Think of someone in your life that you revere as strong. They may be someone you would like to emulate; someone who seems to face each circumstance in their life with courage and vitality; someone who you may not even pray for much because, well, they’re strong. I received a prayer request from a person just like this asking for strength to prevail. My heart sunk. This is an independent, elderly woman in the faith. Her life inspires me. In my mind, she had already prevailed. In that moment I realized the vulnerability of true strength.
As I’ve been praying for this godly woman, my reflections were reinforced by my Bible study for this week. Hebrews 6:11-12 says, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until this end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” This verse reminded me of that prayer request, and how active our hope is. Arthur Pink in his Exposition of Hebrews encourages us that it is our crying out to the Lord that “distinguishes a true child of God from the empty professor—his wrestling with God in secret for grace to enable him to press forward in the highway of holiness” (338).
Know of any wrestling matches in Scripture? Pink’s quote reminded me of the wrestling match between God and Jacob recorded in Gen. 32:22-32. Did you ever find it strange that God condescends to a wrestling match with the likes of Jacob? What was that all about? And who won? Tim Keller has a great series on Smashing Idols, and in the third sermon, Gospel Incarnation, he discusses this wrestling match. Keller says they both won by triumphing in weakness.
This is a match that makes MMA look like child’s play. It goes on for hours throughout the night. Have you ever been in a wrestling match? I’ve done enough jujitsu to know that three minutes kicks your butt. Jacob is pretty much jumped by God himself. Although the text says that a “Man” wrestled him, there are some clues that reveal his identity. In v.25 we see that God simply touched Jacob’s hip socket, and it is wrenched. Can you imagine what was going through Jacob’s head when he realizes the enormous power that is being held back? Next, “the Man” tells him to let go because it is almost light. Jacob knows that no one can look at God and live—his life is in danger.
Keller believes this is the moment of Jacob’s conversion. This is the moment that he realizes that everything he has looked to in his life for blessing—his father, his wife—were merely idols. He now realizes that God himself is the blessing and he does something very irrational. Instead of saying, “Let me go; I don’t want to die!” he says, “I will not let go unless you bless me.” We see Jacob overcome in this wrestling match by repentance. He won through losing. He didn’t care if he died; hearing God’s blessing was all that mattered. He didn’t care about being weak. Keller explained that his condition after that match was like the life of every Christian: You dance because you know you have Christ forever, but you also limp because you know it’s all by grace.
But guess what? God also triumphed in weakness. Verse 25 reveals that God could not overcome Jacob. Keller emphasizes how God became voluntarily weak so that Jacob could be blessed rather than destroyed. And here’s where Keller brings it beautifully to the gospel:
In the pitch blackness of that night, God, as it were, feigned weakness in order to bring salvation. But centuries later, in the pitch darkness of Calvary, God literally became weak. Not just that, but down on Jesus Christ came the full weight of omnipotence and justice for not only what Jacob deserved, but you and I deserve.
Wow. Keller talks about the importance of weight class in wrestling because a heavier person will crush you no matter how skilled you are. The he asks, “How much does God weigh? How much does omnipotence weigh?” We see that God held back his weight when wrestling Jacob to the point that Jacob was prevailing, and yet with his own Son he brought down the full weight of omnipotence. Isaiah 53:5 says that Christ was crushed for our iniquities. But he held on! And Keller shares some more gospel genius:
Jacob held on, at the risk of his life, to gain the blessing for himself. But Jesus Christ held on, at the cost of his life, to get the blessing for us!
Jesus Christ truly had the strength to prevail. And by taking our curse, he has given us his blessing. I long for the day to hear it.