And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
And he said, “Let me go, for the day breaketh.” And he said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” And he said unto him, “What is thy name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
And Jacob asked him, and said, “Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.” And he said, “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?” And he blessed him there.
And Jacob called the name of the place “Peniel:” for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
The story opens with Jacob wrestling a “man.” By the end it’s pretty clear he was wrestling with God. I don’t think it’s all that uncommon for people to “struggle” with God – even today. People know within themselves that something is wrong or missing in their lives. There’s an emptiness and they fight to figure out what it is – or to accept what it is.
To appreciate this story of Jacob “wrestling” with God really requires a little history. Jacob was the second born in a set of twins. His older brother was named Esau. Jacob and Esau are the sons of Isaac and grandchildren to Abraham. You can read of Jacob and Esau’s birth in Genesis 25:19-26. In the culture of that day, the firstborn son was entitled to a special inheritance from his father (see 2 Chron 21:3 for a nice example). He had the “right of the firstborn.” And in the case of Abraham’s descendants, there was also a special blessing to identify the lineage by which God would bring a blessing to the entire world (Gen 12:3, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14, etc). The birthright was Esau’s because he was the firstborn, and the blessing would be his as well for the same reason. But Jacob would be the one to get both.
And this is where it gets interesting. You see, Jacob was named very appropriately. His name, Jacob, literally means, “take by the heel.” And he was named this for the very good reason that when he was born, he grabbed hold of his brother, Esau’s, heel (Gen 25:26). It must have been so cute. Awww. … Anyway, the name Jacob also means supplanter or deceiver, or liar (the imagery of “taking by the heel” by itself conveys the idea of supplanter in a colorful way). And that’s exactly what Jacob turned out to be: a deceiver. He tricked Esau into selling his birthright to him and then he deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing (Gen 25:27-34 & Gen 27:6-27). Deception was his very nature.
As a result of his deceitfulness, Jacob earned the hatred of his brother who vowed to kill him. As a result, Jacob fled from his home. Then over the course of many years (and some interesting stories where Jacob would be on the receiving end of some deceptions) he decided to make the long journey back to his home country. Well, Esau heard Jacob was coming back to town and so he raised up an army to make good on his vow. In hopes of appeasing Esau and avoiding a battle, Jacob sent him a great many gifts. The night before Esau and Jacob would meet, Jacob took his eleven sons and his wives and everything he posessed and sent them across the Ford Jabbok while he stayed on the opposite side, just shy of entering the land God had promised to give him, back in Genesis 28.
While there alone, he wrestled a “man.” I don’t know how it started or what prompted this little bout. But there it was happening in the darkness where Jacob was left alone. Jacob prevailes in his struggle and holds onto the man, refusing to let him go. Even after the man miraculously pops Jacob’s thigh out of joint with a touch, Jacob won’t let him go. The man says, “let me go, for the day breaketh.” And Jacob, somehow understanding from the beginning that this was more than man, asserts, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” Apparently the blessing from his father Isaac, obtained through deception so many years earlier, was not enough. Jacob knew there was something he lacked and he wanted it. I don’t blame him. Upon Jacob’s demand, the man asks a curious thing. He says, “What is your name?” Jacob asks for a blessing from this incarnation of God, and God asks Jacob his name? That seems so strange, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not so strange at all and what Jacob does next is truly wonderful. You see, he owns who he is. Do you remember what his name means? God asks him, “What is your name?” And Jacob replies, “Liar.” That was his name. That’s who he was. He was Jacob, liar, deceiver, supplanter, grabber of the heel, one who trips up another. And to God, it’s a wonderful thing when men accept the responsibility for and humbly confess what they are. It wasn’t somebody else that made Jacob the liar he was. It was his own fault because that’s who he was. But God’s reply to Jacob was even more wonderful than Jacob’s confession. God said, “thy name shall be called no more, Jacob [Liar], but Israel [prince of God]: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Jacob found something here. Jacob found that by confessing who he was, God would indeed bless him as the following verses tell.
But that’s not all. Remember when the man touched Jacob’s thigh and popped it out of place? Verse 31 reminds us about that. “He halted upon his thigh.” He limped. As a result of Jacob’s experience wrestling with God and his confession of who he really was, God blessed him, gave him a new name, and changed his walk. And later in his life Jacob will be further blessed to learn the “man’s” name: “I am God Almighty [El-Shaddai]” (Gen 35:11). As Jacob walks through life, he’ll continue to learn more and more of the God who changed his name and his walk.
It’s no different for people today. Maybe a liar isn’t what you are, like Jacob. Maybe you’re full of pride. Or hate. Maybe you’re a thief. Maybe you’re an adulterer. … Maybe you’re worse. And maybe it bothers you. Maybe you even struggle with God. If so, tell Him your name. That’s what He’s waiting to hear. Don’t expect his blessing and peace in your life if you refuse to confess to Him what you are. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
I know my name was “sinner.” And one day a long time ago I told God my name. I confessed it without excuse or explanation. I just was what I was. I deserved nothing of His blessings and had nothing at all of value to offer of myself. Just like with Jacob, God heard my confession and He blessed me and He changed my name. In the New Testament of the Bible those who confess to God what they are and trust in the payment made by the Lord Jesus on the cross are not only blessed with the promise of everlasting life, but are no more called sinners. Instead, He calls us, “saints” (e.g., Rom 1:7). And one day I’ll have another name altogether my own. Revelation 2:17 says, ” … To him that overcometh will I give … a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” And guess what else? He’s changed my walk. Though still far from sinless, He has changed the way I am much for the better, and I know one day I’ll be completely “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:29).
Think this through carefully because the “day breaketh” and there may not be much more time for you in your struggle with God. He will let you prevail. He will bless you with everlasting life. He will change your name and, indeed, who you are at your core (2 Cor 5:17). And He will change your walk. … But you must first be willing to tell Him your name.
One of the last verses in the Old Testament says, “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal 4:1).
some pictures from http://www.bibleplaces.com