Speaking Of Life 5037 │ Prevailing with God
If you’ve ever spent any time in a park, you’ve probably observed a parent with a toddler who wants to race. The three-year-old doesn’t care that her legs are about a third of the length of her parent’s legs – she simply wants the joy of running and connecting with her parent. You may have watched the parent let the toddler get a head start and then take smaller steps to give the little one a chance. The parent may have even let the toddler win despite being superior in size and coordination. When I see something like this, it makes me think of how God approaches us with humility, compassion, and kindness, wanting us to boldly wrestle and engage with him. There’s no better story to illustrate this than Jacob wrestling with God as told in Genesis 32.
The chapter begins with Jacob receiving the news that his brother Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob is worried because he schemed to get Esau’s firstborn birthright, and he was sure Esau was coming to take revenge. Jacob divided his camp to make it look smaller, and he sent his wives and children ahead of him, along with gifts for Esau. That night, alone and in his solitude, Jacob wrestles with an unidentified man until daybreak. Let’s see what happens next:
When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then [the man] said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So [the man] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But [the man] said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed [Jacob]. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Genesis 32: 25-31 (NRSVUE)
Up to this point in his life, Jacob had relied on scheming and manipulation to get what he wanted. These methods weren’t without consequence, though. He was estranged from his family and fearful of his brother’s wrath. Jacob’s wrestling match with the man, whom Jacob identified as God in verse 30, resulted in his transformation because Jacob refused to let go of God, and God was willing to let Jacob prevail to help him change.
The evidence of this radical transformation is both physical and emotional. Jacob’s damaged hip caused him to limp, and though we don’t know how long his hip injury persisted, we do know that the Israelites would not eat that hip muscle of a sacrificial animal, out of respect for Jacob’s wound from God. We also see that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, which means “one who prevails with God and humans.”
We can learn from this story that some of our transformations come through perseverance and wrestling with God. More importantly, God wants us to engage this way – boldly asking for blessing, unafraid, not because we deserve it but because we know God wants to give it. Jacob’s face-to-face confrontation with God shows us the intimacy God desires from us. God comes to us in humility, letting us prevail like a toddler racing a parent.
May we boldly wrestle with God when the mysteries of life confront us, like great beauty and great sorrow. May we offer the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the intimacy they desire by allowing ourselves to be sculpted, renamed, and transformed by the Love that won’t let us go.
I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.