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10:00am & 11:00am
Dec 7, 2016

Jacob Wrestles

Jacob Wrestles Gustave Doré, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1855)

This is one of the most baffling passages in Scripture. Jacob, who is alone, wrestles with a man and then says, “I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.”

The Embrace of Messiah

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peni’el, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peni’el, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. (Genesis 32:24-32)

This is one of the most baffling passages in Scripture for the Rabbis. Jacob, who is alone, wrestles with a man and then says, “I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.” How can Jacob be alone and wrestle with a man? And, if wrestling with a man, how can he see God face to face?

If we turn to the Prophet Hosea, we discover yet another twist in the description of this mysterious visitor:

He (Jacob) struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. Hosea 12:4

We are told here that “the man” is an angel – a messenger of God. So, who is this guy? Is he a man? Is he a messenger from God?

Or, is he God? Jacob says that he saw God face to face and lived…could it be?

We get a clue from the text itself when it says:

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

This man, this messenger of God, this man who is God, just changed Jacob’s name. Notice, that he does not ask, nor does he get permission from anyone, including God, to change the name. He, himself, changes Jacob’s name.

A person must have authority to change another’s name.

Who possesses that kind of authority?

The only one who has the authority to give someone, to give anyone, a new name, is the One who is both the messenger and the man God sent into the world. Seeing Him is seeing God face to face -- because He is the image of the living God. It is His son Yeshua.

Once you understand the mysterious visitor to be Yeshua, the passage becomes fairly simple to figure out. And, it is easy to see why the Rabbis, who have not yet come to know Yeshua, find this incident to be so baffling.

Still, there are other lessons in this passage to be learned. Lessons that are tremendously important, but often remain unseen. Who Jacob is wrestling with is important, but the match itself is equally important.

Jacob receives his new name ‘prince with God’ because he has “struggled with men and with God and has overcome.” This match is about overcoming. This match is extremely important to us, because, if we want a new name, we too, must wrestle with men and with God and overcome.

The book of Revelation is written to the believers of the seven churches. Listen to the promises given to those who overcome:

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." Revelation 2:7

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." Revelation 2:11

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." Revelation 2:17

"To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—" Revelation 2:26

"He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels." Revelation 3:5

"Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name." Revelation 3:12

"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." Revelation 3:21

As we can see, overcoming is significant. There is a lot riding on, and many promises waiting for those who overcome. And, you cannot simply equate overcoming by saying “I believe in Jesus,” because the book of Revelation was, and is, written to those who have already said, “I believe in Jesus.”

So, what is this wrestling? Scripture says he wrestled with men (plural) and overcame. What men did Jacob wrestle with in his life?

Esau – but this isn’t exactly what we would call overcoming by God’s standards. Buying your brother’s birth right for a bowl of stew is not overcoming. The Lord tells us that if we see our brother hungry we are to feed him, not take advantage of him. Getting dressed up like your brother to trick your father into blessing you is not overcoming either. The wrestling that Jacob did with Esau is not what Scripture is speaking of.

Laban is another with whom Jacob wrestled. Now, it is true, that Laban was not honest with Jacob but, then again, Jacob was not honest with Laban either. Both men were more concerned about themselves than they were about looking out for the interests of each other – this is not overcoming by God’s standards either.

So how did Jacob overcome? What men did he wrestle with? We have identified one of those men already – the Messiah. But, who is the other? Well, Jacob wrestled with himself and overcame. Yes, he did wrestle with Esau and Laban, but they were not how he overcame that night. He overcame by coming to grips with himself and his own evil inclination – the nature of his own flesh.

Jacob, after leaving this wrestling match, is a changed man. Jacob, after leaving this wrestling match, is a peaceful man – always looking to be peaceful among his neighbors. Up until this wrestling match, Jacob has dealt shrewdly with everyone. He dealt shrewdly with Esau and Laban, but from this wrestling match on, we find no more accounts of him dealing shrewdly with anyone.

From this wrestling match on, Jacob will be different. He walks away with a limp after this wrestling match. His walk is forever changed. In Hebrew, to walk is the word “halakah” and it is used to describe how one carries out the commands of God. Jacob now walks through life a changed man – a new man with a new walk and a new name.

How does he do that?

The Midrash Rabbah says this:

“R. Berekiah said in the name of R. Helbo: It is written, ‘And there wrestled a man with him’ (Gen. XXXII, 25). From these words we cannot tell who had the upper hand, whether Jacob or the angel.”

Who actually won the match? Jacob or the angel? It is hard to tell.

It is even harder to tell from the passage in Hosea 12:

“He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor.”

Who did the weeping and the begging? The angel or Jacob?

We, as believers in Yeshua, should know. We should know from our first encounter with Yeshua. Do you remember how you wept when you first met Messiah? Do you remember how you begged for His favor? You have to weep when you realize what He did for you. There is no forgiveness of sin without Godly sorrow and there is no Godly sorrow with out some weeping.

Listen to this passage from the Sefer Ha-Aggadah:

“As he wrestled with him. ‘Be-he’abko’ will then be derived from habak ‘to embrace,’ lit. ' as he embraced him.’ Assuming that they fought face to face, the angel's right hand would encircle Jacob and touch his right thigh.”

Remember, the passage said that Jacob saw God face to face. The Rabbis teach that he also wrestled face to face. It was during an embrace that the socket of his hip was touched. Not in violence, but by an embrace.

You see, we assume, that since they are wrestling, and because his hip is wrenched, that it is a violent ordeal, but that is not so. The "man" is actually helping Jacob in this wrestling match. We know this "man" is Messiah, therefore, there will be no violence in this match. Jacob is coming to grips with being made Messiah-like, he is actually losing the match to Messiah. He is actually being changed by the embrace of Messiah – just as we all are to be changed by the love and the embrace of Messiah.

If Jacob’s flesh wins this match and, if after the match, Jacob is unchanged, then Jacob will lose. But, that is not the case, Jacob is embraced by the Messiah and he is changed – he limps away. We all have to limp away from our encounter with Messiah. We all have to be changed. Our walk must be changed.

We can no longer struggle for the things of this life as Jacob struggled. We need to fall into the trusting embrace of Yeshua.

This wrestling match with Yeshua must be lost, if we are to overcome. We have to be changed into the likeness of Yeshua, if we are to overcome. If we wrestle and lose, we win.

Yeshua told us this while He was upon the earth:

Jesus said to them,“I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Matthew 19:28-30

Just what does he mean by the phrase “the first will be last and the last will be first”? It sounds very much like “lose the wrestling match with Yeshua and you win, win the match and you lose.”

Here is a midrash to help us figure this out:

“R. Yosef b. R. Yehoshua said. He was sick and had an out-of-body experience [where the soul briefly leaves the body and then returns]. His father asked him, ‘What did you see [in your out-of-body state]?’ He replied, ‘I saw a topsy-turvy world; those that are on top in this world [respected for their wealth and power] are at the bottom [in the World to Come]; and those that are on the bottom in this world [the poor and downtrodden], are on top.’ His father told him, ‘[You did not see an upside-down world] but an unconfused, sensible world.’” Babab bathra 10a

The Kingdom of Heaven is a topsy-turvy world compared to this one. Things are different in the Kingdom of Heaven, they are opposite of what we think:

  • The rich are poor in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the poor are rich.
  • The first are last and the last are first.
  • The strong are weak and the weak are strong.
  • The winners are losers and the losers are winners.

Kings who ride on donkey’s in this age, judge the world in the Kingdom of Heaven. Win the match with Yeshua in this life, and you lose the Kingdom of Heaven. Conform to the likeness of Yeshua, let Him embrace you and change the way you walk in this life, and you will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. This wrestling with our nature is not a one-time battle, but a life-long struggle.

Jacob's hip being touched is only round one of a two-round match for Jacob. After Jacob’s hip is touched, the match continues. Remember, the passage says:

Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.

Jacob said “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Even after he has experienced the embrace of Messiah and his walk is changed, Jacob does not give up the match – he says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Listen to what the Rabbis say about this portion of the match:

“‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ Even if I must hold on to you for years, you must bless me as the angels blessed my grandfather Abraham.” Sefer Ha-Aggadah

Jacob hung on to the Messiah until He blessed him – he would not let go.

That is how we must wrestle with Yeshua. We must say:

Lord I will not let go of you. I do not care how hard I must hang on. I do not care how long I must hang on. I only care that you bless me. I only care that I get this new name that your book of Revelation speaks of. I only care that I overcome as your book of Revelation speaks of. Lord, I want only You.

There is blessing in this life that is indescribable. There are riches in the Kingdom of Heaven to be found in this life and in the next that are beyond compare. They are not riches as we think of riches. It is not money. It is not power. It is not position. It is the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. The riches of knowing the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob intimately. The riches of the embrace of Messiah. To receive those riches, you have to hang on to Yeshua. You have to hold on to Yeshua – until the end.

Quote for today

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalm 32:8

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About Our Kehilah

Kehilat Sar Shalom, generally referred to as "KSS" or "Sar Shalom," is a Messianic Jewish community dedicated to teaching and living out the Jewish foundations of our faith in the Messiah Yeshua. We strive to identify with our Jewish heritage through the celebration of God's Word - the Torah, its Feasts and instructions.