Summary: When you wrestle with God, you win by losing.
We’ve talked recently about Abraham. Today we’re going to look at his grandson, Jacob. Unlike Abraham, who has a reputation for being a Godly man and doing the right thing, we must use different words to describe Jacob; words like shyster, liar, manipulator, cheater, schemer, con-artist. I guess you could say his character was revealed at birth. He was the 2nd born of twins and came out holding his brother, Esau’s, heel and has been grabbing things ever since.
I like how one person put it…
“Jacob was the kind of person that could enter a revolving door behind you and come out ahead of you.”
Jacob cheated his brother, conned his father, and swindled his father-in-law. What he did wasn’t exactly illegal but they weren’t exactly moral or right either. In all that he did, Jacob was his primary focus. And up to now Jacob had done fine on his own. And at the stream called Jabbok (which means pouring out or emptying), he empties himself of all his possessions and relationships to the other side.
But now he’s coming home. You see, many years earlier, after Jacob stole the blessing from Esau, his mother Rebekah was going to send for him after Esau calmed down. But there is nothing in the Bible that she ever sent word that it was safe to come home. But God tells Jacob to “go home”. Now after many years had passed Jacob was returning and he was afraid that his brother might still try to kill him.
Jacob had come to the Jabbok River and crossing it meant crossing into Esau’s territory. Hoping to appease his brother so that he wouldn’t kill him so he sent gifts across the river ahead of him. He sent his servants with gifts for Esau of 220 goats, 220 sheep, 30 camels, 40 cows, 10 bulls, and 30 donkeys. As Jacob was making these preparations he said to himself, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me” (Genesis 32:20). Later that night he sent his wives and sons across the river and finally he sent the rest of his servants with the rest of his possessions across.
He is alone. He has done all that he can think to do, even pray. God answers his prayer with a wrestling match. Have you ever noticed that God does not always answer our prayers in the way we expect? So Jacob sees a shadowy figure sneaking up behind him. He’s not sure who it is. His brother Esau? A local thief? As far as Jacob is concerned, it doesn’t matter. No one’s going to mess up his plan now. The wrestling match is on. It was a desperate fight - maybe to the end.
Have any of you ever wrestled? Most of the guys here today have probably wrestled before, at least for fun with your kids or grandkids. I have wrestled with Cody for just a short time and when we get done I need a break. Can you imagine what it would be like to be in a wrestling match with God? Talk about being worn out! Yet, that’s exactly what Jacob did.
And so God appears and wrestles with Jacob. Which raises the question, “Why did God want to wrestle with Jacob?” It was not for fun but to teach him some important truths. And we do know it is something God WANTED to do. We need to understand that God wants to be actively engaged in our lives. This wrestling match was not only something that God wanted, but it was something that Jacob needed.
Another question that comes to mind is, “How could a man possibly hold his ground with God in a wrestling match?” To me, the answer is obvious. God let Jacob prevail. When Cody and I wrestled, I would toy with him, letting him prevail for a while. He’s not big enough or strong enough (yet) to beat me. And I’m sure Jacob could sense that in wrestling with God.
It is clear from the text that Jacob didn’t “prevail” in the wrestling match in the sense of defeating God. They wrestled all through the night and it appeared that it was going to be a draw until God dislocated Jacob’s hip with a simple touch. It was as if God allowed Jacob to take his best shot and then showed He was still in control with a single touch. That night Jacob found out that he couldn’t push God around and do things the way he’d always done them. That is why the Bible says, “...the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
There is no fight left, but Jacob is holding on to God for all he’s worth. And though God tells Jacob to let go, Jacob can’t. He’s still grabbing hold of things. But now he’s grabbing hold for a different reason. Jacob grabs hold and asks for his most basic need - a blessing. Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” These are words God had waited forty years to hear!