Wrestling Revisited: Reversal

The main event in Genesis 32 is the wrestling match between Jacob and God. (See last post.)  But there is a long back-story involved here.  Isn’t that usually the case?

When Jacob swiped his older brother’s birthright and inheritance, Esau was pretty ticked.  In fact, he planned to kill his brother — so Jacob made a run for it.  The stolen birthright came with a cost — Jacob didn’t see his family for twenty years.  Did Jacob spend those two decades looking back over his shoulder, staying alert, bracing for his brother’s wrath to catch up with him?

Then one day Esau was seen on the horizon, approaching with 400 marching men, headed toward Jacob’s camp.  What was Jacob to think?  It didn’t look like a friendly family reunion in the making.  He sent his wives and children out ahead (nice move) along with wagon loads of gifts for his brother (worth a try).  Totally alone and stripped of everything he owned and everyone he loved, there was nowhere to run so Jacob finally faced his past and his fears.  The struggle lasted all night, but when the sun rose, Jacob had a new name (no longer Deceiver) and a humbler way of walking (a gimpy leg).

I don’t know what Esau had planned to do that day, but I think when he saw his twin brother limping toward him in the distance, he let his hatred go.  The Bible says Esau ran to Jacob, embraced him, kissed him and they cried together.  Maybe twenty years had mellowed Esau, or perhaps he’d had a wrestling match of his own.  What Jacob had dreaded most — the past that haunted him — came and embraced him with mercy and grace.  It was a holy reversal.

When I have regrets from the past or fears for the future I must lay them out on the mat and engage God in the struggle.  Then, what is looming large on the horizon, may just be the very thing that arrives with surprising mercy and grace.


I never cared much for the sport of wrestling. My kids went for other sports in high school, like basketball, volleyball and baseball. The thought of two sweaty bodies in skimpy leotards rolling around on a mat in front of a crowd of people makes me a little weak. I confess — I’ve never attended a wrestling match, so I shouldn’t knock it, but it’s just not for me.

Or so I thought.

As it turns out, I do a lot of wrestling.

Reading through the Bible brought me to Genesis 32 — a wrestling match. In this corner: Jacob. In the opposite corner: the God of the Universe. Such a formidable opponent didn’t stop Jacob from stepping on the mat. In fact, it seemed Jacob had been training for this main event his whole life. Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, started wrestling in the womb;  Jacob, the Deceiver managed to grapple the birthright away from Esau;  Jacob, the Conniver contested Laban over sheep and wives.

But this time was different. After spending the whole night tangled in a no-decision, Jacob refused to cry “uncle”, even when his hip went out of joint. All for a blessing. Jacob received what he had been struggling for, and more. He came away from the contest with a new name and a limp. And no more need to wrestle.

What am I wrestling with right now? Letting go of children, growing older, desires for future dreams. The key for me is to stay on the mat. I welcome the struggle because it means I’m tangled up in His arms, I’m close enough to feel His breath, I can sense His strength. If I let go, I might avoid the limp, but I might miss the blessing.

“I will not let You go until You bless me.”  Genesis 32:26