Since his birth, the patriarch Jacob has been fighting his way through life. Some of his wrestling was the result of his own doing: he took hold of Esau (Genesis 25:24–26) and his blessing (vv. 29–34; 27:1–29). Other struggles came at the hand of others: Laban, his shifty father-in-law, manipulated him, which cost him years of his life (29:1–30). But no matter the source of his struggles, Jacob has tended to rely on his own efforts, only slowly realizing his efforts are worthless without God’s approval.
In our text this week, we finally see Jacob start to acknowledge God’s presence and work in his life, saying, “The God of my father has been with me” (Genesis 31:4). And then in a prayer to God in Genesis 32:9–12, Jacob cries out to God for help and guidance.
We, too, can easily become distracted with life and get caught up in just trying to do it all ourselves. How easily we forget that our God is faithful, always with us, and at work in all things.
In Genesis 32, Jacob comes ever closer to Canaan and an encounter that will make him finally submit to the Lord. The setting is the Jabbok River, a fast-moving inlet that flows into the river Jordan. Jacob is anxious over the upcoming meeting with Esau; this is seen in his willingness to cross the river at night (32:22–23). Consider how especially dangerous this task would be with no light to guide him, but Jacob is so unsettled that he presses ahead anyway.
Jacob is the last to cross, assuring his family has crossed the Jabbok safely ahead of him. As a result, he is left alone and soon finds himself wrestling with “a man” until daybreak (v. 24). Though not apparent at first, this man is really a Christophany: the appearance of God Himself (v. 30). Many scholars and theologians believe the references found elsewhere in the Old Testament to the Angel of the Lord are also Christophanies.
In the end, Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord is a good thing for him, as it will bring great blessing (vv. 25–29). The refining fire of God and the discipline He brings into our lives are many times hard and even painful, but it is oh so good for us; it brings sanctification, gospel reorientation, and a greater dependence on God. John Calvin spoke of how this scene foreshadows our wrestling with the Lord today. When the Father tests us or disciplines, we may find ourselves struggling with Him and/or the undesired obstacle He puts in our paths. We, too, are blessed for remaining steadfast and not tapping out.
Even Christ himself wrestled in His flesh with the struggles of life and the pending wrath He would take on Himself on our behalf.
In Gethsemane, our Savior confessed three times His dread at His Father’s wrath He would take on our behalf, going so far to ask the Father each time to let the cup of suffering pass. But each time, this request was accompanied by a trusting resolve to do God’s will (Mark 14:32–42). Like Jesus, we should also freely admit our struggles and fears to the Lord, but we must also be willing to submit to Him, no matter the difficulty it might bring. God’s plan is better than ours, and He disciplines those He loves.
His refining fire is a great work in our lives to strip away the dross and the impurities and struggles that have plagued us for too long. Praise God He doesn’t leave us alone but wrestles with us and endures with us unto true sanctification and maturity.
The blessings He has prepared for those who love Him far outweigh anything we miss out on or pass up in this lifetime.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. “