The Wrestling Match That Changed History | Tomorrow’s World — July/August 2024

The Wrestling Match That Changed History

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One man’s ancient determination still resonates throughout the modern world. What can you learn from Jacob’s struggle?

Wrestling is a fascinating sport involving physical strength, skill, and tenacity, as combatants strive to “pin” their opponents. Professional wrestling has enjoyed popularity for generations, and it garnered over a billion dollars in revenue in 2023. This form of wrestling has been considered entertainment rather than a sport, but collegiate wrestling is a legitimate sport overseen by the NCAA; 395 colleges across the United States participate in it, and it is a popular event in the Olympic Games.

While the display of skill in such athletics absorbs the attention of millions, most people are unaware of a wrestling contest that occurred long ago in ancient Edom. Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, was returning to his homeland as a wealthy man with family, flocks, and herds after sojourning with his father-in-law, Laban, for 20 years. On this journey, he expected to encounter his brother, Esau, from whom he was estranged because of a controversy involving his birthright, which Esau believed Jacob to have stolen from him (Genesis 25:29–34).

In response, Jacob implemented a plan to placate his brother and protect his family (Genesis 32:3–23; 33:1–2). After Jacob sent his family and servants away, his story took a most interesting turn:

Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.” And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (vv. 24–30).

From this point onward, the name of Israel features prominently in Scripture. God worked with Jacob/Israel, and the descendants of his twelve sons became the nation of Israel, chosen by God to be an example to the world of His way of life.

God’s Promises to Jacob That Apply Today

Why would God “wrestle” with Jacob? He explains: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10). Why? Because “whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12). Jacob had endured physical trials and tests. Then, at this vulnerable moment in his life, came a struggle with God. This symbolically revealed his persistent character, which God would use in carrying out His plan for humanity.

All of this was part of God’s promise to righteous Abraham: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you: and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3).

Scripture tells the story of God’s interaction with Israel and the events that led up to the birth of Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. The physical contest in the wilderness between Jacob and the One who became the Messiah was a momentous event in establishing Israel as the instrument God would use to carry out His plan.

Nations are families grown great. The nations that now occupy the Middle East are among the descendants of those ancient families, whose conflicts and controversies continue down to the present day. These intractable problems will not be solved until Jesus Christ returns in power and glory as the King of kings and Prince of peace to establish His kingdom.


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