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Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Genesis 32:26
When my son was in high school I begged him not to try out for football and suggested wrestling instead. I thought wrestling would be safer. Yes, naive, I know. My thought process was that he won’t suffer any falls because well, they have that mat. And it is padded. Well, little did I know wrestling was worse than football! It’s not like the WWF shows my Dad used to watch when I was little – you know, the fake ones where no one really gets hurt? My son owes his first (and I’m hoping, only) ambulance ride to one of his wrestling matches! (Wait, it wasn’t even a match, it was just practice.) Anyway, in case you haven’t been to one, at any point in the game your face could be next to someone’s face, foot, backside or splayed down on that (padded) mat. It’s not pretty.
That is how I imagined Jacob wrestling with the Man (pre-incarnate Christ). All his life, Jacob has relied on his own strength. He is very resourceful and if something goes wrong, he runs. By the time we get to Genesis 32, he was at the end of his rope. He was trapped. He couldn’t go back to Laban and he was afraid of what lies ahead with Esau and his posse of 400 men. He is not even sure that his wife and children would be around 24 hours later. What if Esau harms them? Jacob came face to face with his greatest fear. Verse 24 says: And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (KJV) When Jacob was alone, without any distractions, God also showed up.
In my prior readings, I always thought that Jacob was winning this match. After all, he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Like how the bully bends someone’s arm and won’t let go until the victim says “Uncle?” That’s how I pictured it. But as Pastor Chuck Smith pointed out, in Hosea 12:3-4a:
In the womb, that heel, Jacob, got the best of his brother. When he grew up, he tried to get the best of God. But God would not be bested. God bested him. Brought to his knees, Jacob wept and prayed. (The Message)
Pastor Chuck said, “Hosea says he was at this point broken. He was weeping. He was crying. He was pleading. He was actually saying in essence, “please don’t go without blessing me. I can’t let you go.” (www.blueletterbible.org)
Brought to his knees, weeping and pleading. That touched my heart. Are you in a wrestling match with God? Down on your knees, weeping and pleading?
“Please, Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I am tired and I want to just give up.”
“Please don’t let go of my child.”
“Please get ahold of my spouse.”
“Please heal my friend.”
It was at this point of surrender that Jacob’s name changed. Whereas his old name meant “heel holder” or “supplanter,” Israel according to Strong’s H3478 means “God prevails.” When we get to our Peniel, and we come face to face with God. we need to surrender our self-will and our rights. We need to confess our sins and admit our weaknesses. When we surrender and let God prevail, He changes our names and we are never the same again.
[Reading from Blue Letter Bible Chronological Plan]