I admit it. I’m a pro wrestling fan. Yes, I know it’s not “real.” I know all the matches are predetermined. But it’s still kind of fun to watch.
Well, in this passage, we see the very first wrestling match. And while it was real, the victor was predetermined. And in the end, Jacob finally had to say, “I yield.”
It occurs to me, though, that God could’ve made things a lot easier on Jacob. Think about it. From what we see of Esau in chapter 33, he had already forgiven Jacob. God had blessed Esau, and he no longer held any bitterness in his heart towards his brother.
God could’ve told Jacob, “Hey man. Don’t worry about it. It’s all cool. Esau isn’t coming to attack you. He’s just happy that he can see you again.”
But God didn’t do that. Instead, he let Jacob sweat. Here Jacob is before God, totally panicking, and praying desperately. “God help! My brother’s coming to kill me! What am I going to do? Didn’t you tell me to go back home? Didn’t you say you were going to bless me? Now look what’s happening! I’m a dead man!”
Why did God let Jacob go through all those feelings of fear and panic? I don’t know, but I would guess that he wanted Jacob to finally learn what it meant to yield to him and depend on him. All his life, Jacob had tried to do things his own way. All his life, Jacob had tried to make things happen by his own strength and his own efforts.
But now Jacob was at the end of his rope. There was nothing he could do. There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. He was completely at the mercy of his brother, because there were just too many people and things with Jacob for him to get away from Esau.
So he sends his family away from him, and now he’s all alone, probably praying for all he’s worth. For all he knows, it’s the last day he’ll ever live, because he knows that Esau will definitely overtake them by the next day.
And suddenly in the dead of night, Jacob gets attacked and he starts wrestling with this unknown stranger. I’ve always kind of thought it was a silent struggle, with neither saying a word as they fought. But as I think about it, it seems very likely that they carried on at least some dialogue during the fight.
Jacob was probably shouting out, “Why are you doing this? Who are you? Why are you attacking me?”
I wonder if the man said anything to Jacob during the struggle? I wonder if while they were wrestling, he said to Jacob, “Why do you struggle so much? Just yield!”
“No! I’ll never yield.”
Finally daybreak comes, and when the man sees that Jacob is still struggling, still not yielding, he ends the fight by forcing Jacob’s hip out of joint. And the man says, “Let me go. This fight is over.”
And Jacob cries out, “No. I won’t let you go.” But by this time, Jacob is a beaten man. He knows now that there can be no more wrestling. No more struggling. No more fighting. All he can do is yield, and beg for mercy. And so he’s no longer trying to fight. Instead, he’s simply clinging to the man, tears in his eyes, as he cries out, “I won’t let you go. I need your blessing!”
The man replied, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Jacob. It means ‘Deceiver.'”
“No longer will you be called ‘Deceiver.’ All your life, you’ve tried to con your way through life. Deceiving your brother. Deceiving your father. Deceiving your uncle. But now you will be called, “He who wrestles with God.” Because by wrestling with God, you’ve found the key to overcoming the problems in your life. It’s not by deceiving others. It’s not by trying to make things happen by your own efforts. It’s by yielding…to me.”
At this point, Jacob is really afraid, wondering who he’s really talking to, and he says, “Who are you? What’s your name?”
The nameless man replies, “Why do you need to know my name?” And then he blessed Jacob.
And Jacob suddenly realized who he was talking to. It was God himself. Many people believe that it was actually Jesus that Jacob had wrestled that night. And Jacob called that place Peniel, which means “face of God,” because, “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” Genesis 32:30 (NIV)
And Jacob limped away from that place a broken, but blessed man.
How about you? Are you wrestling with God right now? Are you constantly struggling in life because you’re insisting on doing things your own way instead of God’s way? The only way to overcome in life is not to fight God, not to wrestle with him, but to yield to him. To cling to him. And to realize that true blessing comes only from him. Will you wrestle with God? Or will you yield to him?