Wrestling Match

“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day (Genesis 32:24).”

Alizera Karimi-Machiani was controlling his Russian opponent and appeared headed for victory and advancement to the next round of the International wrestling tournament being held in Poland last month. But unexpectedly he suddenly fell to the mat as though suffering an injury allowing his foe to pin and defeat him. But Alizera was not injured, nor was he overpowered. The Iranian wrestler was commanded by his coach to throw the match so as to avoid a match in the next round against a rival from Israel. (1)  In refusing to wrestle with Israel he forfeited all hope of honor and becoming a world champion.

It is perhaps with some irony that the man known for all generations by the name of Israel received that moniker by participating in an epic wrestling match with a heavenly competitor (Genesis 32:24-31). In his struggle, Jacob wrestled, physically with a man (v.24), but the prophet tells that Jacob also prayed and sought favor from God (Hosea 12:4). Matthew Henry says that this was “not only corporeal but, a spiritual, wrestling, by the vigorous acting of faith and holy desire and thus all the spiritual seed of Jacob, that pray in praying, still wrestle with God.”

Jacob did not prevail initially, “this discouragement did not shake his faith, nor silence his prayer.” (2) Jacob did not merely wrestle with one in the likeness of a man but with the Angel (Hosea 4:12) and in some sense, he wrestled with God and demanded a blessing from this struggling. And he was rewarded for his efforts, not due to his own strength, but by the strength of God.

Consider others who were so rewarded for their persistent, powerful prayers to God. While in the region of Tyre and Sidon a gentile woman approached the Lord, and pled for His blessing (Matthew 15:21-28). But Jesus rebuffed her initial petition only to have her launch into worshipping Him and increasing her plea. In what appears to be a stronger rejection Jesus again declines to grant her entreaty. But finally, she prevails on Him by her persistence, receiving not only what she had asked but even garnering Christ’s praise for her faith.

Abraham begged God to spare the wicked city of Sodom, and even bargained with Him, continually pressing for more and more with each request (Genesis 18:20-33). Throughout his haggling, the grandfather of Israel maintained a disposition of inferiority but boldness with the Righteous Judge seeking greater advantage with Him.

Jesus taught that we that we should always pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1-8). We are to ask, seek, and knock to receive from God what we desire (Luke 11:5-13) with increasing intensity, not satisfied to go away without obtaining His blessings. James said that it is not the righteous who avail much, but their fervent prayers (James 5:16). Paul spoke of Epaphras laboring fervently in prayer on behalf of his fellow Christians in Colossae (Colossians 4:12).

Do we fail to gain the victories and blessings in Christ because we fail to wrestle in fervent prayer for our desires? It isn’t that God is contentious or stingy but He loves to reward earnest pleadings from His children and changes our heart and character in the process. He even gives us the surest aid in securing success in this enterprise, Himself. Paul wrote that the Spirit Himself helps us in our weaknesses in prayer and intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26-28) if we will but engage in that communion with God as these faithful examples did before us.

As the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), Christians should not forfeit victory and blessings by failing to pray deeply and meaningfully to the One who is able to richly reward. Let us bring all our struggles into His embrace and experience His comfort and peace through prayer.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).”

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/world/middleeast/iranian-wrestler-alireza-karimi-machiani.html
  2. Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible, www.studylight.org

Billy Alexander is a member of the church of Christ in Jersey Village in Houston, TX. He and his wife Gwen both work at Hewlett-Packard where they met and have worked more than 25 years each. Billy enjoys teaching Bible several times each week at Jersey Village and Memorial church of Christ. Since 2008, his weekly article "Equipping the Saints" as run in the Jersey Village bulletin.