As we continue with our survey of Jesus’ Bible, we learn another lesson from Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32. This is the famous passage of Jacob’s wrestling match with an unknown opponent as he makes his way back to the land of Canaan. Please find your Bible and read the passage before we proceed.
When Jacob was born, he was given the name Yaakov because he was holding on to his twin brother Esau’s heel. The meaning of the name is “heel-grabber” or “supplanter.” Over his lifetime, Jacob lives up to this name because of his talent for not letting go. This name can be seen as a wrestling name. After the wrestling match in Genesis 32:28, the opponent (called a “man” in the text) gives Yaakov a new name — Yisrael. Based on this verse, the new name means “struggles and prevails with God.” The verb in Hebrew, yisar, which makes up the first part of the new name, means to struggle and prevail. El, the end of the name, means God. So his new name is a play on these two words and it tells us something very important about Jacob.
Reading through all the Biblical narrative concerning Jacob, we see that his life has been a constant struggle with men and God for blessing. He struggled with Esau for blessing; he struggled with Isaac for blessing; he struggled with his Uncle Lavan and in each one he has prevailed. It’s not so much that he is “Jacob the deceiver;” he is “Jacob the wrestler.” Jacob lived a life of wrestling because he saw that the blessings of God were worth all the struggle. The right of the first born that Esau traded for a bowl of soup, Jacob was willing to struggle all his life to receive. We learn from Jacob the value of seeking God. We learn to hold on to God and refuse to let go.
In the last book of our Bible, the book of John’s Revelation, the phrase “to him who overcomes” appears many times. In Revelation 2:7, we read “[T]he one who overcomes will be granted to eat from the tree of life.” Later in verse 11 it says, “[T]he one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” In Revelation 3:5, we read, “[T]he one who overcomes will be clothed in white clothing.” These examples suffice.
In one sense, as we read through these words, they can be somewhat disheartening. Each of us, if we’re completely honest, knows that if fully tested we would likely not overcome. And this is exactly what the Adversary would have us dwell on. He would tell us that since there is no way we can possibly be an overcomer, what’s the point in the struggle?
This is what we learn from Jacob. We learn that to overcome doesn’t mean to conquer. It does not mean that we have to wrestle God to the ground and pin him down to receive His blessing. All Jacob did was hold on. He would not let God go! And neither can we! We don’t actually have to overcome as long as we hold on to the One who has overcome the world — Messiah Jesus. The disheartening lies of the Evil One have no effect on us when we grab hold of Jesus with an iron grip and hang on.
No matter where life takes us, the good times, the bad times, the very dark times, we can overcome it all by hanging on tightly to our Lord and Master Jesus.
Frank Fenton is a lifelong student of the Word of God. He attends the Church of the Messiah in Xenia where he shares teaching duties for the weekly Bible study class, as well as contributing to the congregational teaching.