The North Side Coliseum in Fort Worth rocked to the shouts of hundreds of rabid professional wrestling fans. Right smack in the middle of this madness was my fourth grade Sunday School Class. Our Sunday School teacher took us on an outing to witness the exploits of Fritz von Erich renowned for his “Iron Claw” and the Freebirds. Looking back on that night now some forty years later, I realize this stands out as one of the most unorthodox outings for a group of Baptist boys, but it was a night I can still vividly recall to this day.
As we exited the coliseum, we put each other in head locks and arm bars. Our heads will filled with the thrills of watching grown men throw each other around the ring as rag dolls. We even witnessed the class fighting outside the ring complete with smashing each other with metal folding chairs less than twenty feet from our seats. It matters very little us that it was more “show” than reality. To us it was a real as it gets.
One dark night Jacob found himself alone awaiting an encounter with his older brother Esau coming to meet with four hundred fighting men. Jacob had good reason to be afraid he had swindled his brother out of his birth right and his father’s blessing before running for the hills.
So what did the next day hold for him a glad reunion with his long lost brother or war? Sleep escaped him that long night as Jacob wrestled all night with a man sent from above to struggle with him. As the new day dawned, the man fought for freedom, but Jacob would not relent demanding “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The wrestler asked a strange question. “What is your name?” Jacob gave his name. In response the wrestler declared: “You will no longer be called Jacob but Israel because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
In response Jacob inquired, “What is your name?” To which, the night wrestler replied: “Why do you ask me my name” and he blessed him there. In my mind’s eye the night wrestler knew Jacob should have recognized him.
The next morning, Jacob named the place of his wrestling match, “Peniel” saying “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Yes, the night wrestler was none other than God himself.
In a strange twist of fate, the next morning Jacob stumbled away from his long night of struggling with a distinctive limp and a new name Israel—which literally means “he who struggles with God” or “God prevails.” Either way it is clear this new name reflected Jacob’s relationship with the LORD.
I suspect all of us from time to time have spend a long night wrestling with the LORD over circumstances, tragedies, or decisions in our path. During these “dark nights of the soul” we often learn things about yourselves, but more importantly things about our relationship with God. Jacob was wise to hold on for dear life with his night wrestler. Often, the most significant blessings of life come our way when we wrestle with God, even if we walk away with a limp.