It’s nondiscriminating as to age, gender, employment or marital status, or religious affiliation; its only prerequisite is mind, body, and soul be present. What I’m referring to is wrestling. We wrestle with our spouses, our children, our friends, our in-laws, our parents, our coworkers, and those are only examples of other human beings in a relational sense. The list is nearly inexhaustible when we consider that we wrestle with our intangible circumstances, our financial stability, our bodies as they keep us questioning, our minds as they threaten to consume our days with worries and endless “what if” scenarios. Our wrestling is all-encompassing. However, in all of these, have we considered that we are essentially wrestling with God?
In Genesis 32:24-33, Scripture unfolds how Jacob wrestled with God. In the passage, the man engaged Jacob in a physical wrestling match, but then wrenched Jacob’s hip and demanded to be let go. Jacob, in turn, made a demand to be blessed before he’d let the man go. This man is God. To even begin to comprehend that scene as a reality is mind bending, especially having the gumption that Jacob did to make a demand of God. As perplexing as it may be, there’s always a reason God includes each jot and tittle in the Bible. God appeared as a man, able to wrestle with Jacob all throughout that night until daybreak, and even notes that “the man saw that he couldn’t overpower him (Jacob)” (32:25). What?! God couldn’t overpower Jacob in a wrestling match? Again, there’s always a reason for the inclusion of each word we read. Although there are various avenues to take when deciphering the meaning of this passage, I’ll take just one.
God’s first mention of blessing to Jacob reads, “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome'” (Genesis 33:28) and the same blessing is repeated in chapter 35, “God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel'” (v. 10). Jacob went from being “he deceives” to his newly assigned name, Israel, meaning “he struggles with God.” In a sense, we are Jacob and because of God’s sovereign choice we have become Israel, God’s elect. Romans 9:11-13 tells us that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau, his elder twin brother. It refers us back to Malachi 1:2-3, where God explains how He has loved us, by His choosing who He will love and who He will hate before we’re even born or able to do anything good or bad, not by our works but by him who calls (Romans 9:11,12). So as God chose to love Jacob and rename him Israel, He has done the same for all His elect, regardless of how we proceed to struggle with Him.
God will, in His mercy, engage with us while we wrestle with the people in our lives or the circumstances that present themselves, but here is where it would be wise to realize that each and every struggle we face is, ultimately, our fallen flesh still fighting and wrestling against the God who loves us and has saved us already, granting us the gift of being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even though we willingly partake in the wrestling match that we may view with tunnel vision against our relational shortcomings, or against our physical ailments, or against our manipulative and deceitful hearts, we are struggling against God overall in all.
If we’re looking closely, we can see Old Testament readings as guides pointing to the work of Jesus Christ. God becoming a man to achieve His will on the cross is not so far removed from this story we read of Jacob wrestling with God in the form of a man and, on this occasion, He submits as Christ did on the cross for reasons above our understanding. Amidst the struggle with Jacob, He appears to give in and brings the match to a timely end by “putting a wrench in it.” But this is the same God who gave in and accomplished the greatest gift at Calvary, the Gospel. It is this free gift of salvation that He has bestowed upon us and, even when our desires and plans have a wrench put in them, He is the Lord who puts those wrenches in place. We may not get to wrestle with God face to face as Jacob did, but we can stand firm knowing that, in all our wrestlings, we may walk away with a limp, but still our life is spared (Genesis 32:30-31). God has righteously discriminated and, thanks to Him, our perseverance through the wrestling matches are simply stepping stones on the path of sanctification to joining Him for eternity.