The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”  So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”  Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  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.  So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”  The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The story of Jacob actually begins back in Genesis 25, but his name, which means “trickster” tells us a lot. Jacob was smart, clever and quick-witted and he used these abilities to his advantage and often to the disadvantage of others.
When we reach Genesis 32, events are catching up with Jacob and the future doesn’t look very bright. It’s here that he struggles all night with what the text calls a “man” but tradition understands to be an angel, a messenger from God. It’s in this struggle that Jacob’s name is changed—which is no small thing. A name change was seen to mean a change of the whole person—so in his case the blessing meant he was no longer Jacob “the trickster” with all its negative connotations, but now was Israel “one who has striven with God and man and prevailed”.
It was in that struggle that Jacob was changed, began to change, from the trickster, into the father of the people of God who he was intended to be.
It’s important to recognize that in the struggle Jacob/Israel didn’t give up and walk away, but hung in there as best he could, trusting something good could come out of it. As well we see that the messenger of God didn’t give up either—even though Jacob was not what anyone would consider a model of faithfulness, the angel held on to him to work the change God intended.
When we find ourselves in the midst of trials and challenges this story reminds us that God welcomes our struggles with Him. The Psalms are full of questions, complaints and accusations directed to God as the Psalmist tries to make sense of what is going on. God welcomes those interactions because we are engaged with Him. Further the story reminds us of the promise that as we struggle with God, He struggles with us in the fullest sense of the word with. At times God can seem like our adversary, as we try to wrestle answers and understanding out of the Almighty. Yet at the same time God struggles with us as a companion, holding us close, not letting us go as He works to effect the change and blessing He desires for us, like He did with Jacob.
The struggle is never easy—but this story holds out the promise that we don’t endure it on our own, God is with us.