Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

he who struggled with god


The name Israel has been translated as “Struggles with God” by some translators. This is based in part on the Bible story about Jacob wrestling with a man (or angel) who changed Jacob’s name to Israel.

One could reasonably say that the rest of the Old Testament is a documentary about the nation of Israel, the Hebrew people collectively, struggling with God. Much of the OT narrative speaks about how the nation vainly attempted to secure and then maintain a right relationship with God based on compliance with a law system. Superficially, the OT appears to be just another morality tale pointing out human ethical frailties and failings. It is typical of human religious assumptions throughout human history.

However, there is another, entirely different way to view Israel’s OT struggle with God. Instead of seeing the story as a literal contest between God and men as normally viewed, we could interpret it as the Israelite’s struggle with their entire concept of God. The struggle was one of figuring out who God was, what defined Him, and how He operated in the world, and how mankind should respond to Him. The struggle was not with God, in the sense of God and Israel being at cross purposes.

The issue was one of figuring out where and how their understanding of God was incorrect and needed revision. Their problem was one of misunderstanding and an evolving awareness, not disobedience which threatened their divine relationship. The system described in the OT hid God, misrepresented God, and derived from human wisdom much more so than divine.

The struggle depicted in the OT narrative continues to our day. The institutional church and Christian Orthodoxy still don’t understand God or the significance of the Bible. They view the OT as a narrative leading to a rule book which still prescribed righteousness by obedience. They then transpose that same thinking into the New Testament and end up with a second religion predicated on obedience to rules.

The struggle for a proper understanding of God, which the Israelite narrative described, should have ended with Jesus as the fulfillment of the story. But the church has replaced newness in Jesus with the allegiance to the old narrative of the continuing conflict between man’s nature and God’s.