God will always shine in our weakness when we cling to him!
Before the departure of our son to our heavenly father I did all I could to just save him. But God had made a decision and He need not to consult me. I wrestled God emotionally, spiritually and physically. But God has used this situation with my son to bring me to the end of myself and turn me back to Him, and He did it in such a profound way. Though He allowed me to wrestle with Him, to complain to Him, to be angry at Him, He nonetheless had His way because His way is always best. I'm not suggesting God does this in every pain; sometimes He has other purposes. It is much too beyond us to understand the full breadth of the purposes and sovereignty of God.
But oftentimes—not always, but often—He uses the hurt in our lives to bring us back to Him, to put us in our proper place, so that we cling to Him in our weakness and He shines through.
To know Jacob’s story is to know his life was one of never-ending struggles. Though God promised Jacob that through him would come not only a great nation, but a whole company of nations, he was a man full of fears and anxieties. We now come to a pivotal point in his life when he is about to meet his brother, Esau, who has vowed to kill him. All Jacob’s struggles and fears are about to be realized. Sick of his father-in-law's treatment, Jacob has fled Laban, only to encounter his embittered brother, Esau. Anxious for his very life, Jacob concocted a bribe and sent a caravan of gifts along with his women and children across the River Jabbok in hopes of pacifying his brother. Now physically exhausted, alone in the desert wilderness, facing sure death, he’s divested of all his worldly possessions. In fact, he’s powerless to control his fate. He collapses into a deep sleep on the banks of the Jabbok River. With his father-in-law behind him and Esau before him, he was too spent to struggle any longer.
But only then did his real struggle begin. Fleeing his family history had been bad enough; wrestling with God Himself was a different matter altogether. That night an angelic stranger visited Jacob. They wrestled throughout the night until daybreak, at which point the stranger crippled Jacob with a blow to his hip that disabled him with a limp for the rest of his life. It was by then Jacob knew what had happened: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30). In the process, Jacob the deceiver received a new name, Israel, which likely means “He struggles with God.” However, what is most important occurs at the conclusion of that struggle. We read that God “blessed him there” (Genesis 32:29).
What we learn from Jacobs story
God uses the hurt in our lives so that we cling to him in our weakness and he shines through.
Throughout the course of Jacob’s life, we see him having multiple enemies—particularly in Laban. Jacob anticipated his older brother, Esau, as an enemy and was completely frightened by him.
But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob. One can make the argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult. I wonder how many of us view God this same way?
The Lord is the great physician, the great healer of our souls. He's the provider, the resting place, our righteousness and our victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can wrongly assume God is more for us than for Himself.
But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours. And, like Jacob, we often use God for our own gain in life and our own wants.
Now, in his wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God could not be used for his means. He discovered—quite suddenly—that the Lord is to be feared. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely. Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God and that Jacob was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is shown to be profoundly changed in his life from that moment on, so much that his name changed, too.
Before the wrestling match, life’s circumstances had reduced Jacob to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived, and God had not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and Jacob was at his wits' end.
I’m sure many of us have felt this way before, when all hope seems lost. Perhaps it comes after a great victory or a terrible event.
The Lord is not a God to be manipulated but a God to be worshiped.
We have to realize by this passage that the Lord was the instigator of the wrestling. Jacob no doubt was not in the right frame of mind to wrestle! It is not that Jacob was seeking God so earnestly that when God, as it were, got close to him, he grappled with him and refused to let him go until he blessed him. It is true that Jacob later begged for a blessing. But at the beginning it is not Jacob who seeks God to wrestle with him; rather, it is God, who comes to wrestle with Jacob to bring him to a point of both physical and spiritual submission.
If we were smart, then the sooner we submit, the better. God will always win the wrestling match; if we were smart, then the sooner we submit, the better. In the upside-down Kingdom, where to be poor is to be rich, to mourn is to be comforted, we see the profound reality of the Gospel in Genesis’ account of a wrestling match. Having come into contact face to face with the Lord of hosts, with the ever patient and faithful One, we see at long last a broken and contrite spirit humbled to the core. We see a man dependent upon God, rather than dependent upon himself. We see in Jacob a picture of a man renewed by the power of God, now remade in His own image, finally surrendered to the will of God for his life. We see in no small measure great faith worked out. It is beautiful to behold indeed; it is something we all must surrender to. To find our lives, we must lose them.
In our churches, we celebrate wealth and power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.
Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion and relentless pain.
Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears: “We were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. What we come to learn in our conflicts of life is that God proffers us a corresponding divine gift. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith and courage.
In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29).
Comforting thought for the week
What we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob is that our lives are never meant to be easy. This is especially true when we take it upon ourselves to wrestle with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as Christians, despite our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.
Jacob’s wrestling with God at the Jabbok that dark night reminds us of this truth: though we may fight God and His will for us, in truth, God is so very good. As believers in Christ, we may well struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come.