IT IS GOOD TO WRESTLE WITH GOD
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is devastating to hear about people that you admired suddenly have a dark side. We like someone’s music, but then we find they abused drugs. Their creativity that produced their music or lyrics was artificial. It was a lie. The drugs produced the music, at least it appears that way. News people who influence national thought say boorish comments or some manufacture stories to further an agenda cannot and ought not to be allowed to have a public forum.
Many, even those closest to Jesus, felt the same way about Jesus when he was crucified so many centuries ago. How devastating it was to see Jesus bow his head in death! Disciples who spent three years with Jesus had their hopes for whatever they had hopes for dashed when Jesus announced, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” and then bowed his head in death.
How they must have struggled that time Jesus was in the grave. What are we going to do now? Where do we go from here? Yet the Lord was preparing them for a lifetime of service when the whole story was revealed. Today we turn to Jacob who in the end had to conclude: “It is Good to Wrestle with God.”
I love the following definition for life: The time God gives to us to know him, serve him and share him with others. A pessimist might define life as a journey from one crisis to another. Jacob might have thought that way. Jacob was the younger but twin brother of Esau who were the children of Isaac and Rebekah. An amazing number of chapters in the Bible are devoted to Jacob.
When we first meet Jacob he is not a nice man. He was shrewd at the expense of others. He deceived and manipulated. He was sinful from birth, sinful from the time he was conceived like the Psalm says. He was like every one of us. No one needed to teach him how to sin.
Mother, Rebekah, had a tough pregnancy with her twins. “The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Rivalry!While Esau and Jacob were twins, they were anything but identical. Esau hunted. Jacob liked to hang around home. Esau was his father’s favorite. Jacob was loved by Momma.
Remember the well-known Bible fact how Jacob tricked Esau out of the privileges of being the firstborn. After a day of hunting Esau smelled the aroma of a pot of stew Chez Jacob had cooked. Esau thought to little of the firstborn’s position in the family, Esau traded it away to satisfy his stomach. Rivalry spun out of control. Neither showed the respect for their parents or God. The Bible says, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’ Mom told Jacob he had better leave town. Sibling rivalry ramped up. Jacob’s scheming got him what he wanted at brother’s expense, but it also got him in trouble. He got out of town with barely his clothes on his back.
We often hear the Bible speak of the patriarchs “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” We even hear Jesus speak of them. At times their faith was amazing, but in reality Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob show us that the good Lord is amazing God. Each had weaknesses. Each sinned. They needed the events we commemorated last weekend as everybody does as we do. Just as God used them, forgiven sinners they were, God wants to use us too.
One Jacob crisis down, on to another! Jacob got out of town all alone with little but his clothes on his back. He stopped to rest and threw himself on the ground with nothing but a rock for a pillow. “He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” For being a real stink bomb the Lord was kind to Jacob. He had an “aha moment.” It was a spiritual awakening. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” From this point on we see Jacob grow as a man, as a godly man.
But just because someone is a godly believer doesn’t mean there are no more crises to face. This is a sinful world we live in. The prosperity Gospel preachers really need to look more closely at Jacob’s life. He headed to Uncle Laban’s house in Haran. Over time Uncle Laban took advantage of Jacob there too. That happens to Christian people. Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek. You know what? People will slap that one too. Even family members! Jacob took it for twenty years, until the Lord himself told him to leave.
It wasn’t a clean break. Jacob left with his two wives, both were Laban’s daughters and a ton of grandchildren and lots of possession with which God blessed Jacob. There was a pursuit and confrontation. Accusations were leveled. It wasn’t the friendliest of meetings. How was it resolved? A monument was built. Basically they agreed I won’t go past this if you don’t. Fine way to conclude a twenty year family relationship.
It is sad to think that relationships that ought to be good relationships end up like this. People who should be on the same side find it better to stay away from each other. It happens in family. It happens even in churches. The Bible says God is our Father. Yet to some a father doesn’t give a good picture. The Bible says we are brothers and sisters in Christ. To far too many that is not a pleasant picture from earthly experiences. Look what the Devil does. But remember the point of comparison is that earthly fathers need to be like our Father in heaven. Sons and daughters need to appreciate each like we will in heaven.
So Jacob and his considerable family and possessions were back on the road to Canaan where he hadn’t been for twenty years. No one with him had ever been there. Esau, his brother, was there. Their relationship was in rubble and ruin.
A little fast forward. Jacob had sent messengers ahead to meet with Esau. “When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.” Crisis mode still again. 400 men was an army.
Twenty years passed but he still seemed to be steamed.
Put yourself in Jacob’s position. Damned if he returned to Haran; damned to continue to Canaan, his original home. In a pickle either way, yet God said to return to Canaan. Caleb, our six year old grandson, has a severe allergy to any kind of nut. Recently accidentally took a bite of a candy bar that had walnuts in it. Father Ben took him immediately to the emergency room. Caleb is only seven. On the way, the poor little guy said to his dad, “Hey dad, I don’t want to go to heaven yet.” They gave him a steroid and all is well. But did you listen to what he said? He knew he was going to heaven, but he wanted more time with Mom and Dad and two sisters.
That was Jacob. He made preparations. He split his family in two so one would escape. He sent them ahead. He made one more preparation for himself. He stayed behind to pray. What happens next is something Martin Luther called, “the most obscure event found in the Bible.” “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.” Out of the blue a man appeared and they wrestled. This was not a first round pin. It went on until daybreak.
Who was that man? The prophet Hosea writes about that incident as he speaks of Jacob’s life. “In the womb (Jacob) grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor.” He struggled with God, he struggled with the angel. The Angel of the Lord is mentioned many times in the Bible. I spoke about that not long ago. It the angel of the Lord is God the Son in the Old Testament. The man touched his hip and threw it out of a joint or stretched a tendon. Who else could do that but God? Besides Jacob know who it was he sought his blessing and called the place Peniel, which means in the face of God. Jacob saw God face to face.
We scratch our heads and want to ask all kinds of questions. 1) Why in the world would God appear as a man and wrestle with Jacob? But then Jesus did appear centuries later...in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, in Galilee in Samaria, at Calvary, at the empty grave as God in the flesh.
2) Why did he throw Jacob’s hip out of joint? Jacob learned this wasn’t a dream. The pain he felt was not the result of a dream. He was wrestling…with God! One commentator said that his permanent limp reminded Jacob never to return to the manipulative man he was in his youth. Can you relate to that? A trial we go through remind us of similar things.
3) Why should God appear to the one of as his children as an opponent? Yet sometimes it feels like God is the enemy, doesn’t it? We seek something; we pray but nothing changes. We want to serve the Lord but he throws a real curveball and wonder what in the world he is doing. Yet faith knows the Lord is in control. Don’t think you can outthink him.
4) Why does it say that God could not overcome him? He could have pinned Jacob to the grown in a blink of an eye. Let’s remember a few things. God binds himself to promises he makes. He promised Jacob a lot twenty years earlier when his head was resting on a rock. God promised the land on which he was standing would be theirs. Eventually that happened. The people that descended from him would be very numerous. When Israel entered the land centuries later, there were two million plus. There would be a great descendant in whom all nations would be blessed. That’s Jesus. God also promised never to forsake him in all of his wanderings. When he awoke he said, “Surely God was in the place, but I was not aware of it.”
When Jacob wrestled with God, he didn’t let go until God assured him of the promises he had made to him. Remember this was not only physical wrestling but spiritual. Hosea says, “In tears he begged God to hear.”
Jacob was sinner but God had forgiven him and promised to bless him. Jacob was holding the Lord to his promises. David did some horrible sins too, adultery and murder among countless others. David could lay claim to forgiveness too. We have done many shameful things, so shameful that we wish they were not known by anyone, even the Lord. Yet he must forgive us because he promised and even promised to cast them out of his mind and remember our sins anymore. He promises to “never leave us or forsake us.” He promises to make all things into a blessing for the members of his church. He guarantees his love. That’s what Holy Week and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were all about. While it might appear that we are wrestling with God because his timetable is different than ours, or the results he knows are best as opposed to ours, he must bring them to pass. That’s a promise he must keep. In fact, all promises he must keep. Wrestling with God is the Hebrew word Israel. It is good to wrestle with God.