22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
(Genesis 32:22-32 NIV)
In our last time together, Jacob sent a gift in three parts ahead of him to his brother Esau. Jacob was still the schemer and the planner and manipulator, but this time it was from a point of humility and service, rather than to take advantage and gain superiority over his brother.
As we step into today’s text, Jacob now sends his wives, children, and possessions ahead of him in two groups, in two different directions as he had planned (vv. 7-8).
Now we find Jacob alone with his thoughts and fears; and yet he was not alone. There was a contender, a man there that was wrestling with Jacob all night long. After the fact, Jacob recognizes that this man he was wrestling was none other than God Himself.
Notice Jacob’s tenacity – he does not give up, he does not surrender. This is every bit a battle of the wills as much as a battle of physical strength. Jacob will not be defeated.
But then something happens – the man touches the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was dislocated. Jacob’s fate was changed in an instant – Jacob went from contending with this man to clinging to this man.
Now that we know that Jacob was wrestling with God Himself, the question comes up – why didn’t God intervene earlier? Why did it take so long for the Lord to get Jacob’s attention? While no reason is given in the text, we know that God is long-suffering, patient, kind, and loving. So this act of dislocating Jacob’s hip was not a punishment, but rather an act of kindness and love.
In that moment, Jacob went from contending to clinging to the Lord. At that moment, Jacob knew that the man was not there to take his life, but rather, to teach him. Knowing that he could not defeat this man, Jacob held on until the man blessed him.
The man asks Jacob’s name, then blesses him by changing his name to Israel. the supplanter, the trickster is now the “one who strives with God”.
Jacob then asks the man’s name. The man replies with a question, asking why Jacob wanted to know his name. The man then blessed Jacob, then left, never giving his name.
We now see Jacob putting all the pieces together in his mind after the man left. Jacob had been wrestling with God all night! And yet, God had spared his life, even after Jacob had seen his face in the shadows of the early pre-dawn hours. To commemorate the place where Jacob had wrestled with God, he gave the spot a name – Peniel.
Jacob started the night alone, and entered the next morning alone, but with an entirely different perspective and a limp as a reminder of God’s grace, mercy, and love.
So what can we learn from today’s text? Many truths come to mind, but here are a few of the most significant:
- In our natural, fleshly state, we want to control our destinies, and feel confident and self-sufficient to do so. But God, in his patience, love, and mercy, allows us to come to the end of ourselves so that we will be dependent on Him and Him alone.
- When we try to run our own lives, we run on our own strength, not the Lord’s, and we often end up contending with the Lord. God, in His mercy, allows this to go on for a time, but then intervenes and humbles us, which like Jacob, causes us to go from contending with Him to clinging to Him as our only hope and strength.
- As we cling to the Lord in our brokenness, He then blesses us and opens up the dawn of a new day for us to serve Him and depend on Him for everything.
May we find humility, hope, and peace in of Jacob’s transformation to become Israel.
And may we learn to walk with a limp and a heart of gratitude.