Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wrestling with God

So, Lydia's probably right. I oughtn't to put in all that stuff about wrestling and not mention somewhere the Bible's big wrestling match.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Jabbok Ford Conference Center for our main event. In this corner, in a return appearance from Padan Aram, weighing in at not-too-many pounds, The Beersheba Heel Grasper, master of the Bethel Stone Sleeper, Jaaaaaaacob ben IIIIIsaac. His Opponent, from parts unknown, A Man, maybe an angel, perhaps The Lord God Almighty, The God of Abraham and Fear of Isaac!"

So most of us know the story from Genesis 32. Jacob is returning from exile with Laban and gets word that Esau is coming to meet him on the way. Jacob sends out a bunch of gifts of livestock to delay his brother, sends his family across the Jabbok River, and waits. In the night he encounters "a man" and wrestles with him all night. When the morning comes and the man sees that Jacob will not let him go, he puts Jacob's hip out of joint. The man asks Jacob to let him go and Jacob refuses unless the man blesses him. The man renames Jacob, Israel, saying, "You have striven with God and men and you have prevailed." Jacob again asks the man's name, but the other responds, "Why is it that you ask my name?". Then he blesses Israel and departs. Jacob renames the place, Peniel ("Face of God), saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." Then he goes on and meets Esau and things turn out generally well.

Over the years I've mostly heard and read this passage as an encouragement to persevere in prayer. Jacob hangs on until God blesses him. Likewise we should press into God for blessing. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force." There's something to that, especially in light of Jesus' teaching about persistance in prayer in Luke 11 and 18. However, my OT Survey professor, Dr. Beitzel, suggested something different. What if this story was not an encouragement but a warning? Jacob struggles with God all night and is crippled by it, but he will not let go. Jacob is stubborn. One of the most frequent accusations against Israel by the prophets is that they are a stiff-necked people. They will not bend to God's will. Perhaps the name Israel is as much a curse and a prophecy as it is an honor and a blessing. If we lived by faith and trust in a wise and good God, when would it be good not to submit? Too often I wrestle with God not to gain blessing from Him but to prevent Him from taking away my sin. I try to become Israel when I could be Judah ("Praise" and the line that survived) or, better still, Yeshua (The Lord Saves, Jesus), the image He's trying to make me into. Some of us are wrestling, struggling, fighting to hold onto God's promises and blessing. I suspect most of us are wrestling and fighting to hold onto this world; this world that He would replace with blessing and eternity. It's time for most of us to stop wrestling with God, fall on our face, and worship Him.

"Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him." Psalm 2:11-12 (ESV)