That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants 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. 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 humans and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
Jacob’s circumstances were ordinarily difficult and at times even dire thanks in large part to himself, but not without the help of a broken, “dysfunctional” family. He was given to taking matters into his own hands as if all depended on him. His mother Rebecca wasn’t any help here, since she set up the deceptive plot to steal father Isaac’s blessing intended for his favorite, Esau for her favorite, Jacob. She didn’t trust what God had told her before the boys were born, that the older would serve the younger.
Now Jacob was returning home after two decades away to meet Esau for the first time after Esau had been intent on killing his brother. Jacob was in trouble, or at least there was nothing he could do himself to assure a good outcome, unlike numerous other times in his life. Not that he didn’t go to great lengths to do so, and not in an altogether admirable way when you think about it.
But the night prior to that Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, considered a theophany, “a visible representation of God.” He had it out with God, and God with him in the form of a man who wrestled with him until daybreak, touching his hip socket, and putting it out of joint, which really had to be painful. And interestingly, Jacob walked around with a limp the rest of his life. I’m sure he had to keep learning over and over the lesson and truth given to him that night.
Hosea gives us an explanation of what happened:
In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
as a man he struggled with God.
He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
he wept and begged for his favor.
He found him at Bethel
and talked with him there—
the Lord God Almighty,
the Lord is his name!
And I think this scripture implies that the very tendency in Jacob which kept him from faith became the means of at least a renewed faith, probably in his experience a new faith altogether.
What about us today? We seem to like easy answers. Just know this or that, or have some experience and everything will be okay. But scripture doesn’t seem to line up well with that idea. In the end of course all will be light and clear, and complete peace, joy, and love. But here and now, where we see through a glass darkly and know in part, we must continue on, which means we need to struggle on in faith. Yes, having it out with God so to speak, indeed a wrestling with God. That is where our faith can be rekindled, or perhaps even given spark for the first time. And where the needs that we are facing for our loved ones, and for ourselves can begun to be met. In and through Jesus.