Jacob Wrestled with God and Won?
Questions to ponder before you attend Connect Croup:
- Why would God wrestle with a man? Couldn’t God just blast Jacob to bits if He wanted to?
- Did Jacob really win the fight?
- After being blessed, what new name did Jacob give the place, and what does the name mean (Genesis 32:30)?
In order to reveal Himself to man and to convey that He had manifested Himself in the past, God often referred to Himself as the “God of Abraham”, “God of Isaac”, and “God of Jacob”. The reasons He wanted to be identified with Abraham and Isaac are obvious but why would God identify Himself with a scoundrel like Jacob?
1. Self-centered Jacob
Jacob, the younger twin of Esau was full of great ambition. He did not let anything get in his way of obtaining the birthright. It so happened that Esau returned famished from a hunting trip and gave up his birthright to his brother for a mere bowl of stew (Genesis 25:27-34). As such, to Jacob, personal ambition over-rode the blood relationship between him and his brother.
Having cunningly traded the birthright with his brother, Jacob then deceived his father. Aware that his last days would soon approach, Isaac desired to bless his first born son Esau. To do so, Isaac commanded Esau to bring some delicacy for Isaac to eat. Esau complied with his father’s request and went out to hunt. The scheming Jacob took this opportunity to disguise himself as Esau with his mother Rebekah’s help and took some delicacies to his father. Now, Isaac (whose eyes had been failing him) did not recognize the disguise and believed Esau had brought him the delicacies. After eating, Isaac unknowingly blessed his second son. Jacob deceived his own father so that he could be blessed.
Esau returned from this hunt, realized what Jacob had done and vowed to take Jacob’s life. To flee from Esau’s wrath, Jacob fled to his maternal uncle’s house in Haran (Genesis 27).
Even while residing in his uncle’s house, Jacob was deceived by and in turn deceived his uncle. It took Jacob 14 long years of servitude rather than the seven which he had agreed with to claim Rachel (given to him seven days after his marriage to Leah) as his wife. Jacob was also cheated out of receiving just wages for his years of service.
2. Jacob Wrestled with an Angel
Jacob entered into a contract with his uncle and through an ingenious and deceptive plan Jacob made himself a wealthy man. He took his family and all the wealth he had amassed and stole away by night heading for the land of his father. As he neared his father’s land, rather than being joyful, his heart began to be troubled out of fear of his brother’s wrath. Jacob devised a plan as he neared the Jabbok River, forgetting God’s promise that He would always be with him and protect him. God had a plan to greatly bless Jacob and his descendants. However, Jacob’s self-centeredness and forgetfulness prevented God from being able to use him. So, God decided to teach Jacob a lesson.
God sent an angel to wrestle with Jacob all night in order to break Jacob’s self-centeredness and self-reliance. Failing to overpower Jacob, the angel finally hit Jacob’s hipbone and turned him into a cripple. Jacob (sensing that his whole life may depend on this moment), held fast to the angel and asked to be blessed. As a result, God blessed Jacob and gave him a new name, “Israel”. While the name Jacob meant “a cheat/a swindler”, the name Israel meant “the one who fought with God and won” or “prince of God” (Genesis 32:24-32). A selfish deceiver had become a man of God. At the same time, God softened Esau’s heart so he would forgive Jacob. Esau’s army was probably sent to kill Jacob instead Esau offered it to become Jacob’s family’s escort (Genesis 33:10-17)!
3. Jacob’s Descendants Became a Useful Threshing Board
“Fear not…Jacob…Seeing, I will make you into a threshing sledge (board), new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff” (Isaiah 41:14-15).
A threshing board was a very important instrument. It was a board with a sharp bottom used to separate the grain from the straw. Thus, a new and sharp threshing board symbolizes that though Jacob began as a deceiver his descendents became a very useful instrument in the hands of the Lord.
First, to become useful to God, our pride, like Jacob’s, must be humbled. It’s easy to become proud and arrogant because we depend and trust in our own abilities and strengths and forget that God gave them to us. When we humble ourselves before God, He can turn us into a new threshing board, an instrument that is very useful to Him.
Second, just as Jacob was broken and bowed completely to God’s will and authority, we need to be broken like Jacob and come under God’s will and authority, obeying His commands. Made into a new threshing machine, we must demolish all barriers – even ones as big as mountains. When we do so, we will find all the treasures that are hidden in those mountains.
Third, we must offer prayers of thanks regardless of what situations we may be in. Such faith and prayers of thanks will pave the way for God to turn us into a new threshing sledge.
 It must be pointed out that the passage does not say that God could not overcome Jacob, only that He did not. Jacob did prevail with God in his wrestling match, although in many ways he did not really overcome God, for he had been immobilized by the dislocation of his hip. His only act was to cling tenaciously to God and, in the words of Hosea, “He wept and sought His favor” (12:4). In this sense, and this alone, God was “overcome” by Jacob. In this same way we who are His children and the heirs of His blessings can prevail with God.