Cling to Christ - Jacob, Part 2
“What a weird story.” That was my reaction each time I read the passage I was now supposed to teach. I recently had to prepare to teach on Jacob’s reunion with Esau (Genesis 32 and 33). Contained in these chapters is the story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God (Gen. 32:24-32). My thoughts have always been the same regarding this bizarre interaction, but instead of allowing my confusion to prompt me to study the encounter more deeply, I’ve always just moved on.
One of the blessings of teaching is that you can’t just move on. If you are systematically teaching through a book of the Bible, you don’t have the luxury of skipping difficult or controversial passages. And this is exactly the place I found myself when given this teaching assignment.
Wrestling with God
This passage raises so many questions for me. Why does it seem that Jacob has the upper hand if he is wrestling with God? Why won’t “the man” tell Jacob his name? How can anyone wrestle with God?
Before I could demand answers, I had to ask myself a few more questions – Why do I expect an encounter between God and man to be fully understandable? Shouldn’t there be an element of mystery? How can human words completely describe any encounter with the living God?
I was humbled by those questions. Once I adopted a humbler attitude, I sought to understand the main point of the passage rather than demand answers to all my questions.
Once again, I started with context. When I read this passage, I was reminded of Jacob’s nighttime encounter with God at Bethel. That encounter, however, came through a dream, and this time Jacob met God face to face. In the former encounter, God made promises to Jacob, many of which had already been fulfilled. This time God gave Jacob his blessing. The blessing that Jacob tried to steal years earlier had now been legitimately given to him by God.
Right before Jacob wrestled with God, he prayed and confessed his dependence on God. When I read this story in light of that prayer, I read it in a new way: no longer was Jacob taking on the deity in a wrestling match, but he was desperately clinging to his only hope.
Jacob Clings to God
Jacob’s wrestling match with God is the natural outworking of his prayer; he demonstrated his dependence on God by physically clinging to him and not letting go.
At first glance, it seemed that Jacob had the upper hand in the wrestling match, but on further reflection I found the opposite was true. The “man” merely touched Jacob’s hip and completely dislocated it. Initially it seemed the “man” was concerned for his own safety as daybreak approached. In reality, Jacob was in danger. To stand face to face with the Holy One in the daylight is to risk utter annihilation.
When Jacob uttered his own name, he confessed what he had been – “supplanter, cheater.” When the “man” gave Jacob a new name, Israel, which means “he strives with God,” Jacob was given a new identity that reflected his dependence. The “man” allowed Jacob to wrestle with him, and Jacob hung on for dear life.
Jacob learned that the only way to strive with God is to cling to him and not let go. Jacob then knew that he couldn’t provide for himself and that he was utterly dependent on God and his blessing. He left with a physical reminder of his dependence, a lifelong limp.
We Must Cling to Christ
This is a lesson I need to be reminded of over and over again. I walk through life with my own agenda. When that fails, I try to get God on board with my plans. I make promises to God much like Jacob made a vow at Bethel (Gen. 28:20-21). I promise that I will be more faithful in my quiet times and prayer if he will save my kids. What I need to do instead is to cling to him, asking that his will be done.
I cling to God by remembering the gospel. Christ died for me while I was still a sinner (Rom. 5:8). The God who sent his son to die while I was his enemy cares for me more than I can ever imagine. When I remember his grace I can trust him with my difficult situations. I cling to Christ by spending time in prayer, not because I need to or because I’m trying to get him to do something for me, but simply to know him and his ways more deeply. I long to cling to Christ in the good times and the bad.