During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
“What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said. “Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. Genesis 32:22-31 (NLT)
From the very moment he was born, Jacob had lived in almost constant conflict with someone. He came into the world grasping the foot of his twin brother, Esau. Later on, as young men, Jacob would take advantage of a moment of weakness in Esau’s character and trick him out of the birthright that was reserved for the oldest son. The resulting threat of harm from Esau took Jacob to a distant land to live with his uncle, Laban. While there, Jacob, was the recipient of similar devious behavior at the hand of Laban who promised him the hand of one of his daughters in marriage, but delivered the other daughter on the wedding night. As the story goes, Jacob remained with Laban for several years longer in order to win the daughter of his dreams. While in Laban’s presence, Jacob was blessed with many sons and even greater possessions. Again, conflict based in jealousy eventually lead Jacob to peacefully part company with Laban and to set his sights on home and a dreaded, but hopeful reunion with Esau.
Genesis 32 records Jacob’s fight to resolve who he was with who he was to become. He was hours away from his confrontation with his estranged brother and, by all evidence, it was not going to be a pleasant meeting. On the eve of this pivotal moment in his life, he is separated from all he loves. He is left alone with only his thoughts, his regrets, his fears and an unexpected visitor. While the is man not formally identified, the account eventually reveals that He is the pre-incarnate Christ. It is ludicrous to believe that Jacob could have wrestled and overpowered God. With every passing hour of the fight, Jacob became more intimately familiar with the One who refused to invoke His own power and end the struggle. It is when He touches Jacob’s hip and dislocates it that Jacob, now broken and desperate, declares that he will not release Him unless He “blesses” him. With every possession Jacob had acquired by the blessing of God, the one thing he could not change—was who he was. He had spent a lifetime living up to the Hebrew meaning of his name, “deceiver,” and had the emotional scars of the conflict to prove it. But, at the dawn of this new day, God Himself pronounces that Israel will be his new name and his new identity. The story ends with a glorious reunion between two brothers. One bearing the evidence of God’s grace and forgiveness and the other walking with a new limp and a new destiny.
When friends heard I was going to attend seminary, several said, “Now, don’t let all those intellectuals change what you believe about the Bible and make a liberal out of you!” I thought their warning was ridiculous until my first professor in one of my first classes said, “Friends, to understand Scripture we must be prepared to struggle with the text!” Struggle with the text? This is the Bible, man! It is what it is! Who am I to struggle with the text! This brilliant South African scholar taught me a crucial lesson that I am still applying almost every day I live. God’s ways truly aren’t my ways and sometimes His word teaches me a difficult truth that is sometimes hard to comprehend through a teary eyes and a broken heart. But there God is—in the middle of my circumstances wrestling with me, showing me my weaknesses and that I am helpless and alone in my own strength. To this day, I continue to “struggle with the text” and with God—as He struggles with me—to develop my faith so that I can understand that sometimes we learn more through the struggle than the victory.