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What is the meaning of Jacob wrestling with God? Genesis 32:22-32 carries the account of Jacob’s encounter with God at a Peniel (later called Bethel). Jacob was on his way to Canaan after living with his uncle for two decades and marrying his two daughters. He was forced to make a secret flight because of the mistreatment his uncle had subjected him to. He was distressed about being pursued by Laban and was also deeply fearful about his future in the Promised Land because of his unpleasant past and flight as a fugitive. At Peniel, Jacob passed over his family possessions and servants across Jabbok and stayed behind to seek the face of God. The popular interpretation of this passage is that Jacob engaged in a physical duel with the Angel of the Lord through the night until God accepted to bless him. While Scripture portrays this picture in the passage, it is instructive to note that no man can physically wrestle with God because we can never compare with him in strength. The fact that the angel struck Jacob’s thigh is also instructive in that God has absolute power and control over our lives and can indeed destroy us if he chose to do so. To say that Jacob prevailed against God is not to suggest that he was more powerful in physical strength or wisdom. No man can ever face off with God and live to tell it! Jacob simply touched the heart of God by his supplication and God graciously chose to bless him for his passionate spiritual battle with his maker. The theological meaning of this passage is better amplified by Hosea 12:2-4 but more precisely by Hosea 12:4 (KJV) which says of Jacob: “Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us.” This passage read together with Genesis 32:22-42 reveals that Jacob prayed and supplicated and wept before God and did prevail because God granted him his blessings and even changed his name to Israel a sign of a better future for him. The key activity here was intense and consuming prayer that Jacob had to make before God because he knew that his return to the land of his father would be insecure without divine intervention. He was about to meet his brother Esau whose birthright he had snatched. My view therefore is that this struggle or wrestling was of a spiritual than a physical dimension. This story teaches us that if we supplicate before God concerning our lives he is a gracious God who is willing to meet our need and even exceed it (Ephesians 3:20). Jacob was merely seeking an assurance from God that he will be secure in the land of his father Isaac and Abraham after God commanded him to leave the house of Laban his uncle who had shortchanged him for 22 years (Gen 31:3). Even with the mistreatment he suffered under Laban, Jacob was blessed by God and he gained greater prominence than his elder brother by being the father of the nation of Israel and the forefather of Jesus Christ. We can also learn from this passage that there are no circumstances in our lives that God cannot surmount for us if we remain faithful to him. He is a faithful and loving God. He is the God of our refuge who stands between our past and our future. He is Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8). God expects us to come before him in our nakedness of heart just like Jacob did, standing before God alone, crying and weeping for his blessing. Hebrews 11:6 says without faith it is impossible to please God. God honors genuine and broken hearts that resolutely seek his blessings, his healing, restoration and mercies. He is not a respecter of persons but he also has the divine discretion to bless. This is why Romans 9:13 declares “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Glory be to God because we believers are like Jacob now the beloved of God because while we were yet sinners Christ died for (Roman 5:8) and has now given us an everlasting life in his presence (John 3:16). What greater love blessing and joy can there be!
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