In this chapter, Jacob took his wives, children, and possessions and headed for home. While on the way, one night, he met a man who wrestled with him till dawn. During the struggle, Jacob didn’t give up. In fact, at one point, he demanded a blessing before he would let go. (vs 26)
The "man" Jacob wrestled with turned out to be God. And, after the WWF match was over, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Name-changing is an important thing in the Bible, because names were very important things! Today, kids get named all sorts of crazy names for crazy reasons. But in Bible times, every name meant something, and often, a person’s name would somehow figure into their life’s choices in some way. (Jacob is a perfect example of this. Is it coincidence that "Jacob" means "one who deceives"?)
So, for God to change Jacob’s name to something else meant something important. And I think it’s very significant that God changed his name to Israel. Now, Israel was going to become the father of the Israelites. This was going to be God’s chosen nation, a group of people that were to be God’s ambassadors on earth. We would expect, then, that Israel would be a very special name with a very special meaning. And it was.
Israel means "he struggles with God."
How interesting! When God named His special people, the ones who would be His beacon to the heathen nations of the world, He put the idea of struggling with Him at the very center of their identity. God could have named them anything He wanted. He could have called them a name that meant "he worships and adores God." It could have been a name that meant "he acknowledges God’s everlasting power." Instead, wrestling was to be the signifying mark of God’s people.
Is this surprising? Should it be? It is still so easy for us to think of God as an all-powerful Deity who just wants us to get in line. But maybe God is more concerned about people who will wrestle with Him. Maybe He wants friends who will be real with Him, even if it means questions or arguments from time to time.
God was proud of Jacob for wrestling with Him, proud enough to memorialize the event in the name of His people for all time. And so, after reading this chapter, I’m left wondering, when was the last time I really wrestled with Him?