Wrestling with God (Genesis 32)

024-jacob_wrestles_with_the_angelI recently read an article on Inc.com entitled “5 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Confidence.” The author seeks claims that anyone can have powerful self-confidence every day. He then writes:

Self-confident people are admired by others and inspire confidence in others. They face their fears head-on and tend to be risk takers. They know that no matter what obstacles come their way, they have the ability to get past them. Self-confident people tend to see their lives in a positive light even when things aren’t going so well, and they are typically satisfied with and respect themselves.  Wouldn’t it be amazing to have this kind of self-confidence, every day of the week? Guess what? You can.

While this sounds good (and it is good to have confidence), the danger of this thinking is that it speaks of self-confidence. Self-confidence is deadly. It is particularly deadly for a Christian because Christians ought to know better than to place their confidence in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. Self-confidence is a poison that weakens our faith. Self-confidence is rooted in pride. When we feel adequate in ourselves, we neither seek God nor depend on Him. And sometimes even if we seek God we seek Him as a means to an end as opposed to an end in and of Himself. Today, we shall witness God graciously strip Jacob of his self-confidence and bring him to the humble recognition that God is all he needs.

  1. Jacob is Afraid. As we pick up the story of Jacob, we see him heading back to the Promised Land. He is heading home because God has told him to return (Gen 31:3). He is afraid of returning, however, because he knows that his brother Esau wants to kill him (Gen 27:41). What does Jacob do? Jacob is a fighter. Jacob always seems to have a plan to get himself out of trouble. This plan was intentionally designed to appease Esau with gifts so that he would accept him. In addition to his plan, Jacob called upon God to help him. Jacob’s prayer appears to be very sound because he: 1) remembered God’s promises, 2) held God to His word, 3) confessed that he is not worthy of all God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and 4) begged for God’s deliverance. The million-dollar question, however, is whether Jacob is seeking God’s help for God’s glory or if he is trying to use God for his own self-protection? In other words, is God a means to an end or is He the goal?
  2. Jacob is Attacked. After putting his plan in motion, Jacob found himself alone at camp “and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” With whom is Jacob wrestling? The text says “a man”. The Prophet Hosea called him an angel (Hos 12:4). Jacob becomes convinced near the break of day that his attacker is God. The attacker implies that He is God when He gives Jacob the name Israel (Strives with God). Therefore, the attacker is best understood as a “theophany”. A Theophany is a physical manifestation of God in the world—sometimes called the Angel of the Lord (God in human form). For example, in Exodus 3:2 “the angel of the Lord” appeared to Moses in the burning bush. In verse 4, we read that “God called to him out of the bush…[saying]…I am the God of your father…” Jacob has made plans to contend with Esau, but now finds himself contending with God. But why?
  3. Jacob is Altered. Why did God attack Jacob in the middle of the night? Because Jacob needed to have his self-confidence cut down and his faith boosted. During the wrestling match, Jacob became physically and spiritually altered. Physically, his hip was put out of joint causing him to walk with a limp the rest of his life. God did this in order to break Jacob from his reliance on his own strength. Spiritually, he is no longer Jacob (“the deceiver”) but Israel (“strives with God”). This life altering pronouncement was intentional in order to confirm his new spiritual identity.
  4. Jacob is a Victor. One would think that any attempt to wrestle with God would result in defeat, but verse 28 tells us that Jacob prevailed. How did Jacob prevail against the angel of the Lord—one who is powerful enough to dislocate his hip with just a touch? It is clear that the angel of the Lord—like a father wrestling with his young son—is holding back in this match, but why? The answer is found in how God changed Jacob as a result of the wrestling match. God entered human form in order to show Jacob that his self-confidence was deadly because his body was fragile and his attitude was destructive. Jacob was a deceiver who did everything he could to protect himself, but Israel is a much humbler man who depends upon God. You see, only when Jacob was helpless, clinging to God in desperation, and begging for God to bless him did he finally prevail. This is just what God wanted and knew Jacob needed.

When you hear of “5 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Confidence” are you interested in how you can become more self-confident? Or are you not impressed by such claims because you put no confidence in your own strength and capabilities because you place your full trust and confidence in Christ? Wrestle with God! Do not trust in yourself to be the best parent/spouse/coworker but depend upon God and work according to His wisdom. Allow Him to bring you to the place where you confess: “I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!” (Ps 70:5).

Head, Heart, Hands Study Guide
Wrestling with God (Genesis 32)

Begin by praying for God to help you: 1) understand (Head) what the Bible says, 2) to be changed (Heart) by the truths contained, and 3) to apply (Hands) what you have learned. Read Genesis 32 and then answer following questions:

  1. What does the text say? (What happened? What happened next? What happened after that?) Where is Jacob coming from? Where is Jacob going? Who does he meet? What does he tell his messengers to do? What did the messengers say when they returned? What did Jacob say in his prayer? What were the presents for Esau? What happened to Jacob when he was alone? What did the man do when the day began to break? What did Jacob ask the man to do? What was the man’s response? What did Jacob call this place?
  2. What does it tell us about God? (Discuss the nature and character of God.) Why did God send angels to meet Jacob? What did Jacob call God? Why did Jacob remind God that it was God who told him to return? Why did Jacob remind God of His promises to do him good? Who is the man who wrestled with Jacob? Why did the man wrestle him? Why did the man change Jacob’s name? How can the man do that? What does Israel mean? What does Peniel mean?
  3. What does it tell us about ourselves? (What are the human characters in the story doing or not doing that serve as a warning or encouragement to us?) Why is Jacob devising such an elaborate plan? What is motivating Jacob to divide his people? Why is Jacob praying to God? According to verse 20, what is Jacob thinking? Why did Jacob want the man he was wrestling with to bless him?
  4. How am I going to think, speak, and live differently because of what I learned? James writes that we should be doers of the word and not just hearers (James 1:22). It is not enough to know what the story says, it is important to apply the truth of the story to our lives. Take some time in prayer and consider some changes that you need to make in the following areas:
    1. Think
    2. Speak
    3. Live