Grappling with God
Jacob Wrestling the Angel
By Paul Gauguin
After sorting out flocks and families, prizes and possessions, Jacob and his clan left Laban’s region to return to Canaan. Along the way, he worried about his anticipated encounter with his estranged twin brother Esau.
Approaching Esau’s land at night, Jacob sent his people and possessions across the stream of Jabbok and remained behind alone. Why would Jacob have done this? Perhaps he intended to pray before completing the journey. Possibly he sought an affirmation or message from the Lord.
Quite likely, Jacob’s experience did not match his expectations, as he spent the entire night wrestling with an unrecognized figure.
Who was it? Did Jacob wrestle with a man? Was it an angel, as many painters and sculptors have surmised?
A close reading of the Bible text explains Jacob’s grappling opponent this way:
“And He said,
‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob,
but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men,
and have prevailed.’
“Then Jacob asked, saying,
‘Tell me Your name, I pray.’
“And He said,
‘Why is it that you ask about My name?’
And He blessed him there.”
How many of us spend our effort and energy, time and talents, wrestling opponents of all kinds?
What is wrestling?
A variety of dictionaries define wrestling as struggling, contending, vying against, combating, contesting, attempting to overthrow and writhing. The primary prerequisite for wrestling is an opponent of some sort.
We may wrestle with others.
Do we circle the mat, like wary wrestlers, when others encroach upon us somehow? Do we put up our gloves, like brash boxers, when folks come near us?
Certainly, we are called to be bold and strong with the truth. At the same time, however, the Father has called us to love one another.
“For the whole law can be summed up
in this one command:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’
but if you are always biting
and devouring one another,
Beware of destroying one another.”
Simply typing those verses, I find myself wrestling with conviction. Pointing out our need to love one another more consistently feels a lot like preaching to the mirror. Daily, I must seek God’s forgiveness for failing to love someone. Who am I to deem one of His children unworthy of consideration or care?
Thanks be to God for His never-ending mercies and grace. How blessed we are that He sees what we will someday become, when He has completed His work in us (See Philippians 1:6), rather than what we may seem to be today.
We may wrestle with ourselves.
Contending with conflicting or combating thoughts and ideas can be a major time cruncher. How many sleepless nights do we spend, tossing in our beds, while tossing concerns and concepts around in our heads?
King David struggled with the same stress.
“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
We may wrestle with evil.
Although we may not recognize the contestants physically, we certainly can attest to the reality of this battle. Fighting with evil, within and without, is a daily struggle for the believer.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers,
against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world
and against the spiritual forces of evil
in the heavenly realms.”
Where is the primary battlefield for wrestling with the enemy of our souls? Ask any mature believer, and you will likely hear the same answer. The battle is won or lost in our heads.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,
but let God transform you into a new person
by changing the way you think.
Then you will learn to know God’s will for you,
which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
We may even wrestle with God.
Alone in the night, Jacob found himself wrestling with an unknown figure. At first, he did not recognize his opponent’s divinity. What happened to Jacob’s clear spiritual insight, as when he viewed God’s own angels climbing and descending the stairway to Heaven?
How quickly may we blame others, the enemy of our souls, or even ourselves for difficulties we may encounter? Perhaps these hard times have been lovingly designed to grow us up and draw us closer to the Father’s own heart.
Is it even possible that we may often perceive the Lord as grappling with us, when He may simply be holding us closely, holding us back from danger or holding us up for our own good? Do we ever confuse the Lord’s firm embrace with opposition?
Jacob mustered up the boldness to confront his contestant. Only then did he realize that he wrestled with the Lord. Jacob refused to let go until the Lord blessed him.
Even if God wrestles with us, will we remain devoted to Him and crave His blessing? Although we may become battered and bruised in the process, will we continue to cling to Him until we receive all He has in store for us?
When we grapple with God, do we seek our own victory, or do we truly seek to become ever closer to Him?
Oswald Chambers puts this so eloquently in his classic devotional work, My Utmost for His Highest:
“Don’t become a cripple by wrestling with the ways of God, but be someone who wrestles before God with the things of this world, because ‘we are more than conquerors through Him . . .’ (Romans 8:37). Wrestling before God makes an impact in His kingdom. If you ask me to pray for you, and I am not complete in Christ, my prayer accomplishes nothing. But if I am complete in Christ, my prayer brings victory all the time.”
Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, immediately before His arrest (see Matthew 26 and Mark 14), we may wrestle before the Lord in prayer. Real prayer is never passive. Honest prayer is action, exercise, labor and toil before the Lord.
May the Lord teach and train us to grapple not against Him, but before Him.
Will you pray with me?
Our Tender Lord,
Bold Holy Spirit,
And Mighty Father,
How we honor You.
Help us to refrain from resisting
When you wrestle with us.
Instead, may we cling closely
To Your heart
Until Your blessing
Falls upon us.
How we long to live for You
And Your great glory.