Merciful Lord, Grant, we humbly pray, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Genesis 32 : 22 - 29
The Wounded Wrestler
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the brook 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. Then the man said, “Let me go for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him.
Alone: It was a night of acute fear for Jacob, for he was about to encounter his aggrieved brother Esau whom he had swindled of his birthright and blessing in sly action of meanest deceit (Genesis 27). Would Esau wish to wreak revenge on the morrow when the estranged brothers accosted each other? Darkness and aloneness, filled with mental unease, can be frightfully chilling. The imagination can work overtime creating ice-cold dread and exaggerating an ominous sense of danger. Jacob was intensely nervous.
A man wrestled with him: At what point in the lonely night the aggressor sprang upon Jacob we do not know, but it was a sudden and frightening attack, and a gruelling and intense struggle endured until daybreak. An unknown assailant seized upon Jacob, and together they grabbed at and gripped each other, engaging in various holds and hand to hand tactics, applying many painful maneuvers, and perhaps blows, to the other’s body, grappling both offensively and defensively. The tussle was vigorous and exhausting. Muscle power and breath must have been reduced to a very low ebb as dawn began to lighten the sky.
Let me go: The mystery man of the night assault asks for cessation of the struggle. He commenced combat and now he concludes it. His purpose has been fulfilled.
I will not let you go: Jacob senses that he has been grappling with God. He petitions an urgent blessing. The ongoing conflict is worth it, if it yields a needed blessing. He must hold on strenuously until the Lord bestows his favor, for the wrestling is an objective event that reflects his turmoil within - “Will God help me?” Jacob must persevere in the obtainment of divine aid.
What is your name?: In this enquiry Jacob is starkly confronted with his sinful, undeserving nature; that of a swindler, a cheat, a crafty “go-getter” of no moral integrity. From the very womb, clutching at Esau’s ankles, during the birth of Rachel’s twin boys, Jacob was the consummate grabber of anything throughout life that suited him and was to his personal advantage, no matter how it affected others.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob”: This is a statement of divine authority and sovereign (electing) intent. The God-man gives Jacob another name. However, we see that his family and biblical history still call him Jacob. The real point is not the mere changing of his name, but the transformation of the old Jacob’s former character. He will no longer think and act in the nature of the old Jacob, but in the ways of a new creature, born from above, namely Israel who has contended for mercy with the Lord, and passed through a profound transaction with the Lord personally; that is conviction of sin and fresh desire for mercy.
Tell me your name: God in his majestic supremacy will not disclose his name to Jacob at this juncture in divine revelation. He is high above all obligation to man. The fierce struggle in deliverance and prayer does not render us in any way familiar (chummy) with God, or give us the slightest cause for a sense of control over him, he being at our bidding, or, as the pagans believed, we wielding magical mastery over the Deity via spells and incantations. Whatever God does is in accord with his absolute, incontestable sovereignty.
If he calls us to an encounter with him through prayer that is sweet and comforting, or through struggle that is long term and taxing, he is always the sovereign initiator, actor, and benefactor in the matter of our contending with him and the petitions directed humbly toward him.
Presumption as to entitlement of access to God, or any self-serving advantage from him in our own right of claim is utterly forbidden and impossible of success. Humanity deserves no good thing from God. The exercise of his goodness is a matter of divine prerogative and determination alone. The disclosure of the divine name to us is an unearned, unmerited privilege - YAHWEH, Old Testament, or JESUS, New Testament. His personal names are the key to his intimate fellowship and favor, disclosed as a gesture of divine humility and fondest love. The Lord who is Light when he deigns to shine is Mystery also, hidden when he chooses.
Jacob and Ourselves: We, too, are called to be wrestlers with God. Whether it may be through times of particular ordeal, or simple regularity in communion and prayer, God gives us clues for our approach to him, and arguments for our requests. Scripture is the handbook for the method of engagement with the Lord and the language of discourse with God. The Bible blesses us with sufficient knowledge of the mind of the Lord that imparts a reverent intimacy with him.
As with Jacob, we are encouraged to maintain a degree of cautious yet confident persistence with him, knowing that he knows best and will persevere in that which is best for us. He may “make haste” or require us to wait. But he will not ignore the concerns of his children. These may be caused to abate or solicit his intervention. When we come to our Jabbok, may the Lord be our Rock!