Written by Vicky Ng, Art by Christine Hwang
Have you read the book or seen the movie “The Hunger Games”? The games are based on the concept of survival of the fittest. Contestants are weighed, valued, and tested in a system of scores and statistics. Those who are “normal” are fortunate. Others are “abnormal” because of size, intelligence, or abilities. The victors won using unusual tactics, skills, and alliances. This is similar to how success is measured in our society. But what if you and I don’t have these skills? What if we were born into unfavorable circumstances? What if despite our best efforts we can never rival our competitors?
The secret to winning in this life does not depend on our abilities or circumstances. God is the ultimate judge, and we just need to know how to play His game, not anyone else’s. We learn more about this from Genesis 32:24-28:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Have you ever been in a friendly wrestling match? The game lasts for a while if your opponent is compatible in size and strength. But if you wrestled with God, you would expect Him to win quickly. Yet that was not the case when Jacob wrestled with God. They wrestled the entire night. Why did God choose to do this?
All of us fight against God. Jacob fought even before birth. In his mother’s womb, he competed with his twin, Esau, to be the firstborn because in their culture, the firstborn had greater birthrights. Unfortunately Jacob came out second, tightly grasping Esau’s heels, hence his nameâ€”Jacob means “grasping to the heels” or “he deceives.” Jacob grew up hating his name, birth order, and the fact that his father loved Esau most. So Jacob stole the blessing from his father that was meant for Esau and ran away from home to escape a vengeful Esau.
Twenty years later, Jacob had two wives, two concubines, eleven children, and plenty of propertyâ€”but no peace. He decided to face his brother and headed home. During his journey, he stayed one night at the River Jabbok (meaning “wrestling”). Then God appeared to wrestle with Jacob and teach him a lesson about winning.
Verse 25 begins, “When the man saw that he could not overpower him…” It seems Jacob was winning. Then God “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched.” The hip is one of the body’s most stable joints. The hip socket fits closely around the head of the femur, the bone in your upper leg, and the tip of the femur head is secured tightly to the socket with a ligament. Yet with a touch, God wrenched Jacob’s hip.
Then God did something surprising. In verse 28 He says, “You have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” God announced Jacob as the winner! To understand this, we must look carefully at the preceding verse. What made Jacob victorious in God’s eyes?
He did two things: (1) pled for God’s blessing and (2) gave his true name. These statements reflect life-changing transformations in Jacob’s heart.
First, when God touched Jacob’s hip and made it wrench, Jacob realized the person he was wrestling with was no human, but God, and that he had a deep longing for God’s blessingâ€”even more so than that of his father’s years ago. Like Jacob, we are all searching for something. Only God can fill that void, yet we fight Him and look to other things. After having wrestled with so many difficulties in life, Jacob learned he didn’t have to fight anymore. He simply had to ask and receive.
Secondly, when Jacob truthfully announced his name, it showed that he accepted who he was. Two decades earlier, Jacob stole Esau’s blessing by pretending to be Esau before their father, who had poor eyesight. All his life Jacob rejected the identity God gave him, instead wishing to be Esau. But by the time he wrestled with God, he found peace in being himself.
Our submission to and cooperation with God makes us winners. We need to stop fighting Him, accept the circumstances He has given us, and seek him regardless of how good or bad those circumstances are. When we align ourselves with His heart, we share in the victory of our King.