Sermon: When We Wrestle with God

When We Wrestle With God
Genesis 32:22-32
RUMC Aug 6, 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

During the month of July, we looked into the life of the Old Testament Patriarch, Jacob.

  • He was the one who caused his brother Esau to foolishly exchange his inheritance for a bowl of soup.
  • Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the family blessing.
  • Then Jacob was forced to leave home.
  • After that he had a vision that changed his life.
  • When Jacob finally arrived at his uncle’s house, he had walked a distance of 500 miles.
  • Jacob lived with his distant relatives for 20 years; during that time he acquired 2 wives and 2 concubines.
  • In the end, Jacob became the father of 12 sons and 1 daughter

In our text for today, Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob’s time with his distant relatives was over, and he was about to return home to see his elderly father. However, Jacob was about to have another encounter with God, this time in the form of a wrestling match.

As you read the scripture, remember that whenever we struggle or wrestle with God, it can open up spiritual blessings and solutions.

My text is Genesis 32:22-32
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
This is the Word of God.

When Jacob left his father-in-law and brought his wives and children to the Jabbok River, he was about to enter the territory of his brother Esau. He had reason to be really worried.  Even though 20 years had passed since he had seen his brother, he was afraid his brother might want to cause him harm.

Let’s face it; Jacob couldn’t put off the meeting any longer. So he figured the best thing he could do was buy off his brother with gifts.  So he sent his brother six series of gifts.  They were the following:

  • A large herd of 220 goats. (gap of ½ mile)
  • Another herd of 220 sheep. (another gap)
  • 30 camels. (Another gap)
  • 40 cows. (another gap)
  • 10 bulls. (another gap)
  • 30 donkeys

Jacob did what he thought was right, but he really did not include the Lord in the solution. The Lord intervened anyway.  Jacob became involved in the most famous wrestling match of all time; a mysterious individual appeared and wrestled him all night.  Some have speculated that this was a theophany, a time when God appears in human form.

Other theophanies would be:

  • When Melchizedek the Priest appeared out of nowhere to present Abraham with gifts of bread and wine.
  • Then there was the mysterious visitor and two angels who met Abraham at his tent and spoke of the problem of Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, a fourth person was seen in the flames that looked like the Son of God.

In this wrestling match, we are given a clue as to what Jacob experienced when he said, “I saw God face to face.” The result was an all-night struggle where Jacob emerged as a true child of God.

I would say real growth or deep faith often includes times of struggle. For example, in nature:

  • The former caterpillar has to fight its way out of a cocoon, emerging as a butterfly.
  • The baby bird must crack open the egg shell in order to get out.

But it is the struggle that helps both creatures to become strong. It is in the struggle that we become mature in our faith.

I am reminded of Matthew 7:7-8 which says:  “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

What these two verses tell me is that prayer is not a one and done exercise, but continuous. In the struggle we have to ask, to knock, and to seek.

Some time ago, a man named John Beehler found himself in a wrestling match with God. Apparently he had been called to be a minister, but John said no.  As the years had passed, John grew more stubborn, but the Lord continued to send people his way who told him to quit wrestling.  He refused.  Finally, after 21 years of wrestling, John let go and God’s grasp became an embrace.  Since that time, he has been a pastor of Presbyterian churches in Indiana.  This is what John had this to say.  “Like Jacob, I have been blessed.  So if you are wrestling with God, stop.  Take it from me, take it from Jacob, the only way you can win is by losing.”

In my own life, I have had a number of wrestling matches with God; some have been major and some minor. My first major struggle in the faith took place when my family thought I was becoming brainwashed because I was reading my Bible, going to Bible studies, and-oddly-not getting into the usual teen troubles.  So they sent me to a nun and a priest to straighten me out; both of them told me to cool it with this Jesus stuff.

Thus began the wrestling match. It was my new found faith vs. keeping my family happy.  I really struggled over that; in the end, you know what my decision was.  Since that time, my two sisters have become active in the faith, and I would say there has been total acceptance.

If we are to walk in God’s paths, there will be occasions that we might struggle; everyone is prone to a wrestling match or two with God. They might be over the following issues:

  • What I want or what God wants.
  • My will or God’s will.
  • My time or God’s time.
  • My way or God’s way.
  • My money or God’s money.

There may be other struggles–our conscience, how to handle a difficult situation, etc., but whatever it is, we need to include God in the struggle.

There is a hymn that speaks to what happens to your faith after the struggle:

  • All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.
  • All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at his feet I bow, worldly pleasures all forsaken, take me Jesus take me now.
  • All to Jesus I surrender, Lord I give myself to thee, fill me with thy love and power, let thy blessing fall on me.
  • I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee my blessed savior, I surrender all.

Let me tell you what happened to Jacob after the wrestling match. Esau showed up with 400 of his men, perhaps with the intent to hurt Jacob.  However instead of bringing harm, they embraced.  I believe it wasn’t the gifts of cattle that made the difference, but it was the wrestling match with God that paved the way for their reunion.

If we face our trials with persistent prayer, it will bring about spiritual blessings and solutions.