We’ve rehearsed the account of Jacob wrestling with the angel before his reconciliation with Esau and his return to Canaan. As with all communication though, the question isn’t simply knowing what was said—we have to continue down the road by determining what was meant. Why did Moses tell us this story? What is its purpose? How does it fit in with the rest of Genesis? It’s good to be able to rehearse the story of the Good Samaritan; it’s better to understand its meaning so we can implement it in our lives.
Whatever else we are to understand from Jacob’s encounter with the angel, a few things seem clear:
1. God didn’t overpower Jacob. The One who created the universe could have done this through the angel (or by any other means), but didn’t. Why? Because God doesn’t force anyone to repentance. It has to be their choice.
2. God did allow Jacob to be brought to the end of his resources. In fact. God does this quite a bit. He did it with individuals: Saul of Tarsus, Jonah, Nebuchadnezzar and others. He also did this on a national level with Israel (see the book of Judges or the Babylonian exile for examples). Sometimes it takes quite a bit for Him to break us because of the thick armor, numerous defense mechanisms and stubborn will we possess.
3. To Jacob’s credit, he wouldn’t let go of the angel. He went from wrestling in prayer to wrestling with the angel. His tenacity in refusing to give up was commendable. In this regard, he is like Peter, who looked around at all those leaving Jesus and when Christ asked him if he would go as well, he said, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
4. Also to Jacob’s credit, he confessed his sin. What he needed to change was the behavior associated with his name (Jacob=cheater, deceiver). What he needed to keep was behavior associated with his new name (Israel=he who struggles with God).
5. He was left with a limp. He was disabled to show him and the nation that would come from him the blessing of God couldn’t be taken, earned or coerced—it was the gift of God. Jacob’s limp, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, was a reminder of the futility of Jacob’s way and v. 32 tells us that the nation took this to heart.
That would be a good thing for us to remember.