Wrestling With God

Genesis 32:9-13, 22-30

Introduction

The last battle of recovery is the battle with God. 

When we have hurt everyone around us, ourselves, and our own decisions have caused a lot of pain we can’t resolve, it’s time to face the One who loves us relentlessly.  When we have repaired our relationship with God, we have the strength we need to overcome. Nobody does that perfectly but we need His help to make it long term in our lives. Treatment expert Brandon Brewer wrote, “God is truly the most important and limitless resource that any addict has available to them as they continue their quest to live a safe and happy life, free from the destructive and dangerous force of drug or alcohol abuse and addiction.” Finding out that God will help us escape the decisions of the past through forgiveness and grace is powerful! This is what Jacob finds out in our text today.

Last week we read about the miraculous birth of Isaac. When he was 36 years old,  Isaac’s mother Sarah died.  While he was in a field praying along came a caravan. When he met Rebekah he took her as her wife and Bible says he was comforted from his mother’s death. Isaac was the only one of the patriarchs who only had one wife. For 20 years Isaac and Rebekah were childless but God eventually blessed them with twins, Jacob and Esau. At the time of their birth, Esau was born first but Jacob seized his brother’s heel – a foreshadow of the day that Jacob would take Esau’s birthright. A complex story developed: Esau’s disregard for his birthright, Jacob and Rebekah deceiving the elderly ailing Isaac, and Jacob fleeing, fearing for his life. He met his match in his deceptive father in law, but then turned the tables. By the time we get to Genesis 32, 20 years later, Jacob has made a mess of his life. He was wealthy, but he had a way of shredding his relationships to pieces. Having to live in fear that Esau would hunt him down and kill him, in fear that his father in law would kill him after he dealt deceptively with him. He had been deceived and deceived others- he earned his name. Jacob means deceiver

It’s not hard to make a mess of things in our lives. Bad financial decisions, unhappy family decisions, reactions to some of the problems in life we face – and we end up being labeled as a result of those choices. Maybe you’ve been called stupid, unwanted, useless or burdensome, perhaps your name was ridiculed or distorted by people who thought it was funny to do so.  If you’ve ever tried to live down a label or a name, you  know that it can be a nightmare. 

Jacob’s choices and attitudes were a problem, but he found a way to face it one night while he was on the run.  Jacob wrestled God – what a sight that must have been. How have we wrestled with God in our lives? Wrestled to understand who God is? Wrestled with the demands of living for God? Wrestled to find peace with God? Wrestling with God always begins when we wrestling within.

Then Jacob said, “God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the  Lord  who said to me, ‘Go back to your land and to your family, and I will cause you to prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. Indeed, I crossed over the Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two camps. Please rescue me from my brother Esau, for I am afraid of him; otherwise, he may come and attack me, the mothers, and their children. You have said, ‘I will cause you to prosper, and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea, too numerous to be counted.’” He spent the night there … 

Genesis 32:9-13, CSB

WE WRESTLE WITHIN (Genesis 32:9-12)

We Wrestle to Believe (9). Going back to his family did not seem promising. “He was probably wrestling with his inner demons his whole life and came up losing every time. He was angry and confused and maybe even blamed God frequently. He was  deeply unsatisfied and yearned for a father than would give approval. He finds himself wrestling someone that has all the answers and he refuses to let go. Jacob won’t let go until he receives something that his earthly father never gave: a blessing.” What promises of God do you struggle to believe? 

We all have struggled with God. The Spirit may have convicted us of one of our favorite sins, or shone the light on our prejudice or sought to lead us out of our comfort zone. We wrestled—we didn’t want to do what the Spirit was asking us to do, but we knew that we should follow the Spirit’s leading. We made excuses, told ourselves we couldn’t do it but in the end hesitantly took the first steps of faithful obedience. All the time God patiently worked in our lives guiding, forgiving and loving us. God never stopped loving us.

Kevin Ruffcorn

We Wrestle With Our Messes (10-11). A prayer of humility from someone who has been so full of himself.  He is unworthy of God’s kindness, he is in “two camps” – he has not fully established himself as God’s man. Psalm 13:2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?… We must all come to the point of recognizing our unworthiness of all that God has done for us.  Jacob had stolen from his brother and now his family was in danger. In his prayer he acknowledges need of God’s rescue. Addiction has done a number on our families. All of us have made choices that resulted in messes that were hard on ourselves and others. Will God rescue us from these troubles? Does He know how?

We Wrestle With a Sliver of Faith (12). Jacob reminds God of his promise and he falls asleep . One way we can cling to God’s promises is to remind Him, and us, of what he has said he would do. This is a signal that we are not just believing in ourselves but in a powerful God who is able even when we do not feel able.

Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not defeat him, he struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. Then he said to Jacob, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. “Jacob,” he replied. “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” he said. “It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”But he answered, “Why do you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. Jacob then named the place Peniel, “For I have seen God face to face,” he said, “yet my life has been spared.”

Genesis 32:24-30, CSB

WE WRESTLE WITH GOD 

He Gives New Opportunities (24-26). It would have been easier to work through someone who hadn’t made such a mess of things – but God never runs away from a challenge. He was willing to meet Jacob where he was. He will meet you where you are as well … no matter where it is or what your life looks like. God isn’t repulsed, he is drawn to you.

He Gives New Identity (27-28). Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because of his tenacity and God used him to do great things. Israel means “He struggles with God.” 2. When we find our identity in our relationship with God we have found an awesome gift. 

He Gives New Life (29-30). Jacob wasn’t perfect, but when he faced this last battle of  getting his life together, he found God’s help to be sufficient. God is calling you to a new life today. So many people ignore the blessing God wants to give them. What about you?

Conclusion

Wrestling with God is not a bad thing – it might sometimes be a hard thing – but it is a way of saying that we engage with God. Are you wrestling with doubt? Addiction? Terrible habits? Thoughts?  Whatever we struggle with, we are actually struggling to believe God in those areas.  God wants to release us from the messy mistakes of our past through grace and forgiveness based on the blood of Jesus. We can look away, ignore Him, dismiss Him, but He never gives up on us. 

Nathan Aaseng tells a story about a high school wrestling match in Iowa between Ogden and Humboldt. Humboldt had a senior on their team with Down syndrome. He was not capable of wrestling at a competitive level and posed no challenge at all to any wrestler. But the coaches asked if anyone on the Ogden team would at least give the boy a chance to get out on the mat. An Ogden wrestler offered to take him on. He not only wrestled him for the entire six minutes, but allowed his opponent to beat him on points. He gave the Humboldt kid the thrill of not only competing but of raising his arms in victory. Both wrestlers got a standing ovation, and there was hardly a dry eye in the gymnasium. And for the first time, I understood what that Genesis story of a man wrestling with and prevailing against God was about.

Maybe today is the day you can wrestle with God, accept His prevailing power, and the new name He wants to give you! Let’s leave today saying with Jacob, “I have seen God face to face!”

LifeGroup Questions

1. Jacob’s life is not one we would admire. Corrine Carvalho summarizes, “In Genesis, Jacob is repeatedly depicted as a schemer. He convinces his brother to sell him his right to inherit as eldest son (25:29-34), and with the help of his mother, he tricks his father into giving him his brother’s blessing (27:1-40). He tricks Laban, his father-in-law, in order to receive the wages he had earned (30:37-43). These manipulations left him estranged from his family. As this story opens, Jacob has brought his large family back to this ancestral land, but he fears that his brother is seeking revenge. Jacob leaves his family to face his brother alone.”

*Why do you think God chooses to use such a corrupt individual to ultimately bring about such an influential nation? 

*How does this give us hope in light of our own mistakes, addictions, and messes?

*How does this instruct us in how we regard others who have made a mess out of life? 

2. What do you make of Jacob’s demand for a blessing from God during this wrestling match? How might this teach us about prayer? What might this teach us about perseverance in faith?

3. What were you doing 20 years ago? In this text, Jacob was deceiving his father and fleeing for his life. What would be the advice about living life for God you would give yourself 20 years ago if you could go back in time?

4. The sermon today referred to wrestling with God as “the Last battle of Recovery”. In what way is a relationship with God the final piece of the puzzle for overcoming our struggles? In what way is it true that we will always battle?

5. Jacob would go on, with God’s favor, to father twelve children who each led one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Can you name some ways that this is a part of God’s using Abraham to bless all nations and all people (See Genesis 12:3)?

6. When Jacob and Esau meet (not in our text), there is no bitterness in Esau. They embrace and weep to be back together. What are the real keys to forgiveness when a family member’s bad decisions have caused a rift? What are the boundaries that might need to be in place?

You’re invited to join me in my Facebook group discussing and sharing resources about the Narrative Lectionary HERE.

Resources

God’s Role in Recovery

The Power Behind Names

Blog Post: Wrestling With God, Surrendering Our Weaknesses

Wrestling With God  – Nathan Aaseng

Jacob Becomes Israel – Kevin Ruffcorn