Many of you, along with myself, have been watching the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas unfold on our TV and computer screens. We witnessed with horror as Hamas terrorists launched hundreds of rockets into Israel on October 7th, and then engaged in a Nazi style blitzkrieg across the border where they kidnapped hundreds of Israelis and murdered hundreds more. And the fact that we live in a time when people struggle to believe what they are hearing and seeing from the news outlets has created a great amount of confusion within the United States. There was once a time, not long ago, when the overwhelming majority of Americans would be in support of Israel. But, alas, that is no longer the case.
Recently, a member of my church emailed me a question about the story of Jacob wrestling with God. What is the point of that story? Why is it there? And what are we supposed to learn from it?
Jacob’s wrestling with God is a foreshadowing of the nature of the relationship the nation of Israel would have with God and with the world. This is one of the most important themes running through this section of Genesis (chaps 28-36). The story of Jacob, going all the way back to his birth, is the story of Jacob constantly wrestling with God (directly or against God’s plan for his life) to secure God’s blessing. The story of Jacob begins with him wrestling with Esau in the womb (25:22). Rebekah is there told the older will serve the young, thus, ensuring God will enter into a covenant with Jacob, not Esau. These “two nations” inside Rebekah’s womb represent God’s people and those outside the covenant community. Jacob will continue to wrestle with his brother and with God’s providence (God’s plan for his life) by manipulating his brother out of his birthright (25:29-34) and by manipulating Isaac to steal Esau’s blessing (chap. 27). Jacob wrestles with Laban to marry the daughter he originally wanted to marry in the first place (29:1-30). He then wrestles with Laban over the legitimacy of the flock God had blessed him with (30:25-43). Even Jacob’s preferred wife, Rachel, finds herself wrestling with God directly or indirectly in some sense. In the Hebrew, Genesis 30:8 can be read: “Then Rachel said, 'With wrestlings of God I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed;' and she called his name Napthali.” Then Jacob actually wrestles with God himself (32:22-32). Initially he does not know he is wrestling with God. He is simply attacked in the dark by a man. But eventually he somehow comes to realize he has been wrestling with God himself (32:30) and, thus, will not release him without a blessing. It is the irony of Jacob’s life. On the one hand, he is constantly wrestling with God, yet also desires to be blessed by God. Jacob’s name is then changed to Israel (wrestles with God). Thus, God’s people (Israel) will forever be identified as those who wrestle with God, yet at the same time desire to be blessed by God. This is true throughout the Old Testament. Jacob’s wrestling with Esau finally ends with the two of them being reconciled (33:4). Throughout the narrative Jacob represents the covenant people of God (Israel) and Esau represents those outside the covenant. However, ultimately, all of this points forward to Christ as Scripture depicts Jesus as being the true Israel (Jacob) of God (Matt 2:15; 3:13-17; 4:1; 5:1). Christ is the one who wrestles with God (Matt 26:36-44). Christ is the one who is wounded for having wrestled with God (Is 53:5). And Christ is the one who brings reconciliation to those outside the covenant (Matt 10:11; Eph 2:12-13).
Jacob is also a picture of ourselves. How often do we wrestle with God? How often do we wrestle with God’s will for our life? How often do we wrestle with God’s Word when it rubs us the wrong way, when we don’t like what it says or what it is telling us to do? Yet, at the same time we desire to be blessed by God. We want to receive the blessings of God while simultaneously resisting his will. Praise God that if we have placed faith in Christ, then by the power of the Holy Spirit we have been brought into union with Christ (true Israel), and that can never be lost nor forfeited.
Years ago, I remember trying to share the gospel with a co-worker who said to me, “There are two things I never talk about—religion and politics. Too divisive.” And I remember saying to him, “But those are the two most important things worth talking about.” One has to do with the future of our nation, and the other has to do with the future of one’s soul. The latter, of course, being infinitely more important than the former. Yet, his response is not uncommon in our current culture. We live in a time when most people do not like to deal with controversial topics. Most people dislike controversy so much they end up on one extreme or the other. They either avoid it all together or they are over-the-top, in your face screaming because they would rather shout you down rather than deal with a difficult topic.
In his 1693 Baptist catechism, Benjamin Keach, a Reformed Baptist pastor and theologian, asks the following second question: “What is the chief end of man?” That is, why does mankind exist? Why did God create people? Answer: “Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That is absolutely true and correct and there are copious places in scripture one can go to substantiate that. In Isaiah 43:6-7, scripture tells us that God created and formed all people for his own glory. In the book of Romans, we are told that all things were created “from [God] and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (11:36). And in the book of Revelation, we see the heavenly beings singing worship to God, day and night saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (4:11). God is worthy of worship and praise because he is the Creator and we are the creature. He is the one who has “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God” (Acts 17:26-27).
When Jesus first began his ministry in Luke chapter 4, we read that he entered a synagogue in Nazareth and was handed a copy of the book of Isaiah to read from. He then finds Isaiah 61:1-3, quoted in Luke 4:18, and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (italics added).
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