But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.
The man said, ” . . . . Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”
Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”
The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him. – Genesis 32:24-25, 28-29
When I run distances that are too long, my hip dislocates just a little. It slides in the socket, and every step I take pushes a dull moan through my body. As far as I can recognize, the dislocation of my hip doesn’t come with a blessing.
I have to admit that I really don’t understand this bit of Scripture. I know the story – all children’s Bible painting colors – of Jacob wrestling with the angel (although, it seems from my reading that he’s actually wrestling God), and I’ve had some inkling that people find great insight in it. But it wasn’t until last night, lying in bed, admittedly feeling a bit sorry for myself in my Friday night aloneness, that the story moved into truth for me.
I read the words – Jacob wrestled with him until daybreak – and I thought, “That’s me. I’m Jacob, and God and I are really wrestling this one out.”
It’s not clear to me why Jacob wrestled God, and it’s not clear to me whether or not such wrestling was necessary. What is clear, though, is that because Jacob did not give up, because he stayed in the match he was both scarred and blessed.
At the end of the match, Jacob looks God in the face and demands to know God’s name. It’s almost as if because of this struggle, he has gained the courage to ask the most important question he has – who are you really? What is your essence? How do you call yourself?
God does not answer but instead gives Jacob what he has already been promised – a great blessing, the blessing of a great nation that will come through him.
I don’t want a great nation to come from me (seems like WAY too much pressure), but I do want a family and a home and a career as a writer. I want all the desires of my heart, the very things God has promised me.
Too often, I think, we cop out on this thing called life. We think that trusting God means we just sit back and watch while God does all the work. We think that prayer is just saying things and then walking away to let God handle them. Certainly, there’s an element of life that is beyond our control; certainly, there is much that we cannot do; and certainly, there is much that God does for us without our action in it.
Yet, this story reminds me that sometimes, maybe even most of the time, life is about struggle. Struggle with ourselves, with the world, with God. Maybe instead of just sitting back and waiting for God to take all of this on, maybe we are to struggle with God directly. Maybe God wants us to wrestling with God because in the wrestling we find strength, courage, the necessity of pain in blessing.
So God and I will continue to wrestle through this together. I’ll feel the dull moan of my hip as God scars me with God’s touch; I’ll definitely bear those scars as I limp through life – I already do. But each day, when daylight comes back in, I will look God in the face and say, “What is your name?” and I will wait for God to say, “Here is your blessing.
Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story.”