Jacob was returning to the Promised Land after twenty-one years in Padan Aram. He left single. He returned with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, and many flocks and herds.
Moses doesn’t give any precise details about the fight. We are not told about leglocks, takedowns, or half nelsons. But we are told this was a real Man and a real fight that lasted all night.
The word translated as a Man (uppercase in the NKJV, indicating the translators believe this is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ) was God in the flesh.
That the fight went on all night shows that Jacob had to persevere to gain what he wanted: a blessing. All believers must fight the good fight in order to receive God’s blessings (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 4:6-8).
Jacob and the nation that came from him learned a great lesson. We cannot prevail against God. But we can beseech Him and gain blessing.
Jacob clung to Him even after his injury, saying, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
Are you clinging to God? We are to cling to Him no matter what troubles we face.
The Man gave Jacob a new name: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed” (v 28). Israel means one who struggles with God, or God prevails. In light of the context, one who struggles with God is the intended sense.
The Man reveals that He is God, the Lord Jesus. Jacob makes that crystal clear in verse 30.
Moses expects us to understand that with a new name comes a new man. This encounter changed Jacob. He wasn’t the same man after meeting with God face to face, just as, much later, Moses was changed by meeting with God face to face.
The Man “blessed Jacob there” (v 29).
Jacob responded by naming the place Penuel, also spelled Peniel, which means Face of God: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
What about John 1:18? In the first part of the verse John says that no one has seen God at any time. However, if you read on in John 1:18, you learn that John also says that the Son of God revealed Him. In other words, John means that no one has ever seen God the Father. But they have seen the Second Member of the Trinity. In fact, all appearances of God, called theophanies, are really Christophanies–appearances of Christ.
Jacob did not seem particularly upset to have received an injury that would bother him for the rest of his natural life. He realized that what he gained that night was far more significant than a hip injury. Limping was a small price to pay for being blessed by God.
Remember that as Israel the nation read this, they, like Jacob, were coming into the Promised Land. They, too, wanted God’s blessings. Ross notes, “Israel’s ultimate victory will come not by the usual ways by which nations gain power, but in the power of the divine blessing.”
Of course, that is also true of us in the church age, is it not?
This wrestling match was recorded in Scripture to teach us three things:
- We must cling to God if we wish to be blessed now and in the life to come. The NT expression for clinging to God is abiding in Christ (see John 14-16; 1 John).
- Perseverance (continued clinging) is required if we are to please God and rule with Christ in His kingdom (Gal 6:7-9; 2 Tim 2:12; 4:6-8).
- God changes our lives as we continue to cling to Him. The NT says it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom 12:2). “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror [the Bible] the glory of the Lord [Jesus], are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).
Jacob wrestled with God all night and, as a result, became Israel. The nation of Israel has held this incident in high regard throughout its history.
May we, too, cling to God. He is the only source of victory for us. Our battles are not against flesh and blood. Ours are spiritual battles.
Keep your mind fixed on the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God will transform you over time.