Jacob and the Wrestler – Gospel in Life

Jacob and the Wrestler

Tim Keller |  September 8, 1996

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  • Repentance
Genesis 32:22-32
RS 272-01


Drawing near to God is perilous. If there’s any place in the Bible where that comes out, it’s here, because when Jacob draws near to God, he finds that God is a wrestler.

This is the climactic moment in Jacob’s life. This is the place where Jacob finally finds out what his life means, finally finds out what his main problem is, finally has a transformation of heart. Before this incident, Jacob plays at religion. After this, he’s a changed man.

To understand this narrative, we have to 1) look at the whole scope of Jacob’s life and how this brings it all together, and then 2) draw out four practical conclusions for us today.

Genesis 32:22–32

When Jacob wrestles with a man until dawn, it shows us that coming close to God can be risky and scary. This story also ties in the mistakes of Isaac and Jacob with God’s promise to Abraham, reminding us that the Bible isn’t just about good and bad behaviors—it’s about God saving us. After wrestling with the man, Jacob realizes he’s been trying to control God his whole life, which leads him to say sorry and want a better relationship with God, seeing Him as the ultimate prize.

1. You’ve been fighting God all along

When we seek a close relationship with God, we discover something deep: our biggest problem isn’t our situation or skills, but our constant resistance to what God wants. God’s kindness helps us see this, showing us that our real issue is not trusting Him and not wanting to do what He asks. Understanding this is the beginning of change.

2. God has to wound you to show you grace

God often shows Himself to us in our hard times, just like He did with Jacob. Our troubles and hurts remind us of God’s kindness, pushing us to stop ignoring the truth and start recognizing it. These aren’t punishments, but loving interventions, providing comfort through the shared experiences between us and people in the Bible like Jacob.

3. The only thing you really need is the reality of God

In the book “Finding God,” Larry Crabb shares a story about Dr. Charles Smith that makes us think about what we’re willing to give up to have a deeper relationship with God. Like Jacob, who didn’t stop praying and wrestling with God until he received blessings, we’re encouraged to pray and look for God, even when it’s hard or confusing. By regularly praying and following God, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense, we can experience God’s reality and be changed.

4. We win by losing

Jacob’s experience with God at Peniel teaches us that meeting God can change us instead of hurting us. The story suggests that God and Jesus chose to show themselves in weakness and limits, winning by losing, just like how we’re saved. This emphasizes the importance of coming to God with respect and thankfulness, aiming to do what He wants instead of fighting against it.



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