Wrestling with God: How Jacob became Israel

By Paul Hammons
Aug. 26, 2018

When we look at examples of godly men and women in the Old Testament, we typically don’t look at Jacob. Jacob, whose name literally meant “supplanter” or “deceiver,” often behaved in ways that were selfish, opportunistic, and deceptive in his early life.

However, the book of Genesis shows a remarkable transformation over the course of Jacob’s life, as he comes to depend more and more on God. And those changes in his attitude are capsulized in the odd story of Genesis 32:

Genesis 32:22-30 – “22 The same night he 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 the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, 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 Jacob 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.”

We see Jacob struggling with God for much of his earlier life, but in this example, Jacob struggles to hold onto God, understanding that without God, he could not overcome the obstacles that awaited him in his life. We see Jacob made physically weaker as a result of this struggle, but spiritually stronger.

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