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Genesis 32:22-32

Wrestling with God

  • Matthew Dodd
  • Sunday Night Messages
  • June 18, 2023

It has been said, “Old habits die hard.”

I believe that is a true statement. In fact, there is one habit that plagues many, the tenacious habit of unbelief. Unbelief bears poisonous fruit such as fear, manipulation, anger, lying, anxiety, depression, and striving.

In Genesis 32:22-32, we are going to see how God confronted unbelief in Israel’s patriarch, Jacob. By doing so, we will also learn how God wants to build up our faith in Him, so that our lives may no longer be poisoned by unbelief.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

Wrestling with God
Genesis 32:22-32
June 18, 2023


  1. It has been said, “Old habits die hard.”
  2. I submit that it’s a true statement.
  3. In fact, there is one habit that plagues many; it’s the tenacious, persistent habit of unbelief.
  4. Unbelief produces a cornucopia of poisonous fruit such as anxiety, depression, fear, anger, lying, and manipulation, all of which are warning signs that one is striving in the flesh.
  5. Tonight, we’re going to see how God confronted unbelief in one of Israel’s patriarchs, Jacob.
  6. By doing so, we will learn how God wants to strengthen our lives in Him, so that we may prevent the poisonous fruit of unbelief and be fortified by faith.

Genesis 32:22-32


  1. Jacob was 97 years young in Genesis 32.
  2. For 20 years he served his Uncle Laban, who was a master deceiver like Jacob.
  3. Jacob went from a 77-year-old, failure-to-launch, momma’s boy to a wealthy man with two wives, two maids, ten sons, and one daughter.
  4. During the last six years of his time serving his Uncle Laban, Jacob became very wealthy. He acquired goats, sheep, camels, cattle, donkeys, and servants.
  5. But Jacob’s wealth created tension with Laban and his sons.
  6. Jealousy filled their hearts and Jacob was in danger of losing all he had acquired.
  7. According to Genesis 31, God commanded Jacob to move back to the land of his fathers, to the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and their descendants in Genesis 15.
  8. But there was a problem; Jacob had to pass through the land of Seir, the country of Edom, where his twin brother Esau lived.
  9. Suddenly Jacob’s past came back to haunt him and threatened to interfere with his future.

Transition – Now context is everything when we study the Bible.

  • So it’s important for us to see God’s heart for Jacob when He commanded Jacob to return to the Promised Land.
  • And it’s important to see that God’s heart for Jacob is also God’s heart for us. . .

I. God Wants to Bless Your Tomorrows (6-21)

   A. God confronts the past we try to forget (6)

  1. Now to put it nicely, the fraternal twins, Esau and Jacob had “issues.”
  2. First, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a cup of red lentil stew, the birthright of the firstborn son (Genesis 25:27-34).
  3. Second, with the help of their mother, Rebekah, Jacob deceived Isaac and stole Esau’s blessing, the blessing reserved for the firstborn son.
  4. When Esau heard his blessing had been stolen by Jacob, he wanted to kill Jacob.
  5. So, Jacob fled for his life and moved in with his Uncle Laban.
  6. Twenty years later, God told Jacob to go back home and promised to be with Jacob every step along the journey.

Genesis 31:3, Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

  • When Esau heard that Jacob was coming back, he decided to welcome his twin brother with an army of four hundred men (Genesis 32:6).

APPL – Why would God command Jacob to go home if going home meant seeing Esau, the brother who wanted to kill him?

  • While it’s true that God was calling Jacob back to the Promised Land, it’s important to recognize that God was also confronting the past Jacob was trying to forget.
  • The same is true in our lives.
  • Poor choices, fractured relationships; God wants to liberate us from all of it.
  • God wants to heal our lives and bless our tomorrows by confronting the past we often try to forget.
  1. When Jacob heard Esau was on his way to see him, he was “greatly afraid and distressed” (7).
  2. Even though the Lord had promised to be with Jacob, it was not enough for him.
  3. True to form, Jacob evaluated his options and came up with a series of clever schemes:
    a. He divided his camp into two groups so if one group was attacked the other could escape (7-8).
    b. Jacob prayed for deliverance, which was more like a “Foxhole prayer” (9-12).
    c. Jacob sent Esau gifts, over 550 animals, staged in groups to make for a long procession or parade of sorts for dramatic effect (13-20).
  4. The truth is Jacob did not trust God’s promise to be with him, so fear gripped his heart and drove him to do what he had done before, scheme and manipulate.
  5. Jacob thought the only way he could calm his brother’s anger and avert his revenge was to pay him off with gifts; lots of gifts.

Genesis 32:20, I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterwards I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.

B. God uses our past to strengthen us

  1. This is God’s goal, to strengthen us by confronting us in order to change us.
    a. To fortify our faith and change our character.
    b. To purge the manipulation out of the Manipulator.
    c. To prune the control out of the Control Freak.

Martin Luther, “A Christian is never in a state of completion but always in the process of becoming.”

  1. Jacob thought Esau was keeping him from God’s blessings and promises.
  2. But God was showing Jacob that Jacob was keeping Jacob from the blessings and promises of God.
  3. God would not allow Jacob to enter the Promised Land as Jacob.
  4. Jacob needed to change so God used Jacob’s past to bless Jacob’s future.


APPL Many people carry their past around with them, the very past they’re trying to forget.

  • The guilt and shame of their failures.
  • The pain inflicted upon them and the pain they have inflicted upon others.
  • God wants to use our past, failures included, to strengthen us and ultimately bless our tomorrows.
  • God is changing us for our good.


Philippians 1:6, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.


Transition – God is committed to our good, which means He will confront anything that’s bad for us.


II. Unbelief will Poison Your Soul (22-25)

 A. God waits for us to be teachable (24a)

  1. Jacob sent everyone away. (22-23)
  2. Jacob had done all he could do, no more schemes left in his big bag o’ tricks.
  3. In the middle of the night, Jacob was alone with his fears and his uncertain future; it was a teachable moment.
  4. Suddenly, Jacob discovered that he was not alone.
    a. God was with him.


Charles Spurgeon, “As sure as ever God puts His children in the furnace, He will be in the furnace with them.”


Isaiah 43:2, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.


b. Yes, God was with Jacob but not in the way Jacob expected.


B. God confronts us because He loves us


Hebrews 12:7, 10, Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. (NIV)


  1. It’s important to note that Jacob had been wrestling with God long before there was an actual wrestling match.
  2. God took the initiative to wrestle with Jacob to show him how he had been living for the last 97 years of his life.
  3. At first, Jacob probably thought he was wrestling one of Esau’s men.
  4. But the Bible reveals the true identity of Jacob’s opponent, the angel of the Lord, God’s Son, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.


Hosea 12:3-5, In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor. He found Him at Bethel, and there He spoke with us, even the Lord, the God of Hosts; the Lord is His name.


  1. Why did God appear to Jacob in the form of a man? Because Jacob had been treating God like He is a man:
    a. Forgetful and Unfaithful
    b. Frail and Finite.
    c. Foe, not a Friend.


W. Tozer once wrote in his book The Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

  1. But God is not man.
    a. God is faithful and never forgets His people or His promises.

Isaiah 49:14-16, But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.

b. God is not frail or finite.

  • God is infinite and all powerful.
  • God is for us not against us.

Romans 8:31, If God is for us, who is against us?

Transition – You see, a person who doubts God is a person who is wrestling with God. So. . .

III. Stop Wrestling with God (26-32)

  • I believe many people want to stop wrestling with God.
  • In fact, I believe many people are tired of wrestling with God.
  • But the truth is, many wrestle with God because they do not know anything different; their lives have been defined by wrestling with God, one round after another.
  • We wrestle with God because we doubt God.
  • So how do we break this horrible cycle?
  • Is there a divine alternative? Yes, there is. . .

A. Cling to God instead

  1. Jacob wrestled God; again, the thought alone is incredible. Just think about it. . .
    a. God is in a completely different weight class.
    b. Yet God allowed Jacob to wrestle Him all night.
    c. God could have easily pinned Jacob and then some.
  2. When it was time to finish the match, the Lord merely touched Jacob’s thigh, the symbol of Jacob’s strength, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated.
  3. With a touch, not a twist or a torque, God revealed His omnipotence.
  4. But God also revealed He was Jacob’s Advocate, not an adversary; God was for Jacob, not against Jacob.
  5. Once Jacob’s hip was dislocated, he could not flee.
  6. Even better, once Jacob realized he had met his match, he did not want to wrestle or flee.
  7. He cried out for a blessing instead and held fast to the Lord.

APPL – Is anyone tired of wrestling with God?

  • Life can be tough but too many of us are making it worse by wrestling with God.
  • Cling to God instead.
  • David wrote. . .

 Psalm 63:1, 6-8, O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. . . When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.

B. Be governed by God

  1. God gave Jacob a new name (28).
  2. In that day, a person’s name revealed their nature or character; what their name had come to mean because of the way they had lived their life.
  1. Jacob means “heel grabber,” or “supplanter.”
  • Why did the Lord ask Jacob to share his name?
  • Because Jacob’s name revealed how Jacob had lived his life.
  • It was a confession of sorts.
  • After Jacob’s confession the Lord gave him a new name; a new vision for his life, a new way to live his life.

b. Israel means “God fights,” “God’s prince,” or “governed by God.”
c. And by the way, Jacob’s new name answered Jacob’s question to his opponent, “What is your name?” God.

3. God also gave Jacob a new walk, a “limp” (31).

  1. Jacob’s limp was a constant reminder for Jacob to walk by faith.
  2. Not by anxiety, fear, manipulation, anger, depression, lies, or unbelief. Faith. David also wrote. . .

Psalm 56:3-4, When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?


APPL – But what did the Lord mean when He said, “you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed”?

  • It was a reference to God’s heart for Jacob and for all who come to Him in faith.
  • Look at the words of Hosea 12:4 again. . .


Hosea 12:4, Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed; He wept and sought His favor.

  • Faith in God prevails upon the heart of God because God wants to bless His children.
  • We do not have to manipulate or strive to get God’s attention so that He may bless us.
  • Simply trust God and His heart for you.
  • Stand on His promises and He will do it.
  • Be governed by God and He will fight for you.
  • Cling to God, do not wrestle with Him ever again.

Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Genesis 32:22-32     NASB

22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.



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