Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."
This chapter marks a key turning point in the story of Jacob. His has been a most disappointing spiritual journey to date. He has been the most materialistically consumed of all the patriarchs. And now, with his return to the Promised Land, we see him encountering God in life changing ways.
This episode puzzles me, and I am not real sure if I can answer all the questions I have in this passage. I accept it as a real historical account though. God comes to Jacob when he is alone. He has sent his family behind him. He has divided his home like a military encampment, sending a gift to appease Esau ahead of him, his family in clearly favorited groupings behind him, and himself, alone in the middle. It is during that alone time that God comes to him in a sleepless night and in the form of a wrestling man, God jousts with Jacob until the break of day. A lifetime of outdoor shepherding must have made a strong man of the former mama’s favorite tentboy chef, because Jacob is in a draw match with God until finally God just touches him in the hip. With that touch God wins the bout and renames Jacob.
From this moment on, Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel the wrestler because he has prevailed against the Lord. His reward for the battle is a permanent limp. But the new name gives him a chance to forge a new spiritual identity with a personal relationship with God, which is exactly what was needed at this juncture. It adds spiritual drama to the personal drama already enfolding in the text, and shows us what God is accomplishing in this story.
Like Jacob, there are times when I need to be wrestled to my senses. I need the clean break, the new name, and the fresh start. And just like Jacob, I find such refreshing in the touch of God, even if God makes me wrestle to get it, and a limp is left to remind me of God’s touch. That is the way God works. And the crutch I need in order to move along again becomes a precious thing.