Wrestling with God is a real term for me, as the other month I felt a spiritual battle I have never experienced before! You see, I work in a very dark place (prison), a place where the devil has many men bound up in strongholds, a place where there are many pagan religions represented, and a place where much evil happens every day. As I enter this place everyday my prayer has always been, please Lord protect me from the evil here and let me share you in this place! But the other night this wrestling that kept me up all night showed me clearly that I had let my guard down and that I had allowed the Devils lies to secretly manipulate my thinking. My view of who I was and my view of who God was! I had left down my guard, the shield of faith and I now was operating on my own strength instead of Gods strength. During that struggle God brought me to the passage of scripture in Genesis 32 where it gives us an account of Jacob and his wrestling match with God through the night.
In Genesis 32 we see that Jacobs wrestling match was first and foremost terrifying. Terrifying in the fact that the Lord became something wholly different than anything Jacob had known before. At this point, at least, we can see the Lord was not wrestling with Jacob to have a good time; the Lord was Jacob’s opponent. Jacob was a 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.” Throughout the course of Jacob’s life, we see him having multiple enemies—particularly in Laban. Jacob anticipated his older brother, Esau, as an enemy and was completely frightened by him. But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob. One can make the argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult. I wonder how many of us view God this same way? I did without really knowing it!
The Lord is our great physician, the great healer of our souls. He is our provider, the resting place, our righteousness and our victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can wrongly assume God is more for us than for Himself. But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours. And, like Jacob, we often use God for our own gain in life and our own wants.
In Western culture and even in our churches, we celebrate wealth and power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.
Now, in his wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God could not be used for his means. He discovered—quite suddenly—that the Lord is to be feared. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely. Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God and that Jacob was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is shown to be profoundly changed in his life from that moment on. Before the wrestling match, life’s circumstances had reduced Jacob to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived, and God had not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and Jacob was at his wits’ end. I’m sure many of us have felt this way before, for me it came after several great victories and then it seemed like all hope was lost, that all of a sudden I didn’t need God anymore not intentionally thinking that but allowing my actions to portray that. It was a time where I left my shield down because of the thought “I got this!” It was in my own strength that I had actually become very weak, I was nothing to the enemy as long as I was without God.
Frederick Buechner, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter in Genesis 32 as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”
A.W. Pink writes, “Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators agree—it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him that all important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.”
That’s one of the main points we see in this wrestling with God. Weakness is broken into submission, and submission is where there is strength—submission to God’s leading and God’s control, realizing that there’s nothing stronger or more determinant that this. Praise God, this wrestling brought me to my knees, I cried out to Him for deliverance realizing I had been placing my trust in mine own ability rather than His. God opened my eyes to things that I had allowed to creep into my Christian walk that were working against what He had purposed for me! In my weakness, He showed me His strength and renewed my fear for Him, my reverence for Him!
In Genesis 32, Jacob confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing.
What I have learned from studying Genesis 32 and from my own experience is that our lives are never meant to be easy. God has entrusted us as leaders, fathers, and Husbands with His creation and has purposed His will for our lives. Our wants, wills and desires are secondary to what God has for us, our wants, wills and desires have to die to God’s plan, His will for our life! This life that I live is not about me and my accomplishments but about God’s glory! Wrestling with God showed me that I was not capable of ever achieving anything in life without His leading, because I am just a hopeless sinner without Him! I also learned that as a Christian, despite my trials and tribulations, my strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Thank you God!