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.
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