Jacob is an interesting character.
One meaning for his name is "leg puller."
Of course this doesn't mean that Jacob was a practical joker.
Although, he and his mom pulled a pretty good *switcheroo* on good ol' Isaac. (Which seemed like a terrible thing to do to an old blind man, right?!)
And do I even need to mention the whole fiasco where Esau traded his birthright for a yummy bowl of stew? (Though I think Esau takes the blame on this one).
Maybe Jacob wasn't a practical joker, but he was rather sneaky, don't you think?
However, I do love how the Bible doesn't pull any punches when writing about some of our beloved characters.
This is the family tree from which the Messiah will be born??
God is outrageous, if nothing else!!
The above facts are interesting indeed.
But the reason I like Jacob is for another reason.
You know, the whole scene with Jacob's nighttime wrestling match is a bit mysterious. And yet, every time I read the account, I strangely feel this inner sense of excitement, of anticipation. Almost unwillingly, a smile sneaks to my face.
Why, I wonder?
Part of it is definitely because I feel that my faith journey is this sort of wrestling match. A match in which my faith battles my feelings, in which I strive to hold on to it in spite of life's adverse circumstances.
But, there's something else.
It's this – the whole scene is rather intimate.
One-on-one with God –
(Or the pre-incarnate Jesus, or an angel, or at the very least, a God-ordained emissary sent with a purpose. Commentaries vary on this opinion – and in the end, to my thoughts, it doesn't perhaps matter…)
I like the idea of a wrestling faith, for it fits the way I am.
But this year, the Year of JOY, I am finding that the struggle is evolving into something different.
Instead of struggling against God, I am actually striving to find Him.
So, let's discuss this – and I'm going to talk about it in two parts. For this is what I see – the fight and the aftermath.
The word struggle implies making great physical effort to fight. To make a valiant effort to overcome difficulties. To writhe to escape. To thrash about.
Yup, that describes what this faith wrestling has felt like.
In the Biblical account of Jacob's story, we can see our own struggles against fears, darkness, loneliness, inadequacy, vulnerability. We can identify with Jacob's empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion, and relentless pain.
But when we strive in our own might, our own power fails.
I can't tell you how much I have wanted to escape the turmoil that this year has brought. I am tired of troubles, and wearied by contending for a good "faith attitude" in the midst of them.
I honestly feel like my spirit has been in a *winner-take-all* tussle with God.
Do I want to win?
Well, yeah, sometimes I think I do – IF it means having a restful respite from all the tough stuff for a while. (Writhing to escape? Yes, a perfect description…)
But if it means losing something from God, then no…
And that is where the pivot point is happening for me.
In my mind, there's two kinds of surrender. There's lying on the wrestling mat, pinned underneath the overpowering hand of God and crying out, "OK, OK, 'Uncle,' you win!" – which is a begrudging *giving up* concession to the greater power of His might.
And then there's the other kind. The kind that says, "Lord, I cannot fight You and win. I don't want the fight anymore, I want You."
Frederick Buechner, one of the most read authors by Christian audiences, characterizes Jacob's divine encounter as the "magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God."
Yes, that's it.
When Jacob fought God in his own strength, he was only able to forestall God's intended purpose towards him.
But if God had chosen to unleash His full power, Jacob would have been crushed. So, somewhere in the early hours of the morning, something changes in Jacob.
This is where the second part begins.
Somewhere along the line, Jacob's life and character moves from reliance on self to reliance on God – the One who moves from "divine Antagonist to Friend."
Can you imagine what it would be like if God fought against us with all of His might?
(Don't – it's scary!)
But, just as He did with Jacob, God mercifully restrains His hand. His way of overcoming us is through love. Some have said that the only way we can "defeat" God is to reject Him.
Well, though not a defeat in the true sense of the word, it is a way to thwart Him.
God, our perfect God of perfect love, wants to win us by our choosing to yield to Him.
This is what the wrestling is about. We must be weaned from our dependence on self. It must be broken, hobbled, and defeated. Only then, when we accurately perceive our weakness – only then, can we grab onto the Hand that will infuse us with His mighty strength and power.
This is what I am learning about my wrestling.
Though I desperately want the *bad* to stop – it isn't worth it to me to lose the blessing in order to achieve it.
And what's the blessing?
Knowing God – in an ever more intimate way.
This is where my turning point has come – I am moving from wrestling to wanting more of God.
This is the turning point for Jacob, too. I find this passage startling in its account:
"But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'
'What is your name?' the man asked.
He replied, 'Jacob.'
…'Please tell me your name,' Jacob said.
'Why do you want to know my name?' the man replied.
Then he blessed Jacob there.
Jacob named the place Peniel (which means "face of God"), for he said, 'I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.'" (From Genesis 32, NLT)
It was at this point that Jacob was finally capable of receiving the full blessing from God. Emptied of himself, weak in his exhaustion, awash in his own powerlessness, he finally recognizes God.
A God who has lovingly allowed the wrestling until Jacob yielded.
A commentary I read said it this way:
"…he needed to have his heart thus cleansed and softened, and then opened wide by panting desire for the presence and benediction of God; he needed to be made conscious of his new standing, and of the higher life budding within him; he needed to experience the yearning for a closer vision of the face, a deeper knowledge of the name – and then it was possible to pour into his heart a tenderness and fullness of blessing which before there had been no room to receive, and which now answered in sweetest fashion the else unanswered desire, 'Tell me, I pray thee, Thy name.'"
(Alexander MacLaren, commentary)
"…panting desire for the presence and benediction of God…"
Do you love this phrase as much as I do?!
Yes, it describes it exactly – I pant for Him, thirst for Him, hunger for Him, feel like I will literally die if I can't feel Him close.
I so need Him.
And it is this desire that is the goal of God all along. He desires that we desire Him – with "all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind."
We can be filled with God only when we are emptied of ourselves. For this is when we are finally capable of longing for Him fully, a desire that God cannot help but satisfy, for we were made for Him.
God blessed Jacob only after Jacob asked to know His Name.
This has become the deep cry of my heart, too:
"Bless me, Lord, for I would know You."
As Charles Wesley put it, in his grand hymn on this incident ("Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown"):
"Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair…
Wrestling I will not let Thee go Till I Thy name, Thy nature know…
My strength is gone, my nature dies, I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive…and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know."
What beauty there is in our refrain, "I will not let You go."
Our lives were never meant to be easy. And this is especially true when we attempt to "do life" in our own strength.
But despite our trials and tribulations, we are never without God's presence.
His blessing ever follows the messy and chaotic struggle.
Wrestling matches lead to intimate encounters.
And when we cling to Him, the victory belongs to Him...and to us.
"Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him. There at Bethel he met God face to face, and God spoke to him – the LORD God of Heaven's Armies, the LORD is his name!" (Hosea 12:4, NLT)
"Then he said, 'Let me go, for the day has broken.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'" (Genesis 32:26, ESV)
"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
...Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you...
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me...
I say to God my Rock, 'Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?' My bones suffer mortal agony...
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."
(From Psalm 42, NIV)
"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1, ESV)
"My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 84:2, NIV)
"My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you." (Isaiah 26:9, NIV)
"I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land...Answer me quickly, O LORD! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me..." (Psalm 143:6-7, ESV)
"For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things." (Psalm 107:9, ESV)
"'For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.'" (Jeremiah 31:25, ESV)
"He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power." (Isaiah 40:29, NASB)
"...he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12, ESV)
How do you identify with Jacob? What are you learning in the wrestling?
Linked today with:
SHARING HIS BEAUTY, UNFORCED RHYTHMS, PLAYDATES WITH GOD, MONDAY'S MUSINGS, SOLI DEO GLORIA, TELL ME A TRUE STORY, UNITE, TITUS 2 TUESDAYS, TESTIMONY TUESDAY, A LITTLE R & R WEDNESDAY, WHOLEHEARTED WEDNESDAYS, CAPTURE YOUR JOURNEY, WHIMSICAL WEDNESDAYS, THREE WORD WEDNESDAY, TELL HIS STORY, WORD FILLED WEDNESDAY, WINSOME WEDNESDAY, COFFEE FOR YOUR HEART, WORDS OF LIFE WEDNESDAY, FAITH BARISTA, THOUGHT-PROVOKING THURSDAY, THRIVING THURSDAY, THRIVE AT HOME THURSDAY,
BLOG = "Blessedly Leaning On God!"