As are many of you, I am currently using a fresh Bible reading plan for 2021. Being January, one of the passages I am now exploring is the book of Genesis. One of the central characters in Genesis is a man named Jacob. Looking back at his story from our point of view, we understand that Jacob and his descendants will be the family line that God uses to establish the Israelites as a people through whom God blesses the world in fulfillment of the prophetic promises given to his grandfather Abraham. Of course, Jesus is THE ultimate blessing that came into the world through this family line. Jesus is our Redeemer who makes it possible for all of us to be adopted into the family line of God.
I can’t get away from Jacob. My daughter is constantly singing songs from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” including “Jacob and Sons.” The Bible Project videos I am using to supplement my reading keep telling his story. And of course, in my Bible reading, Jacob is always there, being a major character from his birth in Genesis 25 until his death in chapter 49.
One of the things that Jacob is known for is wrestling all night with “a man.” He refuses to stop, wrestling until “the breaking of day.” Jacob told the “man,” “I will not let you go until you bless me.” We understand that this was no ordinary man Jacob chose to wrestle with, but was God Himself. The “man” wins the battle by touching Jacob’s hip and permanently disabling him. Jacob was awarded a new name for his efforts, “Israel,” “for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Israel literally means, “wrestles with God.”)
Devotional writers for years have used this as an illustration for how we must “wrestle” with God in our times of intercession to obtain God’s blessing. Yet, I am haunted by the words I heard David Wilkerson say many years ago, “The only person who wrestled with God ended up crippled.” By the way, do we really believe that God is so weak that He can’t overcome us until He wrestles with us all night? He can disable us any time He wants to.
Jacob was wrestling from the moment of his birth. His twin brother, Esau, was the first to be delivered, but Jacob followed close behind gripping his brother’s heel. Jacob means, “heel,” but also in Hebrew can mean, “deceiver.” Jacob spent his entire life thinking he had to fight to get what he thought he needed, and his main weapon was to deceive. He schemed to gain Esau’s firstborn birthright, which Esau was only too willing to give him for a bowl of stew. Jacob deceived his blind father to get Esau’s firstborn blessing. He deceived his uncle while trying to earn the wife he loved and his share of his uncle’s fortune. (As it turned out, his uncle was as good a deceiver as Jacob, resulting in Jacob marrying two of his daughters and giving him decades of his life as a servant.) He schemed to keep what was his when he went back to his homeland and faced his estranged brother. Jacob spent his entire life fighting for and scheming to get what he thought he deserved in life. And as a result, he lived a life of contention, broken relationships, and even physical disability.
As readers who know “the rest of the story,” we understand that in God’s sovereign plan, God was going to give Jacob the birthright, the blessing, the family, the resources… all the things Jacob wanted. Jacob didn’t need to wrestle and scheme, he just needed to trust and receive. Because he tried to get it all himself, he ended up with a permanent limp.
As I see the western church in our day, I see the same thing happening. We feel we need to fight to get what is ours. We use the tools of political schemes, psychological strategy, scientific insights, and sociological theory to claw our way into power. We think we must wrestle with God and man. Politics, psychology, science, and sociology are all useful and all have their proper place, but when they become more important to us than God and His authoritative Word, they become idols that lead to our own broken lives and relationships. How do I know if these things are idols in my life? I need to ask a best friend, who can honestly tell me what I talk about most, what I post most often on social media, and what I get most angry about when I lose it. Those things are what I really value. Those are the things that I herald as my “gospel,” my good news to the world.
Don’t we see our Jacobian error? We don’t need to fight and scheme to gain what we think we want or to prevent ourselves from losing what we think we have. We need to simply trust and believe. Every spiritual blessing is found in Christ. He knows what we truly need. He has already given us all the blessings we need when He gave us Himself. Believe. Trust. Receive. Don’t wrestle with man. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. And certainly don’t wrestle with God. Remember, the only one who wrestled with God ended up crippled.