Jacob has spent his whole life striving – striving to get his birthright, striving to outsmart his family, striving to make things happen for himself. But now Jacob has come to the end of his rope. His brother Esau is on his way to kill Jacob’s entire family. Jacob can’t connive his way out of this one. He’s got his back to the wall and there’s no way out. In his last act of desperation, he sends his family across the river to await their fate… “But Jacob stayed behind, left alone in his distress and doubt. In the twilight of his anguish, an unknown man wrestled with him until daybreak” (Gen. 32:24, The Voice).
I don’t think it took Jacob very long to figure out that his assailant was no ordinary “man.” In fact, I believe that the physical wrestling we read of is only a small shadow of the internal psychological struggle and emotional strife within Jacob’s soul. Jacob is wrestling with no one other than God Himself. But, the question is: why is Jacob wrestling? Notice that Scripture says that the Man came and wrestled Jacob. It’s not the other way around – Jacob didn’t go wrestle the Man. You see, Jacob has spent his life trying to get things – a birthright, his wife, flocks, wealth… He includes God along the way so long as God is a part of getting him to his end goals. But now, God wants something from Jacob. He demands nothing less than Jacob’s defeated and surrendered heart.
For hours the battle has raged on. With blood, sweat, and tears, Jacob has grappled with God in heart-rending torment and soul-wrenching anguish. Jacob has held out so far. As the morning began to dawn, Jacob must have thought that he was just about to get the best of his opponent… and then BAM! The Man simply touches Jacob’s hip, and the battle is over. With one fell swoop, Jacob is decisively defeated. Thoroughly conquered, Jacob now knows that the only thing he can do is cling on to his Victor in the hope of a promise. Jacob realizes that he has absolutely nothing to offer, nothing to bargain with. Sobbing like a baby, Jacob is reduced to the point of begging for God’s blessing – on no other basis than the mercy and goodness of his Conqueror. “Jacob was reduced to the place where all he could do was to hold on to the Lord with everything he had. Jacob could not fight anymore, but he could hold on. That is not a bad place to be” (David Guzik, Commentary on Genesis).
But before the blessing can be granted, there is one more thing that Jacob must do. “Through stabbing pain Jacob demands a blessing from his unknown assailant, but he cannot receive it until he confesses his name” (The Voice, commentary). Yes, God, that’s right! I’m Jacob – a heel-catcher, a swindler, a deceiver! That’s exactly who I am completely helpless to do anything about it! And that’s exactly what God was waiting for. Now God is able to bless Jacob with the blessing of a new name, a new identity! You see, Jacob thought this whole time that the enemy was his brother Esau. But, God needed to recalibrate Jacob’s paradigm. He needed to tear all of Jacob’s defenses down, one by one, and expose the real enemy – the enemy within Jacob himself. Once Jacob has finally reached the point of absolute defeat, God then unveils a new identity for Jacob: Israel. “He who prevails with God.” I find David Guzik’s thoughts incredibly insightful here: “Jacob prevailed in the sense that he endured through his struggle until God thoroughly conquered him. When you battle with God, you only win by losing and by not giving up until you know you have lost. This is how Jacob prevailed.”
You know, Jacob probably limped for the rest of his life. With each pained step, Jacob would be reminded that he had experienced a face-to-face encounter with God. It was a battle he would never forget. And I bet Jacob thought of that limp as a small price to pay for God’s victory in his life.
Where are you battling with God in your life? Where are you struggling with internal battles of anger, confusion, or grief? The answer isn’t to stop fighting. It’s to keep holding on! Hold on all the way through. Don’t give up until God achieves a complete, unmitigated victory! And when you have finally been conquered, it is then that you will also receive the blessing of victory.