Jacob was preparing to meet his brother, the same brother he cheated some 20 years prior. Having sent his flocks and family ahead, Jacob now stood alone. Then God (per Hosea 12:3-4) showed up. This encounter with God would become the defining moment for Jacob, changing him in at least three ways.
First of all, this encounter with God gave Jacob a new identity. He spent the night wrestling with God and did not given up. As a result, Jacob would now be known as Israel. Receiving a new name indicates a new identity. Jacob wasn’t the first person to receive a new name from God, nor would he be the last: Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Simon became Peter. When we believe in Jesus, we receive a new identity as well. We no longer are defined by our sin but are now defined by our relationship with Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:17).
Second, this encounter changed Jacob’s understanding of God. In this passage, we see God as personal and interested in us as individuals. Jacob did not wrestle with an idea or concept; he wrestled with an actual Being, Someone with personality and intentionality. God was not in some far distant land but was right there face to face, involved in the real life of Jacob. God is engaged and involved with His creation.
In the middle of this encounter, the mystery of God is also seen. God chose to keep His name concealed from Jacob. Not knowing God’s name did not devalue Jacob’s understanding of God, but instead elevated his understanding. No matter how much face-to-face time we may have with God, there is still a part of Him that we cannot understand. He is beyond our ability to fully know and understand and we need to embrace that reality.
Third, this encounter changed Jacob’s understanding of himself. Jacob never gave up that night, giving him a new and different kind of confidence. This confidence was tied to God’s promises, sparing Jacob’s life for a purpose that went beyond him. He also came to understand his limits. Jacob left that match with a permanent limp. This would be a daily reminder of this encounter, of God’s grace, and of God’s superior power. God did not leave with a limp, Jacob did. When we come face to face with God, we are reminded of our limits and His lack of limits leading us to trust Him to supply what we cannot.
God was the same as He had been the day before this wrestling match with Jacob and would be the same the day after. Not Jacob. He had a new name and a new walk. When we encounter Jesus and believe in Him, we too are given a new identity with a new walk.
How do the changes experienced by Jacob compare to the changes that come when we encountering Jesus?