Wrestling with God’s Promise
Wrestling has always been part of the reality for this nation that is smaller in total landmass than the state of New Jersey. Despite repeated wars throughout her history, and more recent attacks from terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel still remains the focal point for religious zealots, secular world leaders, and people of faith like you and me.
Why is that?
The answer has something to do with God’s promise...
... a promise that came down through our forefather Abraham and extends beyond this tiny Nation, beyond the larger populations of Jews and Gentiles who have accepted His blessing of salvation, and straight to individual hearts turned toward the Father.
The story of Israel and God’s promise really begins with one man’s struggle—a struggle we can each relate to as we strive to overcome our own tendencies to grasp for opportunities in our own strength instead of surrendering to God’s greater plan.
And from this man came the actual name of this great nation that we have come to know and love. All you have to do is go back in the pages of biblical history to the story of one of God’s Chosen, a flawed yet believing man named Jacob, as outlined in the book of Genesis. The story of Jacob’s transformation is one of my favorite portions of Scripture. Profound and multi-layered, this text pinpoints the moment in which our great Patriarch, Jacob, received his new name—Israel, henceforth bearing the name of the nation that would bring salvation to the world.
Before looking at this familiar text found in Genesis 32, I want you to have some insight on Jacob. Consider Jacob’s lineage—we could say that he is brought up in a believing home. His grandfather is Abraham, the father of the Jewish People, the one whom God calls out from the heathen nations, “cuts” His covenant with for the Promised Land of Israel, and promises a heritage through his son, Isaac. This promise is not only a blessing for the Jewish People, but also a blessing to all the families of the earth. God uses Abraham’s example of faith as righteousness for all. Jacob has the faith of his grandfather Abraham, and also the testimony and the life of his father, Isaac, as his heritage. His mother’s favorite, Jacob was a quiet man, perhaps even a bit passive (Genesis 25:27).
Very early on, in Genesis 25: 29-34, we see another aspect of Jacob’s personality—he was opportunistic. We read the story of how Jacob traded for his brother’s birthright at a time when his brother is in need. Esau comes in from the wilderness starving, and rather than just giving him a bowl of lentil soup, Jacob trades it for his birthright as the firstborn son. Very shrewd—very opportunistic. That weakness of character is evident when, in Genesis 27, Jacob lets his mother talk him into deceiving his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing.
The very name Jacob gives us a hint of this character trait. In Hebrew, Jacob, or Yacov, means “heel holder,” just as he came out of the womb grabbing his twin brother’s heel, and also means “supplanter.” By implication he is a deceiver.
Genesis 28 makes it very clear that Jacob already knew his calling when he had a dream at Bethel, where he saw the ladder to heaven with the angels ascending and descending—he had experienced visitations, and thus he had a certain level of commitment to God. He tithed. He had a revelation of who God was, and he was brought up in a believing home. He had character flaws, not unlike each of us.
Desperate and Alone with God
In Genesis 32, we find Jacob is in an absolutely desperate situation. His brother Esau has declared his commitment to take Jacob’s life for taking advantage of him, obtaining his birthright, and stealing his father’s blessing through outright deception.
Jacob has left home and is running for his life:
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. —Genesis 32:22-25
Jacob has just received a report that Esau is near—and now Jacob is running for his life. He is guilty, desperate, alone. However, this is not a bad place to be with the Lord.
Have you ever been in that place? Have you ever been in a place of despair where only the Lord can help? Are you there today? I’ve been there; I know how that feels. Don’t lose hope—it’s not a bad place to be. It is often in the place of despair that we turn to God and He delivers us, and we receive a miracle.
That’s where Jacob is now. He is in a place of despair—about to lose his life. He sends his family away so they can survive, and he’s alone—alone with God. This is critically important. People can encourage and counsel you, they can pray for you, and they can teach you. While there is wisdom in much counsel, the real growth is one on one with God. And that’s the place that Jacob is now.
Jacob is finally in the place he needs to be to meet with God, and the text says that a man wrestled with him until daybreak. Obviously this is not a man—this is someone beyond a man—and also beyond an angel. In fact, as we read on in the text, Jacob, whose name is then changed to Israel, makes this statement, “I have seen God face to face.” Now it is clear that this is no ordinary man. I believe this is a pre-incarnate visitation of Yeshua. Jacob, our forefather, is actually encountering the pre-incarnate Jesus face to face.
This statement illustrates Jacob’s tenacity, his desperation to grab hold of the blessings of God. In his brokenness, he encountered the only source of true deliverance and blessing he knew, and his dependence on God gave him the strength to struggle throughout an entire night with “a man” until he gained the blessing.
Transformed by Perseverance
Jacob’s perseverance won him more than deliverance and blessing—he received a new name—Israel, which means “he struggles with God.”
Jacob was transformed from “deceiver” to the father of the tribes of Israel.
This has become Israel’s story as well—the Land and the People. Israel has risen and fallen, has been made glorious, and left in ruin. Through Israel, however, the ancient promise has come—salvation to the world—and is yet to come with greater glory in the return of Yeshua to the Mount of Olives to rule and reign from Jerusalem.
Jacob’s Story is Your Story
This is not only Jacob’s story—nor is it Israel’s alone. This is a story for every one of us.
The truth is, the Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God—we each have character flaws, just like the great men and woman of faith found in Scripture. They too, were imperfect, yet God chose to use them. However, it’s more than imperfection that God looks for in a vessel He can use to change the course of history, as we have just seen in the life of Jacob.
Learn from our father Jacob, who clung to God in his crisis and was transformed. Don’t let go of God. If you are at the place of desperation, don’t despair. Fight the good fight of faith, hold fast to that which is good, persevere, and lay hold of the hope that is set before you, and you will receive the blessing of God. I tell you today that your name is Israel, one who strives with God as a prince. So keep pressing on and don’t give up!
All Bible References NIV