Published 2-13-2016 by Desiring God
Staff writer, desiringGod.org
What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it?
There are times when God only releases his blessings on us after a season of prolonged and even painful wrestling with him.
Strangest Wrestling Match in History
In Genesis 32, Jacob is on his way back home to Canaan with his small tribe of wives and children after a twenty year sojourn in Paddan-aram. And he is scared to death, because his estranged brother, Esau, is coming to meet him — with four hundred men (Genesis 32:6). This is no welcome party; it’s an army.
So after splitting up his household into two camps to try and avoid complete annihilation, Jacob, understandably suffering insomnia, intends to spend the night alone — no doubt in desperate prayer.
“All of our struggling with God in faith leads to peace.”
But a strange man who shows up and wrestles Jacob till daybreak rudely interrupts his plans. At some point during this weird contest Jacob realizes that he is wrestling God. And when God decides it’s time to end the match, he dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands to be released. And Jacob, in significant pain, replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
This response clearly pleases God, who pronounces this blessing on Jacob: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob [deceiver], but Israel [strives with God], for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
Jacob then limps toward his tense reunion with Esau with a weakened body and a strengthened faith. Having wrestled with God, he knows his prayers regarding Esau will be answered.
Blessings Through Wrestling
Take note of what God did when he wrestled Jacob. Jacob began the night dreading Esau’s arrival. He was full of fear and desperation. But he ended the night of struggle with God’s blessing and a renewed faith. All of our struggling with God in faith leads to peace.
And isn’t it interesting that God did not simply speak to Jacob in a dream or vision as he had at other times (Genesis 31:13) and reiterate his promise and speak comforting words? This time God addressed Jacob’s fear by requiring him to wrestle all night. This probably felt to Jacob like a badly timed hassle when he just wanted comfort and assurance. But later he realized just how comforting it was. Sometimes when we want God’s comfort, he sends it in unexpected and even unwanted packages.
“If necessary, God will cause us to limp to increase our faith.”
God even afflicted Jacob with a debilitating injury. This had the effect of making Jacob even more vulnerable to Esau, forcing Jacob’s faith to more fully rest on God and not himself. If necessary, God will cause us to limp to increase our faith.
Lastly, wrestling with God changed Jacob’s identity. He was no longer to be known as one who received his blessing by deception. This time he received God’s blessing by prevailing with God by faith. This struggle turned out to be a profoundly gracious gift of restoration that God gave Jacob, not unlike the gift Jesus gave Peter by letting Peter affirm his love for Jesus as many times as he had denied it (John 21:15–17). Jacob’s tenacious faith pleased God and he rewarded Jacob’s request (Hebrews 11:6). When God calls us to wrestle with him, there’s always more going on than we first understand and God always uses it to transform us for good.
God Wants to Bless You
When God makes us wrestle him for some blessing(s), it is not because God is reluctant to bless us, even if that’s how it first feels. It is because he has more blessings for us in the wrestling than without it.
Remember, God pursued Jacob for this match. God was the initiator. Jacob was stewing in his own anxiety over Esau and his approaching slaughter squad when God showed up. And the wrestling drew Jacob out of his fearful preoccupation and forced him to focus on God.
I doubt that Jacob wanted this forced focus or even believed he needed it at first. It wouldn’t surprise me if at the beginning Jacob had prayed, “God would you get rid of this guy? This is the last thing I need right now.” But what he discovered was that the wrestling was a means of God’s grace, a channel for God’s blessing on him.
The same is true for us.
So I’ll ask again. What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it? “Do not let God go until he blesses you.” God will meet you in your anguish, fear, and uncertainty. But he may not meet you in the way you expect or desire. Your greatest ally may show up looking at first like your adversary, inciting you to wrestle with him. If so, remember Jacob. There are multiple blessings in the wrestling. You may not need soft words of comfort, you may not need to be left alone with your thoughts, you may not need sleep, you may not even need a healthy hip! What you need is God’s blessing! So when God calls you to wrestle with him in prayer, it is an invitation to receive his blessing. Stay with him and don’t give up. Do not let him go until he blesses you! He loves to bless that kind of tenacious faith and you will come out transformed.
(Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as teacher and cofounder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities. )