In the upside-down world we live in, we must choose our battles wisely, knowing when to fight and when to just walk away. I don’t always have a clear direction to know when a fight is worth it.
My younger cousin and I would often wrestle. Both wiry and good-natured, the wrestling usually resulted in healthy competition and laughter. On one particular occasion, my cousin’s intentions shifted. My father sensed it and gave warning. This fight ended all future fights! I limped away with a black eye and bleeding nose, while he was unscathed. Though younger, he clearly overpowered me.
It was the beginning of learning to choose my battles wisely!
Jacob was used to fighting. He fought his way out of the womb holding his brother Esau’s ankle, later robbing him of his birthright and blessing. Jacob lived up to his name, grasping the heel, taking advantage of and deceiving others.
The contention in the womb led Rebecca to seek God, “Why is this happening. . .?” (Gen 25:22)
“The LORD said, to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
The battle between the two brothers grew so strong that Jacob fled for his life with only a staff and the clothes on his back. Alone, there was no one to swindle or fight, but himself.
The first night away, Jacob had a God-inspired dream of a staircase to heaven. Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning the house of God.
“When Jacob awoke from his sleep,
he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place,
and I was not aware of it.’
He was afraid and said,
‘How awesome is this place!‘ . . . “
After the long trek to his ancestor’s homeland, Jacob met both his future wife, Rachel, and her father, Laban. Jacob didn’t know it yet, but in Laban, he met his match.
Try as he might, he was unable to out-swindle and out-connive Laban who cheated him into marrying the wrong woman and changed his wages continuously.
“You know that I’ve worked for your father
with all my strength,
yet your father has cheated me
by changing my wages ten times.”
After twenty years, Jacob learned to pick his battles; he ran for the hills instead of fighting (31:21,38). Sometimes, I’m just as slow in learning which match to engage and which to leave alone.
Laban, though a cheat, was no fool. He recognized God’s blessing on Jacob created increased wealth in his coffers. Gathering a renegade mob, he pursued Jacob to bring him back, but God warned him against taking action.
Laban chose his battles wisely. Jacob he could handle, but once God stepped in, Laban backed out of the fight.
The Real Battle
Our ultimate battle isn’t against people or any political or economic system. The real battle we face rests within ourselves. The closer Jacob came to “home,” the closer he came to himself.
Genesis 32:1 says, “. . . the angels of God met him.”
I would appreciate a few more details, but none are given. Jacob knew he was entering hallowed ground. Yes, he was “in great fear and distress” over seeing his brother Esau, but a deeper foreboding cast its shadow. Jacob knew it (Gen 32:7).
Finally, we witness a glimpse of the “new” Jacob: a humble Jacob, a contrite and God-seeking Jacob.
“Then Jacob prayed, ‘O God of my father Abraham,
God of my father Isaac, LORD . . .
I am unworthy of all the kindness
and faithfulness you have shown your servant,
I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan,
but now I have become two camps.
Save me, I pray,
from the hand of my brother Esau,
for I am afraid. . . ”
What’s this! An honest Jacob, too!
A Battle Worth Fighting
In the night, whether through self-protection or God-direction, Jacob sent gifts ahead to Esau “to pacify him” (Gen 32:20). In the middle of the night, Jacob also moved his entire household, servants and possessions across the Jabbok. A vicious battle was about to ensue. Unsure of the outcome, he moved everyone to safety.
“So Jacob was left alone,
and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”
Tearfully, I remember my moments “alone.” Moments of only God and me. Contending for His promises. Resisting His discipline. Questioning His agenda. It wasn’t easy with Jacob; its certainly wasn’t easy for me either.
Did his family hear his screams of anguish, his groans of pain, or his wails for mercy from the other side of the stream? How far did his voice echo through the once still night?
Neither God nor Jacob relented. The past needed to be dealt with before the unfolding of Jacob’s future destiny. With not even a staff to lean on, Jacob faced God. It was both his darkest night and his brightest dawn.
Hosea offers insight into why God chose this battle wisely.
“The LORD . . . will punish Jacob according to his ways
and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
as a man he struggled with God.“
This battle separated Jacob’s past from his future, from living in self-motivated deception to walking with the God of Truth, from contending in the flesh to trusting in the Spirit.
Jacob died that night! For “no one sees God and lives!” (Ex 33:20)
In the dust of Jacob’s life, Israel rose. Israel struggled with God, walking out of personal darkness into the dawn of his purpose.
“. . . I saw God face to face,
and yet my life was spared.”
God is just and always good. Jacob’s corrupt nature had to die before he would receive God’s promised blessing. Whenever God brings up our past, His purpose is redemptive. God’s discipline always points to future hope.
“The Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
God chooses His battles wisely with us, too.
My battle left me with a black eye and bloody nose; Jacob’s left him with a permanent limp. Rather than a mark of weakness, the limp marked a man of divine strength — humble and submissive to His Lord.
“He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.”
Everywhere Jacob went from that time forward, he would consecrate it to God. In Shechem, “he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel” (Gen 33:20).
God was no longer just the God of his ancestors, but now El Elohe Israel, his own Mighty God. God longs to be personal to each one of us — intimate and near.
God brought Jacob back to Bethel, the stairway to heaven. Jacob consecrated his entire family in preparation. Now instead of running from God, Jacob ran to Him.
“God appeared to him again and blessed him . . .
you will no longer be called Jacob;
your name will be Israel‘ . . .
And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty.”
When we choose our battles wisely, we walk with new identity, albeit limping in humanity’s weakness, but princes and princesses of God, nonetheless.
Encounter by encounter, Jacob experienced an ever-increasing awareness of the God he contended with. Jehovah, LORD God of his fathers. Then as personal LORD, the I Am. In the face to face night encounter, Jacob found God to be imitate, loving and gracious, powerful and just. At Bethel, God revealed Himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, the one who pours Himself out, liberally and completely.
The same is true for us! The longer we walk with God, battling through our internal issues and surrendering to His invitation to intimacy, the more we discovery His greatness and goodness.
Jacob learned to choose his battles wisely, walking away from the insignificant, making peace with his oppressors, leaving behind the deceivers, and contending with the only One with Whom it really mattered.
May we all choose our battles as wisely, discovering that God is present with us in an ever-increasing measure.