Wrestling Matches With God
June 15, 2017 | by: Dave Maniquis | 0 Comments
Posted in: Theology
It goes without saying that professional sports are deeply embedded in our culture. One such sport has always made me scratch my head, wondering why it’s attractive to its fans. I’m speaking about pro wrestling. Most people watch pro wrestling with all its characters and drama for its entertainment value. And although it’s not considered a “legitimate” competitive sports match, if you spoke with a devoted fan they would probably acknowledge that unlike competitive sports it is, indeed, all scripted. The outcome is already determined, but they wouldn’t say it’s fake. After all, fake implies what the wrestlers do is unreal, which isn’t true. They actually are wrestling. This accounts for why fans can identify with their favorite wrestling hero and root them on in the excitement of all their antics in roped 20’ x 20’ ring.
The account of the wrestling match in Genesis 32 between Jacob and God is intriguing to say the least. We know that it’s also “scripted” by the ultimate Scriptwriter—God Himself. We read with anticipation and intuitively realize the outcome is pre-determined. But in no way can we call it fake. Because what goes on here is as real as it was during the event as it is for us today, as we look at it millenia later.
It’s because the kind of blessing that Jacob craved after by trying all other means to achieve happiness and fulfillment, can still leave a person in turmoil…inwardly. It’s the person who has come to realize that only God can satisfy, the person who comes to realize that God need not accept them. Yet there’s a refusal to take “no” for an answer, even from God; especially when fear and anxiety seems to be drowning them in unrelenting waves.
This whole scene showcases the paradox of the human condition; and particularly of the Christian when it’s necessary for God to show us who we already are and who we are still yet to be. On the one hand, God does allow us to be put in difficult or seemingly impossible circumstances, physically or emotionally. But here’s the thing: He’s the same God who delivers us from them. It was God who had brought Jacob to this crisis situation where he had to confront Esau. But it’s the same God who would victoriously bring him through it. That is exactly what happens next after this scene.
Interesting isn’t it? In this confrontation with God, we almost forget about Jacob’s impending face-to-face with his brother. Peniel means the face of God. When Jacob names the place Peniel it shows that God in gracious condescension yielded to Jacob and let him win like a father arm wrestling with his little boy.
I remember arm wrestling with my son when he was little. I knew I could slam his little hand flat on the table and he knew it as well. The paradoxical outcome was that as his father I always won by allowing my little boy experience the joy of victory. I won by taking delight in seeing my son blessed and knowing that he understood and appreciated who favored him by letting him win the match--by permitting him to have victorious power at that human level. He could see me seated before him face to face. He would be humbled knowing that I accommodated his perseverance. He knew who he contended with at the kitchen table. So, we both walked away winners.
It’s the same here with Jacob at Peniel. And it’s the same for you if you wrestle with God in your fears and tears, real or imagined, as they persistently nag at you. You want relief.
The consequences of sin themselves are real and you may go on limping from them. We all bear scars don’t we? But that’s different than open wounds. And Jesus is the only one who can close them. The difference is that unlike Jacob, God doesn’t need to actually dislocate your hip to remind you that you have struggled with God. He sent His Son to take on the punishment for sin on your behalf forever. And he has sent his Holy Spirit to soothe your soul to remind you of who you’re dealing with during those forgetful moments. Indeed, during those times when we can forget who has our best interests and want to begin another wrestling match that we have scripted.
God’s favor applies to those who acknowledge the only one who has the authority, power and means to truly bless. It applied to Jacob back then, it applied to the early church and its disciples, and it still applies to us now through Jesus Christ. This reality reminds me to “limp” every now and then while I persevere in my walk of faith in Jesus, lest if forget that it’s “God from whom all blessings flow.”
“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.” Genesis 32:24–31 (NIV84)
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b; NIV
Dave Maniquis is a Gospel Partner at Restoration Church. He holds a BA in History from Rutgers University and an MA in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. He enjoyed a 23-year career in the U.S. government, working and traveling extensively in Western and Eastern Europe. He has been a Christian for most of his adult life and has been involved in church planting, overseas as well as here in Port Orange, teaching the Bible and speaking into others’ lives with the Gospel. He is married to Maureen and they have two wonderful sons, Dylan and Evan.