Scripture: Genesis 32:22-32
Jacob had always been a fighter – scrappy and resourceful right from the start. When his mother Rebekah carried him and his twin brother Esau in her womb, she thought she might die because of the way the two boys tumbled around and wrestled within her. When they were born, scrappy lil’ Jacob was grabbing at the heel of his brother. Years later, Jacob found a way to wrestle the birthright away from his brother; not through catch-as-catch-can, but through scheming, chicanery, and swindle. Jacob had similarly wrestled most of his father-in-law’s wealth away from him as well, getting rich at the expense of old Laban.
Jacob’s fighting ways had made him wealthy, but also paranoid. As he sat on the shore of the Jabbok River, he awaited, what he must have imagined to be, an impending hostile reunion with his brother, Esau. He had caught wind that, in fact, Esau was on the way to meet him… and Esau was with a small army of 400 men. Jacob had made an effort to assuage the angry bitterness of his big brother by sending peace-offerings on ahead, but now he could only wait alone in the dark.
The text here is scant on details but tells the reader that a mysterious stranger – “a man” – jumped Jacob in the night and the two wrestled until morning. It was not the assailant Jacob anticipated. The “man” struck Jacob on the hip, dislocating it, but Jacob refuses to let go. Instead, he demanded that the “man” bless him.
Before the blessing came, the “man” asked for Jacob’s name, and then changed his name. It is clear in Jacob’s mind that the mysterious grappler is God, or some representative of God. Afterall, who else could understand Jacob’s history and character so well, and speak with such authority, to pronounce such a profoundly true new name on the patriarch? No longer would he be known as Jacob; his name would now be called Israel – “God-Wrestler.” This mysterious God of grace knew exactly who Jacob was; and He blessed him anyway, and preserved him.
Oftentimes, we too are scheming and self-seeking, like Jacob, fighting to get what we want for ourselves. But the God of Israel is the one who finds and engages us as we are, who knows our history and names it, who also blesses and preserves us.
~Gavin Jensen, Holy Community Covenant Church, Winnipeg, MB