the pursuit of happy

the when-happy-doesn't-cut-it blog for serious Christians

jacob’s epic wrestling match

Jacob Wrestling with an Angel“O God, let us be a generation that seeks – that seeks Your face, O God of Jacob.”

Have you ever meditated on this familiar lyric fashioned from Psalm 24? The psalm describes a generation that seeks after the face of God and declares that the God of their salvation will grant blessing and righteousness to the man or woman who lives after that same manner of life.

I’m forcing myself to reserve the first four verses of the psalm for another day to focus this entry on the epic wrestling match of a man who refused to be satisfied with the “happy quo.” I’m also holding off on the first part of the chapter because I believe that a Jacob-esque pursuit of the face of God is the prerequisite to clean hands and a pure heart (among other things).

The God of Jacob

It’s no coincidence that the psalmist writes that this blessed generation would seek the face of the God of Jacob. Jacob, despite all his failures, sought the face of God in the most epic wrestling match of all time: Genesis 32. Granted, he was descended upon in the middle of the night in his hour of crisis (indicative of the God-seeks-man-first principle), but he refused to let go until he was blessed.

Let’s slow down enough to realize how ridiculous this is.

  1. A Man, who we can only presume to be God due to Jacob’s later confession that he had seen the face of God, appears in the night and wrestles with Jacob until daybreak. One touch of his hand to Jacob’s thigh made him limp for the rest of his life, and yet Jacob thought he had enough of the upper hand to make demands?
  2. Jacob had already been blessed, remember? He had the wife of his dreams plus one, multiple children, oxen, donkeys, flocks, servants, the inheritance he weaseled out of his brother Esau, and the Father’s promise to prosper him and make his descendents as the sand of the sea. What kind of blessing was Jacob refusing to let go?

Never shy away from the seemingly ridiculous notions in the Bible; they are the gold mines of the knowledge of God. For example, the first point is the apparent implausibility that a deity would allow Himself to be constrained by a man. But if you delve a little deeper, you’ll realize that this theme is everywhere in Scripture (look for it!) – most prominently in the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of His own creation. As ridiculous as it appears on the surface, it is the nature of the Father and a crucial part of our salvation.

So the Father allows Jacob to prevail and even grants his desire, but what was Jacob really after? He had already been abundantly blessed, but he was fearful that his brother would attack him and presumably rob him of his property. I can only speculate, but I think that more than Jacob begging God to spare his life and save his possessions (which was certainly part of it), Jacob was beginning to realize the futility of his “blessings” apart from the blessing of the Father which is wholly other than the things His hands provide. Jacob, who earlier sought the hand of the God of his fathers, needed to see and know the face of the God of Jacob.

The Father had clearly orchestrated the events that brought Jacob to this point of actually weeping after the favor of God (Hosea 12:4), and it was precisely at this point that the Man asked Jacob a simple, telling question:

What is your name?

Jacob's Epic Wrestling MatchThis is the same kind of question that the Father asked Adam and Eve in the garden. It’s not so much a question as a set up. The meaning of Jacob’s name was exactly who he was – a supplanter, a deceiver, a heel-grabber. Jacob didn’t have to translate his name like we do, so when Jacob answered the Man’s question, the Scriptures might as well read that Jacob replied, “Deceiver.”

Don’t miss the emotion in this. It wasn’t a casual exchange of information. The Father was holding a mirror to Jacob and asking what he saw. If Jacob had been brought up in Christian culture today, he probably would’ve said something like, “More than a conqueror.” But, then again, when locked in the grip of the Almighty, I doubt any of us could answer so presumptuously.

There’s something about the face of the Holy One that will totally wreck the identity we’ve fashioned for ourselves. Think about Isaiah or Peter who both declare themselves ruined and unworthy men at the revelation of God. This is where it’s imperative that we hang on with the tenacity of the Jacob who would become Israel.

Let’s be honest. No one really wants to come face to face with this “total depravity of man” thing, especially not when it becomes the “total depravity of me.” The knee-jerk reaction of most of us is to run away, but the tragic reality is that we’re running further and further away from the only One who can heal us. Jacob held on and the Father rewarded him with a blessing that would change history forever:  “Your name is no longer called Jacob (Deceiver!), but Israel, because you have striven with God and with men and have overcome.”

When the Father changes our name, He changes our character in a way that no religion, altered behavior, “faith”-declaration, or self-help book ever could. The Father made Jacob something other than he was because Jacob was willing to come to Him in truth and humility. That’s a happy worth pursuing.

Have you come to such a place? Have you ever come face to face with your own fallen nature? Have you found, alone and in the absence of material things, the face of your God? Do you know that blessing that cannot be taken away from you – the blessing that transforms your character from a Jacob to an Israel? If not, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a wrestling match. And if you catch Him, do not let go!

Next time, in our pursuit of happy…

I think we all go through one of these epic wrestling matches at our salvation, but I don’t think it ends there. I believe the Father showed me something in Jacob’s next question, but I want to leave that for the next blog entry and simply exhort you to read Genesis 32 on your own and see what the Father might reveal to you. Don’t just read it, though, wrestle with it!