Monday, October 10, 2016

Wrestling with God

Today I was reading the story of Jacob meeting his brother Esau many years after Jacob had tricked his father into giving him his older brother's blessing.  Jacob feared that Esau might want to kill him.  The Bible says he was in ‘great fear and distress’ (Genesis 32:7).

Jacob separated his family and all of his goods into two groups reasoning that if Esau attacked one, perhaps the other could be spared.  After he then prayed he had a very strange encounter that is later described as Jacob ‘wrestling with God’.

There are at least two takeaways from this unique story in Genesis.  First is the idea of wrestling with God.   When I was in college, my friends and I rented a home off campus and one of our favorite pastimes was wrestling.  Fortunately, we had very old furniture and not much in our living room as it served as our arena.   I can tell you that while I was likely in the best physical shape of my life, there was nothing more exhausting and physically draining than wrestling.    Also, like Jacob, almost all of our wrestling matches ended in a draw.  

The second takeaway the name change of Jacob.  Jacob asked the angel for a blessing and he received not only a blessing but a name change

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” (Gen 32:28)

It is at this time that Jacob finally recognized that he was dealing with an angel or someone near-deity.  Many theologians identify this as a theophany, an appearance of God. 

Where’s the blessing?  It’s in the name itself.  Jacob we are told had a name that meant deceiver or supplanter.  God changed Jacob’s name to Israel when the angel said, “You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” 

Not only was Jacob’s name changed but the entire nation, all of his offspring for all future generations to this present time would be known as Israel.  Often, the blessing is in the name.   God’s people were to be known to have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.

As believers, we also learn from this remarkable event that our lives are also meant to be a struggle.  In this struggle, God is always present.  If we choose, we can struggle or wrestle with God but it is best that we submit to His will.  To end this unique story about Jacob we can be reminded that God will give each of us that is victorious a white stone with a new name (Rev 2:17).  Perhaps like Jacob, that new name will reveal how God sees us rather than how we now may be known presently.

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