That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 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 humans 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. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. – Genesis 32:22-32
So the connection to water is a bit weak in this passage but I found it so interesting that I had to comment. The water connection is obviously the crossing of the Jabbok River. Jacob appears to have sent all his family over the stream with his possessions then had an epic battle with “a man” which later turns out to be God or an angel of God. As I was reflecting on this passage it occurred to me that the disciples may have felt a bit like this at times with Jesus. For example, when Jesus was walking on the water and Jesus calmed the storm; Peter was wrestling with his perception of who God is and how he could interact with his people.
It is not clear to me how Jacob could “best” God or an angel in a wrestling match unless of course God allowed Jacob to best him in the wrestling match for a purpose. I guess on one level Jesus let the Roman and Jewish leaders “best” him in a wrestling match when he was crucified. This also was for a purpose. In the case of Jacob the end result was the renaming of Jacob, the founding of the nation of Israel, and God’s blessing on the decedents of Jacob.
In the case of Jesus a whole new covenant and all subsequent followers of Christ (including me) were founded. The take home message that the Jewish people took from this wrestling is somewhat interesting and bizarre, i.e. “don’t eat hip tendons”. Perhaps the take home message that would have saved them much heartache and struggle would have been “God always wins even when we think we won”. Lest we as Christians feel smug we sometimes reduce Christ’s death and resurrection to something akin to “don’t eat hop tendons”, i.e. a set of rules like “don’t do X”. I think God had something so much bigger in mind during both wrestling matches.
Do I wrestle with God? If I am honest I have to admit that I do. It may be something as simple as talking to a friend about what God has done in my life or serving in a way that is outside my comfort zone. Who wins? I think just like Jacob and the disciples it may seem like God has “lost” a given wrestling match, but I believe that in the end God wins.
Prayer: May our own wrestling with you God be focused on better understanding our right relationship with You and not on how we can “win”.