men wrestling on dirt
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Believe it or not, I used to be a tomboy when I was a little girl. Hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, and a small frame adorned by overalls or a camouflage outfit, I was a daddy’s girl. Fishing, shooting bows, picking up dead snake skins, you name it, the messier it was, the more I enjoyed it. But of all the phrases I outgrew as I matured into a girly girl, wrestling never was a habit I obtained.

When I got to middle school, I remember steering away from the girls who liked to rough house. In fact, I was so tiny, that I’m sure even if I did want to participate in their matches, they would’ve squeezed me to a pulp! Nevertheless, wrestling is something I wonder if all of us do with God from time to time, but would rather not admit it.

A Different Kind of Wrestling

In Genesis chapter 32, Jacob was going to meet Esau but was fearful. And in case you’re not familiar, it was because he’d gravely wronged him over the years. 

In prior chapters, Jacob not only deceived his brother Esau but caused Esau to hate him. Esau even declared he would go after Jacob in hot pursuit and kill him for how he’d taken his blessing (Genesis 27:41). Now many chapters later, however, Jacob sends gifts and his family ahead as a cry and plea for mercy and forgiveness. In the silence, Jacob is left to face the voices in his mind and the monsters ahead of him. 

“Jacob gave the same instructions to the second and third herdsmen and to all who followed behind the herds: “You must say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob thought, “I will try to appease him by sending gifts ahead of me. When I see him in person, perhaps he will be friendly to me.” So the gifts were sent on ahead, while Jacob himself spent that night in the camp” (‭‭Genesis‬ ‭32:19-21‬ , New Living Translation). 

Immediately after sending gifts and his family ahead of him to meet Esau and the army of 400 with him, Jacob encounters a restless night. Can you relate? 

You’re anxious, fearful, and exhausted. 

You’re looking forward to a night of shut-eye because at least there, you can dream away your realities. 

But then, lying wide awake, your nightmares become truth. No more running from monsters. They are knocking on your front door. 

Sleepless nights get added to the tumultuous terror. 

And that’s exactly where we meet Jacob. 

“During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” “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.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. (Even today the people of Israel don’t eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob’s hip)” (‭‭Genesis‬ ‭32:22-32‬ , New Living Translation). 

After Jacob wrestled with God all night, he was blessed and given a new name (Israel-God-Wrestler). As verse 30 indicates, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” Yet, the most profound thing about Jacob’s interaction with God is not that he wrestled all night but what the wrestling taught him and teaches us.

In the Dark, Our Blessings Come

When Jacob was in this fight, he couldn’t see his opponent. It was dark, and the man he was fighting remained anonymous until Jacob asked to be blessed. Even then, Jacob received an injury with his blessing because of the wrestling. And sometimes, we don’t realize who or what we’re fighting, or the blessing we will receive on the other side of it. 

All his life, Jacob had been a deceiver. And up until this moment, he was a mastermind at getting what he wanted by running away. Even his name, from the second he popped out of the womb, meant “grabber” or “deceiver.” He was a liar, thief, and con artist at best. He’d created many tensions with his family through much hostility, and ran away from Laban and Esau in the process. 

Like any man, he had his highs and lows. After all, we cannot forget the fourteen years he spent working to earn a woman he loved or the steps he took to try and redeem the faults in his life. But the night Jacob wrestled with God, he truly changed. And why?

Because at that moment, facing his fears all alone, Jacob knew that he had been promised to become a great nation. Yet, here he was, having to stand face-to-face with his brother Esau who’d vowed to kill him. Jacob fled Laban and Esau in the past, but he would have to face one of them now. And on his darkest night, a blessing came.

I believe on our darkest nights, blessings can come, too. 

In a place where Jacob never expected to find himself, the Lord richly blessed him beyond anything he could ever ask or imagine. This is why verses 29-30 say that he struggled with God, but God blessed him there with a new name and a new purpose. And the funny thing is, God never said “I am God wrestling with you,” yet he still blessed him. I wonder how many times we wrestle with God today not knowing it’s Him, yet He still faithfully chooses to bless us along the way.

A Challenge 

Genesis 32 recounts the story of a man who learned to face his fears, and failures, and defeats the hard way: on a singular night. And maybe for you, you’ve encountered dozens of those nights. Sleepless, wrestling with something beyond the blankets you throw on and off a hundred times. But this is where Jesus flips Christianity on its head.

Our culture praises money, power, strength, confidence, victory, and all-knowingness, but it criticizes poverty, fear, weakness, failure, doubt, and unknowingness. 

And in the Bible, we’re specifically told it’s weak who are strong. 

The poor are truly rich. 

The failures become victors. 

The unknown, who will know all. 

Those who taste the darkest nights will reap the brightest days. 

Jacob’s story illustrates this harsh reality. And it’s only during Jacob’s darkest and loneliest night, his place of surrender—a place where all his fears, darkness, loneliness, isolation, despair, vulnerability, powerlessness, exhaustion, and pain–that He meets God and is abundantly blessed by Him.

Perhaps it’s only when we face those things and realize that we can’t do anything without Him (the source of life Himself), that we are blessed. 

Jacob wrestled with these things with God all night long. He wasn’t blessed until he realized he couldn’t survive those harsh realities of life without God. He needed his blessing.

Today, we can and still do struggle and wrestle with God and His will. Some days it’s a fight that lasts in the ring for an hour. Other nights, it’s a battle that goes on for weeks, months, and years until we’re ready to listen. Nevertheless, His joy and blessing come in the morning. 

Agape, Amber