Jacob Wrestles With God | Bible Story

Jacob Wrestles With God

After over twenty years of working for his uncle Laban, God finally instructed Jacob to pack up his wives, children, and possessions to leave Paddan-Aram and return to the promised land of Canaan. Before reaching their destination, Jacob sent messengers ahead to his estranged brother Esau, seeking to make peace after all the years apart.

The messengers returned with alarming news – Esau was already coming to meet Jacob with an army of 400 men! Jacob became terrified that Esau still harbored anger and planned to destroy him and his family to get revenge over the incident with the stolen birthright years ago. 

So Jacob prepared for the worst by dividing his caravan into two camps, thinking that if Esau attacked one camp, the other might be able to escape and survive. That night, Jacob moved everyone across the Jabbok river except himself. He stayed behind alone to pray.

As Jacob poured out his heart to God by the riverside, a mysterious man suddenly appeared and began wrestling with him. They grappled and struggled all through the night as the man tried to overpower Jacob. It was like no wrestling match Jacob had ever experienced before.

As the night wore on toward morning, the man realized he could not defeat Jacob through human strength alone. So he struck Jacob’s hip socket, wrenching it out of joint with his supernatural power. Jacob’s hip was now injured, but still he would not give up or submit to the man.

“Let me go, for it is daybreak,” the man said to Jacob. But Jacob held on tighter, insisting, “I will not let you go until you bless me!”

The man then asked Jacob a strange question: “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered. 

Then the man made this declaration: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.”

Jacob had just endured a profound heavenly experience – he had wrestled and persevered against God Himself, in human form! So Jacob pleaded again, “Please tell me your name.”

But the man replied cryptically, “Why do you ask my name?” In that moment, he blessed Jacob once more. And when Jacob asked his name again, the man did not answer and disappeared. 

Realizing the man’s divine identity, Jacob named that place Peniel, meaning “the face of God,” because he had seen God face to face, yet miraculously lived to tell about it. The sun rose as Jacob crossed over the river, limping from his injured hip that now caused him to walk with a permanent limp. 

When Jacob looked up, he saw his brother Esau rapidly approaching with his army of 400 men. But rather than preparing to fight, Jacob separated all his family members into different groups as a safety precaution. Then he went on alone, falling to the ground and bowing down seven times as Esau got closer and closer.

To Jacob’s surprise, Esau didn’t attack, but ran to joyfully embrace him! Both brothers were overwhelmed with emotion, weeping and hugging one another. Esau’s anger after all those years had vanished – he had forgiven Jacob.  

Esau then noticed all Jacob’s wives, children and wealth. Though Jacob tried insisting that Esau take his generous gift of livestock, Esau refused saying, “I have enough, my brother. Let me at least journey on with you.”  

But Jacob politely declined, saying his large caravan with children and flocks would move too slowly. He promised to eventually meet Esau again in the land of Seir after settling in Canaan. Jacob then traveled on to the town of Succoth and built a place to live.

Later on, God instructed Jacob to move to the area of Bethel, the same place he had dreamed of a stairway reaching to heaven many years before. On this plot of land, Jacob built an altar to the Lord who had answered his prayers and brought him safely back to the promised land.

It was in Bethel that God again appeared to Jacob to reaffirm the covenant blessings, saying: “Your name is no longer Jacob, but Israel. I am El Shaddai – the Lord God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply into a multitude of people and nations, for this entire land of Canaan will belong to you and your descendants after you!”

God then reminded Jacob about the profound experience at Peniel, saying “You wrestled with me and prevailed. I have given you the name Israel because you have struggled with both God and men and you have won.”

After this divine encounter, Jacob and his family settled for a while in the region between Bethel and the town of Ephrath, where Jacob purchased some land. Tragically, it was near Ephrath that Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel went into life-threatening labor with their youngest son. She named him Ben-Oni, meaning “son of my sorrow,” but Jacob renamed him Benjamin before Rachel passed away giving birth.

Later on, God spoke to Jacob again while living in Canaan: “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make your family a great nation there. I will go with you and bring you back again to this land of promise.” 

So Jacob, now renamed Israel, made the long journey to Egypt with his twelve sons and their families, where they were joyfully reunited with Jacob’s long-lost son Joseph, who had become a powerful ruler in Egypt. After turbulent years of trials, struggles, wrestling and relentless perseverance, Jacob’s family settled in Egypt under Joseph’s protective care – numbering seventy people in total that God used to preserve the covenant family line.

Jacob’s nightlong match against God showed his tenacity to hold on and seek blessings, even when wrestling with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Though injured from the intense struggle, Jacob persevered and received God’s affirmation – being renamed Israel as the father of many nations.  

His story reminds us that walking faithfully with God often involves times of hardship, perseverance and even wrestling with doubts, injustices or spiritual opposition. Like Jacob, we may emerge limping with injuries. But if we cling to the Lord like Jacob did, He will ultimately uphold us, bless us and see us through to fulfill the greater purposes He has promised!