A Broken Tool: God Wrestles with Jacob

Whenever I get a tool, whether it’s for the garden or the kitchen or something to do with the computer, I try to take care of it, keep it in good condition. If something breaks, I probably can’t use it any more. If it can be fixed at all, it may not work as well as before it broke. So I am very careful. Keeping things in good working order is very important to me. I would guess that most of you would say the same thing.

God is different from us, if you haven’t noticed. His tools include the human beings he created, and he always breaks them before he uses them. Genesis 32:22-30 is just one example among dozens in the Bible. Sometimes, a person whom God wants to use gets broken more than once.

Jacob was a cheater. He cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing. Then he fled to his uncle Laban, and the two of them spent years trying to out-cheat each other. Now Jacob was going back home and heard reports that Esau was coming to greet him with four hundred armed men. He prayed to the God of Abraham and Isaac, to the God who had appeared to him earlier, but whom he did not yet regard as “my God.” He tried once again to be clever and sent a sizable bribe ahead of him. Then he sent his entire family and all his provisions across the river and stayed, so he thought, alone.

But a man came and wrestled with him. Where did he come from? He just abruptly showed up and jumped poor Jacob. If he had wanted a fist fight or if he had had a weapon, Jacob could have chosen whether to fight back or run away. But the man began to wrestle, and Jacob had no choice but to wrestle back. Slowly, it dawned on him that the man he was wrestling with was God himself, the God to whom he had prayed for deliverance earlier in the day. And he kept striving. He kept struggling. He did not surrender to his divine visitor, so finally the man, God, touched his hip and dislocated it. Now Jacob could no longer struggle against him, but had to cling to him for support. That’s when God said, “Well, it’s time for me to get going, so let go.” Jacob said, “Not until you bless me.” And God did.

Jacob, the grasper and grabber, had let go of everything he had and sent it on ahead of him. That removed everything that came between him and God. He got alone with God and engaged his presence. Pain is part of the process. It hurts to give up cherished habits. It hurts to accept unwanted consequences of our actions. It hurts to keep struggling against God after we recognize his presence and his will. Jacob’s dislocated hip was only an outward sign of an inner brokenness. Forever afterward, he walked differently than he had before.

But whatever God breaks, he blesses. In a very real sense, Jacob died that night. It was not Jacob, but Israel who hobbled across the ford to join his family. He was no longer operating under the blessing he stole from his brother; he had asked for and obtained his own blessing. By losing a wrestling match, he emerged the victor. By being broken, he became a fit vessel for God.

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