Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 21 2011 - E100.10b – Gen 32:22-32, Jacob becomes Israel

Jacob sent his wives and family and all that he possessed ahead of him to meet up with Esau. In the evening, Jacob, now alone, began to follow them. But he was met by a 'man' who laid hold of him and wrestled with him all night long. It was as if someone was seeking to prevent his return to the land the Lord had promised him.

As dawn broke, the 'man' touched Jacob's hip and it was put out of joint. Still Jacob would not let him go but demanded that this 'man' whom he now recognises in some sense to be divine, should bless him. The blessing Jacob receives is to be renamed Israel – one who wrestles with God. Jacob would dearly love to know the 'man's' name, but it is not told to him. (See Charles Wesley's wonderful hymn/poem on this theme reproduced below.)

Before moving on, Jacob calls the name of this place 'Peniel' (the face of God), because he has seen the face of God and lived to tell the story – though not unmarked, for he now walks with a limp.

What are we to make of this strange story? Jacob was afraid of his brother Esau and imagined that Esau was the only one standing between him and the possession of all that God had promised him. The night of wrestling shattered his presumption. If he was to inherit the promises he must deal with God himself – he must, as it were, wrestle the promises from God's hand. God would have Jacob to know that it was not good enough for the blessing to have been pronounced over him by his father, he must be serious about seeking it from God himself.

But note how gracious God is in dealing with Jacob. Like a father wrestling with his young child, Almighty God wrestles with Jacob and allows him to have the upper hand for the greater part of the contest. Only as dawn breaks does he show his power by disabling Jacob with a single touch. Jacob is marked by his encounter with God.

Jacob's new name is not one which shall be his alone; it becomes the name of the people of God – the children of Israel. They are a people who wrestle with God.

Gracious Father, teach me what it means to wrestle with you and refuse to let you go until you bless me. May I be a man marked by encounters with the living God.

Supplement: Charles Wesley's hymn / poem

Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new, unutterable Name?
Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;
To know it now resolved I am;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

’Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then I am strong
And when my all of strength shall fail,
I shall with the God-man prevail.

Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair;
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if Thy Name is Love.

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

My prayer hath power with God; the grace
Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face,
I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

I know Thee, Saviour, who Thou art.
Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;
Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.
But stay and love me to the end,
Thy mercies never shall remove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The Sun of righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in His wings,
Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee
My soul its life and succour brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Peter Misselbrook