Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Bible and the Supernatural: Wrestling with God

Scripture: Genesis 32:24-31

Background: Several years after his vision of the ladder to heaven, Jacob is returning to his homeland. In the intervening years, he has acquired huge herds of animals, gained two wives and their maids, and fathered 12 children (11 boys and 1 girl). But despite all the time that has passed, Jacob still fears his twin brother’s wrath—a fear that seems justified at the report of Esau’s approach with four hundred men. So Jacob sends ahead a lavish gift of animals to appease his brother and places all he has on the far side of a stream, leaving him along to wrestle with God—literally.

Observations: Both Job and Genesis are filled with accounts of man’s encounters with God. There have been dreams and visions. Voices from heaven. A whirlwind. Physical appearances. But no where does the encounter with the divine become more personal or tangible than here.

For while God is spirit, He can somehow take on a very tangible form—otherwise Jacob would not have been able to wrestle with Him. Indeed, God takes on such a human form that Jacob does not realize at first with whom he wrestles. But when Jacob requests the name of the “man,” the response implies that Jacob should know the answer (“Why is it that you ask my name?”). And the following verse shows that Jacob does finally recognize Him: “I have seen God face to face.”

But Jacob and God do more than wrestle, which shows close physical contact. God here also changes Jacob’s name. Since his birth, he has been called “the one who grasps the heel,” a physical image of one who trips up and tricks others, usually through deception. And Jacob has lived up to his name well: he tricked his brother out of his birthright, stole his father’s blessing, and manipulated to obtain the best of his uncle’s animals, fleeing each time the situation went south.

Now God changes Jacob’s name and provides him a new identify to live up to. Yes, Jacob has striven with men. Yes he has wrestled with God. And he prevailed. Jacob didn’t need to live in the shadows as a deceiver any longer, running from place to place. He could boldly face the new day as a prevailer, as Israel.

Yet such a personal encounter with God did not come without cost. God touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh and dislocated it, leaving Jacob with a limp as a reminder, an injury which I suspect plagued him for the rest of his life.

Significance: An encounter with the supernatural is no small thing. An encounter with the Living God even less so. After all, His nature and power so supersede us that  He is truly incomprehensible, unimaginable, inexplicable, and completely beyond our ability to grasp.

Yet as Jacob’s wrestling reveals, God still condescends to meet us on our turf. He knows where we are at, and though He could demand all sorts of maneuvering on our part, He doesn’t. He comes to us. He shows up where we are. He deals with us as we are now—even if that requires a full-fledged fight.

And it’s not like He doesn’t know what He is getting into when He steps forward to meet us! He knows who we are. He knows our history and all we have done. He knows our weaknesses and our desires.

But God does not want to leave us there. He may meet us in our current state, but He summons us to be more. He calls us to leave our past behind and grow into the person He desires us to become. To be more than conquerors in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yet be careful what you wish for! While such an encounter with God sounds good and desirable—and it is—“good” does not equal easy…or safe…or painless. God may condescend to meet us, but He will not lessen His Glory or diminish His character for our comfort. Rather, we ought to expect such a God-encounter will change us, leaving a lasting mark on our lives. 

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