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  • Writer's pictureHelen Bent

Wrestling with God (19-05-22)

Bible Reading: Genesis 32. 24 - 31

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[f] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[h] and he was limping because of his hip.

A Thought Last week we paid a visit to Coventry Cathedral to see the Epstein 'Stories in Stone' exhibition. The centrepiece of the exhibition is Epstein's sculpture of Jacob wrestling with the angel, based on the story from the book of Genesis. It is a wonderful sculpture, made from marble. The figures are imposing, larger than normal human beings, and the sculpture is usually displayed on a plinth which gives extra height. Both figures are thick set, and fully engaged in their epic struggle.

Closer examination reveals some fascinating details. Although Jacob dared to wrestle with the angel, the angel is clearly the stronger of the two here. The two figures are locked in close combat. The angel could overpower Jacob and lift him off his feet at any moment. and yet it is almost as if the angel is tenderly cradling a recalcitrant child. The angel's hands are stretched across Jacob's back, gently holding him secure even as he puts up a fight.

Jacob had faced many struggles in life, mainly stemming from his battles with his twin brother Esau. Jacob had deceived Esau out of his birthright as the oldest son and had then had to leave home in a hurry. Now Jacob was going to have to face Esau once more and he was afraid of what might happen. It was at this point he dared to wrestle with God and ask for his blessing despite his past behaviour. According to the Genesis account, Jacob did not come out of the encounter unscathed. His leg was dislocated, and at the end of the struggle he was left limping. However, at the same time he came away with God's blessing.

I have had a few of my own struggles with God over the years, when situations I have faced have been particularly tough and God has not been answering my prayers as I had hoped. It was in the midst of one of these struggles that someone first introduced me to Epstein's sculpture. I had not been accepted for ordained ministry and was facing the tough challenge of going through the whole selection process all over again. To cut a long story short, I will always carry some of that pain with me, but I also carry with me the certain knowledge that a faithful God held me secure. And now, over twenty-five years later, I can testify to God's rich blessings in my life and ministry.

As you consider your own struggles in life, may you find insight and encouragement in the story of Jacob (Genesis 25.19 - 33) and through Epstein's sculpture. (See below)

A Prayer

Merciful God, hold us ever secure through the wrestling and the doubts in our lives, that in due time we will know your blessings.


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