10. What Is God’s Purpose in Our Trials? (Genesis 32:22-32)Related Media
During the night Jacob quickly took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream along with all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone. Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not defeat Jacob, he struck the socket of his hip so the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” “I will not let you go,” Jacob replied, “unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” He answered, “Jacob.” “No longer will your name be Jacob,” the man told him, “but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name.” “Why do you ask my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. So Jacob named the place Peniel, explaining, “Certainly I have seen God face to face and have survived.” The sun rose over him as he crossed over Penuel, but he was limping because of his hip. That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the sinew which is attached to the socket of the hip, because he struck the socket of Jacob’s hip near the attached sinew.
Genesis 32:22-32 (NET)
What is God’s purpose in our trials and struggles?
In this context, Jacob is experiencing many difficulties. After working for his uncle Laban for twenty years, he flees in the middle of the night with his family and possessions. Laban was a difficult employer and relative. He deceived Jacob many times. After Jacob left with his family, Laban caught up to him with a small band, probably, planning to harm Jacob. However, God warned Laban in a dream to not speak anything good or bad to Jacob. After meeting, Jacob and Laban made a nonaggression pact—to not harm one another (Gen 31).
Right after this pact, Genesis 32:1-2 says that a large army of angels met with Jacob. Jacob calls the place Mahanaim, which means two camps. There were probably two angelic armies. God sent them, no doubt, to encourage and strengthen Jacob. But, they were also there to show Jacob that God had protected him and his family and was going to continue to protect him.
Probably motivated from his encounter with God’s angels, Jacob decides to reconcile a twenty-year, broken relationship with Esau, his brother. Previously, Jacob had swindled Esau out of his birthright, and in response, Esau wanted to kill him. It was that fractured relationship that initially prompted Jacob to seek refuge with Laban in Haran and to find a wife. After contacting Esau and seeking favor with him, Esau responds by coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men on horses. Jacob, probably, rightly assumes Esau is still angry and wants to take his life.
Jacob sends three caravans of gifts before him to try to appease Esau. Then in this text, after a night of no sleep, he sends his family across the Jabbok river. Because of the powerful rushing waters, this would have been very dangerous to do at night; however, having one more barrier between Esau and his family seemed less dangerous.
After sending them across the river, Jacob stays on the other side—probably to pray and spend time with God. Then while alone, he is attacked by a man in the middle of the night. This man is God, in angelic form, wrestling with Jacob (cf. Hos 12:3-4, Gen 32:30). Sometimes this text is taught with a focus on us wrestling with God in prayer. However, it must be noticed in verse 24 that the man wrestled with Jacob and not vice versa. Initially, God was seeking something from Jacob, and then towards the end of the night, after Jacob was, essentially, defeated when his hip was dislocated, Jacob seeks a blessing from the man.
What is happening in this text? First, it must be noticed that this bares some similarities with how God appeared as a man at other times in Scripture. With Abraham, who was a pilgrim from Ur dwelling in Canaan, God appeared as a pilgrim and went to his house (Gen 18). With Joshua, who was Israel’s general, God appeared as a soldier (Josh 5:13-15). And here, with Jacob, whose name means “heel-grabber,” who had tried to trip people up like a wrestler throughout his life (i.e. his brother, father, and uncle), God appeared as a wrestler. As Jacob had previously tried to wrestle things from others, God wanted something from Jacob. Throughout his life, God had always been wrestling with Jacob—seeking his submission, obedience, and trust. Psalm 18:26 says, “You prove to be reliable to one who is blameless, but you prove to be deceptive to one who is perverse.” Since Jacob was a wrestler by nature, God met Jacob as one.1
In this specific circumstance, as Jacob anticipates an encounter with murderous Esau, it seems that God’s wrestling with Jacob was symbolic of what was happening in the natural world (cf. 32:28 and 33:4). Previously, God showed Jacob how, in the spiritual world, angels were protecting him in his encounter with Laban (Gen 32:1-2). But now God is showing him that though he is in turmoil, awaiting murderous Esau, it was God who was actually allowing the turmoil in his life. Through the circumstances, God was wrestling with Jacob to bring changes in his life. The same is true with us. We may never physically see God or his angels working behind our circumstances, but they are there. God particularly uses trials and struggles for transformative purposes in our lives (Heb 12:7).
One person said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts at us in our trials.” A.W. Tozer said, “The Lord cannot fully bless a man until He has first conquered him.”2 F. B. Meyer said,
This is life; a long wrestle against the love of God, which longs to make us royal. As the years go on, we begin to cling where once we struggled; and as the morn of heaven breaks, we catch glimpses of the Angel-face of love…3
Therefore, as we consider God’s wrestling with Jacob, we learn principles about God’s purposes in trials and how we should respond to them. Jacob had a struggle with Esau, but behind this struggle was a struggle with God, who was seeking to transform Jacob’s life.
Big Question: What principles can we learn about God’s purposes in our trials and how we should respond to them?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Focus on Him
During the night Jacob quickly took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream along with all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone. Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
Though the NET says Jacob “quickly took his wives,” the NIV says Jacob “got up” and the ESV says he “arose.” It seems that Jacob had already gone to bed but couldn’t sleep. He sends his family and possessions across the river but stays by himself, most likely to think or pray.
Jacob oversaw a large camp of people. In fact, in his earlier prayer, he calls it “two camps” (Gen 32:10). He had two wives, twelve children, and enough flocks to spare over 550 of them as gifts to Esau. There was always plenty of work, plans, and decisions to be made, which was good. However, it probably had a tendency to crowd out God and prayer. It was when Jacob was intentionally alone that he could really focus on God, which was probably one of God’s purposes in the trial.
This is also true with us. Busyness and life circumstances tend to hinder our time with God. It is often through trials that God encourages us to separate from the crowd and busyness to focus on him. Again, as mentioned, it seems this wrestling was symbolic of what was happening in the natural world. Behind Jacob’s trial with Esau was God’s wrestling with Jacob. God wanted to do something in Jacob’s life through this trial, but in order to do it, God had to get him alone and appear to him in a dramatic way.
Sadly, many of us spend our time focusing on “Esau” in our trial by being consumed with people or circumstances, and therefore, missing God’s hand in it. We miss his “reaching” out to us, as he reached out to Jacob. If we are going to respond well to our trials, we must see God in them and his desire to draw us to himself and for us to intentionally choose to focus on him. Our trials are not accidental or haphazard, but part of God’s sovereign plan to make us into his image (cf. Eph 1:11, Rom 8:28-29). We must focus on him—through prayer, studying his Word, and obedience. God desires to change us and if we need to go through a trial to draw our focus to him, then he is willing to allow one. In this circumstance, God had Jacob all alone, and it was time to do work in his life. God desires to get us alone and bring change in us as well.
Are you drawing near God in the midst of your trial? Are you seeking his face? Is the discipline of solitude—being alone with God—a regular part of your life? Don’t let busyness choke out your time with God. When we do that, sometimes a trial is the only way for God to get our attention and our obedience. Psalm 46:10 (NIV) says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Application Question: Why is it so easy to let busyness crowd God out of our lives? How has God used trials to help you focus on him more? How do you practice the discipline of solitude—daily getting alone with God? How is God calling you to grow in this discipline?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Develop Perseverance
So Jacob was left alone. Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak.
After the man grabs Jacob, they wrestle till day break. This is a phenomenal task. How did Jacob last so long? Wrestling is grueling. Six minutes of intense wrestling will wear most people out. But Jacob wrestles all night—maybe for six or seven hours. This is a greater workload than running a marathon, which for most takes four to five hours—elite runners can do it in two. From this alone, we can tell that God provided a special grace for Jacob to continue throughout the night. But then, we must ask the question, “Why did God provide grace for Jacob to wrestle so long? Also, we must ask, “If God’s primary purpose was to defeat Jacob, why did he not just end it quickly?” We know the man was powerful enough to do this. When it nears daybreak, the man simply touches Jacob’s hip and it dislocates. Some versions say it shrank. He could have won at any time. Why does he wrestle with Jacob all night and potentially provide grace so it could continue?
It seems one of the purposes was to teach Jacob perseverance—though he, no doubt, felt like quitting. Similarly, God allowed Jacob to go through twenty years of a difficult relationship with Laban. He was tricked and cheated many times. God could have ended that trial at any time, but he waited twenty years to do so. Of course, there were many things God was doing through Jacob’s trial with Laban, and there were many things God was doing as he wrestled with Jacob throughout the night. But one of the main things God was doing was developing perseverance in him.
God often does the same thing with us. He provides grace for us to continue under difficult circumstances and ends the situation at the proper time. He does this to teach us perseverance. Consider the following verses:
And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.
Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.
God uses endurance or perseverance to complete us—meaning to make us mature. When we persevere—meaning to bear up under a heavy weight—it develops our character and helps us trust in God.
This happens in parenting all the time. A parent puts a child into a sport or club, but when the child encounters difficulty, he immediately wants to quit. If the parent allows the child to quit, quitting will often become part of his character. When circumstances get tough, he will want to quit relationships, jobs, hobbies, etc., throughout his life. He may never develop perseverance. But wise parents understand the benefit of perseverance. If the child continues, even though he emotionally wants to quit, he will develop the ability to persevere in the various difficulties of life—in the work force, marriage, parenting, church, etc.
God isn’t trying to develop spoiled children who want to quit every time they go through something hard. He is trying to develop mature children who not only can persevere but also can help others persevere through the difficulties of life. He develops ministers from his trials.
Are you persevering in your trial? Often like David, we have to pray, “Renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NASB). Lord, help us to stand, even when we feel like quitting!
Application Question: Why is perseverance such an important virtue to develop? In what ways is God calling you to persevere in your current season? What are some disciplines that help with developing a “steadfast spirit” while going through trials (Ps 51:10)?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Recognize Our Weakness and Need for Him
When the man saw that he could not defeat Jacob, he struck the socket of his hip so the socket of Jacob’s hip was dislocated while he wrestled with him. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” “I will not let you go,” Jacob replied, “unless you bless me.” …
While Jacob and the man wrestled, Jacob would not give up. Therefore, God touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it. In wrestling, the hips and legs are where the strength is. That’s why wrestlers typically have very muscular lower bodies. When the hip was dislocated, the fight was over. Jacob lost.
God often does this with us as well. It is often our strengths that keep us away from God and obedience to him. We feel competent for our work load, relationships, future, etc.—therefore, we are not as dependent upon God as we should be, if at all. So God often has to touch our strengths—our places of confidence—to help us depend on him. For some, he touches their intelligence, others their body, others their finances, others their family or friendships. Wherever our pride, strength, and focus are, outside of God, God often touches it, so we see our weakness.
To the Church of Laodicea, God said:
‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked
The church had wealth, thought they were right before God, and that they didn’t need anything. This created a spiritual lukewarmness—they weren’t passionate about God at all. However, God said they were really “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17). They didn’t know how weak they were, so God was going to “vomit” them out of his mouth (3:16)—which probably referred to some type of judgment or trial. The trial was going to show them how weak they really were and how they needed God.
Often God does the same to us. He has to touch us, and sometimes injure us, so we know our weakness. Previously, we didn’t feel like we needed to read God’s Word, go to church or small group, pray, or serve, but after our trial, we realize that we need God desperately. That’s what God was doing to Jacob.
In fact, from this point on, Jacob was no longer wrestling, all he could do was cling to the man and not let go. All he could do was hold onto God—he barely had enough strength with one leg to hold himself up. God does the same to us. Through trials and the pain experienced in them, he helps us cling to him.
With Paul, God allowed him to experience a demonic thorn in the flesh which made him weak. We don’t know exactly what it was, but most believe it was a sickness. When Paul asked for God to remove it, God replied, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). As Paul was weak, he also began to cling to God more and therefore experience power in his weakness. In response to this, Paul said,
So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9b-10
In our trials, God often touches our perceived strength, so we can know our true weakness and cling to God’s power. Where are your strengths outside of God located? How have you experienced God’s touch and therefore the revealing of your weakness?
Application Question: What are your areas of strength which you have a tendency to neglect God in or because of? In what ways have you experienced God touching your strength, so that you cling more dearly to him and experience his power?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Grow in Prayer
Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” “I will not let you go,” Jacob replied, “unless you bless me.” …
As mentioned, at this point, Jacob is no longer wrestling in his strength, he is simply clinging to God in weakness. While doing this, Jacob begins to pray. The man says, “Let me go,” but Jacob replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” This sounds like a command, but it really wasn’t. Jacob had lost. He was defeated. Hosea 12:3-4, while summarizing Jacob’s life, describes Jacob’s request this way: “In the womb he attacked his brother; in his manly vigor he struggled with God. He struggled with an angel and prevailed; he wept and begged for his favor. He found God at Bethel, and there he spoke with him!”
Jacob weeps and begs for this man’s favor. He is in pain and at this man’s mercy. He cries out, “No, I won’t let you go. Please bless me.” We don’t know at what point Jacob discerned he was wrestling with God. Maybe, he knew immediately, but if not, he certainly knew when the man easily dislocated his hip. Later, he calls the place Peniel because he had seen God’s face and survived (v. 30).
Jacob was not a man of prayer. Jacob’s narrative begins in Genesis 25; however, we never see him pray until Genesis 32. When he hears that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men, he prays. He claims God’s promises of prospering him and making his descendants numerous (v. 9-12). Again, he prays as he wrestles with God (v. 26). Jacob prays twice in this one chapter. He humbly begs the Lord with tears for a blessing.
Throughout Jacob’s narrative, desiring God’s blessing has been his greatest attribute. The problem is he always sought it the wrong way. He swindled his brother and deceived his father for it. When he married—a crucial part of his receiving Abraham’s blessing—he married two women instead of one, which wasn’t part of God’s perfect will for his life. Of course, his circumstances were not ideal, as Laban deceived him; however, that was no excuse to accept the deception and live in sin. Jacob desired God’s blessing but always sought it the wrong way. But now, God was training him through trials how to receive the blessing properly—it was through laboring in prayer. When Esau was going to receive the blessing instead of him, he should have prayed. When Laban tricked him by giving him Leah, he should have prayed. Prayer was the missing ingredient in his life. God was aiming to correct that through this trial.
In the same way, God often trains us to labor in prayer through our trials. Before experiencing trials, we spent little time in prayer. We prayed at meals and before bed, but we rarely, if at all, isolated ourselves to spend quality time in prayer. Through weakening and breaking Jacob, God was training him to become a man of prayer and not just of action.
Are you daily drawing near the Lord in prayer? Are you allowing trials to help you seek God’s blessing—his deliverance, his empowerment, and his direction?
Application Question: Why do most people struggle with their prayer lives and being faithful in it? What are some strategies that might help people pray more often and better? How is God calling you to cling to God in prayer and seek his blessing? What blessings are you currently seeking God for?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Recognize and Confess Our Sin
The man asked him, “What is your name?” He answered, “Jacob.”
After Jacob asked for a blessing, the man replies, “What is your name?” Obviously, God knew the answer to that, since he is omniscient. When God asks a question in Scripture, it is not to gain information. It is typically for the other’s benefit and realization. When God asked Adam if he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it was not because God didn’t know the answer. It was because he wanted Adam to recognize his sin and confess it.
When Jacob answered by sharing his name, it was meant to help Jacob realize, he had lived out his name. He had been deceitfully wrestling with people his whole life. His name meant “deceiver” or “heel grabber.” It has a wrestling connotation to it. He deceived his brother, father, and uncle. God was using the trial to help Jacob see his sin and be free from it.
When Jacob answered God with his name, in his heart, it appears to have been a form of confession. He was saying:
I have been a deceiver. When my father asked who I was, I said, “Esau.” I deceived him. When you told me to leave Laban, I didn’t trust you. I deceived Laban by quickly leaving in the middle of the night. Laban’s and Esau’s seeking to harm me is all my fault. I have been a Jacob. Forgive me and please bless me.
It’s the same for us. God often uses trials to help us recognize our failures and repent of them. In Deuteronomy 8:2 (NIV), Moses said the reason God led Israel into the wilderness was to reveal what was in their hearts—to see if they would obey God. He said, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”
What does our response in trials say about our hearts? Do we run away from God or to him in our trials? Do we run to some addiction, idol, or sin before God—a relationship, work, alcohol, lying, complaining, or self-pity?
We tend to think of our enemies as our circumstances or certain people. However, our biggest enemy is our hearts—their love for sin and lack of trust in God. Therefore, by God’s grace, he allows trials to reveal the sin in our hearts, so we can repent of it. First John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.”
Are you confessing your sin in the midst of your trial, or are you clinging to it instead of God? Are you fighting with God—holding on to your independence and self-reliance—instead of laying everything down to cling to him?
Application Question: If our sinful tendencies typically show up in trials (lying, complaining, addictions, love for the world, lack of trust in God, etc.), what sinful tendencies of yours often show up in the midst of trials? Are there specific ones that you are struggling to fully repent of?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is to Change Our Character
“No longer will your name be Jacob,” the man told him, “but Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have prevailed.”
After Jacob told God his name, God renamed him “Israel.” Naming represented at least two things in that culture: ownership and a change of character or destiny. Sometimes kings would rename their subjects. For example, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends were all given Babylonian names when they became subjects of Babylon. Jacob, who commonly lived for himself, was now, even more so, going to live for God. In fact, many translate the name “Israel” as “God rules,” “God commands,” “God prevails,” or “God strives.” Those who prefer this translation say every time the name of God is coupled with a verb, God is always the subject.4 For example, Daniel means “God judges” not “he judges God,” and Samuel means “God heard” not “he heard God.” Others translate “Israel” as “strives with God” or “prevails with God.” They would take this meaning by how the narrator explains the naming. Jacob had fought with God and men and prevailed (v. 28). Others translate it “Prince of God.”
How did Jacob prevail with God? Certainly, he didn’t win the battle. By the end of it, his hip was dislocated, and he was clinging to the angel. In fact, after Jacob named the site Peniel, he said he had seen God’s face and “survived” (v. 30). He barely survived—he was not the victor. Therefore, in what way, did Jacob prevail with God? In this way, previously, Jacob operated in his strength—deceiving and manipulating people and situations—but, with the angel, he succeeded in receiving the blessing, as he cried out in his weakness and prayer. This would be the increased means by which Jacob would achieve victory in the future. When the narrator talked about “prevailing with men,” this was about his future. God would deliver Jacob from Esau (33:4). By weakness and prayer, Jacob found success.
Jacob’s battle and renaming marked a character change in Jacob. He would still, at times, operate in his flesh by depending on his fleshly wisdom instead of God’s. However, depending on God would begin to identify him more.
In the same way, that is what God aims to achieve through our trials. He wants to change us more into his image. Again, Romans 5:3-4 says we rejoice in tribulation because it produces perseverance and then character. Our character changes as we learn perseverance in our trials, patience with people, love for the unlovable, and trust in God, rather than doubting him. God doesn’t waste our trials but uses them to the best end.
Application Question: How have you grown in character, as you’ve experienced past trials? What aspects of your character do you believe God is working on now through the trials or difficulties you’re experiencing?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Know God Better
Then Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name.” “Why do you ask my name?” the man replied.
After being renamed, Jacob politely asked to know the man’s name. But the man simply replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Why does the man not answer Jacob? The reason seems to be that Jacob already knew who he was. Jacob knew the man was God and that is why he named the place Peniel—”face of God” (v. 30).
Similarly, one of God’s primary purposes in trials is to help us know him more by revealing different characteristics of himself. In Genesis 12, when Abraham was called to leave his home and family, God revealed himself as Yahweh—the covenant God. In leaving his home and family, he would learn that God was faithful—he was a God of covenant. In Genesis 17, when God told Abraham he was going to have a child in his old age, God’s name was El Shaddai. He was the all-powerful God—the one who does miracles. Likewise, God revealed himself as Yahweh to Jacob at Bethel when he first left his father’s house. Yahweh protected him from Laban and was protecting him now from Esau. Jacob knew his name and was experiencing the covenant God in a more intimate way, as he wrestled with him and received his blessing.
In the same way, when we go through trials, one of God’s purposes is for us to know him more—to know his name and character, to know that he is faithful, loving, just, merciful, and all-powerful.
Application Question: What aspect(s) of God’s character has he been revealing to you recently through Scripture or your trials?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is to Bless Us
Then Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name.” “Why do you ask my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
After renaming Jacob, the man blesses him. We don’t know exactly what this entailed. Most likely, the angel restated the promises of Abraham and Isaac over him, just as God had done at Bethel (Gen 28). God was going to make him into a great people and prosper him. Certainly, this blessing also included protection, as was needed in his current situation with Esau.
Similarly, God’s purpose in our trials is to bless us. This means not only changing our character and allowing us to know God more, but also much more. With Joseph, after losing his family and experiencing slavery and imprisonment, God exalted him to second-in-command over Egypt, where he could save many people including his family. With Job, after he lost his family, health, and career, ultimately God restored double of all he lost. With Daniel, who was taken away from his home and family to Babylon, God favored him and placed him in government positions to bless the nations.
Through being faithful in trials, God promises that he will expand our ministry to others, as he did with Joseph and Daniel. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, Paul said:
Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you.
In our trials, as we seek the Lord, we experience his comfort, so we can in turn comfort others with it. It has often been said that our misery often becomes our ministry. We minister out of our sufferings and the comfort received during them.
If we’re faithful in our sufferings, God not only blesses us with an expanded ministry, but also promises to bless us richly in heaven. Consider the following verses:
Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.
God promises eternal rewards as we faithfully endure trials. We must remember that God has good plans for us, even though it may seem hard to believe when encountering difficulties. Through Christ’s sufferings, he paid the penalty for our sins, so that anyone who trusts in him can be saved (John 3:16). He was also made perfect through his sufferings, so he could have an eternal ministry as our high priest—sympathizing with our weaknesses, praying for us, and giving grace in our time of need (cf. Heb 2:10, 4:15-16, 7:25). He also has been given a name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:6-11). God’s plan is to bless those who faithfully suffer.
Are you trusting that God has good plans for you in your suffering? We need to realize this if we are going to stand. Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on the wings of eagles, run and not grow weary, and walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31). We must trust that God’s ultimate plan is to bless us and not hurt us.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s blessing after faithfully going through a trial? How can we, in faith, hold on to this truth while suffering?
God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Become Better Witnesses
So Jacob named the place Peniel, explaining, “Certainly I have seen God face to face and have survived.” The sun rose over him as he crossed over Penuel, but he was limping because of his hip. That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the sinew which is attached to the socket of the hip, because he struck the socket of Jacob’s hip near the attached sinew.
After this experience, Jacob named the place Peniel, which means “face of God.”5 Since his limp continued after this experience, Israelites chose to not eat the meat around the hip, in remembrance of Jacob’s encounter with God. This is still observed by some orthodox Jews today.
What this implies is that Jacob shared this experience. He shared it with his wives, children, and servants. It was passed down by the Jews, first through oral history and then through Scripture. He shared his wrestling experience at Peniel with others. His injury and the place it happened were both memorials of God’s work.
Similarly, though trials may be hard, discouraging, and, at times, shameful, they are not our stories to keep to ourselves. They are God’s stories of how he protected us, challenged us, helped us grow, and even used our wounds for his glory. We must share them with others, so God receives honor. Also, it is by sharing them with others that we receive full healing and often process exactly what God has done in our lives. James 5:16 says, “So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.”
Sadly, many never share their stories and therefore never experience God’s grace. They don’t experience God’s healing, don’t allow God to heal others through them, and therefore, rob God of his glory.
Don’t keep your trials to yourself! Share them with others. Allow God to heal you, heal others, and glorify himself. Psalm 107:2 (NIV) says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”
Application Question: Why do people often not share their testimonies with others? How can we grow in transparency in order to receive healing, help others heal, and give glory to God?
As we consider God’s wrestling with Jacob, it was a picture of his current trial with Esau. Often, we only see our natural circumstances and forget there is a spiritual reality that oversees them. In this story, God pulls back the curtain: Jacob’s struggle was not only with Esau, it was also with God and with himself. God wanted to change Jacob through his difficulties. God had always been wrestling with Jacob, seeking to get his will done in his life. Similarly, God has always been lovingly wrestling with us, seeking our submission to his will and kingdom.
What is God’s purpose in our trials and struggles?
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Focus on Him
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Develop Perseverance
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Recognize Our Weakness and Need for Him
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Grow in Prayer
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Recognize and Confess Our Sin
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is to Change Our Character
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Know God Better
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is to Bless Us
- God’s Purpose in Our Trials Is for Us to Become Better Witnesses
Copyright © 2018 Gregory Brown
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1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be authentic (p. 58). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be authentic (p. 58). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.
3 Meyer, F.B.. Jacob: Wrestling with God (Kindle Locations 1082-1084). Kindle Edition.
4 Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 819–820). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
5 Accessed 5/9/2018 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/peniel/