God’s Wrestling Match

“This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. (Genesis 32:24 NLT)

Jacob had been abundantly blessed by God.  He was materially prosperous and blessed with a large family.  His life was complete except for one thing.  He was estranged from his twin brother Esau.  

When their father Issac was near death Jacob deceived his blind father by posing as Esau and stole his brothers birthright. When Esau found out about his brother’s deception Jacob fled for his life.  Years had passed and now Jacob was attempting to reconnect with his brother.

As Jacob was preparing to meet with Esau he sent part of his family ahead and he stayed in camp all alone.  All of sudden, out of nowhere, a man appeared and began to physically wrestle with Jacob.  Jacob and this man wrestled all night long.  Just as dawn was beginning to appear the man realized he could not win and he touched Jacob in the hip socket and Jacob ceased his struggle. The Scripture records:

“When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.” (Verse 25 NLT)

This story is a supernatural event which has application for us today.  There are at least three elements of the story that are key to understanding this passage.

1. First the man doing the wrestling with Jacob is none other than the Lord Jesus.  This is known as a Christophany.  A Christophany is an Old Testament appearance of the Lord Jesus. This is one of several recorded instances of Jesus appearing in the Old Testament. Notice what Jacob said about the man.

“Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” (Verse 30 NLT)

2. The wrestling match was about breaking Jacob’s self-will. Even though it was a physical wrestling match the real battle was about surrender of the will.  The passage says “When the man saw that he would not win the match he touched Jacob’s hip.“  If it was a typical match of strength all Jesus had to do was speak a word and Jacob would have been immobilized.   It was about Jacob being unwilling to let go of his stronghold of living as a liar and deceiver. 

3. When Jesus put his hip out of socket Jacob gave up the fight.  This was Jacob’s brokenness moment which led to his repentance.  His repentance from his deceptive ways changed his life.  He was never the same again.  To reflect this change in Jacob’s life God changed his name from Jacob ( liar, deceiver ) to Israel ( God fights).

“ Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  What is your name? the man asked. He replied, “Jacob”, the man told him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, from now on you will be called Israel because you have fought with God and man and have won.”(Genesis 32:27-28 NLT)

Bottom Line

This story holds valuable instruction for us today.  God wants to deliver us from those things that keep us from being totally committed and fully obedient. There are at least three lessons we can learn from Jacobs wrestling match. 

Lesson 1: Strongholds are those things that keep us from living out our God given destiny.  Jacob’s birthright and destiny was to fulfill the promise given to Abraham of making a great nation. Jacob’s deception and lies kept him from fulfilling this destiny. His sin created a stronghold that caused him to miss God’s best for his life.  

We also have a destiny and our strongholds keep us from realizing God’s purpose for our life. What is it in your life that keeps you from a life of freedom? What has God been wrestling with you about?

God might strive and wrestle with us for a while but in the end it is our choice to stop struggling, surrender and trust God.

Lesson 2:  Notice that God had to injure Jacob in order to get his attention. If necessary, God would rather see us crushed rather than living  an un-surrendered life. Are we sure that our dreams and plans are congruent with God’s plan?

God loves us unconditionally, but sometimes He is not content with us as we are. If we keep wrestling with Him and holding on to something He wants us to surrender, then  He may have to bring us to the end of ourselves. He may bring us to a point that we have no place to run and no one to turn but to Him. 

He wants to change us into His image. Brokenness is often God’s method of getting us to the end of ourselves.  Jacob was running from his problems.  He knew he had to make it right with his brother or he would never enjoy God’s full favor or blessing.

Jacob was full of fear until he was tired of wrestling with God. He finally gave up, repented and put His trust, and his life, in God’s hand. That’s all that God ask of us, to surrender every aspect of our life to Him and then learn to trust him fully.  

Lesson 3: Sometimes the scars of our past is a good reminder that full surrender and abandonment is the best place to be.  I don’t know how long Jacob limped after that event, maybe till his death.  But I can imagine every time he had a hip pain it reminded him of the price he paid of doing life in his own strength.

If Only

“If only…” I suppose many of us could finish that sentence with a sad, angry or regretful story. The truth is most of us have a lifetime full of “what ifs”. As we mull over the circumstances it still doesn’t change what happened. As a matter of fact, living in the world of “what if” is living in a world where God does not even exist.

We live with regrets because we think we should. We think it is the right thing to do, that it is our duty as a sinner before God. It is as if we think we deserve the pain of living with regret.

Living in a world of “what if” is a universal problem. I have sat in my office and heard hundreds of stories that began with “what if” or “if only”. As I speak in churches in North America and in foreign countries, I hear the same ole phrase…”If only this did not happen my life and circumstances would have been different.”

Yes, it is true that events change the course of our life and we need to learn from our mistakes. However, God never intended for us to live in a state of daily regret, as if having a sense of constant regret is some sort of penance we deserve. But the answer is found in dealing with “WHAT IS”!

How often we forget that as a committed follower of Christ we are under the watch care and authority of a sovereign God. God does not work in some fantasy world of “if only” but in the concrete world of what is. Malcolm Smith says, “The fact is, no one knows what might have been. All we do know is that the infinitely good God will take the mistake and turn it for good.”

Guyon writes: “Remember you must never blame man for anything. No matter what happens, it was neither man nor circumstances that brought it. You must accept everything, (except, of course, you own sinfulness), as having come from the Lord.”

The ‘what ifs’ of our life become the foundation blocks that build Christ-like character. Wisdom teaches us that what might have been isn’t – so we must embrace what life is now.

I am reminded of the passage of Scripture in Proverbs 23:7; “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” We are what we set our mind upon. If we continually languish in the world of “what if”, then the cloud of what “could have been” will keep us from moving on in life. We become stuck in the mud of regret and the world of “what if.”

Face it; you can’t take back the words you said. You can’t redo a marriage that ended in a nasty divorce. You can’t reclaim that missed opportunity or get back the failed investment. But you can see God in the failure – but only if you let go of the past.

“But this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:13-14 NAS)

Somehow I believe that when Paul wrote this verse in Philippians he was thinking of the time he held Stephen’s coat while he cheered on the crowd that was stoning him. Don’t you think that he had replayed that event over and over in his mind, and thought, “what if” I had not been in that town on that day?” But somehow, by God’s grace and forgiveness he was able to lay down the “what ifs” of the past and focus on the prize of knowing and serving Christ.

Or what about Peter when Jesus and his family needed him the most, he ran, he lied that he knew Him and he denied he was a disciple? Do you think Peter also had regrets? Yes, I am sure he did, but he was able to receive Jesus’ forgiveness and become an example of graceful suffering.

Are you holding on to some personal “what ifs”? If so, let it go, and lay it at the foot of the cross, receive God forgiveness, and ask Him to take your regrets and turn them in to a fruitful future.