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.”
My friend had heard the call to ministry when he was a young man. Several in his extended family had answered that call and attended seminary or taught in Lutheran schools. But it was a difficult time to become a pastor. There were many tensions in the Synod, and he did not want to wade into the disputes which had erupted even within his own family. He pursued another career. It was a blessing to him. He married, raised a family, and was nearing retirement. But in the back of his head was that still and small voice of a call to serve. He retired a little early and enrolled in the seminary. Today he serves a parish.
God wrestles with Jacob in this reading. What is most interesting to me about this passage is that God does not prevail. He does not pin Jacob in a moment, as I might expect God to do. Or does God win? He does not win the wrestling match, but he may have gotten what he was really after all along. If you read the chapters before this event, Jacob consistently refers to the “The Lord, the God of my fathers” or The Lord your God.” He never utters the words, “The Lord my God.” After this moment, when He gives Jacob a new name, Israel, Jacob always refers to the Lord as “my God.”
Here is one of the strange mysteries of God and His love for us. He does not force but He powerfully loves us. That strange and gentle love of God calls and does not give up on us, but slowly and surely cajoles and convinces us. Soon, we are no longer the person who says no, but have become someone with a yes to speak to Him. Like Jacob, I think all of us have wrestled with God at times. Know that God plays a long game with us. Your resistance and wrestling with God are not going to put Him off. He is a persistent lover, a God who is not driven away. His love is too strong for that. He doesn’t need to win the wrestling match. He wants to embrace you in His loving arms.