The Wonderful World of Wrestling (Genesis 32)


High school math was torture for me. The fight for A’s in Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry was like a life or death struggle. I remember one time finishing a quiz and literally feeling as if I were panting and sweating, crawling across a finish line after a harrowing mental workout. Hard as it was, though, I got through it. Passing high school math was something I wanted, nay, needed. I did everything I could to get what I was after, and God did the rest.

In Genesis 32, Jacob has just gotten what he wanted – freedom from Laban. He continues his journey, knowing that he is fully a man of his own. He has twelve healthy children, four wives (pro? con?), and practically countless riches. Jacob seems to have everything a man could want. Then the other shoe drops.

Jacob remembers his brother Esau and sends some messengers to him, wanting to make peace with him. Apparently his message doesn’t go over well, because Esau decides to respond by coming to meet Jacob with a small army. Esau doesn’t explicitly say that he is coming to kill, but one gets the impression that he didn’t gather four hundred men just to chat pleasantly.

Jacob is understandably terrified. He springs into action. First things first, he turns to God. He pours out his heart before Him. Next, Jacob prepares a massive gift for his brother, to the tune of five hundred and fifty animals (verses 14-15). Five hundred and fifty. This man was rich and scared out of his mind. Jacob sends the lavish gift on before him and his family, hoping that Esau’s wrath can be appeased by riches before anyone dies.

Staying behind until the last minute, Jacob pulls an all-nighter. A mysterious man appears and wrestles with Jacob. Were words exchanged? Was this a silent match? All we know is that right up until the sun rose, Jacob and this man struggle with each other. Jacob, though not a young man anymore, holds his own, and the man cripples Jacob with one touch when he sees Jacob isn’t letting up. At this point everything changes, because only divinity can do something like that. The Man asks to be let go, but Jacob refuses, desperate for a blessing. Upon receiving one, Jacob asks the Man his name, but he receives no answer. Jacob is now certain that he had been wrestling all night with none other but the Lord Almighty Himself. The sun rises. Jacob limps toward his family, ready to face his brother, somehow not tired at all.

The Treasures Within:

A Prayer Of Faith

Jacob thought he was going to die once he heard Esau was on his way. He probably had nightmares, dreaming of his children and wives being slaughtered. Some people would have tapped out right then and there, but Jacob makes the smarter decision, turning to the Source of all strength. He prays, and the way he prays is so inspiring to me. He starts out with humility and praise. He could have been angry and confrontational, blaming God for putting him in this position, but instead Jacob focuses on who God is and what He has promised Jacob’s ancestors. I can only imagine that this calmed Jacob a little – comparing the greatness of God to your earthly problem can have that effect. Jacob follows honor with honesty, revealing his crippling fear and asking God to step in. Finally, Jacob claims God’s promises. Not in that “I want this therefore I believe God will definitely give me what I want” kind of way. Jacob repeated to God the promises He had already made to his family. He chose to trust God’s own words.

I want to be this way when trouble comes my way. Whether I fear for my life, my job, my health or my salvation, I want to approach God with humility, honesty, and trust. I want to claim His promises. I want to calmly wait for Him to work. If Jacob’s story is to be any example, I can be sure that He will work.

Fight For Your Life

Prayer or no prayer, though, Jacob’s situation did not look good. The clock was ticking. Jacob and his family had just a few more hours. Jacob wanted to live. He wanted to live to enjoy the blessings God had given him. He wanted life more than anything. Was that what gave him the strength to wrestle all night? Who did Jacob think he was wrestling with before God touched his thigh? Why did Jacob fight before then? Was it some desperate, fear-fueled attempt to prove himself? Whatever his thoughts were, Jacob proved that he was not going to give up. Even when crippled, Jacob would not let go without a blessing, showing that he knew he couldn’t survive Esau on his own. Imagine, then, what Jacob felt once he heard God tell him that he had overcome (verse 28). Relief and hope filled him! He knew he would have what he wanted, what he had begged God for. He had wrestled with God and won.

Jacob’s physical struggle with God is not one most of us have experienced, so it can be difficult to find the relevance of this story. The truth is, we all wrestle with God, even today. When God wrestled Jacob or when He wrestles us, it’s not with the classic motives of trying to best the other person. God wasn’t trying to take Jacob’s life or deny him something. God was pushing Jacob. He was testing Jacob. He was giving Jacob the gift of faith. There are things in our lives that we can turn to no one over but God. Just as Jacob struggled with fear for his life, we may struggle with loneliness or sin or guilt or shame or trauma or addiction or even fear over our salvation. We fall on our faces and pour our hearts out before God, but sometimes we worry it’s not enough. So we come before Him again. And again. We wrestle with ourselves, searching for faith. We wrestle with God, searching for assurance. It may feel as if a physical struggle, even one that lasts all night, pales in comparison to what we go through on our knees. Yet we cannot give up. We must persevere. We must hold on to our God, refusing to let go until He blesses us with faith. Why does God allow us to fight? Why does He not give us what we want as soon as we want it? Maybe it’s only through struggle that we come to value something. Maybe something else stands in the way of what we are after. There could be thousands of reasons. All that matters is that God knows the reason. He is pushing you. He is testing you. He is giving you faith. Will you persevere?

God’s Message To Us:

“Do not give up. Trust in Me and you will overcome.” God is not a sadist. He does not enjoy our suffering. Anyone you ask, who comes from any walk of life, who believes in any one of the ideologies that are out there, will tell you that they believe that strength comes from pain. Hard times, difficulties, and stress teach us and grow us more than the smoothest path that life can offer. God knows us better than anyone. He knows how we are and how we’re wired, so He planned what was best to give us a faith stronger than anything we could have ever dreamed. So when He wrestles with you, don’t give up. A greater faith is coming.

 There Are Always Questions:

  1. There are so many questions I could ask about the wrestling match itself. Why did God wrestle with Jacob physically? Why so long? Why did God decide that daybreak was the cutoff? Why did God cripple Jacob? Perhaps it was only once Jacob’s physical strength was sapped that God could bless him with the faith and assurance he was after? Maybe Jacob’s wrestling was in part a result of faith in himself, and his crippled leg finally forced him to lean wholly on God, thus his request for a blessing?

What do you think? How would you answer these questions? What jumped out at you from this chapter of the Bible? Why do you think God added this chapter in His love letter to you?


3 thoughts on “The Wonderful World of Wrestling (Genesis 32)

  1. I believe that the wrestling was a wrestle of faith. Jacob represents us when we ask God for something, and then wrestle with doubt as we wait for what we have asked for. God actually wrestles with us because we do not deserve any blessings we are unworthy. So God wrestles with us to see if we will give up our faith. Will we hold on when things get worse? Will we hold on, even when it seems that God is not listening? If so, we will be named “Israel”, princes and princesses who have fought with God and won.


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