What I’m Thinking: Wrestling with God

Jacob wrestled with a figure who congratulated him on prevailing against God. What do we learn when we struggle with God?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the thirty-second chapter of Genesis (Genesis 32:22-31), the wrestling match between Jacob and a figure that we can’t quite identify with certainty, there by the Ford of the Jabbok.

Jacob had been struggling with people most of his life, frequently winning although not always by the fairest of means. He had, after all, purchased his brother’s share of their inheritance by making him a lentil stew. He had then imitated his brother Esau and fraudulently obtained his father’s blessing. Later on, he had nearly found his match in deception in Laban, who had promised him one daughter as wife and then married him to the other, but Jacob had succeeded in leaving Laban’s household with a substantial portion of his flocks and herds, so I suppose we could count that one even or maybe even say that Jacob was ahead.

Jacob had come to the Jabbok with his (perhaps not quite well gained or honestly gained) herds and flocks, his wives, his children. He was on his way, returning to his place of birth, to his home, where his brother awaited and as far as anybody knew, Esau’s anger had not cooled over the years.

Jacob sent everybody on ahead of himself and then spent the night, he hoped in peace. Instead, he wrestled with a figure and neither of them could overcome the other. In the end, the mysterious wrestler dislocated Jacob’s hip. Jacob would not let him go, however, until he gave him a blessing.

The stranger did, but also gave Jacob a new name. Instead of Ya’akov, which was about grabbing the heel of his twin brother as they were born, he said now you will be Yisra’el, one who struggles with God.

I think we all struggle with God. Sometimes it is because we are trying to gain advantage for ourselves, and we think that somehow or other in our struggling relationship with God we can do that. Perhaps we can. It actually seemed to work for Jacob.

But it is also possible that it is in our struggles with God that we find the truth about ourselves, not just our capacity for persistence, but also our capacity for endurance. This strange figure had been with Jacob all through his life — if we accept that this figure, when congratulating Jacob for struggling with God, was being fairly literal about it — and indeed God continued to bless Jacob even though his life could not be said to have been easy after this. It is in our struggles with God that we do in fact learn more about ourselves, about who we are and what’s important to us, about what we need and what we seek.

It is in our struggles with God that we find the assurance for the coming day. Jacob cross the Jabbok following his family and his herds and his flocks and met his brother, because after all he had been struggling with God, and he learned that he could endure.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on October 10, 2022

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