Recently I was asked a question about Genesis 32:22-32. “What blessing did Jacob want? What does it mean to wrestle with God? Do we have to wrestle with God for God to bless us?”
Well, this story from Jacob’s life is just one in a long line of things that God teaches us about Himself, His future people (the offspring of Jacob’s grandfather – Abraham), and His Messiah in the book of Genesis. There are three things that stand out to me as I read this passage:
First – This is the first time the name: “Israel” appears in the narrative. (The word ‘Israel’ means to ‘strive with God.’) Jacob is a conniving trickster throughout the story of Genesis. In this passage he is hiding from his brother Esau because of the way he had deceived Esau in the matter of his birthright and his inheritance. He is doing it again in this story – he refuses to stop fighting God until God blesses him – imagine the impertinence! This story is simply a foreshadowing of the terrible relationship that Israel will have with their God for the rest of the Bible! This isn’t a good story for Jacob! He is being shown to us, here in this passage, as a picture of the rest of humanity, specifically his progeny. We don’t want to be like Jacob! We do not want to wrestle with God! This is not a good thing! Remember Jacob’s sons who ‘wrestled’ with their brother Joseph? When we read the story of Joseph, we know that Joseph is the good guy in the story and that God’s hand is upon him but his brothers… they fight against God’s purposes! Look at Genesis 50:20. We also need to consider the rebellion and complaining of the Israelite’s in the Exodus, throughout Judges, and through all of the historical narrative of the rest of the Old Testament and then especially the prophets! So much striving and fighting with God going on in the Bible – most of it from His own people!
Second – it shows us so much about God! Even though Jacob fights God, God doesn’t destroy Him! There is tremendous amount of grace shown to Jacob. Earlier in chapter 32 Jacob reminds God that He, God, had promised to take care of him and even though Jacob does not deserve it, God does take care of him. Jacob understood that God could do whatever He pleased with Jacob. The fact that God wrestled with Jacob all night is nothing but grace! The fight didn’t last all night because Jacob was such a good wrestler! It happened because God was making a point! The point was that God will keep His promises regardless of the faithfulness of His chosen people! God is faithful! Even when we strive with Him, He never fails!
Third – It shows us that ultimately, a descendant of Jacob (Jesus Christ) will prevail over all of the sin and rebellion of God’s people! This story shows us that that prevailing will come at the cost of great pain and suffering. Jacob’s hip was damaged and he lived with this for the rest of his life and his descendant (Jesus Christ) suffered and died to satisfy the wrath of God against the rebellion and sin of His people. Chapter 32:32 gives some indication of this connection because during the Passover celebration the Jews leave one of the lamb’s hip sockets alone to represent this truth: the lamb takes the place of God’s people in their striving with God – and in an ever greater way, Jesus Christ gives more than just His hip. Jesus gives all of His life! We can sense this idea from Isaiah 53:10 – where we see that it was the Father’s will to crush His Son! Jesus Christ satisfies God’s wrath against sin caused by our striving with God! Jesus, Himself, is the blessing! Jesus is the ultimate One who prevails and we need to rest in what He has done, not strive for ourselves.
Conclusion – it is never a good thing to fight with God! Ephesians 6:10 shows us where our fight ought to be! Everyone who fights with God – through their rebellion, pride, deception, lust, arrogance, hard-heartedness, laziness, nonchalance, etc – will be eternally condemned for their sins. Jesus Christ took the brunt of the wrath of God against sinners. The blessing of God falls to those who trust in Jesus Christ alone! The picture that we see in Jacob’s wrestling with God is also one of persistence and determination – Jesus alludes to this kind of intensity in Luke 14:26 – “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own mother and father and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” What a contrast! Let us get over ourselves and pursue Jesus with passion and purpose – He is THE Blessing!