Scripture: 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.” Genesis 32:25-28 ESV
Observation: Having parted company with Laban, Jacob, his family, servants, and herds sojourn toward Canaan. Fearful of Esau’s reprisal, Jacob sends messengers ahead of the caravan to apprise Esau of his soon arrival. Jacob fears the worst when the messengers return and inform Jabob that Esau is en route to meet him with 400 men. So he divides his people and herds into two camps, thinking that if he attacks one, the other will escape. Jacob then wisely turns to God in prayer and petitions for deliverance. However, still gripped by fear, he sends his servants ahead of his family with gifts of camels, cows, and donkeys as a peace offering.
That same night Jacob also sends his family across the ford of Jabbok and stays behind. The author then recounts a somewhat confusing story of a “man” wrestling with Jacob until daybreak (above verses). Jacob appears to prevail, so the man touches his hip and disjoints it. Nevertheless, Jacob refuses to let go unless the man blesses him. As the dialogue continues, the man renames Jacob “Israel,” which means “striven with God” in Hebrew. Jacob then pleads with the man to reveal his identity, and instead, the man blesses Jacob and disappears. As the sun rises, Jacob calls the place Peniel, which means “the face of God,” because he has seen a manifestation of God and yet his “life has been delivered” (32:30).
Takeaway: Commentators contend that the “man” may be an epiphany of the prefigure of Christ. If so, this event provides a precursor to the pascal lamb imagery during the Passover in the Exodus story and ultimately points us to the Cross of Christ. And at the heart of these events is God delivering his chosen people. Still, for Jacob, who had earlier that day prayed for deliverance from his perceived enemy (Esau), Yahweh answers his misguided prayer by delivering him from his old identity as Jacob (“supplanter” or “grasper of the heel”) to a new man, Israel (“striven with God”). And from that day on, Israel would walk upright with a limp.
What does this mean for you and me? First and foremost, our Deliverer, Christ, wrestled before his Father and prevailed over our true enemy: sin. Bearing our sins in his crucified body, our Lord has lifted us upright, no longer bent over by the weight of our transgressions. And as the sun rose on the third day, our Deliverer became the first fruit of our promised resurrection. Hence, we bear new names: children of God who are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthian 5:17), who have beheld the Father’s glory in the risen Son, and yet our lives have been delivered. Still, like Jacob and the Apostle Paul, we carry on in this world with a limp relying on his sufficient grace (2 Corinthian 12:9).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for revealing yourself in your Son, who has delivered us from the penalty of sin. Would you please help us walk upright as your new creations, relying on your grace to compensate our limping gate as we walk upright through this sin-marred world? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling