Wrestling with God: Navigating Tough Seasons Well
Hey all! This post is focusing on Genesis 32. I suggest reading the whole chapter, but we will pick up in verse 22.
Genesis 32 takes us to a well-known passage as Jacob is traveling back home to his family. After tricking his father Issac and stealing his brother Esau's portion, he is on his way back home (Genesis 27). Naturally, Jacob is scared because the last time he was there, he was fleeing after being threatened by Esau. Yet, we find him preparing for his journey back home. He sent ahead of him all he had on his journey as he stayed back in the camp that night. That's where we picked up for today's reading.
Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. Then he said to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he answered, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.” The sun shone on him as he passed by Penuel—limping because of his hip. That is why, still today, the Israelites don’t eat the thigh muscle that is at the hip socket: because he struck Jacob’s hip socket at the thigh muscle. Genesis 24-32, CSB
He wrestled with God.
Think about your life - have you wrestled with God lately? Have you sat in a season and wrestled with all the fears, doubts, and promises? Have you ever thought, "what good can come from this?" If you have, then welcome, you've made it to the right place. I don't believe you've arrived here by accident. I think you were brought to this for a reason, so I'll do my very best to articulate what the Holy Spirit has laid on my heart for you.
I sat a few months ago on a cold tiled floor. I had just felt what seemed like the worst bode of rejection yet. I couldn't move, I couldn't speak, and I just wanted to move on from that place in my life. It was a tough season. A hard season with not much of anything making sense. The only thing that really made sense was sitting on the floor and crying. After sitting and sitting, the Holy Spirit kindly recalled to me Jacob wrestling with God. I picked up my phone and turned to the scripture. In the moment, I only read it and prayed, "Jesus, I've come too far, I've seen too much of Your goodness for You to not move again. I will not let You go until You bless me." I pounded my hands onto the ground as I felt hope swell in me - whatever I prayed resonated as it reverberated off the colorless walls. "I will not let You go until You bless me." No one else could do what I needed to be done. No man, no woman, no friend, and no parent. I just needed Jesus.
I did a little research on the place where Jacob was when he wrestled with God. Scripture says he was at the Northern bank of the Jordan called Jabbok (Genesis 32:22). According to Jewish history, Jabbok is a Hebrew named derived either from the root meaning, "to empty itself" or from a sound imitating the noise of water flowing over pebbles. (Source here.) I don't think it's a coincidence that where Jacob wrestled, a crescendo moment for him, was at a place that meant "to empty itself." Jacob, as we find, was here doing just that: emptying all of who he was and had been. In the past, he had been a trickster, a not so great character running from his past. But it was here that God finally caught up to him, forcing Jacob to see the significance of who he was. I read once that Jacob might have been wrestling emotions or maybe even a physical person - whatever it was, Jacob was a fighter. It doesn't mean that He was stronger than God or an angel, it simply means in this passage that he received what finally was meant for him: a blessing tied with a name change. Jacob became a new person because of his pursuit, and along with it proof of his blessing.
The months that have passed from that moment of me sitting on the cold floor have only proven one thing: God is good and He only gets better. How can I say that coming from such a desperate season? Because I wrestled with Him and I won. I won because He is my victory. It's the ironic twist of it all - the more desperate I became, the more humbled I became, and the more He became greater. It's true when John writes in Chapter 3 verse 30, "He must increase, and I must decrease." It's not an option to sit on the river bank, wrestle with God, and stay the same. Did you miss what Jabbok meant? Its name means "to empty itself" and that's the place we come to, too.
In my research, I came across a powerful post about what Jabbok means and perhaps an ideal further explanation. Fr. Michael Marsh wrote in his post Crossing the Jabbok:
In this nighttime wrestling Jacob is both wounded and blessed. The two always seem to go together, blessings and wounds. His old life and identity as Jacob, the heel grabber, however, served him well. He held on to this man of the night long enough to receive a real blessing, not a stolen blessing, but one through which the promises of God will be fulfilled and Jacob will be changed. Daybreak comes and Jacob is no longer Jacob, the deceiver and the supplanter. He has been renamed and reborn. He is now Israel, the one who struggles with and prevails against God. Jacob does not defeat God. He prevails. He stays in the struggle until a new day dawns and he receives the blessing that was always his. That is faithfulness. That is the way home. That is our work at Jabbok.
I love what he wrote, "Daybreak comes and Jacob is no longer Jacob...He is now Israel, the one who struggles with and prevails against God...He stays in the struggle until a new day dawns and he receives the blessing that was always his." Jacob, the liar , and the trickster, wrestled and got hhis blessing Not his brother's, not his dad's, but his. I think that's important for us to examine and understand. When we come to these places in our lives, the places that we are emptied, broken, and bruised, we are changed from the inside out. In an instant, Jacob was both broken and healed. In the same way, Christ was broken and healed for us, and as we are broken, our pieces are healed before Him. Healing us of our pride, envy, and lust, and making us new with evidence of a change. Don't be surprised after wrestling with God, if other's notice a difference, too. Because the reality is after we've spent time with Jesus, His glory shines brightly in our lives and other's can't help but notice and ask, "Why are you limping?"
Friend, if you're sitting in a place of hurt, loneliness, and questioning, don't give up. Let faith rise with each fight. The dawn is coming and there is a new day! You will be given a new name, declare it in His name! It is best to be both wounded and blessed, than only wounded or only blessed. The blessings in your life that come from these seasons prove that your fight isn't just any fight. It's a fight that will change you, and all at once prepare you for the next season.