22 The same night [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When [he] saw that he did not prevail against [him], he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But [he] said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 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.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event.
In this corner, we have a husband of two and father of eleven sons. But don’t let the fact that he is a family man fool you. He’s been a fighter all his life. Even in his mother’s womb, he was scrapping with his twin brother. He fights dirty and knows how to prey on weakness. He’s so ruthless that when that same brother was famished, he used food to steal a birthright. When his father was nearly blind, he covered himself with animal skins to steal a blessing. The meaning of his name says it all; I give you Jacob, the Deciever, son of Isaac.
And in this corner, we have a stranger. But don’t let his anonymity fool you either. He’s more powerful than any other being in all creation. When He looks defeated, watch out. He has finishing moves that will cripple you for the rest of your life. Before Abraham was, He is. The Alpha. The Omega. The Beginning and the End. I give you, the pre-incarnate Messiah – Jesus.
We are given front-row seats to this bout. Jacob has divided his family and sent them across the river. He is alone for the night to think about what will happen the next day when he will meet Esau, his brother. The last time Jacob saw any of his immediate family, his mother warned him that Esau was comforting himself with the thought of killing him (Gen. 27:42).
Suddenly, a man springs out of the bushes. And Jacob finds himself wrestling all night. Now, the Scripture doesn’t give us a very good play-by-play of the fight – at least not for the radio. V. 25 is full of ‘he’s’ and ‘him’s.’ But, the text makes it clear. Jacob prevails over Jesus (see also Hosea 12:3-4). But then, suddenly, the Man touches Jacob’s side. BAM! And Jacob’s hip is dislocated.
And the ‘he’s’ and ‘him’s’ continue in v. 26. He said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” Who said that? Could be Jesus, but it could be Jacob. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Who said that? Could be Jacob, but it could be Jesus. And if it is Jesus, and I just want you to consider the possibility, Jesus is saying, “I will not let you go until you trust and believe in Me.”
Jesus asks Jacob for his name. And Jacob gives it to him, “My name is Deciever.” And Jesus says, “Your name will no longer be Deciever, but Israel,” which means ‘God fights.’
Jacob asks for the Man’s name, but he doesn’t get it. It seems as though that Jacob is still trying to be tricksy. The common thought back then was that if you knew the name of a god, you could control him. But Jacob doesn’t get the name. He doesn’t get to control Jesus.
So, what does this have to do with you? Should you be like Jacob and wrestle with God in prayer? Should you never give up until you make God answer all your prayers and bless you?
No. No, you are not stronger than God. Even though Jacob prevailed over Jesus in this wrestling match, it is clear who was in charge. At any point, Jesus could have ended the match by blasting Jacob into orbit.
For his whole life, Jacob had been relying on his own cunning and deceit. He had relied on his manipulation of others and his dirty tactics to make sure he always ended up on top. But in this wrestling match, God wanted Jacob to see that even when Jacob won, it was because of what God was doing by fighting for him. And by changing Jacob’s name to Israel, God cements that fact into Jacob’s very identity.
God fights, and He fights for you. It was God who promised our first parents that He would fight for them by sending the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. It was God who fought against Pharaoh and delivered Israel out of bondage and slavery in Egypt. It was God who fought with the pagan nations who inhabited the Promised Land.
And it was God who took on the greatest fight of all, but in the strangest way imaginable. A Baby came to earth in a manger. That Child grew up and fought with the devil as he threw all his best moves tempting Jesus to fall into sin. Jesus beat Satan up there, but His final victory came when Jesus went to the mat of the cross facing your greatest foes.
Loaded with your sin and the sin of the whole world, He fights to the very end, to the last breath. And the fight looked lost. Jesus looked like a loser – dead, lifeless, buried. But, even in that apparent defeat, He rose victorious.
And Jesus keeps fighting. He fights for you. Jesus fights your enemies: sickness, sorrow, sin, and Satan. You may think that you face your enemies alone because God has abandoned you. He has not. You may feel like you are helpless, friendless, defenseless. You are not. You might even be tempted to believe that your worst enemy is God Himself. You would be wrong.
God is your wrestler. He is the one who fights for you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Jesus says that you are His. He has given you eternal life, and no one will snatch you from His victorious, nail-pierced hand (Jn. 10:28). Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.