Many years ago, when I was a senior in high school, several of my friends attempted to convince me to go out for the wrestling team. I’m kind of a bigger guy, and apparently there was a need for competitors in the heavyweight division. I’d never competitively wrestled before, but I thought, How hard could it be?
At first I was flattered, but then I realized what they actually needed was a sparring partner for our school’s biggest and strongest wrestler. We’ll just call him Samson for the sake of the story. Anyway, as soon as I realized that my role on the team was to be a glorified tackling dummy for Samson, I graciously (or perhaps not so graciously) bowed out.
I cannot for the life of me imagine what Jacob was thinking when he locked arms with God. The idea of grappling with Samson in a controlled environment was enough to make me think twice; but wrestling with the Almighty?!
Jacob spent his entire life looking for an angle; a way to better his situation. As we’re well aware, those angles weren’t always characterized by wise choices. I think wrestling with God takes the cake for questionable decisions.
God in His mercy honored the longing in Jacob’s heart, who, like so many of us, yearned for blessing, acceptance, and to be known by his Maker. The LORD did Jacob one better. In addition to blessing, acceptance, and a face-to-face encounter with the Most High, God gave Jacob a new identity: Israel.
However, as we know from the remainder of the wrestler’s story, Jacob failed to live fully into his new calling. Throughout the remainder of his days, we can observe this wrestler being referred to as both Jacob and Israel. Even though God gave him a new name, Jacob frequently struggled to live in a new way.
What’s so amazing about Advent is that Jesus, in His life, death, and resurrection, fulfilled and completed the work that Jacob could not. Where Jacob wrestled with God to receive blessing, Jesus wrestled with sin and death on our behalf. The blessing God spoke over Jacob was true and pure; but Jacob’s entanglement with sin made it impossible for him to fully live in it.
The prophet Isaiah refers to the wrestling of Jesus in another way: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
Jesus overcame sin, death, and the powers of the world, by laying down His life. He bore the shame and the wrath that we were due. In His every breath, He lived as the true Israel, walking the path that Jacob could not and staying the course from which we, on our best days, falter.
As we mature and grow closer to God, we should expect to follow the path of Jesus. We should hope to imitate Christ. All too often, though, we revert to the way of Jacob. We try to wrestle with God (or perhaps try to cut deals with Him) to get what WE want. In our wrestling we pray, “my will done.”
The way of Jesus is difficult, but it is also victorious. We have a champion who has utterly defeated the powers that seek to destroy us. In this season, we thank God that we no longer have to wrestle for a blessing. Rather, in enduring trials and resisting temptation we can pray with confidence, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
In this season of Advent, may our self-focused striving cease and may our heavenward praise increase. Thank the LORD that Jesus fulfilled all that Jacob could not. Thank God we have full access to Him through the new Israel, the truest version of Jacob: Jesus Christ.
Written by Andrew Stoddard