last week on a drive to wilmington, jake and i were discussing a story found in genesis 32. it’s the story of another jake – jacob, actually – who wrestled with an angel by the banks of the jabbok river one night.
he was on his way to meet his brother esau, whom he hadn’t seen in many years. when they were younger men, jacob had deceived his brother and stolen his birthright, giving him all the advantages of being the firstborn son in the ancient world, even though esau had been born first. jacob was a conniver and on this lonely night, his past was about to catch up with him.
the rest of his entourage, had gone on across the river to camp for the night, but jacob remained behind, alone, to sort out his future. he figured it was time to fess up and get honest with God. little did he know how painful it would be…
here’s how the bible tells it:
Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.
The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”
Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”
The man said, “What’s your name?”
He answered, “Jacob.”
The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”
Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”
The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him.
Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!”
The sun came up as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip.
the parallels and application of jacob’s experience to our own are interesting.
1. first, now that jacob stopped to consider his future in light of his past, he found himself alone and wrestling. how many times have you or i done the same? to proceed ahead in life in a way that is worth living, sometimes it’s vital to get alone and process, to reflect and repent. no doubt jacob was feeling remorse for the way he had duped his brother, especially knowing he would face him in the morning. he wisely chose to face his memories and his future alone. but i wonder if he knew how difficult the evening would be.
2. at the beginning of the story, we’re told that jacob wrestles with a man. by the end, we learn that it was actually God himself. i think it’s fair to say that this wrestling match was clearly a ‘come clean with God’ experience.
i have these fairly often. i screw up enough to have to wrestle with God more often than i would like. but this spiritual battling is often the only way i can go on in a way that makes any sense. what about you?
3. before jacob can let this ancient WWF match go, he demands to know the name and see the face of his opponent – kind of like wanting to take the mask off nacho libre. he refuses to let go and says, “bless me and tell me your name.” jacob had to be sure that it wasn’t his mind playing tricks on him. this was serious stuff. fighting through his past and his future required the presence of no one but God.
i know how he feels. sometimes in my wrestling, i wonder if i’m just playing mind games with myself, or if satan has once again wormed his way into my sub-conscious. that’s why i find it key to take my stuff to God in prayer, and to test his responses with his Word. if you are fighting spiritual battles without prayer and your bible, you’re gonna lose more than a hip (see next paragraph).
4. the heavyweight event ends with two things that will change jacob’s life for the rest of his days. first, God changes his name to Israel, which means, “you wrestled with God and hung in there.” secondly, jacob’s hip is knocked out of the socket and he never fully recovers. he can still walk, but the limp is noticeable.
if God gave you a nickname, what would it be? would you be willing to be known by it for the rest of your life? is it noble enough, or is it pretty putzy? and what about your gait? can people tell by the way you walk that you have striven with God for the things that matter?
i hope the next time you stop to consider your future in the light of your past, you’ll remember ol’ jacob. follow his lead. struggle with your God. be willing to be changed. walk differently.
no pain, no gain.