Summary: Here, God empties Jacob of his NATURAL effort and teaches Jacob to trust Him completely.

What images come to mind when I mention the word wrestling? For some, it is an image of a High school wrestling match. Others happily envision Dad wrestling with his son. And a few of us think of the theater of “professional wrestling” with Iron Rings of death and tag team death matches.

Wrestling is one of the oldest sports known to man. A recent discovery in Egypt bears witness to the ancient sport of wrestling. The discovery was an ancient scrap of papyrus, with Greek writing describing a wrestling match. The manuscript dates back to 200 AD, and is the oldest recorded document concerning the sport of wrestling actually mentioning the Olympic games.

Wrestling is pure exertion.

Every muscle of your body is drained.

It is a uniquely ONE on ONE event with no one but your opponent. It is NOT a team sport.

In Genesis 32, the most significant TURNING POINT in Jacob’s life.

This chapter marks the end of a period in Jacob’s life that began at Bethel in Chapter 28. Jacob is visited by angels in both chapters. The chapters mark the beginning and ending of Jacob’s journey to Padan Aram and his flight from Esau. Now, Jacob is returning to face his greatest fear, and it is here that God speaks to him again, this time with life changing impact.

Here, God empties Jacob of his NATURAL effort and teaches Jacob to trust Him completely.

Matthews writes, “The significance of the passage lies primarily in Jacob’s discovering the freedom and enduring grace of God.” K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27–50:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 539.

Summarizing this passage, Arthur Pink adds, “To [bring us to an end of ourselves] He lays His hand on us, and makes us conscious of our utter helplessness.” Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 294.

I. Jacob is Face to Face with his Greatest Fear.

After 20 years, JACOB RETURNS to face ESAU.

His journey is ATTENDED by ANGELS. Genesis 31:55–32:2 "Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home. "Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. "When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim."

Mahaniam means “Double Camp.” It may have reference to the fact that Jacob was surrounded by angels. Angels were BEFORE HIM and BEHIND HIM!

BUT HIS FEARS were with him

Esau is coming with 400 men. (Gen. 32:3-6). This report brought great fear to Jacob. 32:7 “In great fear and distress...” (NIV)

The NLT states it simply, “Jacob was terrified at the news.” (NLT)

It is now that Jacob prays. “Save me, I pray from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me.” (Genesis 32:11)

This is ONLY the SECOND recorded prayer in Genesis! The First was by Abraham’s servant in Gen 24:12 (regarding the search for a wife for Isaac).

In order to understand the struggle in Jacob’s heart, let’s examine the sequence of Events:

1. Jacob leaves Laban

2. Angels minister to Jacob (32:1-2)

3. Jacob sends messengers to Esau (32:3-5)

4. They return with news that Esau is coming with 400 men (32:6)

5. Jacob divides his family into two groups (32:7-8)

6. JACOB PRAYS to God (32:9-12)

7. Jacob sends his servants with gifts (32:13-20)

8. Jacob sends his family away (32:21-23)

9. He is left alone at the Jabbok (32:24)

II. Jacob has Arrived at the Point where God is his ONLY HOPE.

He is Desperate.

He is ALONE.

Notice that GOD initiates the encounter!!!

Genesis 32:24 “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”

Jacob does not know who this is!! Is it Esau? A “hit man?” from Esau?

What does is mean to “wrestle with God?”

There is an interesting Wordplay taking place with the names and locations here:

(1) The brook “Jabbok” is pronounced “yabbok”

(2) “wrestled” is pronounced “ye-aqob”

(3) and “Jacob” is pronounced “ya-aqob”

The Hebrew text is drawing our attention to the fact that something major is about to take place. In today’s vernacular, one might introduce this event with the shout, “Are you ready to RUMBLE?”

At first, Jacob was not wrestling to get something from GOD. God was wrestling with Jacob to get something out of JACOB! The initial encounter begins with the angel!

Wrestling with God means to contend with him in prayer and petition. It means coming to God in desperation, begging him for his assistance. We know that this was the result for Jacob, for we read commentary on this event in the book of Hosea. "He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there—" Hosea 12:4

To wrestle with God is to come to and END of your own resources and trust completely in God.

It Involves PRAYER

It involves BEGGING

It is what Jesus meant when he said“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3

Here, the word “poor” means beggar poor. It does not mean someone with less than the next person. It means someone who comes to God with nothing to offer. That is how we must come to God.

Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn “Rock off Ages”:

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to your Cross I cling;

Naked, come to you for dress;

Helpless, look to you for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Savior or I die.

III. What We Need to Know About Wrestling with God

A. You’re never too old or too young to wrestle with GOD!

B. We normally require severe hardships in order to completely rely on God. This includes Crisis, Health, Struggles, Temptation, Hurt, Broken relationships, Fear

C. Gaining God’s blessing requires FULL COMMITMENT. Jacob cried, “I will not let you go until you bless me!”

D. When you finally wrestle with God, you will be changed forever

1. Jacob’s NAME was changed. “Grabber” becomes ISRAEL, “God Contends”

2. Jacob’s WALK was changed. God “cheated!” He touched Jacob’s thigh to weaken him (32:25). Of course, we realize that it was God’s plan to have Jacob struggle with Him. Jacob had no more hope of defeating God than a 5 year old has of defeating his father who wrestles with him to show him love and affection. It was only when God WEAKENED the STRONGEST MUSCLE in Jacob’s body, the tendon of his thigh, that Jacob realized he was CONTENDING with GOD! For Jacob, this injury was a constant reminder of his DEFEAT and his VICTORY. “The sinew only “shrank,” it was not removed. Nor is the “flesh” eradicated from the believer! Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 293.

E. We don’t always see GOD’S PRESENCE in the struggles we face.

The book of Genesis presents our patriarch in two characters, as he is exhibited to us as Jacob and as Israel; the one looking at the natural man, and the other at the spiritual man the one telling of how Divine grace found him and the other of what Divine grace made him. Arthur Walkington Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 288-89.


Will you contend with GOD?

The spiritual beauty and application of this story is the theme behind one of Charles Wessley’s hymns, “O God, Thou Bottomless Abyss!” The hymn is written in 14 verses! This doesn’t exactly fit with today’s trend of short songs that repeat over and over. This hymn is packed with emotion and theology! Isaac Watts said of this hymn, “that single poem, Wrestling Jacob, was worth all the verses he himself had written.”

I will only include 10 of the 14 verses, but note carefully the theme of God’s love in the story of Jacob and the Angel of the Lord. Jacob contended with Jesus! And Jesus blessed him.

Come, O thou Traveler unknown,

Whom still I hold, but cannot see!

My company before is gone,

And I am left alone with Thee;

With Thee all night I mean to stay,

And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,

My misery and sin declare;

Thyself hast called me by my name,

Look on Thy hands, and read it there;

But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?

Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,

I never will unloose my hold!

Art Thou the Man that died for me?

The secret of Thy love unfold;

Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,

Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal

Thy new, unutterable Name?

Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;

To know it now resolved I am;

Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,

Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,

I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,

Faint to revive, and fall to rise;

I fall, and yet by faith I stand;

I stand and will not let Thee go

Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,

But confident in self-despair;

Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,

Be conquered by my instant prayer;

Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,

And tell me if Thy Name is Love.

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!

I hear Thy whisper in my heart;

The morning breaks, the shadows flee,

Pure, universal love Thou art;

To me, to all, Thy bowels move;

Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

My prayer hath power with God; the grace

Unspeakable I now receive;

Through faith I see Thee face to face,

I see Thee face to face, and live!

In vain I have not wept and strove;

Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

I know Thee, Savior, who Thou art.

Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;

Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.

But stay and love me to the end,

Thy mercies never shall remove;

Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Contented now upon my thigh

I halt, till life’s short journey end;

All helplessness, all weakness I

On Thee alone for strength depend;

Nor have I power from Thee to move:

Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.