The Struggle That Destroys And Remakes Us

“I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered.”

Genesis 32:30

It is doubtful that any man will be changed into Christ’s likeness without moments of intense battle. The flesh dies hard. God, in His infinite jealousy for His chosen children boxes us in by simply letting us have our own way. He knows that, given enough rope, we will hang ourselves and that only when the noose is around our neck will be ready to turn to Him in brokenness and genuine repentance. As Tozer has said, “It is doubtful if God can use a man greatly unless He hurts him deeply.”


We are most like Jacob. He is an independent, sinful, devious man. All of his life he has known something of God, but not enough. He has known God through his heritage but not his experience. In His mercy, God has protected Jacob enough so that he will not destroy himself, but let him loose enough to bring him to a Jabbok moment.

One lonely night, Jacob finds himself with his angry father-in-law behind him and his estranged brother, Esau in front of him. He is hemmed in by the consequences of his own ways. This is where his self-life has placed him and it is a frightful spot, alone by the Jabbok river. In the darkness of the night, Jacob is surely feeling the crushing weight of his own choices as God is deliberately bringing him to the end of himself.


At this precise moment he encounters God and it is not pleasant. We will only discover the nature of this night in eternity, but it is described as “wrestling.” All night long, Jacob and the Lord strive with each other. As the morning dawns, Jacob’s Divine opponent had “not prevailed against him” and so “He touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.” (Genesis 32:25) God gives the ultimate necessary and disabling blow.

Finally the limping wrestler realizes that God and God alone is the Source. No one else can save Him. None but God can bless Him and He cries out for God.

This is the point of the exercise. Now God is free to give the ultimate blessing: He changes Jacob. This transformation is accompanied by the bestowing of a new name. The sinful Jacob becomes the devout Israel and is now ready to walk into the fullness of his destiny.


Now, like his father and grandfather before Him, the knowing Israel can build an altar of true worship. He is no longer a spectator but a willing participant in God’s redemptive history.

The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones was once asked, “What does a person look like who has truly met God?” Alluding to Genesis 32:31, he replied, “He walks with a limp.” … After encountering the living Christ, Jacob was forever crippled—both physically and in regard to his ego. He could no longer strut around arrogantly as he had done before. His pride turned to lowliness (33:3). His greed turned to generosity (33:10–11). And his self-reliance had turned into worship (33:20). So we who are professing believers must ask ourselves: Have these things happened to me? Have my habits changed? Have I met the Lord?[1]

If you have not come to the Jabbok you may still vainly believe that your plans will work, your strength is sufficient, and your wisdom is impeccable. If you sense that may be so, I would cry out for the Jabbok. Ask God to take you there.

It may be that only a lonely night at the Jabbok and a sweaty striving with your Master will work this out of you. It may be a long night, but it will hurt you in the best possible way.


©2012 Bill Elliff. Originally Posted Aug 17, 2012 on Bill Elliff’s blog.

[1] Strassner, K. (2009). Opening up Genesis. Opening Up Commentary (132–133). Leominster: Day One Publications.