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Eighth Sunday After Pentecost: Wrestling with God

  • Austin B. Tucker Online instructor for Liberty Seminary and Anderson University who resides in Shreveport, Louisiana.
  • 2014 1 May
  • COMMENTS
Eighth Sunday After Pentecost: Wrestling with God
"So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel saying, 'For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered'" (Gen. 32:30).

Did you ever have a wrestling match with God? I did. Guess who won.

When I was a teenager, I came to a time when I felt compelled to make my decision about a career choice. I wanted to prepare for a vocation in business. My dad was a successful contractor, and I felt that I had an advantage in following that path. At the same time, there was a nagging sense that God might have a different course for me.

It all came to a crisis one night when I wrestled the covers off my bed in urgent prayer. I don't think I ever would have gone to sleep that night if I had not finally prayed, "OK, Lord, OK, whatever You want me to do, I'll do it."

Jacob wrestled with God at the camp at the fjord of a small river in Trans-Jordan called the Jabbok. He was going home after approximately 15 years. He had reason to fear for his life at the hands of his twin brother Esau. Jacob had cheated his brother to gain the paternal blessing. Then he left home as Esau swore to kill him as soon as their elderly father, Isaac, was buried. The night before that fateful meeting, Jacob had the encounter with God that forever would transform his life.

When God conquers our reluctance, we are winners; we win a new name and a new nature.

Our New Name Is Christian
The new name relates us to our new Master. Israel means "Prince of God" or "He contends with God" depending on the translator (v. 28), and it reminds us of our new mission. A Christian is a disciple of Christ. Acts 11:26 tells us that "in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians."

In the first century, as increasingly in the world today, Christians were not always highly respected. Political correctness today favors pagans and secularists. Though persecution of believers is on the rise, we ought to be glad to be identified as belonging to Jesus the Christ.

The New Nature Is Christ-likeness
This is a gift of God's grace. As day was breaking and the struggle seemed to Jacob to be a stalemate, he confessed his name (and nature) as a trickster (v. 29). The heavenly adversary bestowed on him the name Israel because he was wrestling with God at least in the person of a heavenly messenger.

This new nature is given for God's glory. As Paul said elsewhere, God chose what is lowly, despised and foolish to the world "so that no human being might boast in God's presence" (1 Cor. 1:29). True Christians do not want to glorify themselves, but God! (See 1 Cor. 4:7.)

God's plan is to reveal Himself to the world through us. As Jesus told His disciples: "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).

Jacob did not win the wrestling match, but he did win a new name and nature. From that night on, he would not be called Jacob, "heel grabber, trickster," but Israel, "He struggles with God." You may be in a struggle with God today. If God decides to let you have your own stubborn way and win the contest, you are the big loser. Things will go better for you if you say to God, "Yes, Lord."

Remember when we used to sing Fannie Crosby's invitation hymn?

"Have Thine Own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou are the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting yielded and still."