Waiting. Another thing.

We can’t leave the idea of waiting without considering the alternative, which is to use every means at our disposal to get life’s good things.

I was reminded of this in re-reading the account of Jacob wrestling with God just before he meets his brother Esau (Genesis 32). Jacob’s grappling with the angel usually is held out as a way of getting what we want from God. After all, in wrestling, Jacob, prevails, just as he has prevailed with men (Genesis 32:28). Many use this as an example of how we should “wrestle with God” in prayer, as if we need to overcome His unwillingness to bless us.

This is why letting the Bible comment on itself is so important. Remember that the Prophets are in many ways a commentary on the Pentateuch, and many of the stories and laws in the first five books of the Bible are elaborated upon and clarified in later books.

In this case, it is Hosea who provides some light on Jacob’s wrestling match with God. Beginning with chapter four, Hosea is bringing charges against Israel, sometimes called “Jacob.” The final one of these is in chapter 12, where the Lord rebukes the nation, using Jacob’s behavior as a bad example:
1 Ephraim feeds on the wind
and pursues the east wind all day long;
they multiply falsehood and violence;
they make a covenant with Assyria,
and oil is carried to Egypt.
2 The Lord has an indictment against Judah
and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
he will repay him according to his deeds.
3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
4 He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us—
5 the Lord, the God of hosts,
the Lord is his memorial name:
6 “So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.”

Hosea’s words from the Lord interpret for us what really happened at Mahanaim, and it is not favorable to Jacob. His bargaining for Esau’s birthright, stealing his blessing, and tricking Laban are not positive things, but a type of violence, which is uncalled for. This aggressive, obsessive pursuit of God’s blessing not only is counterproductive and damaging to relationships, it is totally unnecessary.

Jacob wrestles, just as he has wrestled his whole life. But he is blessed in his humble, desperate request, not as a result of besting God, but in weeping and seeking His favor (v. 4). (Bear in mind that God has condescended to this wrestling match as a concession, and that with one small twitch of his finger, could have destroyed Jacob, body and soul, not just leave him with a limp!) The text is not telling us that somehow Jacob overcame God’s reluctance to bless or physically beat God into submission. It is telling us that Jacob is learning a costly lesson about grace.

It is true that Epaphras “wrestled in prayer” for his beloved church family (Colossians 4:12), as should we. But is Epaphras wrestling God? No, he is fighting against his own flesh and against the world, just as we do in our own prayers. The spiritual life is a battle, but we are battling spiritual powers, not God (Ephesians 6:12). Even Jesus in the Garden was evidencing that struggle in His own flesh, but He was not trying to convince His Father to bless Him!

So shall we not pursue God and His blessing? Of course we should, and must. But what does that mean? What does pursuing God look like?

God is not a reluctant or begrudging giver. His blessings overflow like an artesian well. Psalm One tells us that the way to blessing is merely walking with God and meditating upon His word, which means loving Him and others and embracing His promises.

This is what Hosea is saying to Israel, and us. Instead of striving for God’s blessings, which He has promised and are sure, we are to rest in His grace: Pursue love and justice and “wait continually for your God.”

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8

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