Yesterday we looked at this incident in which Jacob wrestled with God. Today we can ask a few more questions about this important event.
What benefits did Jacob obtain? Jacob was now ready to get a new name Israel, which means ‘God will prevail’. Name usually indicates character. When he was merely Jacob, he knew about striving unsuccessfully with men, even if he made some temporary gains. But as Israel, he had discovered the secret of real success, of obtaining blessings from God, and even at this moment he seems to have been given the victory over Esau that he so wanted, that he now had power over men.
What was Jacob denied? Jacob wanted to know more about the Divine Stranger who had wrestled with him. Yet his request was turned down. Perhaps he was being reminded that he cannot ask the same questions as God. After all, the Lord can say to us, ‘What is your name?’ and we will tell him who we are. But we are not God’s equal and we cannot command him to reveal everything about himself to us. Jacob was being told that there were some things he had no right to know.
Or it could be that Jacob’s request was refused because he was not yet ready to know more about God. After all, he had already that night being made ready to trust fully in God and what a prolonged incident it had been. There is a sense in which Jacob, in asking God to reveal his name, was assuming that he was now ready to experience more of God. But he wasn’t. What he had been given that night was sufficient for the present. In the future he would learn more as God led him on in his paths.
How did Jacob respond? The answer to this question is not given in Genesis 32, but it is found in Hosea 12:4: ‘He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favour.’ Why was he weeping? Not because he was in physical pain as a result of the wrestling. Instead he wept tears of repentance because he realised that he was not fully depending on God. The Lord had shown Jacob his sin and there in the presence of God Jacob confessed with tears. Despite the unusual way of obtaining the desired result, the Lord had brought self-dependent Jacob to the place where he could become Israel, the man who experienced God’s transforming power.
What did Jacob conclude? We see the answer to this question in verse 30: ‘So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”’ Jacob realised that the One he should have feared had been gracious to him. His God had taken steps to appear in a manner that would not destroy Jacob. Jacob realised, through a remarkable display of divine grace, that God was on his side.
The theological description of this divine appearance is a theophany, and it is generally accepted that the divine person who appeared in this way was the Son of God. He appeared temporarily to Jacob in a particular form but that form was discarded when the meeting was over. Almost two thousand years later, the Son of God appeared in a form in which human could see him face to face and not be destroyed. That form has not been discarded, and so we can look forward to seeing him face to face for ever.
Of course, we should not regard the incident at Peniel as merely an incident in the life of Jacob. The incident tells us how we can interact with the One who delights to call himself the God of Jacob. We can have dealings with him in which we will not be destroyed even although we have sins very similar to Jacob. The story encourages us to draw near to him and ask him to change us. And we will be changed as long as we continue clinging to him. After all, it is better to limp with God into the future than march into it without him.