of his name, but in the new identity that he will forever live out. Jacob is done trying to deceive people to earn his own victory; he will now allow God to fight for him.
Let Jacob serve as an example for you today. God didn’t condemn Jacob for wrestling with His angel. Indeed, God calls for our active engagement with Him. Sometimes this means we will fight and struggle with Him, but God honors us even in the struggle… as long as we don’t let go.
God wants you to come to Him with all of your doubts, with all of your worries and concerns. God wants you to come to Him with all of your questions and disbeliefs. And He wants to go back and forth with you, patiently, lovingly, until you are finally willing to submit to Him—until you are willing to limp away from your wrestling match with God like Jacob did: forever changed for the better.
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