[This is part two of a two-part entry. Click here for Legalism’s Knockout Blow, part 1]
The Encounter: Wrestling with God
Jacob prepares for dawn’s showdown with his fraternal Grim Reaper. He splits his family into two caravans, hoping one will survive. He sends forth his bribe. He waits in solitude by a brook.
Enter an Unnamed Somebody who picks a fight with dispirited Jacob. Later, he will worship that Somebody, identifying him as God (v. 28). God comes down to wrestle Jacob.
Why would God kick a guy when he’s down? Isn’t he supposed to be loving and kind? Why would he pick on Jacob at the lowest point in his life? Is he that uncaring?
Or could it be that he’s lovingly trying to condense a lifetime of legalism into a single encounter that he might uproot it once for all?
Verse 25 makes the stupefying claim that puny, frightened Jacob prevailed against infinite, Almighty God. What’s going on? These Scriptures present an acted parable—depicting how legalism stretches its tentacles into every area of life with God.
First tentacle: the idea that we are on equal footing with God. Legalism, by nature, demotes God to our own mercenary level and imagines we can go nose-to-nose with him. Was Jacob indeed on equal footing with God? Of course not. God wrestled him the way a father wrestles his five-year old. And, like the five-year old, legalists don’t get it. Like Jacob, they imagine themselves “winners” in the eyes of God; they believe they can, by human effort, merit his approval. Continue reading