“I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14, ESV).
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is presumably written by King Solomon, king over Israel, in his old age. In this treatise Solomon proffers a philosophical perspective of life that advances the notion that much of human life on Earth is occupied with striving after what’s not really so important in life after all.
Solomon observes that it’s like spending your life chasing after the wind. And, in case his point doesn’t resonate with the reader the first time, he repeats this thought eight more times!
Striving seems to be in our DNA. It’s what we human beings do. We strive after happiness. We strive for health and long life. We strive after success. We strive for money. We strive for love and friendship. We strive over political ideologies and religious beliefs. We strive with one another for dominance and control.
Striving….it’s human nature!
In Genesis 32 Jacob wrestles with an angel (or a theophany). While they wrestled, the angelic man touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it (isn’t that cheating?). But even with a dislocated hip Jacob continued to wrestle with Him and would not let go until He promised to bless Jacob: “But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 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 32:26-28, ESV).
God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” which means “strives with God” and reaffirmed His covenant with Jacob, now Israel. From Jacob’s descendants came the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, whose history as recorded in the Old Testament is certainly one of striving with God.
Striving with God is Israel’s story. And Israel’s story is humanity’s story. As Solomon aptly states, striving is the business God has given to human beings. Striving is the story of our human existence. We human beings strive with one another and with God.
But, what if more of our striving was concentrated on striving after God?
What if we stopped striving so much after the unimportant things of this world and we prayed, read the Bible and sought God’s will unrelentingly?
Could we be transformed from Jacob, the deceiver, the embezzler of his father’s blessing, to Israel, the striver with God, the receiver of God’s blessing?
So, my New Year’s Resolution for 2019 is this: to strive more with God…. and less with men!
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV)