Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
So He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob.”
And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank. (Genesis 32:24-32)
Wrestling with God in prayer became more than just a metaphor for Jacob. On the dark night when he ran from his brother, Jacob had strange dreams of angels going up and down a ladder. God promised him then that he would always be with him.
After spending more than twenty years with his uncle Laban, after gaining four wives and nearly a dozen sons, Jacob ran from his uncle much as he’d run from his brother.
In that context, on another dark night, he found himself wrestling a man who wouldn’t give up his name. The man beat him in the struggle by putting Jacob’s hip out of joint. As the sun was starting to rise, the man asked Jacob to let him go, but Jacob refused unless he blessed him. So the man blessed him and gave him a new name. “Israel” means, “he wrestles with God.” Jacob had a lot to be worried about, a lot to struggle with God over. And God was okay with that.
In the morning, Jacob called the place where he had wrestled “Peniel.” It meant “face of God.” Jacob realized that it wasn’t just a man he’d fought, but God himself. He had discovered that it was okay to fight with God because God always wins. And that’s what we really need and desire: a God who can overcome our fears and problems.