Summary: There are moments in life that change us forever. Today's story looks at the second of two such moments in Jacob's life, where he wrestled with God in prayer and in pride, and was forever changed.
Wrestling with God
Have you ever had a pivotal moment in your life that has forever changed you? For me, one such moment was the day I joined the military. I felt like God wanted me to do something truly significant with my life, and that decision forever changed me.
In the life of Jacob, scripture records two life-changing events, scattered some twenty years apart. These moments would forever define his life. Last time I was with you, two weeks ago, we looked at the first event, Jacob’s dream of a “stairway to heaven,” with angels descending from and ascending to heaven. In this dream, God confirmed that he was with Jacob, even while a fugitive on the run from his brother’s anger.
The second pivotal moment in Jacob’s life is our story today, as Jacob returns home to the Promised Land. While away for those twenty years, he had picked up a couple of wives and a whole bunch of livestock. This conniving man who tricked his father and stole his brother’s birthright is now preparing to see Esau again. He is a lot wealthier than when he left, and we can only hope, a little more mature.
Jacob’s first life-changing event was in a dream, but in this second event there is no sleep. Jacob is literally up all night, wrestling with an angel of God, whom he finally comes to understand as God himself.
Have you ever wrestled with God? I thought of a couple of applications, ways we might find ourselves wrestling with the Almighty. First ...
1. We wrestle with God in prayer. People have used the term “wrestling” in a figurative sense to describe coming to grips with an important decision. For instance, you might wrestle over a career choice, such as when you or your loved one joined the military. Or you might wrestle over a wedding proposal, or when to have kids, or whether to get a divorce, or when it’s time to retire.
And, in the same figurative sense, you might wrestle with God in prayer. Certain matters are so important that you find yourself praying like the Old Testament character Hannah, so fervently an onlooker might suppose you were drunk. But in reality, you are desperate to know God’s will, to adjust your will to his, to know how to proceed in the best possible way.
Jacob was desperate for God. His scheming twenty years earlier had left his brother Esau in a murderous mood, and now Jacob was coming home to find who knows what? Right before today’s passage, a scout had reported that Esau was coming with 400 men! Verse 7 describes Jacob as in “great fear and distress.” So, in typical Jacob cunning, he divides his camp into two groups, thinking at least one camp would survive an attack. He also sends ahead a series of gifts to soften up his brother. But most importantly, he prays.
Verses 9-12 record Jacob’s prayer: 9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
I like Jacob’s prayer. It is honest and reflects his character, imperfections and all. In verse 11 he prays for himself, and then, as an afterthought, mentions his family. “Oh yeah, God, don’t forget about them, too!” In his prayer, Jacob thanks God for his blessings, asks God for rescue, and reminds God of God’s earlier promises. Some scholars believe Jacob prays all night to God, that this is the wrestling match, a figurative description of prayer born out of adversity.
A New Testament example of a prayer wrestler is Epaphras. In Colossians 4:12, Paul describes him as “always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Epaphras cared so much for his fellow believers that he wrestled in prayer for them.
Charles Stanley reminds us, “Fight all your battles on your knees and you win every time.” And Oswald Chambers notes, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work.” Begin in prayer. Wrestle with God until you have that “peace that passes all understanding.”