Genesis 32:28- Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob was shrewd, cunning and a deceiver. When he was born, he was jockeying for position even out of the womb, holding onto his brother Esau’s heel. The first record of Jacob’s deceit was when he convinced Esau to trade in his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25), granted a lot of the responsibility was on Esau for giving that up so easily. Again in chapter 27, Jacob (with help from his mother) convinced his father Isaac that he was his first born son Esau and received his blessing. Isaac was old and could not see well, he wanted his son, Esau, to bring him the cooked game he liked so much.
Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I’m a man with smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing” (verse 11). Jacob then got some goatskins from his mother and covered himself with them. He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.” Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied. (verses 18-20).
The rest of the chapter talks about Jacob receiving the blessing and Esau rightfully holding a grudge over Jacob for deceiving him twice; however did you catch the verse where Jacob says “The Lord YOUR God gave me success” (Emphasis mine). Up to this point, Jacob had heard all about the God of Abraham and his father Isaac, no doubt he heard about the stories of how God was faithful through times of Abraham wandering and almost sacrificing his father Isaac, but it sure seems like God, Yahweh, was only his FATHER’S GOD, up to this point. Jacob had not fully embraced God as his own; otherwise he would have said “the Lord MY God.” Jacob was involved in deceit at this time and no doubt had some conviction over what he was doing, but not enough to stop and be honest.
After this Jacob flees due to fear over Esau’s vengeance. He then marries Leah and Rachel. Jacob has a vision of a staircase leading to heaven in Genesis 28:10-22, he makes a vow to God asking for safety. God continues to bless Jacob. What becomes truly life changing, and name-changing, for Jacob is when he wrestles with God. Jacob wrestled with God overnight and had his name changed to Israel. Jacob then met up with Esau and smoothed over their relationship (Genesis 33). Jacob seemed fully sold out to God in Genesis 35:2-3: So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Even after all the blessings of God, Jacob and his family still had foreign gods with them. God finally became Jacob’s God and not his father’s. Jacob committed himself and his family to serve the one true God.
What I find interesting about this story is how true it is to us today, if we grow up hearing about Jesus and the Bible, we may believe it because it’s what our parents believe, but there is a point where we need to figuratively wrestle with God before it become truth to us. The wrestling may take place over a short or long period of time. It takes us finding out for ourselves what Jesus is all about. It takes wrestling through our doubts and letting God’s spirit take conviction over us. Only then does it become real and not just something we were forced to do because of our parents.
The same applies if you did not grow up hearing about God. You may have an even bigger hurdle to jump over because wrestling with God will be having to overcome a lot of what you thought was true up to this point. You will need to wrestle through fear, doubts, disbelief, and sin of your past in order to receive God’s blessing of salvation.
Sadly many Christians never wrestle with God, they go through the motions, even going to church, without ever solidifying their convictions about what is true. They use Christianity as an insurance policy without finding the true power we have in Jesus. Even Jacob, after wrestling with God, received more blessings that he ever had when he committed his family to following God wholeheartedly (Genesis 35:11-13). This isn’t a question of being saved or not, it’s living in the fullness of God and the life he wants for us.
Many great men and women of God struggled with doubts, consider the example below:
G. Campbell Morgan had already enjoyed some success as a preacher by the time he was 19 years old. But then he was attacked by doubts about the Bible. The writings of various scientists and agnostics disturbed him (e.g., Charles Darwin, John Tyndall, Thomas Huxley, and Herbert Spencer). As he read their books and listened to debates, Morgan became more and more perplexed. What did he do? He cancelled all preaching engagements, put all the books in a cupboard and locked the door, and went to the bookstore and bought a new Bible. He said to himself, “I am no longer sure that this is what my father claims it to be–the Word of God. But of this I am sure. If it be the Word of God, and if I come to it with an unprejudiced and open mind, it will bring assurance to my soul of itself.” The result? “That Bible found me!” said Morgan. The new assurance in 1883 gave him the motivation for his preaching and teaching ministry. He devoted himself to the study and preaching of God’s Word.
Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, Moody, 1984, p. 211.
When was that point for you where God became real to you and not just a “good story” or something your parents believed? What was the difference after wrestling with God? Or maybe you have yet to experience this? What do you need to have answered? God is a big enough God to handle our doubts, our fears, and even our anger.
1 Corinthians 2:14 says “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
We need to ask for God’s Spirit to come into our lives to help discern truth, to eliminate obstacles from our faith, and to destroy false foundations that our past has created. We may not have every question and doubt answered but at some point we give them over to God and he becomes YOUR God and He blesses us for that.
Discerning Reflection: What do I still need to “wrestle” with God over? Do I have doubts that I haven’t sought an answer to? What can I do today to make God more real in my life than ever before?
Prayer: Lord, help me seek after you with my whole heart. Help me identify any idols that I still keep around that need to be permanently discarded. Give me your Spirit to help me believe where I have doubts so that I may fully walk in the calling you have for me. Amen.