As Jacob prepared to meet his brother Esau, after their long estrangement, Genesis tells us that he sent his wives, children, servants, and flocks, ahead of him over the brook. “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24). It is implied, though not clearly stated, that the man Jacob wrestles in the Lord.
Jacob’s assailant was unable to prevail, and Jacob wouldn’t give up either, even after the man put his thigh out of joint. It appears they were well-matched, for they wrestled all night.
“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And [Jacob] said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26). And the Lord acquiesced, “and he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed...and he blessed him there” (v. 28-29). And thus the twelve tribes took on the name, not of Jacob (“usurper”), but of Israel (“he who wrestles [or prevails] with God”).
We bear the covenant of the man who said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
During His journey to Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus, begging Him to heal her daughter, “but he answered her not a word” (Matt. 15:22-23). Not willing to be dissuaded, she continued her entreaties, “and his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us” (v. 23). But she would not be sent away. “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs” (v. 25-26). Quick-witted, and undeterred by his insulting dismissal, she replied, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” I imagine that a hush fell over the disciples at this point, their eyes darting back and forth between the two. Then Jesus, his voice breaking, spoke: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (v. 27-28). That very hour, her daughter was healed. A woman--and a Canaanite woman at that--had persisted in faith until the Lord granted her desire.
I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
Enos wrote of the wrestle he had before God, “before I received a remission of my sins” (Enos 1:2) His wrestle also lasted “all the day long,” and into the night, a day and night filled with “mighty prayer and supplication...and all the day long did I cry into him...and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (v. 4). He describes “pour[ing] out [his] whole soul” and “struggling in the spirit” (v. 9-10) before the voice of the Lord came to him, granting his desire. “And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites. And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith” (v. 11-12). Enos would not be put off, despite the difficulty of his struggle. His persistence enabled him to secure a promise from God to bless his people and preserve his record. “And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made, wherefore my soul did rest” (v. 17).
I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
My experience has taught me that God is not easily grasped, not easily wrestled. Our wrestles with God may put our limbs out of joint, and leave us limping. We may feel dismissed by God or his followers, unworthy even to eat the crumbs beneath the table. We may struggle long and loudly, wrestling in the spirit for months or years, begging, pleading, banging on heaven’s door, asking for mercy, for answers, for relief, until at last we extract a blessing from the Lord, one that, He admits, is only given “because this long time ye have cried unto me” (Ether 1:43). “Come to God. Weary Him until He blesses you,” Joseph Smith said, “God is not a respecter of persons, we all have the same privilege...and we are entitled to the same blessings” (Ref.)
My experience has also taught me that the answers do come, the blessings are granted, the revelation does distill. Often, when it does come, I realize that the Lord had been preparing me the whole time for an answer that, had He given it to me when I wanted it, I would not have understood. And in the days or months or years when I thought the heavens were silent, God had been drawing me into His bosom, our hearts beating close together as we wrestled on the riverbank until the breaking of the day.
I cherish those wrestles. May it ever be thus.
“And thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me” (Isaiah 49:23).