He said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."Genesis 32:28(NASB)
Until Jacob wrestled with God 'face to face', he was serving the Lord in his own strength and on his own terms. He wanted God's blessing and coveted the birthright given to his father, Abraham. He wanted to be the one through whom God's promised Saviour was to be born. Oh, Jacob wanted the advantages of being God's chosen servant through whom Abraham's Seed would pass, without being accountable to Him. He wanted the blessings of God without undertaking his responsibilities towards God.
Jacob had spent his life scheming on how to get God to bless him. He did many devious deeds and made many manipulatives moves to ensure that he would be the one through whom God's blessing to Abraham would be fulfilled. He did not trust the promise God gave to his mother... that two nations were in her womb; that two people groups would come from her and that the older twin would serve the younger. And so throughout his life, Jacob plotted and planned to get the birthright and blessings that God had already decided to give him, before he was even born. But all of that changed one night, at the ford of Jabbok, when Jacob wrestled with God - face to face.
The day came when God needed to teach His servant a lesson that Jacob would never forget - that God's Word is true, His promises never fail, His people are accountable to Him, and that our times are in His hands. Jacob had to learn that whatever fleshly strength we try to muster and however powerful we prove to be, the Lord is stronger and more powerful. And whatever plans we may make, however admirable they may appear, God's plans and purposes are better and will always be fulfilled: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways and His thoughts greater than our thoughts."
Jacob had to come to a point in his life when he stopped trusting in his own cleverness and cunning to be blessed by God. He had to realise that his own wit and wisdom is no match for the mind of the Lord. Jacob had to be brought to a point of personal desperation before he understood that without God he could do nothing but that His grace is sufficient to cope with every situation in life.
He had to be brought to the precipice of despair in order to discover that God's Word is true and that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. He had to learn that apart from Him we can do nothing, but that we can do all things through Christ, Who strengthens us. Jacob had to be brought to the point where he was prepared to die to himself; his will, his strength, his cunning, his wit, and his wisdom. He had to stop trusting in himself and trust in the Lord with all his heart.
The wrestling match between Jacob and the heavenly Being continued throughout the night and however hard Jacob struggled, he could not defeat his challenger. His Opponent wanted to leave but Jacob clung on to Him firmly. The Angel of the Lord even dislocated his thighbone, but Jacob held on tightly to his combatant and did prevail, calling out, "I will not let You go unless You bless me." Jacob knew that he could not win the fight in his own strength and needed to admit that God is the source of his blessing and that his strength came from the Lord, and so we read that Jacob clung fast to Angel of the Lord until He received His blessing.
Hosea gives us a little insight into Jacob's wrestling with God, for we read in chapter 12: "Jacob wept, and sought favour from Him... and what a wonderful blessing he was given, for the Man said to Jacob, 'Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.'" Just as God changed the names of his grandfather and grandmother, so He gave Jacob a new name. He changed his name from Jacob to Israel, which means Prince with God... and Jacob called the place Peniel which means face of God. The night that he wrestled with God, Jacob was made a new man with a new name - whose life was to be ruled by God from that point on.
All his life Jacob had known about God, but at Peniel, Jacob gained a new revelation of God - he was given a new understanding. Jacob had to face his own trial and testing, and admit his own imperfections and limitation when He met God face to face, and Jacob was brought to an end of himself until he acknowledged his own weakness and was willing to admit that all honour, glory, might, majesty, dominion, power, blessing, and authority comes from our Heavenly Father - by grace. His blessings are not dependent on our schemes or planning but of God's amazing grace.
Jacob is one of many biblical characters whom God used to bring to fruition His perfect plan of redemption and who was used to teach us an important lesson - that there is nothing we can do to gain God's blessing or become His child - that it is not by wit or wisdom, schemes or cleverness, power or might that we are saved and brought in to an everlasting relationship with our Heavenly Father, but by His grace alone - through faith alone in Christ alone.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word, which gives us insight into the history of the nation of Israel. Thank You for the powerful story of Jacob, who learned that it was not by his might or power, schemes or wit that he was blessed, but by Your grace. And thank You that it is not by my might or power, good works or good character that I am saved, but by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, my mighty, powerful, loving Saviour. In Jesus' name, AMEN.