The one who wrestles with God (Genesis 32:22-31)

Most of the people of national Israel were not truly Israel.

In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God and prevails, and thus God changes his name to Israel. The nation that then blossomed from the sons of Jacob became known as “Israel,” and that is the name given to the national ethnic group of the Hebrews to this day. They were and are called the nation of Israel.

But most of the people of national, ethnic Israel were not truly Israel.

Why do I say that?

For the purposes of this article, I am not going to review the clear teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 9-11, where he says, “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel (Romans 9:6).” Reviewing Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11 would conclusively answer the question, but we don’t have time for that now. Nor am I going to cover the myriad examples in the Old Testament where the passage or text uses the word “Israel,” but the context or the teaching of the passage cannot possibly support a reference to national, ethnic Israel. That study would also be conclusive, but again, we don’t have time for that study now.

So why do I say that most of the people of national, ethnic Israel are not truly Israel? Simply put, it is because they do not deserve the name.

In Genesis 32:24, we find a man sitting alone by the ford of the Jabbok. The man has come from a far country with wives and children and flocks and herds and possessions, but he has sent them all away from him and new the man is left utterly alone in the gathering gloom of the night. “And a man wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32:24).” When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he said to him, “What is your name?” “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (“he strives with God”), for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed (32:27-28).” The man whose name means “he cheats” had received a new name because he had wrestled with God and had prevailed. Jacob would not let the Man go unless He blessed him. Jacob was finally free of his cursed name. Although he now walked with a limp, Jacob could say that he had seen God face to face, and yet his life had been delivered (32:30-31).

My point is that Jacob was called “Israel” because he had striven with God. Israel means “he strives with God,” so the one who carries the name must also deserve the name. National, ethnic Israel had few who had figuratively wrestled with God all night.

True Israel is made up of those who, like Jacob, have had some point in their life when they have figuratively been left alone at the ford of the Jabbok. Everything else has been sent across the stream and the person is left alone to wrestle with God all night. Then, when the day has finally dawned, the person emerges, blessed by God with a new name, and limping on their thigh. This is what it means to carry the name “Israel.” In the Bible, the elect are often called Israel because they are those who have wrestled with God and prevailed. SDG                 rmb                 12/02/2020

Genesis 32:23ff – Wrestling with the Lord

The genesis of this article began back in February of this year as I began thinking about the many pictures that the Bible presents of people of faith encountering the Lord. As I considered these biblical episodes, I thought about how these experiences are often shared by many Christians. Yes, we will not experience all of these encounters with the Lord and we will not experience them to the same degree, but if our life is devoid of these types of encounters with the living God, then at some point we must question whether we truly know the Lord. In other words, these types of encounters are part of the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian. The Lord relates to His people, not only in the next life, but also in this life.

“Have you wrestled all night with the LORD?” In Genesis 32:23ff, Jacob has an encounter. He has escaped Laban, but now he is dreading his encounter with his brother Esau. He is at the ford of the Jabbok as night begins to fall and he sends across the Jabbok “whatever he had (32:23).” So, Jacob sends away all his wives and his children and all his livestock and all his “stuff,” and “Jacob was left alone (32:24).” The man who had accrued all his wealth in the far country is now left completely alone. No money. No wives. No children. Just Jacob alone. “And a man wrestled with him until daybreak (32:24).” The context makes it clear that Jacob is wrestling with the Lord Himself, and this is almost certainly a theophany of the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. The time for games is over. Jacob the deceiver must die, and the new, humble Israel must emerge. Have you ever done that? Have you ever wrestled with God all night? Has there ever been a time when it was you yourself alone and you needed to wrestle with the Lord? Or the Lord needed to wrestle with you?

Our Lord is a God who allows His children to wrestle with Him and wrestle with their faith. He allows us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He permits us to be confused and frightened and to cry out to Him. And like a father who allows his children to tussle with him, pretending to be challenged and even sometimes overcome, so the Lord allows us to complain to Him and to cry out to Him and to wrestle with Him as we try to understand this fallen world and our fallen selves in it.

One of the privileges, then, for the believer is to be able to wrestle with the Lord, never out of anger and rebellion, but rather with an attitude of seeking understanding.

Have you ever wrestled all night with the Lord?

Soli deo Gloria                         rmb                 7/23/2019