Wrestling with God

A Struggle in the Night

In the book of Genesis, during the midst of the stories of Israel’s forefathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), we encounter a story where Jacob wrestles with God. Which is a little bit of an odd thing to have happen. Imagine doing this yourself–wrestling with God. Doesn’t seem like a smart plan, nor one that I would feel particularly confident in. And yet, Jacob does it, and it becomes a pivotal moment in his life (it is here that he is given the name Israel–one who struggles with God). Equally bizarre is that Jacob brings this to a stalemate. God and Jacob apparently know all the same wrestling moves.

Take a moment to read this short passage here.

So, Jacob is on the brink of meeting an estranged brother who he has cheated. He prepares for the worst, and takes his family and spreads them out so that they cannot be taken out in one move by Esau. Jacob goes a bit further off by himself, and there he wrestles a man all night long. When the morning comes, Jacob receives a new name, and it is at that moment, when the name is given to him, that we begin to realize that this is no ordinary encounter.

Jacob’s name is changed to Israel–one who struggles with God. This is no mere man. This is God. And God bestows this particular name on Jacob. Israel. One who struggles with God. 

And this name becomes synonymous not just with Jacob, but with his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and on and on. Jacob’s descendants become known as Israel. They become the ones who struggle with God. 

And this is so fascinating to me because this is God’s people. The people who are meant to be not only closely attached to God but also a witness to the rest of the world. And their name is not one who is blessed by God. It’s not one who is loved by God. 

It’s one who struggles with God.

And so, today, as people who seek after God, I wonder what lessons we may be able to draw from this?

To struggle with God is not wrong or sinful. Instead it is core to the very identity of the people of God. It signifies that we are learning to work not according to our own desires, but being challenged to live according to God’s desires. To live not primarily looking out for our own safety, comfort, futures, or anything else. Instead, we live humbly, seeking to lift up others and their needs, seeking to love as Jesus loved. 

And this is why Jesus made statements like these:

  • If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
  • Those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.

Because to follow Jesus, to seek after God, is to learn to struggle with God. To struggle because we have to learn to become less so that God might become greater. We have to learn to lay down our lives willingly. 

This is what Jacob began to learn on that night before he met Esau again. It is what we must learn day by day as we seek to follow Jesus. This week, pray that you might decrease so that God might increase.