Wrestling With God: Jacob the Luchador

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Text: Genesis 32:1-32

“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” –Genesis 32:24

It was the 80s. We had hair bands, parachute pants, and breakdancing. We also had Hulk Hogan! On occasion, my brother and I would turn our living room into a makeshift cage match, branding our very own version of WrestleMania. Decked in fluorescent bandanas, cheap sunglasses, and spandex tights, we were sure poised to intimidate. Pandemonium would break loose until out came the woman in the black mask, “Granny The Eliminator,” as we called her, and Grandma would clear the ring of all wannabe luchadores!

Though many consider the 80s to have been the golden age of wrestling, the very first recorded wrestling match actually took place in Genesis 32. Twenty years earlier, Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright and cheated him out of their father’s blessing, then ran far away. Now Jacob is returning to his homeland and must face his brother who had sworn to kill him. Would Esau come out in war to exact revenge? Jacob was distressed and very afraid, and rightly so.

He didn’t have the confidence to stand before Esau because, like so many believers today, he was hindered by the guilt of the past. As Shakespeare wrote, “Conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Jacob took all this fear, guilt, and anxiety to the right place. He exuded a sincere prayer, filled with humility and faith, recounting God’s promise and seeking His divine protection. Then, having done the work of prayer, Jacob had to do the more difficult work of confrontation. Known for his effectual prayer life, George Mueller was once asked to elaborate on the most important aspect of prayer. His answer: “The 15 minutes after I have said, ‘Amen.’” The true test of the depth of our prayer will be seen in what we do after the prayer has concluded.

Jacob knows that God has promised him “good” back in the land of his kindred—but the way back to that country must go through a road called Reconciliation, a.k.a. Surrender.

In faith, he bets the house on God’s promise and boldly resolves to risk everything by continuing on to face Esau. It’s dangerous, but necessary. By crossing over the ford of Jabbok, he leaves himself no way for retreat. The way home always involves this crossing—the place of absolute surrender. Behind Jacob is the past: the lying, the manipulating, the deceiving, the stealing and the cheating. Before him is a new way of life: honest repentance, reconciliation, healing, generosity, selflessness, giving.

Jacob spends the night alone in prayer and has his own WrestleMania. That night a man wrestles with him until daybreak. This wrestling match is with none other than God Himself, possibly a Christophany (a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ). God stepped into the ring with Jacob that night because he wanted something from him; He wanted all of Jacob’s self-reliance, his pride, and his carnal scheming. He was there to take it by force if necessary. Jacob wanted God’s blessing. But before he could get it, he had to be delivered from his own self-will and self-reliance. As the Lord wore him down, conquering him little by little, Jacob clung to Him and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

After prevailing with God that night, the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel. The name “Jacob” meant “Grasper,” and he was no longer to live that way, being shrewd or sneaky enough to conquer life on his own. He was to live from a whole new identity, “Israel”—signifying the rule and reign of God over his life.

What started out as a scary confrontation with the past, ended up being an ageless portrait of redemption and reconciliation. Jacob is reunited with Esau in a most gracious, merciful fashion. God mended a dysfunctional situation and restored a broken family that day, neither of which would be realized without humility, faithful obedience (necessary risk taking), and the struggle to surrender the past to God.

Like Jacob, God will continue to wear us down until we are stripped of all self-sufficiency and come to that place of total surrender. Yet it is in this place of His dominion, and our white flags raised, that we truly overcome the past and live with a freedom like no other.

Whatever you may be wrestling with today, true spiritual victory always goes through the place called surrender. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.


Heavenly Father, you have promised good to me. I also understand that the blessing on the other side will necessitate my willingness to walk in obedience even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or risky. In those times of tension, may I cling to you and always seek to surrender my will in exchange for your dominion over my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

twitter-64Jacob didn’t have the confidence to stand before Esau because, like so many people today, he was hindered by the guilt of the past. Tweet this

Questions for Reflection and/or Family Discussion:

  1. If you experienced the 80s, what are some things you remember most?
  2. When was the last time you and God wrestled about something?
  3. Why do you think reconciliation was such a big deal to God in Genesis 32, and in our lives today?
  4. Obedience to God often makes us vulnerable. When have you ever experienced this firsthand?
  5. What is a struggle you have right now that needs to be surrendered to God?


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