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  • Writer's pictureKristen Cole

Marriage Wrestling God


In finding my space here in the “Blogosphere” I am seeking to be what God wants me to be, and specifically, what He wants me to be, here. I am spending time contemplating His message to my heart and exactly how He is inviting me to share what He is teaching me. As I described in my first blog post, I wear a lot of different hats in this life, as do most of you. This post is on marriage. A tender and sensitive, vulnerable yet powerful covenant I hold dear to my heart. Just to be sure this is in good keeping with my accountability and commitment to Stan, I had him read and approve of this post before publishing it.

I landed in Psalm 46, The Message Version, one morning. This statement was repeated three times:

“Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.”

This Scripture intrigued me. I began digging, in order to learn about this “Jacob-wrestling God”.

Jacob was born holding onto his brother, Esau’s, heel. His name, meaning “supplanter” or “to trip up or overthrow” described him well as he would first steal his brother’s birthright using a warm hearty homemade stew to lure his hungry, hard-working, gamesman of a brother to choose food over this birth position blessing. Later, he would steal another blessing that belonged to his brother…his mother placing fur laden “dress up clothes” onto his arms encouraging him to present himself as Esau, when it was time for his father, Isaac to bestow his final blessing onto his elder son.  Understandably, Esau then madly pursued Jacob, seeking revenge in the deepest of ways as he pledged to kill Jacob.

Jacob fled…and despite his past, God said,  “Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”  (Genesis 28:15 The Message) This was a promise that God had made to his father, Isaac and Isaac’s father, Abraham. This was the blessing of Abraham’s descendants gaining the most desirable locations on earth and greatness among the land.

Jacob then vowed: “If God stands by me and protects me on this journey on which I’m setting out, keeps me in food and clothing, and brings me back in one piece to my father’s house, this God will be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-21 The Message)

Jacob then fled to his Uncle Laban, who hired him and subsequently gave him a taste of his own medicine, tricking him into working for 7 years to gain his daughter Rachel’s hand in marriage and instead giving him Leah, his older, less desirable daughter. Jacob, in hot pursuit of Leah’s younger sibling, worked another 7 years until Rachel was also gifted to him. During this time of hard-working of the land, Laban continued deceiving Jacob, who eventually fled, secretly, and returned home to Canaan.

And the God he trusted said, “I will go with you and I will bring you back to that very ground (Canaan).” 

Despite this assurance, Jacob’s struggles didn’t end there, as Laban was enraged that Jacob fled, without notice with his daughters and grandchildren. The two men fought, Jacob again called on God, Laban backed off and a truce of sorts was made.

To finish his preparations for this homecoming, Jacob sent a message to Esau informing him of his intent to come home. After all, it would certainly be better to give Esau fair warning than to show up and assume his homecoming a welcoming and celebratory event. Jacob, in his humility, sent a great multitude of prized livestock, to “pay off” the 400 soldiers who came pursuing Jacob with Esau.

Though Jacob seemed to have dotted all of his Is and crossed all of his Ts, fear overtook him in the dark of the night. He sent his wives, children and possessions across the river to protect them…and once he was alone, on the other side of the river, he wrestled…”a man”.

Some commentaries speak of this “man” being an angel, some God himself.

“But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint. The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.” Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.” The man said, “What’s your name?” He answered, “Jacob.” The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?” The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him. Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” The sun came up as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip. (Genesis 32:24-32 The Message)

After digging deep into these Scriptures to better understand the back story, I began thinking about this infliction deliberately thrown at Jacob, Jacob…the God-Wrestler. I then remembered Paul and his thorn, his infliction, also described as a handicap, that…he described in this way:

“I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10. The Message)

So many times I have reflected on my own weaknesses in relation to Paul, especially, but this time, I thought about the weaknesses of marriage. In the Christian marriage covenant, the two become one flesh. The husband and wife commit to a life long union with Christ at the center of that union.

There is much blessing in that union. But, marriage between two imperfect humans is hard. The oneness of marriage often limps along. There are handicaps of many forms. One may be weak for a time and the other strong, but nine times out of ten, someone in that “oneness” is going to be hurting, causing that one being of those two people, to be handicapped. And, because in marriage, we are ONE, WE are also handicapped.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is often read during wedding ceremonies.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

There are some parts of the journey of Jacob that can be likened to the journey to marriage. We can relate to the seeking, the seeking of blessing and asking our parents for that blessing before marriage. We can relate to the journey, working hard, sometimes being deceived by the prowling one and still working, harder, taking on more and more responsibility and getting no where…except lost and in defeat. We can relate to the desire to flee when all seems wrong…

And we can certainly relate to wrestling…but who are we wrestling?

Are we God-wrestling? Are we accessing the power of the Jacob-wrestling God?

“Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.”

In this God-wrestling, there is success, there is defeat, there is reconciliation, there is brokenness. There is a need for recognition of the fragility of this oneness and the view of its handicap as a gift. A gift that keeps us dependent on HIM.

What is your marriage limp? Your marriage thorn or marriage handicap? Does it bring you to your knees or into the devil’s lair?

The handicaps of marriage have a lot of different names: addiction, unemployment, unequaled yokes, workaholics, depression, other mental illness…or maybe it could be called the “well-worn path of your mind”, that path that is a pattern of negative thinking that convinces you that he/she does not love you, is out to hurt you and just “doesn’t get it” anymore. The years, the life events, the kids, the trials of disappointment, all the things that transform you, that transform your mate…

This idea of wrestling with God in the union of marriage really made me think. Oh, the push and pull of society, the voices of those well-meaning passer-byers who have no idea what valley you are wrestling in…and who you are wrestling with. They tell you to be strong, to love yourself, to look out for number one. But you are not one without the two…and the three…that three stranded cord that you tied a knot in on that day of holy matrimony. That wasn’t just a strand of flowery words, that was a covenant. A knot, that though life may fray it at times, was not meant to be let loose.

“Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.”

Right hand work in marriage is one of those places I find it most difficult to give myself to. At about years 11-16, there is a shift I have noticed among many people I know and love, a shift of priorities, of dreams, of time, of career, of self…and the right hand work that I am doing wants that credit…wants those neon lights and recognition from my beloved. In the seeking to feel loved, I am left tugging at that left hand, saying, “Pay attention! Look at all I am doing to keep this marriage alive!!!” This way is easier, it is well supported by society, by culture and sadly, even by the church, at times.

But, what does it look like to allow the work of the right hand to flourish in a marriage? Maybe you do get up every morning and hit the floor, the so-cold-it’s-almost-wet-floor with your bony knees…and you seek HIM…on behalf of your spouse. Maybe tears then soak the very floor that was not wet before but it is now…and the tears fall like honey, slowly dripping, hanging, lingering and lasting…they hurt, they stick, they leave a stain…but you call out and you remember that the Spirit will intercede…when you can’t and He does…and He heals…and you invite your other half in…that other half of you, that one that may cause your handicap or shoulder yours…you invite them into that wrestling match.

Maybe you do the dishes every.single.night. with love, praying while you wash with those soap suds bubbling and you let the light hit them in a way where there is a rainbow and you recognize that it is there…the promise of God, in your soapy hands, in the dirt of the dishwater and you clean off that filthy residue of pride…because, as you were up to your elbows in dish grime, kids screaming, laundry shaking the very foundation of your home as that filled-to-the-brim washer trembles… your spouse…he was telling his boss that he could not stay late at work because he had to be at his daughter’s dance recital at 5:30.

No, she is not the best dancer and no prize will be won and there will be many more recitals, ball games and swim meets…but that right hand work, that choosing his child, that one he made with you…he is saying no to moving up that ladder that is shouting at him, calling him, begging him…to win, to succeed, to climb the rungs quickly to get that recognition that means he matters. And you may not even know that right hand work took place. What you see is a spouse wrestling internally with the aftermath of that conversation, maybe being short tempered with you, or engrossed in an electronic device for escape from those damaging thoughts…and you force your right hand work to the front and taint it…just like left hand shouting satan would have it. Or you can choose, in that moment, the right hand work of quiet collection and prayer on his behalf.

The right hand work in a marriage gets easily overtaken by pride, self-centeredness and self-promotion. It is a struggle. Just like Jacob’s life and weaving in and out of favor, of reaching for God, then away from God…his true heart was for God. He sought God with every part of his being and he wrestled God. God “couldn’t get the best of him so he threw Jacob’s hip out of joint” and Jacob still wrestled and refused to stop until God blessed him.

Just as in Jacob’s story, his mighty physical strength affording him great success, we try our best to “do marriage” in the same way….self reliance, brute strength, power, persuasion…but in the God-wrestle, He shows up and forces our hand. He points out our weakness, even allows it, or in Jacob’s case…caused it… so that we realize that when we are weak, then we are strong IN HIM.

His strength is what he calls us to rely on, not our own strength, as it will surely falter under pressure. God’s strength and power, the triple in the three stranded cord is what makes us, as individuals strong and therefore, our marriages. If left to our two human strings of yarn, we would surely frizz, fray, split and break. But, because of God’s wrestle, His pursuit, His triple added to our two that is one, we have His power, if we are bold enough to claim it, and where our marriages are weak, then they are strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

“Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.”

But you have to let Him…

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