He was left all alone.  For centuries these haunting words have filled the space between human extremity and divine encounters.  Jacob met God in the desert, in the dark and all alone. Jacob’s entire life had led him to this divine moment, a wrestling match with the creator of the universe. He had, after all, struggled with God every moment since his birth. Beginning in Gen 25:19, we learn of Jacob’s conflicted relationship with his twin brother Esau. The nature of the conflict was God’s blessing.
The Lord said to her [Rebekah], “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23)
God chose Jacob (the second born) not Esau (the first born) to be the bearer of God’s promise.
Jacob means heel grabber and trickster, and Jacob lived up to his name. He set out to bring about God’s promise on his own. He took matters into his own hands—manipulating, deceiving and stealing what he believed was rightfully his. His trickster ways seemed to pay off. He acquired wives, 11 sons, livestock, and abundant wealth over the course of his life. But now it was time to face the past. He had stolen Esau’s birthright and blessing. And now, more than 20 years later, the two would meet. Jacob was left alone with no more tricks. He tried to bribe Esau with gifts and persuade him to forgive, but he heard nothing in return. In Gen 32:22-33 he sits alone. All alone. Is there anything more terrifying to the human soul?
It is here, all alone, that Jacob is assaulted by a man he finds to be God. They are so evenly matched that the brawl lasts all night. As day begins to break we see that Jacob is winning and God is losing. So God injures Jacob’s hip in order to get away. But Jacob refuses to let go of God without obtaining what he has longed for his entire life: the blessing. So, God blesses Jacob. God blesses Jacob by changing his name. In a moment Jacob, the “heel grabbing trickster” becomes Israel, the “one who struggles with God and man and prevails.”
The nation of Israel, God’s beloved chosen people, are born not in great success but in strife. And Jacob becomes a prototype for those of us who have met God at the end of our own resources.
The God of Israel still blesses and renames those of us brave enough to hold on to God in the midst of the struggle. God still blesses and renames those of us strong enough to embrace weakness as the means to power.
God touched Jacob’s hip, and his limp served as a reminder that it was God who would bring about God’s promises and not Jacob’s schemes.
The people of God will always struggle with God over whose resources will bring about the promises of God. From a battle plan that involves only trumpets to a king on a cross, God’s resources to bring about God’s promises don’t look like ours most of the time. And relying on these upside-down kingdom resources is a struggle. It is a divine struggle with God.
In the midst of life’s struggles and human extremity, let’s never forget that God wants to meet us at the end of our own resources. Perhaps it is here that we will see God face-to-face as Jacob did (Gen 32:30). Perhaps this meeting will be a struggle, but it will leave us with a holy limp and changed forever. We can count on this, that the same God who birthed a nation with a second born son is still fulfilling promises today.