"Wrestling With God"
Rev. Bruce Goettsche. . . . . . . . . October 4,1999
These past weeks we have been studying the life of Jacob. We read about how at his birth he was holding the heel of his brother Esau. We read about his dealings with his brother and his conspiracy with his mother Rebekah to steal Isaac's blessing to Esau. We followed Jacob as he went to his uncle Laban's home and as he worked twenty years to gain his wives and children.
We currently find Jacob headed home and facing a confrontation with his brother, Esau, after twenty years. Jacob is afraid. He reaches out, he asks God for help, and he seeks to make some kind of restitution. But in all of these things, Jacob is still resisting. He is still holding back, relying largely upon himself.
God uses the experience we read about in the end of chapter 32 to work on the heart of Jacob. In this account we see Jacob coming to the point of real faith. After the week we have had here in our community (two high school students dying in a car/train accident), I think you may be surprised at how relevant this text really is.
WHAT ARE THE FACTS?
Jacob had sent his family on ahead of him and he spent the night alone. We have no idea why he did this. Did he want to think? To pray? To hide? We don't know. What we do know is that "a man wrestled with him until daybreak". The two wrestled all night and then suddenly Jacob's opponent touches the socket of Jacob's hip and his hip was wrenched or dislocated. Jacob still refused to give in and pleaded for a blessing from his opponent.
So, who was this man? In verse 30 Jacob says, "He saw God face to face." In the book of Hosea there is a reference to this incident,
In the womb he grasped his brother's heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. (Hosea 12:3,4)
Jacob was encountering God in some fashion in this account in Genesis 32:22-32. Some have suggested that Jacob fought with the "Angel of God" that we read about in Genesis 18. At that time we suggested that the being may have been a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Jesus. Whoever it was, it was a representative of the Lord.
Why Would God do This? I view this whole experience as somewhat of an object lesson for Jacob and for you and I. Jacob was standing between his past struggle with Laban and the impending struggle with Esau. God comes at this time because he wants Jacob to realize that his real struggle all alone has been with God.
Notice that we are not told that Jacob wrestled with a man . . . . the man wrestled with Jacob. Is this significant? I think so. It shows us that God is the initiator of this conflict. He starts it. F.B. Meyer writes,
How Could Jacob Fight a Supernatural Being to a standstill? How is it possible that our Lord, or an Angel, could not overpower Jacob (v. 25)? It is an important question. Is God bound by man? Is God ever left helpless?
I want you to notice something. The man (or angel) had the power to disable Jacob at any time. When it began to get light and the angel wished to leave, all he had to do was touch his hip socket and it wrenched it out of place. The Hebrew word can mean "dislocated". If the man could win whenever he so desired, why didn't he? I would suggest that it was because the struggle was necessary for the growth of Jacob.
This angel battled and endured with Jacob for the entire night until Jacob was exhausted. I suspect the angel would gain a little advantage and then allow Jacob to feel that he was gaining. This went on and on all night long. How exhausted they must have been. But it was necessary. Jacob needed to reach the point where he had no more strength.
I believe it was at this point that the man touched Jacob's hip. The message was clear . . . you have striven with all your might. Yet, I can with one touch defeat you. Jacob needed to see the superiority of his opponent with clarity.
Jacob knew the right words and could perform the right actions . . . but his heart still was not completely the Lord's. It's easy to have superficial faith. However, a crisis forces us to grapple with our real feelings and our true faith. God provokes this crisis to bring Jacob to a point of genuine faith. When Jacob called out for a blessing from God, the wall had been broken through.
God did not just want Jacob's worship. He wanted his heart. And He wants the same from us.
Why Does the Angel Ask Jacob for His Name (v.27)? Do you find this question at all odd? I do. The man knew who he was wrestling with . . . didn't he? And if this God's agent (and we believe it is) shouldn't he already know the man's name without having to ask it? Listen to Ravi Zacharias as he explains this,
The last time Jacob was asked for his name, the question had come from his earthly father. Jacob had lied on that occasion and said, "I am Esau," and stole the blessing. Now he found himself, after many wasted years of running through life looking over his shoulder, before an all-knowing, all-seeing heavenly Father, once more seeking a blessing, Jacob fully understood the reason and the indictment behind God's question and he answered, "My name is Jacob." "You have spoken the truth," God said, "and you know very well what your name signifies. You have been a duplicitous man, deceiving everyone everywhere you went. But now that you acknowledge the real you, I can change you, and I will make a great nation out of you."
Greatness in the eyes of God is always preceded by humility before Him. There is no way for you or me or anyone else to attain greatness until we have come to Him. [Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God p 144,145)
God asked Jacob his name not because He didn't know it . . . He wanted to know if Jacob knew it. He wanted to know if Jacob was ready to come to grips with who he really was or whether he was going to continue to fight the Lord.
This is the point everyone needs to arrive at. We need to realize that we are the problem and we need someone to change us. It is then, and only then, that we receive our new name. In Jacob's case he was given the name "Israel" which means "He struggles with God" or "God Prevails". His new name was a reminder of this encounter and the lesson that we need God.
And to everyone who believes today God gives a new name also. We are changed from "sinner" to "saint". From "rebel" to "friend". From "enemy" to "son".
Why Did God hurt Jacob's Hip? I think the answer to this question is simple: the scars remind us of what we have learned. Just like a wedding ring reminds us of our promise of commitment, so our scars remind us of our need for God. Many of us will not forget the heartache of this past week. And we shouldn't. The hope is that the scars will remind us of the things we learned during the week.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
So, what are we to do with a story like this? What does this have to do with our lives? I'm glad you asked . . .
First, God allows the struggles in the hope of producing faith. When do you wrestle with God?
It is in these moments that we have a choice. We can give up . . . or look up. We can continue to rely on ourselves or we can see how needy we really are and turn to the Lord. We can resist God . . . or we can trust Him. The hard times bring us to a point of decision. Without the hard times we could go on our merry way and never have to consider whether we really trust God.
Second, the greatest problem in life is not our circumstances but our heart. Jacob felt his life was filled with problems. He was exhausted from fighting Laban and now worn out thinking about having to confront Esau. But what Jacob didn't realize was that the greatest battle being waged was the one being waged in his heart. The ultimate issue was this: "Who will be in Charge?"
Jacob wanted God's blessing but did not want God's ownership of his life. He wanted God to "bail him out" in the hard times but he did not want to submit to God in his living. Jacob had a surface faith in that he wanted the benefits of God but not a relationship with God. Jacobs problem was not his impending meeting with Esau. His real problem was his superficial relationship with the Lord of the Universe.
Yes, there are a lot of horrible and tragic things going on in the world. They break our hearts. Hopefully they will also break our wills. Hopefully these things will show us our desperate need of God,
The hard times hopefully will get us to see that the greatest need is not for deliverance from the hard times . . . but deliverance from ourselves.
G.K. Chesterton once said, "Christianity has not been tried and found empty . . . it has been found difficult and left untried." Chesterton read an article in the London Times that asked the question "What is Wrong With the World?" He was asked for his response. He got out a fancy sheet of paper and wrote, "I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton."
Third, We see that even though we resist God, He pursues us. There was one question that we didn't address about this text in Genesis 32. I read the text and wondered, "Why would God bother to go to all this effort just to turn the heart of Jacob?" Why didn't God just say, "Fine, go your own way . . . trust your own strength. See where it gets you."
But do you see, that as soon as I ask that question there is an immediate follow-up to it? Why does God bother with me? The answer is self-evident. God cared about Jacob and He cares about you and me.
During the struggles of life God is calling to us. Someone has said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain." God allows the pain in the hope that we will hear the message of His love and respond.
Over the years God has seen us through tough times. He has surrounded us with people who teach us the truth. He has given us His Word and His Spirit. If we will not hear through these means He will call to us in other ways . . . sometimes painful ways.
I wonder, has God been calling out to us this week? Has He been trying to get our attention with all the pain and misery that we have witnessed? Is God wrestling with us?
This has been a devastating week for many of us . . . including me. There will be scars for a long long time. There are lots of questions that we have that will never be answered. But the most important can be answered. It is the most important question: "Who will you trust?" "Where will you turn?". Will you hold to the Lord with everything you have and cry out in faith, "Bless Me!" or will you turn in silence and walk away? Will you continue to fight Him or will will you allow Him to change your heart, to lead your life and to call you "a child of God?"
Rev. Bruce Goettsche