When she taught high school, my mother had one particularly unruly student—you know, the one who pushes the limits, seemingly daring others to reject him, while inwardly hoping someone won’t. His antics were unacceptable, of course, so Mom occasionally made him stay after school in detention, where he challenged her even more. “But I saw something in him,” she recalled years later, “and I wasn’t going to take the bait.” Over time, he began to trust her acceptance, and his behavior started to change. Following graduation, he pursued what would be a productive, lifetime career in the armed services, and when he came home on leave, he would visit my mother and thank her for not giving up on him.
Just as He did for Abraham and Isaac, God promised rich blessings to Jacob, but what his father and grandfather humbly received in trust, Jacob selfishly seized by treachery—helping himself to the blessings, while rejecting the God who gave them. It is the kind of brazen behavior that infuriates us and compels us to sever relationships now, completely and forever. But “God cannot be tempted by evil,”1 and He will not compromise His character by any antics we can devise, however plentiful or diabolical they may be. We can wrestle against Him all we want—as did Jacob—but His love for us will not wane; if anything, our combativeness only magnifies His patience and faithfulness. So, Jacob wrestled alone with God2, an unavoidable moment of truth. Their struggle lasted a nighttime, but reflected a lifetime, and when daylight broke, so did Jacob—his hip wrenched and his name changed. He was no longer Jacob (deceiver), but Israel (he struggles with God), because he had “struggled with God and with humans and [had] overcome.”3
Self dies hard. We all wrestle with God, to different degrees, perhaps, and each of us in our own way. So, it is by God’s grace that we eventually come to see the self-centered life for what it is—“hostile to God”4 and “contrary to the Spirit.”5 Yet God remains true to His people and committed to His promises. “The Lord your God is God,” said Moses to the people gathered before him, “he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”6 God sees something in us—a creation in His image—and though we struggle with Him, He remains unchanging in character and unwavering in love. We overcome because He never gives up on us.
Father, thank you for being true to your word. May we cease from our struggles against you, and rest entirely in you, for you are good to your people and faithful to your promises. Amen.
1 James 1:13
2 Genesis 32:24
3 Genesis 32:28
4 Romans 8:6
5 Galatians 5:17
6 Deuteronomy 7:9