A Close Encounter of the God Kind

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” (Genesis 32:24-26)

It was a close encounter of the God kind and one of the most unusual stories told in Scripture. To many, it raises more questions than it answers. But to me, it reveals a great deal about the character of God. And it helps to answer one of the most troubling spiritual questions I have about the Lord, which is why he sometimes seems to be sitting back and letting my life spin out of control.

First the story – Jacob has been separated from his brother Esau for twenty years. He does not look forward to seeing him. After all, he stole Esau’s birthright from him. All his life, Jacob has done nothing but scheme to get what he wants. In fact, he’s spent twenty years with his uncle and soon-to-be father in-law, Laban, both of them trying to out-scheme one another. Their twenty years together were rocky, but during that time Jacob has amassed phenomenal wealth. Finally, he is told by the Lord, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:4)

Jacob runs like there is no tomorrow, knowing all the time that he will have to face Esau. He doesn’t even say goodbye to Laban, much less allow his daughters the opportunity to leave with their father’s blessings. Ultimately, Laban caught up with Jacob, their differences were resolved, and Jacob was on his way.

Jacob doesn’t know it, but his life is about to take a huge turn in the right direction. One night, while still on his journey homeward, God appears and literally wrestles with Jacob through the night. But God doesn’t win. In fact, at dawn, it was God who said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” (Genesis 32:26) To make a long story short, God blesses Jacob, renames him Israel because “you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)

Two important characteristics about God are found in this account, attributes that help us to somewhat understand what we will never fully understand. First and foremost, God could have beaten Jacob with a wink of his eye, but he chose not to win. Why? Because God does not push his will on any of us. The choice is ours. So when we wrestle with God’s answer to the direction we should take in life, real victory will only come when we submit – illustrated by Jacob’s answer to a simple question: “What is your name?” (Genesis 32:27) In Jacob’s time, if you were willing to tell someone your name, you were willing to allow them to be your friend.

Interestingly, Jacob asked God what his name was, too, but God never told him. This also reveals an important truth about God – We will never fully know God until we get to heaven. The Apostle Paul made that point in a letter to the church at Corinth in which he wrote, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)

The whole point of Jacobs’ encounter with God was to teach us two concepts. God will never push himself on us and we will never truly understand his ways. In the end, however, we can count on him to deliver, if we’re willing to reach out to him and accept God on his terms.

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