â€œWrestling with Godâ€
I remember when I was growing up there were always the debates on the playground. What was real and what was fake. Often the biggest battles were over the reality of a certain television sporting event. Of course I am referring to wrestling. Huge, muscle bound men pounding on one another with fists and chairs, hurling one another inside and outside of a ring. It’s quite a show.
Now I’m older, and when I think about it, there’s the realization that if these men really beat on one another the way it looks, one of them would most definitely be hospitalized. I mean, who can take such punishment on a daily basis? If someone hit me over the head with a chair I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be jumping back up for more! I know, I’ve had several concussions in my life, and I know you don’t bounce right back up after a hit in the head like that!
Then there’s the real wrestling sport, Olympic wrestling, which is much more strategic. You finding ways to out manoeuvre your opponent in order to score points and maybe even find a way to pin him. Searching for weaknesses, knowing your opponent’s strengths and trying to avoid having your own weaknesses exploited. It’s as much a mental game as it is a physical one.
Which brings us to the wrestling match we read this morning. But first we should take a look at what has been happening in Jacob’s life. In the modern world of wrestling entertainment, Jacob could be one of those villains who is always booed when they enter the arena. From the very beginning he has caused trouble. He stole his older twin brother, Esau’s birthright. Which led to him fleeing his homeland because his brother is threatening to kill him.
So Jacob fled to a relative for sanctuary, and in search of a wife. Laban took advantage of Jacob by sneaking in his older daughter instead of the younger one Jacob wanted to marry. This coming after Jacob gave Laban 7 years of free labour on the promise of having the younger daughter in marriage. So for 7 more years of free labour, Jacob was allowed to marry the younger daughter… finally.
After all this time, Jacob has to flee from Laban because Jacob has been taking advantage of him and has built for himself a very large flock at the expense of Laban’s flocks. What he didn’t wasn’t so much stealing as unethical, where he stacked the odds in his favour for getting the better flock.
So as Jacob is heading home, he catches word that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob is still worried about his brother wanting to kill him, so divides all he has in two. If Esau destroys what he finds, there will still be the other half Jacob can keep. In an effort to win over his brother, Jacob sends wave after wave of gifts ahead of him to meet Esau. After he sends away the gifts, Jacob sets up camp for the night.
And we finally get to our reading this morning. Jacob has sent all he has across the river, leaving him all alone in the night. Here he encounters a man, and they wrestle together until morning.
As day break comes, the man wishes to leave, but Jacob will not let him. The man cannot seem to get away from Jacob, so he dislocates Jacob’s hip and tells Jacob he must leave. But Jacob still will not let the man go, and asks to be blessed before he even knows who he is wrestling.
This is an interesting encounter, because we later learn the man Jacob is wrestling with is God. So how is it that God is unable to defeat Jacob? Weel, scripture tells us â€œthe man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob so struck him on the hip…â€ It doesn’t say â€œhe could not prevailâ€ it says â€œdid not prevail.â€ It isn’t that God could not defeat Jacob, it’s that he chose not to.
Chances are, had God chosen to defeat Jacob the point would have been missed. By letting the wrestling match carry on, God is able to give Jacob a message. The message is that he is still God’s chosen heir to carry on His plan. The plan to save the world. A plan that makes Jesus Christ known to us. A plan still active today.
Jacob wrestled with God physically, and after he was injured, you could say he wrestled with him emotionally as well. Not many people in the Bible saw God face to face, and Jacob is one of them. As a result of that encounter, Jacob carried with him a reminder of God’s plan for him in a sore hip.
Today, we too wrestle with God, albeit in a different way. We in the church struggle with God by trying to understand the world around us, and in how we are living our lives in relationship with Him. We’re trying to make sense of why the world is the way it is. How could God allow the things we see? Murders on busses, shootings, war, and that’s just in today’s paper. There are many days when we might feel discouraged, helpless and alone.
Jacob was alone on the side of the river. Everything he owned was sent across ahead of him, hoping for the best. Jacob was risking all he had in hopes his life would be spared. And on that night he wrestled with God for what must have felt like an eternity. When his hip was dislocated, all Jacob could do was hold on and not let his opponent go. Jacob was desperate. He needed someone to bless him. He needed some sort of approval. He was feeling alienated and alone, not on just this night, but his whole life was a struggle for acceptance.
Jacob was a liar and a thief. It was the only way he knew to survive. On this night it all was coming to a possible end. Laban was behind him, warning him not to come back. His brother was ahead of him, one who vowed to kill him. Jacob’s lying and stealing had brought him no where but alone.
I know there have been times in my life where I have felt like Jacob. Times where I felt entirely alone, unsure of what was going to happen next. Was my life at risk? Not at all. For me it was a time of uncertainty, a time when life was nothing like I was used to, nothing like I had planned for or expected. I felt like I was under attack from all sides.
I’m sure there may have been times like this for some of you here. Times where there seems to be no escape, times when you feel like some sort of end is near.
Jacob was at that point in his life. All he had worked for in his life was at risk. He had no idea what the next day would bring. He was hoping for life, but expecting death. When he wrestled with the stranger, he was seeking something more in his life. He was completely desperate, and ended up crying out to God for a blessing in his life.
And God blessed him. But God did more than that. God gave Jacob a new name, Israel. God made a new man out of Jacob, forgetting all he had done, forgiving him of his sins, God blessed Jacob with new life. The new name signifies more than just a new title, it was indeed a new life.
God has a name for us when we seek His blessing. It may not be something fancy like ‘Israel’, but it is meaningful none the less. When we come to God, seeking His mercy and blessing in our lives, we are called ‘children of God’. When we are children of God, we allow God to form us, to change us, to lead and care for us.
God doesn’t ever leave us. God made a promise to Jacob, and even though Jacob had not turned away from his lying and stealing, God was there with him. Just as God is always with us. We may not realize it, and when I look back at the time in my life where I felt alone and unsure of what the future held for me. I look back and see that God was always there. I cried out to Him, and He took care of me. Things could have turned out very differently for me in my life had I made some rash decisions in those times. Instead I prayed to God for help. I had no concept of who God was, or what God could do. I just asked for help For protection from whatever it was against me. As I look back, I see God answered my prayer.
So when we’re wrestling with things in our own lives, let’s turn to God. Let’s let God show us what good can come from our lives, no matter how dark it may seem some days. Days where we can turn our backs against God, or turn towards Him.
We need to wrestle with God, not against Him. God will be our strength and our shield. We just need to ask Him to be in our lives.