Jacob’s Wrestling Match – Genesis 31-33

Our church family is reading through the first five books of the Bible together in ninety days. We invite you to join us as we believe this will be a time that will change our lives. 

Read Genesis 31-33

As difficult as it may seem, God chooses to use Jacob as a foundation stone for Israel – His one people to work His plan of saving humanity. Jacob, with all of his family dysfunction and history of deceit, becomes Israel, the nation that will eventually give birth to the Messiah, Jesus. Strangely, God chooses to transform Jacob both physically and spiritually through a wrestling match.

Jacob was a stubborn man who wrestled with his father (Genesis 25:22), his brother (Genesis 27), and his father-in-law (Genesis 29-31). And now he was to wrestle with God Himself (Genesis 32:22-32). The strange account tells of an all-night struggle between God’s messenger and Jacob. Somewhere in the middle of the night, Jacob becomes aware than he is not wrestling with a mere mortal. While the shroud of darkness covered the identity of his attacker, the enormous power of his opponent was evident the moment Jacob’s hip was dislocated by a simple touch from his adversary. Hours and hours of thrashing about soon gave way to the dawning of a new day. But just before the light of dawn broke, Jacob clung to his rival like a rag doll. The story takes an odd twist – whereas Jacob’s earlier efforts had been in hopes of defeating his opponent, he now hung on in hopes of receiving a blessing.

Towards the end of the fight, the angel asks Jacob his name. In the context of the Bible, to disclose your name was also often an act of self-disclosure. When Jacob shares his name, it is essentially a confession of his lifelong practice of deceit. Jacob’s name was given to him because he grasped at the heels of his older brother, Esau, at their birth. From the beginning, Jacob would do anything necessary to climb to the top (Genesis 27:36). So when Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, we begin to see the purpose of the all-night wrestling match (Genesis 35:10). It’s not just that Jacob’s name has changed, but his character and life undergoes a profound metamorphosis.

Why Christmas? Jesus Came for War

Christmas is about war. Christmas is a declaration of war from the throne room of heaven. For it is God’s pronouncement of war on Satan Himself. Christmas is about Satan’s destruction. We often think of Christmas in terms of peace. Yet, Christmas is war. Jesus Himself tells us:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

That God came to pronounce war is good news for us. For His coming is for Satan’s destruction. For you to experience the fullest meaning of Christmas, you must discover God is at war.

Who is Satan?

There exists a good deal of skepticism about the existence of Satan himself in our day. As recently as October, 2013, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia revealed he believed in a literal Satan to the surprise of many. Yet, those who take the Bible seriously must also take Satan seriously.

Satan goes by many different names in the Bible: Satan (which means adversary), the devil (accuser), Abaddon (destroyer), the dragon (Revelation 12:3-4), “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and Beelzebub (meaning lord of the dwelling) among others (Matthew 12:23). We learn of numerous instances of demon possession when we read the gospels.

Satan’s Origins

When God created the world, the Bible says, He “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 3:1). This means that that even the angelic world did not have evil angels at that time. But by the time of Genesis 3, we find that Satan, in the form of a serpent, was tempting Eve to sin (Genesis 3:1-5). Therefore, sometime between the events of Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 3:1, there must have been a rebellion in the angelic world with many angels turning against God and becoming evil. The reason why Satan is considered an angel is because of the words of Jesus who said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Satan was the first sinner and every sinner today, without Christ, is his child.

Yet, when Satan rebelled and convinced all of humanity to join Him, there was no trip to the emergency room in Heaven. Why? The Bible does not set Satan up as a kind of anti-God who stands over against God as His equal but polar opposite. Satan does not have equal power to God. He is presented throughout Scripture as a highly superior, spiritually intelligent being, who chose to set himself up as a rival ruler of the universe. Yet, Satan is not a match to God Himself — Satan is not God’s equal.

So why does God keep Satan around? Why doesn’t God destroy the devil? In the end, God will terminate Satan’s existence. One day, God will pick Satan up as if by the nape of his neck and will drop him into eternity’s trash can (Revelation 20:10). Until then, God uses Satan for His greater purposes. It’s not that God is toying with Satan or with humanity. Instead, God chooses to use Satan for a greater good. And while we often question the evil and pain of our day, we trust in God’s good wisdom.

Christmas: A Foray into Satan’s Territory

The Apostle John tells us why the first Christmas occurred. He tells why the shepherds scurried to find the baby Jesus so many years ago:

“You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” ( 1 John 3:5).

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b).

While North Korea and South Korea famously stand in détente over the 38th parallel, God moves forward boldly through the manger of Bethlehem. He marshals His only Son against the forces of evil. God will not sit idly by doing nothing while children are abused, the weak are sexual exploited, and the corrupt rulers of the world pervert justice to their own ends. As a response to all that is wrong in the world, Jesus declares war on Satan. Christmas is a cause of celebration for the elimination of sin. Christmas is a cause of celebration for the elimination of Satan. This is why Christ really appeared.

Satan Knew 

Satan understood that Christmas meant war. Indeed, the entry of Jesus Christ into human affairs was viewed by the Evil One as bold and brazen attempt against all of his interests. The battle between Satan and God is all over the pages of our New Testament. Shortly after Jesus appeared in Bethlehem, Satan inspired Herod into a fury (Matthew 2:16-18). In order to eliminate the baby Jesus, Herod had all the male children under the age of two killed in Bethlehem. Later, while Jesus is fasting, Satan tempts Jesus on at least three occasions (Luke 4:1-13). At other times throughout Jesus’ public ministry, demons recognize His true identity when even His followers failed to do so (Luke 4:31-37). Satan understood the true meaning of Christmas.

The War is Personal

But the war is also personal. For Christ came to destroy the evil in you as well as the evil in the world. The starting point to becoming a Christ-follower is to admit that there is something inside of you that must be destroyed. The evil in you is just as deadly as the evil outside of you. Christmas means that Christ came to destroy sin everywhere. Jesus came not to destroy you but the evil in you. He comes to change you and to give you a fresh start. Christmas is marvelous because of Christ’s work in you.

Again, Christmas is about war. Christmas is a declaration of war from the throne room of heaven. For it is God’s pronouncement of war on Satan Himself. Join me in celebrating Christmas for the elimination of sin. Join me in celebrate Christmas for the elimination of Satan. This is why Christ really appeared and I am forever grateful.

Programming Note: I am thankful for the ministry of Pastor John Piper. His message on 1 John 3:1-10 served as a catalyst for my ideas.