Wrestling Match With God
Jul 14, 2019 05:40AM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
For the better part of a year now, I’ve wrestled with God.
Okay now, you may be asking yourself: "What does that mean when people say that? How can someone go head-to-head with the Almighty?"
Well, to illustrate my point, let me bring in my biblical buddy Jacob.
Genesis 32:22-32, ESV
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.
Before I share my own illustration, let’s unpack what Jacob experienced.
First of all, he was alone. Yup, alone. Even though he had his two wives (that was okay back then), two female servants, and 11 children with him, he sent them across the stream and spent time alone.
Whether you are literally or figuratively alone, can you relate at times to Jacob having some contemplative time by himself?
Maybe you feel alone despite the noise of life surrounding you.
Either way, that is usually how we wrestle with God. And why is that exactly?
I believe it’s because we are still. We are finally tuning into the still, small voice of God. We have a moment to take account, to self-reflect. This introspection often takes us down a path of fear, anxiety, disillusionment, and feeling sorry for ourselves. Let’s see where it took Jacob.
And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."
The Bible says that a man wrestled with Jacob until morning but still did not have the advantage. The account does not report what they were wrestling about, but it’s clear the wrestling match went on all night—and it was not Jacob who tried to call it off.
What was Jacob holding out for, as it turns out?
Did you catch that part?
After a night of one-on-one combat, instead of parting ways when it was offered him (even after his hip was displaced), he asked for a blessing.
Why did he do this? Because he knew who he was up against. He knew the battle had a purpose and a reward, and he knew, despite the exhaustion and pain, the benevolence of his fellow wrestler.
In this scenario, considering the players, we know that “the man” could have won. He had the power, the strength, the advantage, etc. But, instead, he tries to call it off, and when Jacob responds as he does, “the man” blesses him with a new name: Israel. He was to be a nation for the people of God.
Thankfully, the passage does not leave us unclear about the identity of “the man.” Although the man does not offer his name in this account, Jacob goes so far as to name the location after his face-to-face battle with God.
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered."
The man was God himself, and the struggle was a test of Jacob’s character. The deliverance was a foreshadowing of God’s redemption of Israel through His Son Jesus.
Jacob was indeed left with the hip battle scar from his struggle with the Almighty, and it surely served as a good reminder that when God could have used all His strength against Jacob, He didn’t—because that wasn’t the point. The point was the endurance and perseverance of Jacob when the battle was long and grueling. But after the night, morning brought relief, and Jacob passed the test.
So, what about me and you?
I know my struggle has been in prayer over many heartaches and perceived injustices. My struggle has been:
- “Why did this happen, God?”
- “Why do good things break?”
- “Why do people hurt each other?”
- “Why is there so much pride in the way of relationship?”
- “What on earth was the purpose of that?"
And His reply for months was along the lines of: “I'm listening. Keep talking. Get it out. Let Me know when you are ready for what I have to say.”
And on and on and on I went—for months.
In the middle of the night.
Upon waking in the morning.
And throughout the day.
Like Jacob, I have some heart wounds…not necessarily because God put them there, but because I would not give up the fight. And now here I am, at the end of a long nonstop battle cry, head up to heaven, saying,
“Okay, let’s stop. I will not let You go until You bless me.”
And that last part—it’s not a command to God. It’s a lifetime of walking with Him, knowing full well that our wrestling match was for my greater good and that I don’t want to walk away from it without receiving His blessing.
That blessing sometimes comes one faithful step at a time.
But the blessing in the wrestling is the time spent completely with God, alone (away from distractions of people and the business of life), where I have no choice but to get honest—and after the "getting honest," to shut my mouth. He has a lot to say, but it’s up to me when I stop thrashing around. The best part for me is that He lovingly engages with me while I still need to knock against Him. He’s not undone by my struggle. Unlike so many of my human relationships, He doesn't abandon. Ever.
In the end, no matter how many times I go through this season of soul angst, like Jacob, I want to be able to say:
"For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered."
What are you face-to-the-mat wrestling with God about right now?
Whatever it is, I promise you that it can end well—just don’t walk away without asking for the blessing, which is always God’s best for you. It waits for you when you stop thrashing and you surrender to His direction and purposes for you. He is faithful and ever true.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.
A new lion head rabbit breeder, you can follow her buck Cloud, doe Sookie, and kits @thegivingrabbitry on Instagram.