Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.
When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled.
The man then said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
“What is your name?” the man asked. He answered, “Jacob.”
Then the man said, “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”
Jacob then asked him, “Do tell me your name, please.” He answered, “Why should you want to know my name?” With that, he bade him farewell.
He Was Left Alone
Let us look briefly at the context of our passage. Jacob is waiting to meet his brother Esau. He suspects that it will be a very difficult meeting. For many years they lived in hate. Jacob is afraid that Esau will want to repay him for his earlier cheating, when Jacob stole the blessing of his father, Isaac. The night before the meeting, Jacob leaves all his possessions on the other side of the river. He also leaves his two wives, his eleven children and slaves. He is totally alone and he prays.
In order to talk with God honestly and fruitfully, we must do the same thing – be by ourselves; we must leave everything on the other side of the river, so to speak. In order to pray, it is good to be alone. Being in solitude allows us to enter our own heart. It is very difficult to go deeply into prayer when we carry with ourselves all that we have, all our possessions, troubles and difficulties, when our heart is full of stuff.
When we are alone just with ourselves, we are alone with God; God begins to speak. When Jacob experiences solitude, some man – someone mysterious – wrestles with him. Jacob made a decision to leave everything in order to experience God. God comes to him when Jacob created an empty space in his life for God to enter. An empty space. It is the same with us. God is always willing to come to us, but unless we create a space for him, he is unable to enter, to break through our defense systems. But when we do, God comes and he wrestles with us. Then amazing things start to occur.
To be alone with God is a scary thing sometimes. It terrifies us. Being with god we also come to touch the things in our lives that we would prefer to leave buried. But in silence and solitude we give God a chance to come and to heal us. Because of that, at times, that encounter with God is painful, as it was in the case of Jacob. God comes to us as a surgeon with a scalpel. He needs to inflict pain, to cut in order to remove a tumor. That healing is a painful process.
Our passage says that “some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled.” A lot of times tend to escape suffering and to hide from it. It is easier that way. God however comes to us and he reveals to us our painful areas – our wrenched hip sockets. We all have areas in our life that are wounded and injured. We do not need to pretend before God that we are perfect. It is better to stand in all truth and to offer God these places of our lives that need healing. It is when we notice and accept our smallness, our weakness and pain, that we can allow God to come to us and heal us. Jesus said that the healthy do not need the physician but the sick do. We do.
Let me go, for it is daybreak!
When we make in our life space for God, God comes and talks with us. He came to Jacob. But it may seem that in that dialogue God sometimes surprises us. He comes but later wants to leave us alone. The mysterious man says to Jacob, “let me go for it is daybreak.” Jesus many times behaved similarly. Recall the story about the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus stayed with them because they urged him (Luke 24:29).
It is like that in our spiritual life. We first make space for God but later God makes space for us. He wants us to be totally free. We sometimes must be very persistent in holding on to God. “Stay with us for it is nearly evening!” “I will not let you go until you bless me.” This should be our prayers. We must be determined and persistent enough to let God know who much we want him to stay with us. Many times we give up too easily. We must be ready to struggle, to wrestle and to urge God to stay with us. God must see how much we want him. Do not be afraid to wrestle with God.