Wrestling with God

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Genesis 32:22-24)

It’s my favourite Torah story – Jacob wrestling with God. Of course, God is not identified as the antagonist at this point in the story but, after a night of hard fighting, Jacob is convinced that he has been struggling with the Almighty!

The great Rabbi, Maimonides, thought this episode so impossible that it had to be a dream, or, if not a dream, then perhaps Jacob wrestled with his brother, Esau, or, if not Esau, could it have been that Jacob was wrestling with himself? For how can a human wrestle with God? Maimonides is just one of many preachers and teachers who don’t know what to do with this passage, and I suspect they all have one thing in common. None of them are wrestlers – certainly not in the style of the ancients.

I’ve wrestled many different styles, and once trained with a guy who spent his youth wrestling through the sandpits of India. Every village there, he told me, had its own distinctive style. He’d apparently stayed with a family in one village where their style involved wrestling with a large metal spike attached to one arm. Apparently, you were allowed one good shot with the spike when you got your opponent to the ground! Almost every member of the family was carrying some horrific wound, he said – a missing eye or a hole in the face. This is the wrestling of the ancients!

I think some level of wrestling experience should be requisite for those who want to give authoritative commentary on this text, and I think we need to accept too that, from Jacob’s point of view, it had to be God that he was wrestling with, for it was this violent encounter with the Almighty that made sense of Jacob’s whole life!

Jacob’s history was characterised by struggle. Indeed, the violence started before he was born. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, thought she was dying while giving birth to her twin boys. The children, the Torah says, ‘were wrestling within her’ (Gensis 25:22)! Jacob came out grasping his older brother’s heel, and so they called him ‘Jacob’, meaning ‘the grabber’, and he grew up grabbing for himself everything he could, especially those things that belonged to his older brother.

Jacob, it seems, was a rather nasty child who grew up to become a rather nasty man, and yet he was also the ‘child of the promise’ about whom God had given an undertaking, that through Jacob He would build a great nation. Jacob’s mother no doubt told him about this promise at an early age, and it would seem that Jacob’s whole life of wheeling and dealing was an attempt to achieve for himself this destiny that was already promised to him. It’s as if Jacob couldn’t trust God to take care of it but had to grab it all in his own way.

Jacob struggled with his brother, Esau, and stole his birth right. He struggled with his poor old father and fooled him into giving him Esau’s inheritance. He then had to leave town because Esau (understandably) wanted to kill him, and he went and struggled with his uncle Laban in a faraway land, and there he wrestled away from Laban most of his wealth too.

Having made himself even more unwelcome in his uncle’s house than he was in his father’s, Jacob headed home, taking with him all the wealth he had acquired through his years of wheeling and dealing, along with his women and children and servants -everything that he had grabbed and grasped and wrestled away from people who’d had more right to it than he did. And as he neared home, with Laban pursuing him from behind, he heard that Esau was coming out to meet him, accompanied by four hundred men – a force much larger than anything Jacob had. And so, it would seem, Jacob was finally going to get his comeuppance.

Jacob sends on ahead of himself gifts and offerings, aimed at appeasing his brother, and then he divides up his entourage into two groups, hoping that, if push comes to shove, one group might escape while the other is being destroyed. Then he sends the women and children across the river in front of him and spends the night alone.

Quite possibly, it was the first time that Jacob had been alone in many years. Yet he was not alone. There was another figure there on the far side of the river with him, lurking in the shadows – a dark figure who had always been there, moving about in the background, a figure with whom Jacob had always avoided a direct confrontation. This shadow-dweller waited, as He had always waited – waiting until Jacob was finally totally alone, and then He pounced!

Have you ever been jumped by God? Have you ever laid awake at night, tossing and turning, trying to avoid having your shoulders pinned and your face spiked? Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m wrestling with God or with the devil. I hear a chorus of voices telling me that I’ve failed in my life’s mission and that I’ll soon be bankrupt and alone. ‘Grow up! Abandon your childish dreams! Accept the prevailing wisdom! Get a real job!’ Are these the voices of demons attacking me or is this the Almighty, trying to purge me of my inner doubts as He hurls me on to my back?

John Calvin, in his 1554 commentary on Genesis, made the bold claim that “all the servants of God in this world are wrestlers”.

For “the Lord exercises us with various kinds of conflicts. Moreover, it is not said that Satan, or any mortal man, wrestled with Jacob, but God himself: to teach us that our faith is tried by him; and whenever we are tempted, our business is truly with him, not only because we fight under his auspices, but because he, as an antagonist, descends into the arena to try our strength. This, though at first sight it seems absurd, experience and reason teaches us to be true.

Do we dare to wrestle with God? For Jacob, it was his transition, not simply to adulthood, but to an adult faith. Do we dare to make that transition ourselves by confronting the Almighty in our humanity and thrashing it out until we are so wounded that we can no longer continue? Will we dare to have it said of us that’ we ‘wrestled with God and with men and prevailed! (Genesis 32:28)

Our Sunday Eucharist

We had a very prayerful Sunday Eucharist last weekend. There seem to be a lot of us in need of prayer at the moment. Indeed, I don’t remember the last time I had three people contact me the same morning, asking for prayer! I received one phone call, one email and one text message, each asking for our prayers.

I hope these good folk didn’t mind me sharing the details of their request. I figured there’d be more of us praying for them if I did. Please watch the first three minutes below and expand your prayer life accordingly. And if you watch a few more minutes, you may find out something you didn’t know about the great William Wilberforce!

Thank you, Dave Baldwin, Robert Gillard and Graham Hood for your wisdom last Sunday. This week David is back on the panel, along with our Muslim brother, Tom Toby (I hope). Tom is currently in England, hosting an exhibition of his amazing photographic works, but he’s expressed a determination to join us, nonetheless. I haven’t received confirmation from him but remain hopeful. Our dear brother, Rev. Dr Stephen Sizer rounds out the team, offering us a reflection on Romans 9:1-5. If you know Stephen’s history, you know that this is a risky passage for him to take on!

Either way, do please join us from around 11.45 am this Sunday. Access us via thesundayeucharist.com or via Facebook , YouTubeTwitter or LinkedIn.

You can also now access our broadcasts directly on Streamyard (which is where they originate from). Streamyard also provides a registration page which will send you a reminder before we start. Click here.

Let me work your corner

Thank you once again to all of you who support Fighting Fathers Ministries through your prayers and through monthly financial contributions. If you’re not contributing financially and you can afford to, it would be greatly appreciated if you could go to Patreon.com and sign up to either:

Middleweight – $10/month (community mentoring)
  • Enrol in the Fighting Fit training program
  • Access member-only training videos
  • Engage in the members-only forum (see below)
Super-Middleweight $50/month (remote mentoring)
  • All of the above +
  • One-on-one mentoring via email, phone, or Skype
Heavyweight – $100/month (in-person mentoring)
  • All of the above +
  • Unlimited training at Father Dave’s Old School Boxing Academy
Superheavyweight – $200/month (intensive in-person mentoring)

Every dollar helps keep the wheels turning – the websites, the newsletters, the broadcasts, the boxing club and the bush camp. Sign up at Patreon.com.

What’s On?

I hate ending my newsletters by begging, but, as I wrestle with God over my future and the future of this work, it strikes me that if a few more of you good souls could give support through Patreon.com, we would prevail. Please consider signing up for a monthly contribution if you’re not doing so already or increasing your contribution from $10/month to $50/month (etc.) if you are. Click here.

Actually, I do have a much more positive note to end on – sharing some must-visit links with you, including articles I’ve published this week:

  • I published last Sunday’s homily from Graham Hood’s on Romans 8:26-39, complete with transcript, to our member site. Click here.
  •  I published an article to my Prayers for Syria site that includes a video of the devastating fires that are (once again) sweeping across the country. It also highlights some great work being done by the church in Aleppo. Click here.
  •  Our dear sister, Karyn, has shared a series of videos of Australian politicians speaking out in support of Julian Assange. I’ve included two of the videos below but encourage you see her full collection on her YouTube channel.
  •  I discovered a short video documentary produced by the UK-based Boxing Asylum this week, entitled, “Father Dave, the Punching Priest”. Click here.

A big thank you to Steve Wellings and my other mates at The Boxing Asylum. I did an interview with them some months ago and I didn’t realise that they’d turned the interview into a documentary. I found it deeply encouraging. Indeed, it did leave me thinking that I might still have my best rounds left in me. YouTube’s version is below.

May the Lord bless and strengthen you for the work to which you have been called.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

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