“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ So, He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’ And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (Genesis 32:24-28).
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (i.e. 18% of U.S. population, http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). While all “feelings” of anxiety should not be classified as a “disorder”, as a society many of us struggle with anxiety. Do you fight with having anxiety? How do you cope with it?
As Jacob journeys back to his homeland of Canaan, Jacob had some concerns that weighed on his heart. When he had left his parents 20 years earlier, it was because his brother Esau had hated him for his having stolen both Esau’s birthright and blessing. Esau had wanted to kill Jacob (cf. Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-29; 41). Jacob battled with anxiety regarding how Esau would receive him now.
As he heads home, Jacob discovers that Esau was coming to meet him with over 400 men (Genesis 32:6)! He is scared (Genesis 32:7). What should he do? First, he devises his own plan as divides the people and the animals that were with him into two companies. With a scarcity mentality, it appears he thought: “If Esau attacked the one, then at least the other company could escape to live on” (Genesis 32:7-8). In addition, to his credit, Jacob calls upon God in prayer, clinging to the promises God had made to bless him, and asking God to deliver him from Esau (Genesis 32:9-12). Moreover, after sleeping with racing thoughts running through his head of Esau coming to attack him, Jacob comes up with another plan to solve his worries about Esau: He sends droves of animals which he has acquired ahead of him by the hands of his servants as gifts to Esau (Genesis 32:13-21).
However, Jacob’s worries have not left his heart in spite of all his efforts. He is still uncertain of how Esau will react to his coming home to Canaan. As the opening verses above indicate, after sending his family over the ford of Jabbok (Genesis 31:22-23), Jacob engages in an all-night wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:24-24; cf. Hosea 12:4). Jacob cries out for God’s blessing and receives it. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel meaning “Prince with God” (Genesis 32:25-28). God blesses Jacob once again and Jacob continues on his journey with a limp in his walk from his wrestling match, but peace in his heart as he is assured of God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29-32).
I can certainly relate to Jacob. Many times, in my own life I have had to battle with my fears and anxieties. Sometimes, like Jacob, I have futility tried to use worldly tactics to overcome my fears. At other times, I have tried to figuratively wrestle with God (e.g. by blaming Him or doubting Him). Somehow, God puts up with me! While it is better if I just submit to God and His Will, I believe God knows there are times where, in vain, I will attempt to wrestle with Him. God is willing to endure me in this so I can learn about my own foolishness. I praise God who is so longsuffering in dealing with me. Today, I will seek to cast my anxieties upon God instead of trying to wrestle with Him!
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).