Lately, due to my knee injury, I was drawn to study a Bible character who had a limp, and a passage which I found deeply helpful (especially amidst a crisis). It comes from the famous, enigmatic extract in Genesis 32 where Jacob was on his way home to Canaan with his small tribe of wives and children after a 20-year sojourn.
We’re told that Jacob was “very afraid and distressed”, because his estranged brother, Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men (Gen 32:6). This is no welcome party – it’s an army! So, after splitting his household into two camps to try and avoid complete annihilation, the famous scene enacts itself: “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day” (Gen 32: 24). Jacob’s wrestling match has taught me a few lessons.
1. Wrestling to Prevailing
First, Jacob said to the Man, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” Gen 32:26. This desperate response clearly pleased God, Who pronounced this blessing on Jacob, “And He said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob (supplanter), but Israel [contender with God]; for you have contended and have power with God and with men and have prevailed. Gen 32:28
What do you really need from God right now? What breakthroughs and blessings do you want from Him? How badly do you want it? There are times when God only releases His blessings on us after a season of prolonged – and even painful – wrestling. God will meet you in your anguish, fear, and uncertainty. But He may not meet you in the way you expect or desire. Your greatest ally may show up looking at first like your adversary, inciting you to wrestle.
Now, who was this heavenly visitor? The text does not say. The prophet Hosea said that Jacob wrestled with an angel. Jacob himself believed he was wrestling with God. He called the place Peniel – the Face of God. The Hebrew idea is that the face reveals and expresses the person and presence. It seems reasonable to conclude the ‘Man’ was the Lord Himself. The work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary underlies the whole of history, and has always been the way in which God transforms ‘Jacobs’ into ‘Israels’.
“There is no power like that of prevailing prayer – of Abraham pleading for Sodom, Jacob wrestling in the stillness of the night, Moses standing in the breach, Hannah intoxicated with sorrow, David heartbroken with remorse and grief, Jesus in sweat and blood. Add to this list from the records of the church your observation and experience, and always, there is cost of passion unto blood. Such prayer prevails. It turns ordinary mortals into men of power. It brings power. It brings fire. It brings rain. It brings life. It brings God.” – Samuel Chadwick
2. Wrestling to Transforming
Wrestling with God changed Jacob’s identity and name. He was no longer to be known as one who received his blessing by deception. This time, he received God’s blessing by prevailing with God in faith.
When God calls us to wrestle with Him, there’s always more going on than we first understand; and God always uses it to transform us for good. The struggle is not easy. Though Jacob was undefeated, he ended up with a limp. Battles leave scars yet God is with us even when He seems to be against us. He refuses to let go of us, and never gives up on us.
What happened to Jacob at Jabbok is a type and picture of the Son of God, crucified through weakness and, in that weakness, displaying absolute and total power to save and change a sinner into His own likeness. “Calvary is truly the face of God, for there we see what God is like.” – Lance Lambert, from his book “Jacob I Loved”
On the Cross, the One Who’s Almighty, allowed Himself to be defeated that He might save and transform us. It’s there God reveals His face.
3. Wrestling to Blessing
Somehow, within every crisis lies the glorious possibility of rebirth. I’ve found, as have others, that the most painful events were also those, in retrospect, that have caused us to grow most. I’ve learnt to say, like Jacob,“I will not let You go until You bless me.”
God has done something so deep, so radical, and so complete that Jacob who stole blessings from another, became Israel, the one who blesses, for we’re told: “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.” Heb 11:21
May the Lord bring us to the same place which He brought Jacob. If Jacob was to become Israel, a prince of God and a prince with God, there’s no alternative to Peniel – the face of God. This is the only way to understand Calvary. It’s also there that we die – and be crucified – with Him. Gal 2:20
God is raising a generation of holy wrestlers who’ll prevail, be transformed, and blessed to be a blessing. Let’s be counted!