The Wrestling Wilderness

Jacob Wrestles with AngelScripture Text: Genesis 32: 24-30

 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”


We know this story.  Jacob is running from Esau.  (You know, the brother that he duped into handing over his birthright to Jacob.)  And during the night, he wrestles.  It doesn’t fully say why he was wrestling.  Was it fear?  Was it regret?  Was it guilt?  After all, he had taken Esau’s life, pushed him into something that he was not and, in turn, became someone that he himself was not.  So he wrestles, begging for a blessing, begging for forgiveness, begging that his conscience be clear.  As daybreak approaches, Jacob is struck in the hollow of the thigh.  The blow has a crippling effect and brings the struggle to its climactic moment.  But Jacob retains his hold.


Jacob will never be the same again.  He has looked God and also himself square in the face and everything has changed.  The wrestling has been an act not of destruction, but of transformation.  Each step is now marked by the Divine touch.  Jacob becomes Israel, the God-wrestler.  He has experienced a true rebirth.  He names the place Penuel, or “I have seen the face of God”.  Not only has he seen the face of God, but his life is such now that he will continue to experience that over and over again.


The truth is, sometimes we have to get out in the wilderness to do our wrestling.  We think we can do it on our own turf, protected by our armors of plans and preconceptions.  We think we can do it according to some preset schedule.  But the wilderness is the real wrestling place.  Like Jacob, we have sometimes to go it alone, sometimes forsake all of our supplies and our help.  We have to be vulnerable.  We have to be real.  We have to strip away all of our armor.  And, there, exposed, there is nothing to hide who we are.  We face ourselves and we face God.  The wilderness is the place where we encounter God and begin to know ourselves.  The wilderness is the place of blessing.  God wants us to wrestle.  That’s why God gave the name of “God-wrestler” to God’s people.


The season of Lent is a wrestling season.  It begins in a wilderness and ends on a Cross.  And God is there for each round of the game.  Because only those who wrestle with God understand what it means to be blessed, understand what it means to see God face to face, understand what it means to become the one that God sees with the name that God knows.


Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God…They prayed and wrestled and sought…in season and out, and when they had found [God], the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking. (A.W. Tozer)


FOR TODAY:  Strip away the armor that protects you.  With what do you wrestle?  With whom are you wrestling?  Why are you afraid to wrestle?      


Grace and Peace,


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