By David Faust
Years ago my brothers and I were wrestling in my room. Somehow the three of us got tangled up and fell in a heap on the bed. The strain proved too much for the old bed, and the wooden bed frame split right down the side. My dad was so angry with us, he was still mad when my brothers got into their cars and drove back to college!
All of us engage in wrestling matches now and then. When we struggle with spiritual or relational problems, we can learn valuable lessons from a wrestling match described in the book of Genesis.
Jacob’s life was complicated. By this point he had two wives and 11 sons (Genesis 32:22). His aging father was nearly blind and nearing death. Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, wanted to kill him—not only because Jacob persuaded him to sell his birthright for a pot of stew, but also because Jacob tricked their dad into bestowing on him a special blessing that normally would have gone to his brother. Surely Jacob’s own conscience bothered him as he reflected on his actions.
Meanwhile “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak” (v. 24). Jacob already had a lot on his mind, and then he lost a night’s sleep wrestling with this unrelenting stranger.
If you ever have spent the night struggling to resolve a problem that kept throwing you to the ground, you can relate to this story. What did the wrestling match do to Jacob?
It hurt him.
One of the most painful injuries of my life was a dislocated hip—a basketball injury I sustained at age 15. It hurt so much that I could hardly walk. Jacob must have shrieked in pain when his wrestling opponent “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man” (v. 25).
It humbled him.
Jacob was accustomed to getting his way. Usually he managed to get the better of others, but this time Jacob was up against someone too strong to pin down. For hours their wrestling match seemed to be a draw with neither one overpowering the other. Yet it appears that the stranger could have won the contest easily, for he threw Jacob’s hip out of joint with a single touch. Unable to defeat his indomitable challenger but determined to get something positive out of the experience, Jacob hung on tenaciously and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (v. 26).
It helped him.
When the wrestling match was finally over, Jacob received the blessing he requested. He also received a new name filled with lasting significance. “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’” (v. 28). Jacob named the place where this happened Peniel (“face of God”), saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (v. 30). As the story ended we read, “The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (v. 31). Jacob was left with a painful reminder of the struggle, but the sun rose as Jacob limped away. The long night of wrestling finally gave way to the dawn.
It can be that way for us too. Thank the Lord—after the struggle comes a new day.
1. Have you ever wrestled with God? What was the outcome?
2. Do you carry with you any painful reminders of past hurts? How will you deal with them?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for January 18, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Genesis 32, 33
Genesis 34, 35
Genesis 37, 38
Genesis 39, 40