Genesis 32: Wrestling with God…

My hope and desire when starting this blog was to write at least 1 post every day relating to my bible study for that day. Today I had trouble thinking of a topic to write about (at first). My study was on Genesis 32, which in my opinion is one of the oddest stories in the entire set of scriptures. It plays out like this:

Jacob, having just left Mizpah where he had to make a covenant with Laban in order to peacefully go on his way, starts towards home. The good part about this is that God has told him that this is the right thing to do, but the bad part is that he has an older brother who just might still hold a grudge against him for some stuff that happened over 20 years before. The first statement in this chapter is that, as Jacob travels, the angels of God met him along the way. This is awesome! You know Jacob is scared that Esau (the big, red, hairy hunter – a real manly man, I would bet) wanted to kill him, so having a bunch of God’s angels meet you along the way might help with the confidence problems a little. It doesn’t really mention them again, though. Jacob decides to send some people on ahead of him to tell Esau that he is coming and that he wants things to be favorable between them.  Those messengers return with news that Esau is coming to him with a group of about 400 men (which I assume Jacob took to mean that Esau was coming to fight).  Jacob then does the best thing he can do – he prays. Then he splits his group into two (hoping that if they are attacked, maybe one of the two could escape). He puts together a bunch of gifts of sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and so on and sends them to Esau in hopes that they will “pacify” him before they meet. That night, he sends his family across the Jordan river, along with all his possessions. He alone stays behind, and the Bible says (very nonchalantly, I might add) that “a man wrestled with him till daybreak” (v. 24). I have always been perplexed by this story, because it is told in a way that seems very non-surprising to the writer – he just says it like it’s no big deal. So, the man and Jacob wrestle around all night, and at daybreak they decide to call it a tie.

The first thing that causes me to be so confused in this story is that it says that they wrestled all night, and the man (presumably an angel, or perhaps more likely Christ himself) could not overpower him. But, the man can touch him and cause him to have a sprained hip. This seems a little paradoxical to me, but I am not here to question the scriptures – just to learn from them. I do think there is something that I took away from this chapter that will help me in my spiritual walk:

Earlier in the chapter, Jacob prays a magnificent prayer (v. 9-12). He repeats God’s own words to Him, displays humility, and puts a lot of faith in the power of God and in His promises. Then in the latter part of the story, it says he “struggled with God”, which I take to mean he literally wrestled with God, physically. My rule is to take scripture literally unless I have reason not to. But, if you think of this wrestling as a physical occurrence that signifies something much deeper, you can see that wrestling with God can be compared to prayer. Looking at the story in its entirety, at the end Jacob refuses to let go until God blesses him. If we were willing to pray to God, to wrestle with him over issues, and to never stop until God has provided His blessing, I think we would be blessed more often.

I really like the way Matthew Henry puts it in his commentary over this chapter:

“A great while before day, Jacob being alone, more fully spread his fears before God in prayer. While thus employed, One in the likeness of a man wrestled with him. When the spirit helpeth our infirmities, and our earnest and vast desires can scarcely find words to utter them, and we still mean more than we can express, then prayer is indeed wrestling with God. However tried or discouraged, we shall prevail; and prevailing with Him in prayer, we shall prevail against all enemies that strive with us. Nothing requires more vigour and unceasing exertion than wrestling. It is an emblem of the true spirit of faith and prayer. Jacob kept his ground; though the struggle continued long, this did not shake his faith, nor silence his prayer. He will have a blessing, and had rather have all his bone put out of joint than go away without one. Those who would have the blessing of Christ, must resolve to take no denial. The fervent prayer is the effectual prayer.” (see the commentary here).

It definitely makes me want to be a more fervent pray-er.

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