Striving with God (Genesis 32:22-32)
Sometimes great blessings come through great struggles. When I was growing up, my mom’s dad wanted nothing to do with the church. He was respectful; I really think that he believed Scripture, but he just wouldn’t obey. Then came that dreadful cancer diagnosis. Papaw’s overall health held on for a good while, but there came a point that his health began to fail him rapidly.
Then I got a call while I was walking home from the building-Papaw was obeying the gospel. His attitude was vastly different before and after he obeyed the gospel-He wanted to do right, he wanted to serve God in a new and different way. Through the years, I’ve often thought how blessed Papaw was that he had received that diagnosis. He left us far too soon-he was only 69 when he left this world. But, if he had left this world in some other way, he might never have obeyed the gospel. For Papaw, his cancer diagnosis was a transformative challenge.
Most all of us have faced transformative challenges: Loss of a job, loss of family members, some sin/struggle you’ve had to overcome. We know God doesn’t cause such difficulties, for he tempts no man to sin. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (Js 1:13).
Yet, God uses difficulties in life to shape and to mold us. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). God uses our experiences as a way of shaping us into the people He needs us to be.
In this morning’s text, God uses a struggle to shape Jacob into the patriarch He needed him to be. Jacob’s not the best of men as we’re introduced to him. He tricks his brother into giving up his birthright (Gen 25:29-34). Rebekah and Jacob trick Isaac into giving Jacob Esau’s blessing (Gen 27:1-29). In fact, the name “Jacob” means “heel.” In a literal sense, Jacob was named “heel,” for he was holding Esau’s heel when they came from the womb. In a figurative sense, we remember Jacob holding Esau’s and usurping his older brother all their lives.
But, Jacob’s “Striving with God” is transformative and shapes Jacob’s character. He gets a new name-“Israel”-which points to his new identity. “Israel” means “The one who strives with God.” When God instructs Jacob to build an altar and sacrifice, Jacob instructs his family to put away their household gods (Gen 35:1-4). Jacob dies with great faith. As he is blessing his sons, he inserts a prayer and says, “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Gen 49:18).
As we get to our text, we learn an important lesson: “God will scar us in order to shape us.” God challenges Jacob in a big way in this text. God will challenge us and will allow obstacles in our paths in order that we might be shaped into different people.
Scripture (Genesis 32:22-32)
Jacob and Esau are about to meet again after years of hostility. Jacob sends his family on ahead of him. That’s a cowardly thing to do; Esau comes upon a delegation before he ever sees his brother. Jacob is trying to warm his brother up before they meet (Gen 33:8).
Jacob wrestled with a man all through the night.
Several interesting things:
- God takes on the form of a man here. The text says that Jacob wrestled with a man. God would have needed to take human form in order to wrestle with Jacob.
- God waits until Jacob is alone. Why? If others were there, Jacob might have been able to call for help. Striving with God is an intensely personal thing-Our relationship with God is an intensely personal thing.
- This wrestling match lasts until dawn. God isn’t going to let Jacob off easy.
God sees that He isn’t going to “win” this wrestling match, so He pulls Jacob’s thigh out of joint.
The amazing thing is that Jacob doesn’t let go. He had to have been in horrible pain. Yet, he seems to have some knowledge that his wrestling partner isn’t any man, and, he, therefore, asks for a blessing.
God gives Jacob a new name, “Israel.” “Israel” denotes one who has striven with God and man and prevailed.
Jacob limped away from his encounter with God. It’s likely that Jacob had this limp the rest of his life. There are some scholars who suggest that the sciatic nerve likely suffered damage-that’s unlikely to heal properly (especially with their limited medical knowledge). Remember, Jacob didn’t have access to modern medical care to treat a dislocation.
For the rest of his life, every time he limped Jacob could remember how God came to him, how God challenged him, and how God molded him.
With Jacob, God scared him in order to shape him.
“God will scar us in order to shape us.”
We need to grasp this truth today, so that when we are being challenged by the struggles of life we can face our challenges with hope, expectation, and courage.
What specific truths do we need to grasp?
We need to remember that when the Lord disciplines us-to make us stronger-He does so out of great love.
Hebrews 12:5-10. God disciplines us because we are His children!
Struggles are an opportunity to rely on God.
2 Corinthians 1:8-10. Far too often we trust in ourselves. We’ll say, “I can handle it.” God wants us to know that we can’t handle it on our own; We need Him to handle our challenges for us!
Struggles are an opportunity for our character to grow.
James 1:2-4. Every challenge is an opportunity to grow to be more and more like Jesus.
Struggles are an opportunity to learn to comfort others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Those who have struggled can better comfort those facing similar trials. Perhaps your challenge is an opportunity to grow and to minister to others.
Struggles are an opportunity to learn to pray more fervently.
James 5:16b-18. God shall always answer in His time and according to His will, but struggles are an opportunity to pour our hearts out to God like never before.
How would our lives be impacted from fully understanding that “God will scar us in order to shape us“? People would be far less depressed-they’d see obstacles as stepping stones, not stumbling blocks. When we struggle, we’d look at our lives to see what we could learn/what could be changed.
Is God shaping you this morning? Do you need to come and begin being shaped by Him?