And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32:24, ESV).
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” (Genesis 32:30).
C.S. Lewis writes about a woman of great influence who had trial after trial resulting in great loss. A believer in God, as she went to bed one night, she thought to herself, “If I could just see God, I would ask Him why He allows me to suffer.”
That night this woman had a dream.
She was looking at God from across the expanse of the throne room. The four living creatures, along with myriads and myriads of saints and angels, were worshipping God. The worshippers parted, and she found herself walking up to the throne.
Seeing the face of God, she was silent.
God asked, “What are your questions?”
The woman said, “I have no questions!”
Names in the Old Testament indicate both character and action. The name “Jacob” meant “supplanter” or “one who grabs.” We read in Genesis that Jacob lived a life of deceiving and subterfuge to accomplish his desires.
Until he saw the face of God.
He struggled, deceived others, and was filled with fear. Most of his trials were caused by his own actions and attitudes. He lived up to the name of “Jacob.”
But now it was time for Jacob’s name to change. God’s eternal purposes would run through Jacob’s lineage. He was to be called “Israel.” Israel, currently, is still the focus of God’s plans.
But the nation of Israel began when Jacob crossed the river Jabbok and wrestled with God.
The well-known American author, Frederick Buechner, wrote about Jacob’s wrestling with God at the Jabbok River as “A magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”
Israel exists today, and the prophetic promises for the church still stand – none of it possible if Jacob hadn’t wrestled with God.
All of us will wrestle with God too.
The word “Israel” means “wrestling” with God. The word “Israel” is used about 2,500 times in the Bible. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 9 that all who now call upon the name of God are Israel.
And just as the current land of Israel still struggles with God, all of us will struggle.
But the purpose of our struggle is not defeat, but deliverance from the flesh. I have never met a believer who has not had a Jabbok River wrestling match with God.
Did I win? Did you win? Is the church winning today?
It doesn’t matter. Jesus has already won, and like Jesus, our victory comes from seeming defeat.
In Jacob’s wrestling match, he wouldn’t let God go. When Jacob told God that he wasn’t stopping the struggle until God blessed him – God then gave Jacob the name “Israel” as one “who struggles with God and prevails!”
Let us prevail in our wrestling with God. Don’t give up.
After the Jabbok River, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life. The church today needs wounded healers.
After seeing the face of God, it’s easy to find victory in defeat.