“That darn Holy Spirit!”
My reply? “You’re kind of brave, aren’t-cha girl?” But as the conversation progressed, the clarity ensued and it kind of made sense. If the Holy Spirit had kept me awake all night the night before, I’d probably be a little mad at the Holy Spirit too. I’m not sure if we are allowed to be mad at the Holy Spirit . . . but I get it.
Here’s the deal. Mrs. Kay recently had a Jacob-ish kind of an encounter with God. You remember Jacob: on the run and trouble nipping at his heels. After sending his family ahead to friendlier environs, at the forge of Jabbok he found himself in a wrestling match with a dark stranger.
And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:24–28, ESV)
And of course, as luck would have it, Jacob was wrestling with none other than YHWH, King of all the Universe!
In my opinion, this is a very interesting story. God gets defeated by a mere mortal? I mean, the narrative is very clear that “the man did not prevail against Jacob.” Well, at least until “the man” touched Jacob’s hip socket and put it out of joint.
In terms of scriptural understanding, let’s consider a couple of basic things. First, there is nothing in the etymology of the Hebrew version of prevail to indicate any unusual meaning. When the Bible speaks of Jacob’s opponent “not prevailing” that means that Jacob was not losing the struggle. Secondly, when you consider the etymology of the Hebrew version of touched, it means to strike. Ergo, Jacob gets into a tussle with God, and Jacob is holding his own. God IS NOT prevailing against Jacob … until God hauls off and punches Jacob’s hip out of joint. As the Joker said to Batman: “Even for a guy like me that’s low.”
But Jacob is not dissuaded. The scene is reminiscent of Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the 15th round (in both Rocky I and Rocky II)! Even after taking a lick hard enough to knock his hip out of joint, Jacob is still coming back for more.
The story seems remarkable! God NOT prevailing? That seems to be the case. The writer of Genesis evidently thought so. Or did he? Maybe there is something at work here on a much deeper level. You see, this story isn’t so much about winners and losers as much as it is about endurance, hard-headedness, and grit.
Let me explain. To be factually clear, no one beats God—ever! But the story doesn’t hail Jacob as the victor. It’s more like those old Timex watch commercials: “It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.” Only in this case, Jacob is the it who is still tickin’ after a lickin’. I mean, wrestling until daybreak is a marathon battle and test of will in and of itself. Perhaps YHWH and Jacob are not fighting against each other so much as they are fighting against time.
And therein lies the rub. If you are going to tussle with God, plan to be in it for the long haul. And speaking from experience, here are some other things to expect. God may allow you to get in a good lick or two. And while you think you may have the upper hand, it only takes one blow to hobble you for the rest of the battle.
Also, God will go as low down in the mud as any of us are willing to go. It doesn’t matter! If we are willing to go there, God will go there with us, and maybe even beyond. God’s willingness to allow us to suffer defeats of our own making is just as much an act of divine grace as showers of Skittles from rainbow skies. Don’t be misled by pretty grace (or as I like to think of it, Skittle grace). The truth is grace can sometimes be downright scandalous, gritty, sour, and raunchy.
Something else to consider (and in my opinion, perhaps the main thing) is God’s grace amid the battle, even when we are battling against each other or God. Jacob probably had a few bruises, a couple of scratches, or maybe even a black eye. And while a dislocated hip sounds severe enough, it could have been worse. No broken bones, nothing too debilitating. And Jacob lives to fight another day. No matter how bad things are in life, they can always be worse.
Back to Mrs. Kay’s Jacob-ish encounter. The Holy Spirit was pressing her to do something that she refused to do, at least initially. And according to Kay, this went on all night. Tossing and turning and turning and tossing, as if she were in a full-blown wrestling match! She didn’t get any sleep the entire night. She was grouchy the next morning and struggled to focus throughout the day. She received no peace of mind at all until—UNTIL!—she hollered “CALF ROPE!*” and gave in. The tale was recounted to yours’s truly the following evening at bedtime.
“You’re kind of brave, aren’t-cha girl?”
Yes! But maybe not because she had the audacity to complain about the lunar pontifications of the Holy Spirit, what with the Spirit’s prodding, and nagging, and pushing, and being just downright annoying. Perhaps it’s because, in the end, she had the courage to surrender. And in so doing, Mrs. Kay made a profound difference in that thing to which she was being called to in the first place. I won’t tell you what it was…that thing. As Doc Holiday once said, perhaps it was a “reckoning,” a leveling of the playing field, an exposure of truths, a piercing light in the darkness…or just having the strength to stand up and say: “Ok Lord, not my will, but thine.”
* Meaning, “I give up!” or “I give in!”