Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 (NIV)
Growing up in Iowa, one learns that wrestling is a big thing. Our state universities typically have nationally top-ranked programs. Most Iowans know the names of our state’s wrestling heroes. When I was growing up, wrestling was a mandatory class in P.E. during Junior High. For the record, I was really bad at it.
But that was just physical wrestling. With other types of wrestling, I’m quite adept: wrestling with fear, wrestling with shame, wrestling with the past, and et cetera.
Today’s chapter contains another mysterious, ancient story. Jacob, having left his Uncle Laban and returned to his home country, first finds himself in a potentially tough spot with his brother Esau. Jacob fears that his brother will kill him, and he comes up with a strategic plan to appease Esau’s anger and position himself in such a way to reduce his potential losses should Esau attck.
That night, Jacob finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. Having successfully gone the distance, God asks to “tap out.” Jacob, however, says he won’t give up until God blesses him.
God responds by saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
From the stories we’ve read about Jacob, he’s always been wrestling with life. He came out of the womb wrestling with his twin brother. He wrestles with Esau for power and position within the family system. He wrestles with Esau for his father’s affection and then wrestles with his father to steal Esau’s birthright. Jacob then wrestles ceaselessly with his Uncle Laban for the right to marry Rachel, and then for his wages. God has repeatedly told Jacob that he will inherit the blessing God gave to his grandfather Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Yet, there seems to be something in Jacob that doesn’t believe it despite all the evidence of his flourishing. Jacob is still wrestling with God and petitioning God for the blessing that’s already been given.
Perhaps that the deceiver, Jacob, having lived a life of deceiving and being deceived, has projected onto God his own shortcomings. Perhaps he can’t trust God not to be a deceiver, too.
Perhaps Jacob is bogged down in the shame of his own failings and, deep down, he doesn’t believe that God would bless a deceiver like him. He’s done nothing to deserved God’s blessing and favor.
Perhaps God knew that the only way Jacob would truly understand and embrace the blessing that had been freely given was to wrestle for it.
As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning, I found myself wrestling. I, too, have experienced blessings I know I really don’t deserve. I, too, struggle to embrace blessings freely and graciously given. Instead of gratefully receiving them, I find myself pessimistically assuming that they will be withdrawn, withheld, or will turn out to have been some kind of mistake. I have to confess to my own internal wrestling match with God, for which I might just have Olympic-worthy talent. And, that’s not a good thing.
I believe it’s time for me to tap out and forfeit this wrestling match to God.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.