“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.
Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”…Then he blessed him there.“
Genesis 32: 24-29 NIV
The first time I ever came across this story in the Bible, I have to admit I was pretty confused. Why did God come, at what seemed like such a random time, to wrestle with Jacob? And why was Jacob blessed for fighting with God and “winning”?
It wasn’t until recently, when going through my own season of struggle, that it clicked. Isn’t that just how God works, bringing revelation through personal experience?
This story isn’t a story of winning. This story is a story of submission.
When I looked up the Hebrew word for “wrestle”, it gave me this definition: “wrestling or grappling”. The Hebrew word isn’t used anywhere else, so there is no way to know which definition was the intended one. Although wrestling and grappling are very similar, there are slight differences. It’s those differences that have brought me deeper understanding to this passage.
Kim Nunley explains it well in her article “Grappling vs Wrestling”. She says, “The two major differences between grappling…and freestyle wrestling is the presence of submission… There are no submission holds…allowed in wrestling like there are in grappling. Grappling allows you to put your opponent in a hold that…forces them to submit out of the match…In wrestling, the top position is ideal…Wrestlers try to avoid being on their back, as it puts them in a position that makes them susceptible to being pinned.”
In light of these differences, I wonder if the verses were intended to be read like this, “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he grappled with the man.” (Genesis 32:24-25).
I picture Jacob, confident in his own strength, being approached by this man in the wilderness. Jacob may have felt a little fearful, but he was sure he could take this man on.
The wrestling begins. They both are standing there, trying to pin the other down onto his back, but no submission is taking place. Jacob is avoiding at all costs being pinned down. He is determined to prove his own strength and win.
So, the man touches Jacob’s hip to weaken his own strength. Jacob falls and grabs hold of the man. Now they are both on the ground, rolling in the dust, grappling. And Jacob, in pain, is forced into submission.
Isn’t this just like us? We try to prove that our own strength and abilities are enough. We start off wrestling, refusing to surrender, trying to win, and then God touches our hip to weaken us and force us into submission.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes something God had spoken to Him in a time of weakness. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).
Normally, we read this verse and say that it is in our weakness God’s strength is glorified. This is a very truthful statement, but a book I recently read, Astonished by Mike Erre, brought light to another truth hidden in this verse.
If you look at the original Greek meanings of each word you’ll find that the first “my” (my grace is sufficient for you) literally just means “my”, referring to God, however the second “my” (my power is made perfect in weakness) actually translates to “the”, which could refer to God’s power or Paul’s.
The Greek word for “power” translates to a physical form of power, might, or ability. And the Greek word for “made perfect” actually translates to “finished, accomplished, brought to an end”. (Are you confused yet? Sorry, I promise this will all make sense in a second.)
When you put all these original definitions in play, you re-read the verse like this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for the physical power is brought to an end in weakness.” Reading it this way makes you wonder how the power could be referring to God if it is a physical power and it is a power that is brought to an end in weakness.
Could it be that God was actually telling Paul “when you are weak, your own physical power is brought to its end, and there you will learn to let me and my grace be enough for you”? Isn’t it true that when we reach the bottom of the pit, the only way we can look is up at God for help? Don’t we often try and use our own abilities and strength until those things are stripped away, brought to their end?
Jacob was doing just that. He was leaning on his own strength and power until God displaced his hip and forced him to grapple and submit in the dust. It was through weakness that Jacob learned to grab hold of God and let God’s grace be enough.
“Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” “
Genesis 32:26 NIV
As Jacob is laying on his back, in massive pain, holding tight to the man, the man asks Jacob to let go, but Jacob refuses. He continues to hold onto the man until he receives the blessing he knows God will give.
Talk about big, bold faith. How many times have we through, our pain and suffering, let go of God and given up hope? Not Jacob. He knew God was good, so he didn’t let go.
He knew God was good, so he didn’t let go. He knew that he could endure the pain because God’s grace was enough. He knew that this suffering measured little to the blessings promised by God. So he grabbed tight and refused to let go until he reached that blessing at the end.
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.” (Romans 8:18-19 NLT)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
We, too, should follow Jacob’s example of submission, letting our physical power come to its end and letting God and his grace be enough. We, too, while struggling, should never let go and look to the hope and glory of our futures.
“Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”…Then he blessed him there.” (Genesis 32:28-29 NIV)
In the end, Jacob’s name is changed. His identity is renewed. He overcomes the struggle and receives the blessing he believed would happen.
As we submit and learn to let God be enough, as we continue to walk in faith and follow God, we are also changed. Our patience grows, our strength is increased, our trust and faith in God become more mature, and our character is refined to be more like Christ.
Hip replacement surgery is definitely painful and requires a lot of perseverance, but when we allow God to replace the things we’ve been depending on with Himself, the pain and struggle become worth it. Once we get to the end of the trial, whether that is during our lives on earth or not until we reach Heaven, we will look back and be thankful for the journey we’ve been taken through.
Lord, thank you for loving us enough to not leave us as we are. Thank you for never abandoning us as we walk through valleys and darkness. Thank you for giving us your grace and presence to sustain us through every trial. Help us to see the blessing in the hardship. Help us to trust you along the way and have faith in the fact that you are a good, good Father. We praise and thank you for giving us a future of hope and prosperity. And we thank you for not leaving us to the sufferings of this world forever but, instead, having Christ die for our sins so that we could live eternally in your presence. Amen.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” (Romans 5:3-4 TLB)
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4 MSG)