Jacob’s Wrestling Match

Hi, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me.”

Today we come to a famous story in the book of Genesis (chapter 32) in the Bible: the story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel. Whole books have been written on this story. So we won’t develop a scholarly interpretation, we will use it to encourage our prayers. Here’s the story.

God had made big promises to Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather.  These promises were passed to Isaac, Jacob’s father, who was supposed to pass them on to Esau, Jacob’s older brother. Jacob felt left out. He wanted in on the promises. So once when Esau was hungry, Jacob convinced him to sell the promises for a bowl of stew. Later, when their father Isaac was preparing to pass the promises to Esau, Jacob disguised himself as his brother and tricked Isaac into passing the promises to him.

When Esau discovered Jacob’s trickery, he threatened to kill him. So Jacob moved out of the country to live with his uncle Laban.

Living with uncle Laban, Jacob became a rich man with 2 wives, 2 concubines, 11 sons, at least one daughter, and lots of sheep and cattle and goats. When Jacob wore out his welcome with Laban, he headed home to Canaan. While travelling, he heard that Esau, the brother he ripped off many years ago, was coming with 400 armed men to meet his slow caravan of women and children and livestock. Jacob got scared and thought, “Genocide! If Esau is as angry as he was a few years ago, he will kill us all.” What to do?

Jacob decided to pray. He said, “Uh, God, I’d like to remind you about the promises that got passed on to me. One was that I would have lots of descendants. But now, it looks like Esau wants to wipe us out. God, you’d better intervene in this mess and prevent Esau from killing me, and make sure that you keep your promises.”

Hmm. That sounds like an edited version of Jacob’s story. Without the edits, he might have sounded like this: “Dear God, remember that birthright I stole from my brother Esau? And tricked Isaac into passing to me? God, I need you to start delivering on those promises. Now, already. You need to protect me, because I stole those promises fair and square. So it’s YOUR job, God, to save my life from a murderous Esau.”

If I were God, I am pretty sure that’s not a prayer I would answer. Don’t you think prayer should be a little more honest and a little more generous than that?

That night, as Jacob was camped out waiting for Esau, God showed up as an angel, and wrestled all night with him. At the end of the night, when it was not clear who was winning, God said, “What is your name?” “I’m Jacob,” came the answer.

That was an amazing moment, because Jacob finally admitted who he really was: Jacob the cheat, Jacob the liar, Jacob the manipulator, Jacob the thief. But also Jacob who desperately wanted the blessing from God and was prepared to wrestle all night to find it. God responded by changing Jacob’s name to Israel, which started a new phase in Jacob’s relationship to God. Perhaps in answer to Jacob’s prayer, or perhaps just because Esau’s anger had abated with time and success, Esau was glad to see Jacob. He hugged him and offered to help.

Here are our lessons from Jacob’s prayer and wrestling with God.

The first: God was willing to show up in the mess Jacob made of his life and give him a new start with a new name. Don’t you wish God would do that for you?

The second lesson: sometimes prayer is the process of wrestling through who we are and how we present ourselves. Sometimes we wear makeup or a mask, so we look civilized, reasonable, and honest. But part of prayer is letting God wrestle away the image we have created until we see the person we really are: full of envy, fear, distortions, or anger.

And the third lesson: God is big enough to receive and bless us when we tell him who we really are, acknowledging the good and the bad. In the end, God is for us, not against us, in our journey through life.

Dear God, we hardly know who we are, and how can we know you if we keep deceiving ourselves? Come into our lives, wrestle our hearts until we know and speak the truth, and bless us, oh our God.

Thank you for listening. I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with me”.

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