I suppose the main question to this strange account is: Why? Why did God wrestle with Jacob? Poor Christian interpretation will use this as an allegory for your personal wrestling with God, for example, “Just keep praying hard enough—keep wrestling with God—and He will eventually say yes to your prayers.” As with all allegorical interpretations, it fails to leave the text in its proper context and makes the account entirely about the individual rather than God and His unmerited grace. It also fails to see Christ in the matter. Thus, let us examine what happens.
After this strange occasion, Jacob is renamed Israel, “For you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (v. 28). Being Israel now, the meaning of his name is indicative of all Israel. They, and we as part of Israel, strive against God and man and yet prevail. Because we are so powerful? Because we can grab some deeply hidden, inner spiritual strength to win in some nebulous wrestling match with God? No, but because He simply allows Jacob, and us, to prevail.
God wrestled with Jacob for many hours, and by simply touching his hip He put it out of joint. Now was His chance to finish him off, which he could’ve done quite easily. Indeed, He could’ve ended the wrestling match less than a second before it even began. Instead, He allows him to prevail. Even Jacob says so, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (v. 31). He attributes his victory not to himself but to God who allowed him to prevail in triumph. This is a testament of Israel’s history. They constantly strive against God, and He puts them out of joint in their Babylonian exile but allows them to prevail in Christ. For in Christ, Israel continues and prevails.
This is true for the Christian as well. The Christian prevails against God and man not because of some hidden, inner spiritual strength but because Christ has already prevailed. He prevailed against the world, death, and the devil, and it is because of Him that we, too, shall prevail. As Christ said to St. Peter in response to his faith, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). If the gates of hell cannot prevail against Christ’s church, what can mere men do against it?
Does the church prevail because she is filled with such perfect, righteous Christians or because she is a large congregation? No, for she is filled with irascible, impertinent, weak, judgemental, and hypocritical Christians with many small congregations. Nonetheless, despite the weakness of our flesh, the church prevails because she is the Bride of Christ. And as a real man, Christ fought for His Bride and won for her the victory—the victory against death and the wrath of God, since He took these things upon Himself in her place.
Featured Image from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us: Containing 400 Illustrations from the Old and New Testaments: With brief descriptions by Charles Foster. Wikimedia Commons.