Wrestling with God

In Genesis 32 we read about the strangest wrestling match in all of history, Jacob versus a divine being. Jacob returns home to Canaan with his wives and children after a 20-year absence. He is scared because his estranged brother, Esau, is coming to meet him with four hundred men. This doesn’t appear to be a welcome party; it’s an army. Jacob had tricked his Father into giving him something that would have been Esau’s birthright. The birthright provides the inheritor with the future leadership of the family and the judicial authority of his Father.
As Jacob approaches the Jabbok River, he splits his household into two camps to try and avoid complete annihilation. Jacob intends to spend the night alone, probably in desperate prayer. Scripture tells us that a strange man shows up and wrestles Jacob till daybreak. At some point during this unusual contest, Jacob realizes he is grappling with a divine being. And when God decides it’s time to end the match, he dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands release. And Jacob replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” This response clearly pleases God, who pronounces a blessing on Jacob. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Genesis 32: 28). The blessing gives Jacob/Isreal a new identity and hope. Jacob then limps toward his tense reunion with Esau with a weakened body and a strengthened faith. Having wrestled with God, he knows his prayers regarding Esau will be answered.

Scripture shares several stories of people who wrestled with God, which ended with renewed faith; King David, Moses, Elijah, The Apostles Peter and Thomas, and the Father of the sick boy found in the 9th chapter of Mark’s Gospel. 

Is wrestling with God allowed? Depending on your understanding of who God is, you might initially think that the answer to this question is “No.” God is a lofty, powerful being you shouldn’t trifle with. So, wrestling with him seems flippant, arrogant, and even disrespectful. It looks too much like playing with or disobeying God. But we must remember: “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. (Exodus 34:6).

Sometimes we don’t realize it, but we wrestle with God when considering His will; what does He want from me? We will wrestle with God when we struggle with a decision or an event. We will wrestle with God when we are facing a moral crisis. We will wrestle with God when we want to understand “Why.” Wrestling with God is OK and proper because it acknowledges we need Him. God dwells with those who are humble and repentant, and if we are His children, that means us. Scripture reminds us that God is willing to meet us in our weakness and knows us through and through. So we must bring all our cares to Him. 

Jacob limped toward his tense reunion with Esau with a weakened body and a strengthened faith. Having wrestled with God, he knew his prayers regarding Esau would be answered. Interestingly, God did not simply speak to Jacob in a dream or vision as He had at other times, reiterate His promise, and say comforting words. This time God addressed Jacob’s fear by requiring him to wrestle all night. 

Sometimes when we want God’s comfort, He sends it in unexpected and even unwanted packages. We must learn to wrestle and keep wrestling. God will meet us in our anguish, fear, and uncertainty. But He may not meet us in the way we expect or desire. You may not need soft words of comfort; you may not need to be left alone with your thoughts; you may not need sleep; you may not even need a healthy hip! But what you need is God’s blessing! 
So, when God calls you to wrestle with Him in prayer, it is an invitation to receive His blessing. Stay with Him, and don’t give up.