Wrestling with God

22 Jul 2020 by William Tibben in: Sermons

Genesis 32:22-31

Jacob Wrestles with God 

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip. 

There is a common saying I wrestled with this or I wrestled with that –We wrestle with many things in life.

Our culture supports success and achievement. As important as that is it is propaganda to an extent because we all wrestle and struggle at times. We struggle with fear, failure, doubt, faith and yes, we can even wrestle with God


Have you ever wrestled with God? – not physically

Maybe you wrestled as you sorted God’s will in a multi choice decision. Or maybe you wrestled when you were wanting a different outcome to the one that is staring you in the face. Maybe the struggle was evident as you remonstrate the unfairness of a situation. Struggle occurs when we are not wanting to do what God is asking, or perhaps as we seek answers to important questions. We can wrestle as we ask God to do something that is important to us. An unfairness that has been done can result in a wrestling as you struggle for fairness.

Who are you wrestling with? Yourself? Another person or God the author of life? Even if we don’t always recognize it God is there with us in our struggles, deliberations and all our wrestling. God uses these situations for good.

Today our text centers on Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob is homeward bound after 20 years of absence. He is currently caught between a rock and a hard place with his uncle Laban pursuing him from behind for cheating and deceiving him on livestock and his brother Esau pursuing with 400 men in front, Esau having threaten to kill Jacob for stealing his birthright. Jacob has cheated, deceived, and manipulated virtually every member of his family and then run off when the tension was about to explode into full conflict but he is finally in a position to have to face up to his actions.

God doesn’t punish Jacob. God does require that Jacob owns up to his deception and fraud. What God does do is to challenge Jacob and reshape him so that Jacob is able to live into his promised destiny as Israel

One of the important understandings within this text is that God sees all that Jacob can be – his full potential. God doesn’t give up on the cheat, the deceiver instead God is willing to stay until the intended person that Jacob can be begins to emerge.

Many of you would have seen the statue of David by Michaelangelo. One of the most famous sculptures in the world. Sculptured in the 1500’s and displayed in the museum in Florence, the statue depicts King David, the great king of the old testament. There’s an interesting story behind that famous statue. The huge piece of marble David was carved from had been stored in the basement of a church for a long time. You see it was faulty.  The marble was poor quality. It had already been carved on two different occasions by two different sculptors, including Donatello. It seems that both sculptors had stopped carving the marble owing to its poor quality, faulty seams and brittleness. There already more damage done by the two previous attempts to carve it, but Michaelangelo could see its potential. Where others had seen only faults Michaelangelo  could see beauty.

Just as Michelangelo could see the beauty and the potential in this slab of marble, potential that others couldn’t see for the flaws so God could see the real Jacob, the Jacob God had intended him to be. It’s that way with us also God our Heavenly Father sees our potential through his love and grace and provides for us, through Jesus, to be all that we can be.

Let’s recap the context of the story:

  • Jacob is the one who came from his mother’s womb already grabbing his brother’s heel.
  • Jacob steals Esau’s birthright, deceiving his father
  • Jacob runs when Esau threatens to kill him
  • Jacob gets a little of his own back when he worked 7 years to marry Rachal but his uncle Ladan tricked him with Leah
  • In the text for today we see Jacob is on his way home after 20 years. He is afraid and prays [Genesis 32:9-11]

“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, …..

 Jacob acknowledges his blessings and God’s promise to him. In the middle of the night he got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the river, so Jacob was left alone.

God takes advantage of the brief moment of solitude, a moment when Jacob is most exposed and vulnerable, an opportunity for God to act. Everyone and everything he had was on the other side of the Jabbok River. He was alone with God. Have you ever noticed how many things stand in the way of you being alone with God. We just need to……..you can add the excuses. Is it fear? Fear, who are we afraid of; God? or are we afraid of ourselves. Are we afraid of what we might find in the silence, afraid of the wresting that may occur when we are alone with God?

But God does not punish Jacob's conflictive character, instead God challenges it and reshapes it so that Jacob is able to live into his promised destiny as Israel,

What’s in a name? Names in Eastern cultures not only identify a person, but names reveal one’s essential character and sometimes their destiny. To know a person’s name is to really know the person’s character.

When God asks Jacob, “What is your name?” It’s not that God doesn’t know Jacob or his name. What God is asking is for Jacob to own up to his name. To confess his lifestyle. Once Jacob is willing to own his issues there is immediate forgiveness and renewal.

Indeed, the Lord gives Jacob a new name -- Israel -- the one who wrestled with God and humans and prevailed. It is an act of generosity and grace, as Jacob has wrestled and prevailed; prevailed with God?  How do we understand this? How can anyone wrestle with God and win?

This illustration may help.

There were two College wrestling teams A and B, A had already won sufficient rounds to take the competition. There was a young man on team B who trained hard and loved to be part of the team but he rarely got the opportunity to take part in competitions because he had down syndrome and couldn’t compete at the level required. The captain of team B approached team A to ask if someone would wrestle with this young man to give him the opportunity of competing.

The captain of team A agreed. The match went ahead for the full six minutes. The team A captain ensuring that the young man with down syndrome was able to pin him down at the end and win. As the referee raised the young man’s hand as the winner there was a standing ovation both for the winner and the one who had allowed the young man to achieve his goal.

God could pin us in a second, but God lets us wrestle. We may come away with elbow burns or with a limp. But God stays on the mat with us for as long as we need to in order for us to understand the love that flows from God is love that wills us to be all that God intends us to be.

We are people who wrestle with God. It is not presumptuous of us to make this claim. Let’s understand what it means, to wrestle with God. God is God; God is Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. The creator and sustainer of life. We, who are humans will struggle with life, we will struggle in life, we struggle with faith, we struggle for answers, we struggle with God from time to time. Jacob’s struggle with God teaches us much about our faith journey. Jacob would not let go. He held on to God through the struggle, and God held on to him until the transformation came.

Our struggle is never devoid of divine presence and blessing. In, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis reminds us that the divine-human struggle is neither tidy nor tame, but it is still one we can live with confidence. Susan and Lucy ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan (Lewis's representation of Jesus). They ask if Aslan is a man. Mr. Beaver replies.

"Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion-- the Lion, the great Lion."

"Ooh!" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Our wresting is not always safe in the sense that God is always challenging us until we become the best that we were created to be.

Wrestling can leave us with SCARS

Jacob left his encounter with God with a limp. A permanent scar, the mark left by healing and restoration. Scars are life's souvenirs. It is a boundary between the pains of yesterday and the recovery of today. A scar is a triumph of recovery over injury. It testifies that we have overcome. It serves as a link between what happened before the wound and now. It is a sign of closure. A scar means the wound has healed, the pain is over and you’re moving on. Scars tell stories of our hurt.

Scars can be very positive. Scars provide us with understanding and new opportunities to help others. The most understanding and compassionate people are often the most scared, depending on how the scars have healed. The most compassionate woman I have ever known lost two children, husband in early 50’s, granddaughter in her late teens. Her life was marked by compassion and understanding for others because although she wrestled with God for a time, she also allowed God to heal her. The limp can be negative or positive or both depending upon us not only wrestling with God in these times of hurt and keeping God close until the morning, then accepting the blessing and perhaps the limp. The sadness may never be completely alleviated but healing and renewal that comes in the morning allows life again in all its fullness.

I’m married to the bionic man. He has more scars than most gain in a lifetime and the prognosis is for more to come. Many of his scars are almost invisible now. The flesh torn on a surfing reef has been covered with age, The ankle and leg that could not be saved but was saved, will never win a lovely legs competition with all the pins and bone grafting but it still gets around the golf course twice a week and skis all over the world, albeit, with a ski boot molded to the pins and bone grafting. A scar down his back attests to surgery that allowed his to walk without pain, the scar of a hip replacement the same and just recently a scar of a knee replacement accompanies the scar on the other side of the knee of a cartilage removed too many years ago to remember. All healed and allowing Len to live life to the fullest; well age appropriately now.

There are physical scars and emotional scars -Judy Nunn in her book Khaki Town the story of Townsville during WW11 tells the story of Edie young Aboriginal girl. Edie had given birth to two children by the age of sixteen, both taken from her.  Edie was sent to Palm Island – disruptive Aboriginal girls.  Her crime; for becoming pregnant to white men, through no fault of her own. The death rate on Palm Island was higher than the birth rate due to squalor and deprivation. Edie raped by guard on the Island but was able to keep her daughter with help of sympathetic nurse.  She eventually settles in Townsville, sets up laundry for townsfolk and soldiers with the help of local publican maned Val. As girls are released from Palm Island, they came to Aunty Edie. Here they are looked after, protected and given work.  Edie knew the struggle all these girls had wrestled with and been through because of the colour of their skin and their nationality. Her scars had healed and she was assisting others to heal.

Jacob came away from the encounter with unbounded blessings, but he also walked away with a limp, a man permanently marked. His limp attests to the complex reality of a God who is intimately engaged with each of us, who seeks us out, and challenges us often through struggles, staying on the mat with us until we become all that God intends us to be.  God blesses us with new beginnings, new opportunities and new life.

With his new name, Jacob enters into a new future, and passes his name, faith, and future on to his descendants.

 Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash