Who Was That Masked Man?
Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have
struggled with God and with men and have overcome.
Go Deep: There was a day when entertainment didn’t come through the television set; it came through the radio. Believe it or not, I can remember those days—at least the tail end of them. But in the good old days of radio, before my time, the folks were entertained with shows like “The Adventures of Sam Spade”, “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “The Shadow” (“the Shadow knows—bwahaha), and of course, “The Lone Ranger.” The Lone Ranger, who was known as “The Masked Man”, was the greatest! He would ride into town, save the day, then ride off into the sunset with a “Hi-ho, Silver, away!” to the tune of the William Tell Overture. And invariably an awestruck bystander would ask the question, “Who was that Masked Man anyway?”
“Who was that masked man anyway?” may be your response to the mysterious wrestling match that took place between Jacob and the unknown assailant here in Genesis 32:22-32. Of course, if you’ve grown up around the Bible, you’ve been instructed that Jacob’s opponent was God. But when you read the text, that’s not so clear. From Jacob’s perspective, his opponent was nothing more than a man (Genesis 32:24)—perhaps a shadowy assassin from Laban’s clan or a hitman from Esau’s tribe—both men whom Jacob had cheated and had sufficient reason to “rub out” the cheater!
But as the death match (“wrestling” would be far too tame a term if you were in Jacob shoes) continued through the night, and Jacob held his own against this stranger, it began to dawn on him that this was no mere human he was fighting. As you get to the end of the story and the two opponents finally speak, the stranger is identified—as least vaguely—when Jacob exclaims, “I have seen God face to face.” (Genesis 32:30)
We get a little more insight into the stranger’s identity all the way over in Hosea 12:4, when the prophet writes that it was none other than the Angel of the Lord who was duking it out with Jacob. The Angel of the Lord is identified as God himself throughout Scripture (for instance, Acts 7:30), and has even come to be known in Christian theology as a pre-incarnate revelation of Jesus Christ. So who was that masked man anyway? I think it is safe to say that Jacob was wrestling with none other than Jesus.
Now all that information may be nothing more than relatively useless Bible trivia to you, but there is something in this story with which you and I can identify: Wrestling with God. Jacob wrestled with God, and the essence of the wrestling match was over who was going to run Jacob’s life, and how. It had been clear to Jacob throughout his life that God wanted to bless him, but Jacob, whose name meant “deceiver”, had tried to manipulate and coerce those blessings into reality. Jacob wanted it done his way.
I’ll bet you can relate to that; I sure can. You know that God has promised to bless you, but perhaps you are trying to force his favor according to your timing and to your liking. But it won’t work that way—it never does. God can’t be God of your life if you’re trying to be God of your life, too. There is room for only one throne in your personal world, and guess what, God gets it. When you resist, the wrestling begins.
Learn from Jacob, my friend. The only way to go with God is by way of surrender. Jacob learned that the hard way—and he was left with a lifelong limp—but at the end of the day, Jacob’s fundamental approach to life changed from deceptive striving to faithful obedience. It is the surrender to a life of faithful obedience and ruthless trust that, as Andrew Murray wrote, must become “the essential characteristic of our lives.”
Are you wrestling with God? The sooner you cry “uncle” the better off you’ll be!
Just Saying… What C.S. Lewis said is true: “The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.”