“Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name? He said, ‘Jacob.’ And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (Genesis 32:24-28).
The context concerns Jacob’s return to Canaan land, after 20 years in Haran (cf. Genesis 31:38-41). The LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). When he had left Canaan, two decades earlier, God had promised him, “The land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (Genesis 28:13-15). However, as he journeyed home, Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him, and that 400 men were with him (Genesis 32:6). “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:7). Jacob prayed for the LORD for deliverance (Genesis 32:9-12). In this prayer, Jacob reminded God of the promise He had made to him, years earlier. Next, he sent presents, by servants, ahead for Esau (Genesis 32:13-21). This was no small offering. Nearly 600 animals were sent. Finally, Jacob wrestled with a mysterious man. At some point, Jacob realized that he was actually wrestling with God. This was a theophany. Jacob was hurt, but he refused to let loose of God until he was blessed.
What is the significance of this strange wrestling match? (1) There are struggles in life. Jacob feared Esau. He needed to trust God. This struggle was within Jacob. We all have our own struggles. (2) We need to hold on to God, and trust in Him. At some point, Jacob realized that this man was actually God. Therefore, he refused to turn loose until he received His blessing. We need to hold tightly to God, when struggling with issues in life. (3) We need to spend time alone with God. Jacob was alone when he wrestled with God (Genesis 32:24). Jesus spent time alone in prayer [Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12; Mark 645-46 (Matthew 14:22-23); Luke 9:18; Mark 14:32-42 (Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46)]. He also taught this (Matthew 6:6).
The wrestling match changed Jacob. (1) It strengthened him. Jamison, Fausset, and Brown comments, “The moral design of it was to revive the sinking spirit of the patriarch and to arm him with confidence in God” (JFB, p. 38). He was weakened in body but strengthened in faith. God appeared to him in the form of a man. This one had the power to dislocate his hip with just a touch. He could have killed him, but instead He blessed him. (2) It resulted in a new name being given. The name “Jacob” means “one who takes by the heel” or “supplanter” (Genesis 25:26 cf. 27:36; See Truth For Today Commentary, p. 249; The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 398). The meaning of the name “Israel” is disputed. Some believe that it means “He who struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28; 35:10; See: Truth For Today Commentary, p. 249; The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 398). Others believe that it means, “Ruling with God” (Young’s Concordance). The reason given for the name is stated: “For you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). William Grasham comments on verse 28, saying “The meaning of ‘Israel’ is paradoxical: only when Jacob was willing to submit to God and allow Him to be prevalent in his life was he able to prevail over his circumstances” (Truth for Today Commentary, p. 249).
Yes, we may wrestle with God at times; but let us never give up. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Those who trust in Him will not be disappointed, or put to shame for doing so in the end (Romans 10:11).