I want a ringside seat at this fight. So close I can feel the spray of their sweat. It’s not every day you get to see man go toe-to-toe with God. Fight it out. Roll in the dirt. Batter and bruise and body-slam each other. But today’s that day. Finally, we get to see what God is really made of. Finally, he leaves his throne for our gutter. This is the chance we’ve all been waiting for. Oh, yes, I’ve got a dog in this fight. His name’s Jacob. He’s not my first choice. I don’t care for Jacob. Never have. He’s got too much of me in him. He’s a liar and a cheat. He’s a coward and a user. All the men in the world who could have been the patriarch of the Old Testament church and this loser winds up on top. Married to two gals with a couple more co-wives on the side he employs as baby-makers. His family so fractured it’s the stuff of reality TV. On the outs with his twin brother for years. Here’s a man who seems to embody all my own sins. Not exactly hero material. But beggars can’t be choosers.
That God ever agreed to this fight seems the height of foolishness to me. Why come down from heaven? Why meet Jacob under cover of darkness, on the banks of this river, and wrestle with him through the small hours of the night? It’s not like He had to. He takes it upon Himself. He shows up, dressed in our skin, and picks a fight with the patriarch. You’ve got to wonder: does He have something up His sleeve?
I love the raw fury of the fight. I’ve poured everything I am into that man Jacob. All my own lying and cheating and cowardice. All my own anger and frustration and fears. All the fractures of my family. All my loneliness and hatred of life and feelings of worthlessness. All the stuff about me that I hate. It’s all in Jacob now. I am him and he is me.
And, miracle of miracles, we’re winning. Even when God pulls a sucker punch and dislocates Jacob’s hip, even then we won’t let go. Not yet. Not after all this. God’s not going to simply disappear back into His celestial mansion. No. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You tell Him, Jacob. I don’t care if the sun is peeking over the horizon. This fight’s not over.
“What is your name?” God asks. What a question. What is my name? My name is Jacob. And my name is Chad and Kim and Judas and Jezebel. But I also go by Doubter and Killer and Pharisee and Fool. Some call me merely Ex. Some call me Adulterer. Still others call me names best left to the imagination. They’re all true.
My Name Is A Cocktail Of All My Crimes
And to that cocktail we can now add even more. For look at me. All covered in grime and blood and spit and sweat. I’ve fought with God. I’ve fought with faith but also infidelity. I see it now. Dear Lord, I see what I am. I’ve held the Almighty down. I’ve lashed out at Him with all the muscle of meanness that skulks down the dark corridors of my soul. This has had nothing to do with an athletic competition. This has been sinner against Savior. This has been me in all my selfish nastiness lashing out at my Creator. And He’s let me. He’s let me hold Him down, press his face in the dirt of his creation. What is my name? Who am I? I am lying, cheating, running away, deceiving, supplanting Jacob. That’s who I am, that’s all of who I am, and that’s all I’ll ever be.
At least that’s what I assumed. And then, lo and behold, He goes and blows my mind. “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” We have prevailed? Yes. Against God? Yes. You mean to tell me that we have fought against God and won? Yes, precisely.
This is the night we have defeated God. This is the night of the fight that God lost in order that we might win. And in His loss, which is our victory, he gives us a new name. We are no longer Jacob. We are Israel, “he who strives with God.”
We Are No Longer Lying, Cheating, Running Away, Deceiving, Supplanting Jacob—We Are Holy, Righteous, Innocent, Forgiven, Justified, Sanctified, Children of God Named Israel
This is the game-changer that’s a name-changer. And who could have seen it coming? For this is more than a night on the banks of the Jaccok river. This is the night wed to the darkness that brooded from noon till three on the day we finally defeated God for good. We wrestle Him down in the mire of Jerusalem mud and pin Him to the execution tree with flesh-piercing iron. We who grabbed our brother’s heel on the way out of the womb grab the heel of our Brother and raise the hammer high. Sinners against the Savior. Men against God. Jacob against Jesus. All of us against all of Him.
And we defeat God. Oh the depths of the wise foolishness of the Lord who lets us have our way with Him. There is no God like you. Search if you will the highways and byways of every religion of the world and report back to me which of them has a God who loves his people so much He loses to them that they might win in Him. There is no God like the God of the Friday we call good. Wrestling Friday. Fighting Friday. The Friday that God shows us what he’s really made of—fathomless mercy and limitless love.
That little enigmatic story Moses tucked into Genesis 32 is the Gospel that shatters all expectations. A God who comes to man as a man. A sinner who fights with the Savior. A God who wills Himself to be bested by a creature. A creature who is re-named, re-blessed, redeemed in the victorious defeat of the God who is love.
If you wish to know the depths of the mercy of our God, look no further than this fight. Here is a God who gives up everything to give us everything. Here is the God who loses all that we might gain all. Here is the Lord who has nothing up his sleeve but a heart that pulses with blood that is willing to be shed for those He calls His brothers. In Him, we see God face to face. And from that face beams brightly the light of salvation that shines on the night we defeated the God who wins us by losing.
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