BY JORDAN MAYER
"And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go, for the day has broken.' 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.' Then Jacob asked him, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And there he blessed him."
Two and a half years ago, I moved into a role at work that, frankly, I was ill-equipped for. I had no prior experience or background to draw from as I stepped out into the unknown. What I didn’t realize at the time was how It would reveal my own desire for control, my deep-rooted need to cover all the angles and have a clear path forward. In many ways, that aspect of my life was one I walked mainly by sight and not by faith. Through reading Scripture, I have found there is much to be gleaned from those who have faced similar struggles, but have experienced God showing up in mighty ways.
Following the Great Flood, Scripture zeroes in on a particular man named Abraham. God speaks to Abraham and provides a series of blessings that would not only bless Abraham and his family, but all the nations through him (Genesis 12:1-3). As the story continues, God’s blessing is passed on to the successive generation, beginning with Abraham’s miracle son, Isaac. Later on, we are introduced to Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau.
These two men could not have been more different. Esau was a man’s man, literally coming out of the womb like a hairy cloak. He was a skilled hunter and a man of the field. Jacob was...less impressive. He was a quiet man and preferred to hang around the tents. If Esau was the muscular, high school football star, Jacob was the scrawny kid with his nose in a book. But while Jacob might not beat Esau in a wrestling match, he could certainly beat him in a battle of wits. The name Jacob means "he takes by the heel", but it carries the connotation of "cheater" or “deceiver”. He certainly lives up to this title.
On one fateful day, Jacob finds his chance to elevate his position. Exhausted and hungry from a long day in the field, Esau comes in and begs his brother for a bowl of stew. Jacob, seizing his opportunity, proposes a trade: his stew for Esau’s birthright. I’m not sure which is more shocking, Esau’s flippancy toward his birthright or Jacob’s cunning in trying to take it. But take it he does, after making Esau swear by an oath.
Jacob wouldn’t stop there. Time and again, Jacob would resort to a variety of schemes and deceptions to get what he wanted, even tricking his own father to procure his blessing. In his wake, he leaves a series of broken relationships with his brother, father, and uncle.
Yet, such as life, the check comes due. Upon freeing himself from his uncle’s tricks, Jacob is ready to return to his land. But what awaits him is a brother he wronged some twenty years prior. As Jacob’s entourage approaches, Esau receives word and goes out to meet him…accompanied by 400 men!
Jacob is justifiably fearful of his brother’s intentions. But in typical Jacob fashion, he dreams up another scheme that might deliver him out of another sticky situation. He sends an elaborate train of gifts on ahead in the hopes that it might appease his scorned brother.
But in the midst of his scheming, we begin to see a shift in Jacob. Recognizing the desperate nature of his circumstances, he offers a humble prayer to God for deliverance. Little did he know what God had in store for him.
That night, with his confidence shaken and filled with fear and dread, Jacob has a strange encounter with a man. This man, as he would learn, was none other than God himself. As the hours pass, the two become locked in a wrestling match. But it appears to be a stalemate. With the light of the dawn and Jacob refusing to yield, God makes the first move to end the match. He delivers a painful blow to Jacob’s hip.
But as the pain radiates from his dislocated hip and his muscles ache and strain against his heavenly opponent, Jacob still refuses to let go. He yearns for God’s blessing. He has nothing left to hold onto, so he holds onto God.
Weak, wounded, and now walking with a limp, Jacob comes out a changed man. He is transformed.
Firstly, God gives Jacob a new name. No longer is he “deceiver”, he is now called Israel. He has spent his life struggling with men, but now he has striven with God. For all of Jacob’s faults, he was persistent, yet not always persistent in the right things.
Captured by awe, Jacob calls the place, “Peniel” (face of God). He knows full well that it was not a fair fight. God could have easily struck him dead yet chose not to.
Jacob’s awe over his encounter with God finds similar footing in his encounter with Esau. Jacob had cheated Esau out of everything and yet, here stands his brother with tears in his eyes, running to embrace him. Jacob expects condemnation, but instead finds reconciliation.
In describing all that he has to Esau, Jacob credits it to the God who has dealt graciously with him (Genesis 32:11).
When the two brothers part ways, Jacob (now Israel) erects an altar which he names “El-Elohe-Israel”, or “God, the God of Israel”. No longer was God merely the God of his fathers, He is Israel’s God.
Jacob's faith was by no means perfect, either before or after these divine encounters. But these experiences served to grow his faith in ways it could not have otherwise. Jacob had lived a life full of schemes and deceptions, relying primarily on his own wits to obtain what he wanted. But in the end, his transformation came in recognizing what God had already provided. He didn't have to fight for God's blessing, He was blessed.
Do you feel stuck in the patterns or circumstances of your life? Are you having trouble surrendering control? Remember that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us, one who is never afraid to do what is required for the good of His children (Hebrews 12:6-7). Sometimes that means wrestling us to the ground in order for us to realize that He has always been with us and for us (Deuteronomy 31:8), that He has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).
As the saying goes, it is in coming to the end of ourselves that we find a new beginning with God. This is true when we first step over that line of faith and equally true in our daily surrendering and submitting to His good and perfect will. There is blessing in the wrestling because our wrestling can lead us to God. Jacob may have gotten a bum hip, but he limped with a stronger faith. So too can we.