Wrestling with God– Genesis 31-32

Reading from Genesis 31, English Standard Version:

 31 Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, “Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.” And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” Genesis 31:1-3 (ESV)

The Lord had enriched Jacob with large flocks and a large family.  He had spent twenty years serving his father-in-law, Laban, after fleeing his twin brother Esau, and had come away from these decades with many blessings.

But Laban had often treated Jacob deceitfully.  After seven years of labor, Jacob was finally given permission to marry his true love, Rachel, but through trickery Laban, forced Jacob to marry her older sister, Leah, first.

As an overflow from God’s many blessings toward Jacob, father-in-law Laban was also enriched, but Laban spent the riches and now wanted more.  As Jacob was beginning to think about returning home to Israel, Laban made it clear that he had no intention of letting him go.  Laban viewed his daughters, grand-children and Jacob’s vast flocks as his own possessions, and now Jacob found himself in a dangerous position.

God warned Jacob that bad feelings and intentions were rising in Laban and told him to return to the land of his father, Isaac.  But that land was also the home of Esau, his twin, who had promised to kill Jacob twenty years earlier, so there was plenty of anxiety on both ends. But God’s voice was clear, as it had been with Abraham many years earlier – it was time to go so go now. Like Abraham before him, Jacob honored God and went, but he did so by sneaking out. He packed up his family and possessions and left while his Laban was still away in the fields shearing his sheep.

Sometimes in our own lives, we need to a make a difficult decision about whether to stay in or to leave a bad situation.  Unlike Jacob, we do not always get a clear word from God about it.  Rarely is the decision an easy one. There is often a list of pros and cons to consider before prayerfully choosing the best course of action.  We pray, analyze, and step out in faith, staying or leaving, believing that the hand of God is guiding us and will gently lead us as we seek to do the right thing by Him.

Returning to Jacob and his journey:

32 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!”  Genesis 32:1-3 (ESV)

As he departed on his journey, Jacob had the unique experience of glimpsing the angels that God had sent to watch out for him.  Angels are messengers from God, sent by Him to do His work.  There are countless stories of people in modern times who have narrowly avoided harm by the intervention of these heavenly beings.  The book of Hebrews mentions that some of us have entertained angels unaware of who they were.  I have had one or two encounters in my own life that I believe were possibly angelic beings in human form.  

Meanwhile, Jacob was on the move, caught between Laban and Esau, when suddenly he had an encounter with God himself:

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.  Genesis 32:24-31 (ESV)

At the climax of his life crisis, Jacob spent an entire night wrestling with God.  This heavenly wrestling match, perhaps done with the pre-incarnate Christ Himself, seems to be the moment when Jacob finally surrendered to God.  He was in a desperate spot, realizing how much he needed God’s help and presence with him from this day forward.  Jacob held on tight to God and refused to let go.  He finally got serious with God.

At this critical moment, the Lord gave Jacob the name, “Israel”, which means “governed by God”.  May we all be governed by His love and will for us today.


What difficult decisions about change have you had to make in life? What decisions are before you today? 

Has there been a time where you think you might have seen angels in your life?  Why might God have put them there? 

Can you think of a time when you “wrestled” with God?  What were the circumstances that brought you to that point?  Is there still some more wrestling to do?

After wrestling with Jacob, God touched him on the hip, creating an infirmity that increased his dependence upon God.  What infirmities or difficulties have caused you to depend more upon God? 

Lord, thank You that You love us so much. Help us to listen to and rely upon You for direction and protection in our life. May I get serious with You as I wrestle with the challenges that lie before me. We ask you blessing and protection in Jesus’ name, Amen.

(Note: One possible angelic incident in my own life involved a traveler named Jerry, who had stopped in at our church’s Wednesday night dinner before we held Bible classes.  He was selling pencil drawings of Jesus for $1 each, and I purchased one (which I still have).  After the group dinner, Jerry attended our small class and had some interesting thoughts on the meaning of certain scriptural passages.  After class ended, he gave the co-instructor and I some insights about a woman attendee who had just left the room.  He said that despite her looking happy, she was having a secret emotional crisis and needed prayer and support.  Then Jerry went on his way, never to be seen again at the church again.  The woman recovered nicely over the following weeks.)

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