It’s interesting to look through the pages of Scripture and note how God came to various people in the way they needed Him to come.
To Abraham the pilgrim, God came as a traveler. Remember those three visitors who came to his tent before the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah? One of them was the Lord himself.
To Joshua the general, Jesus came as the Commander of the Lord’s army, telling him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground.
Jacob, in turn, was a wrestler. Figuratively speaking, he was always wrestling with people: he wrestled with his father Isaac...he wrestled with his brother Esau...he wrestled with his father-in-law Laban.
So the Lord came to Jacob as a wrestler. Psalm 18:26 says of God, “With the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd” (nkjv).
Therefore, the Lord shrewdly came to Jacob. Genesis 32:24 tells us, “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day” (nkjv).
Jacob had been left alone with God. He was always conniving, always scheming, always plotting, and always had an idea. So the Lord stripped everything away and said, “OK, I want you alone with Me.”
As the commentator C. H. McIntosh said, “To be left alone with God is the only true way of arriving at a just knowledge of ourselves and our ways.”
The conniving, plotting, scheming Jacob was all alone with God, and they began to wrestle.
What God wanted from Jacob was his surrender. But that wasn’t going to happen until Jacob came to the end of his strength. So on it went throughout the night.
Then a life-changing moment transpired for the scheming Jacob. Instead of fighting with God, He was clinging to Him. The Lord said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks” (Genesis 32:26 nkjv).
Jacob responded, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” (verse 26 nkjv). It was a valid response on Jacob’s part in asking for this blessing, because in surrender to God’s plan, he would find what he always wanted.
There is a wrong kind of wrestling with God in which we try to run from His work for our lives and refuse to go in the direction He wants us to go. But there is a right kind of wrestling with God when we are trying to get His blessing.
Jacob won, in one sense, because he called out to God and asked for His will.
Then God asked Jacob an unusual question: “What is your name?” (verse 27 nkjv). Did God ask this of Jacob because He didn’t know his name? Hardly.
For Jacob to state his name was an admission — an admission he did not necessarily want to make. The name Jacob means, “heel-catcher, supplanter, grabber.”
In essence, the Lord was saying, “Jacob, do you want to keep living up to your present name and deceiving others, or will you admit what you are and let Me change you?” This is a question only Jacob could answer.
Jacob finally gave in. He surrendered. He had gone from cunning to clinging, from resisting to resting. He had been brought to the end of his resources. And God gave him a new name: Israel.
The name Israel is not an easy word to translate. Scholars differ as to its meaning. Some translate it as, “One who God commands,” or “Let God rule.” Others translate it, “One who fights victoriously with God,” or “A prince with God,” or “God’s fighter.”
Whatever the meaning, it is clear that a complete surrender to God and His will took place for Jacob. His loss was his victory. He won by losing, because now he was able to go in new strength as he walked in God’s power, will, and timing.
This is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 nkjv).
We might look at that statement and think it doesn’t make any sense. But it makes perfect sense. To lose your life simply means that you come to the understanding at some point in your life that God’s plan is better than the plan you have for yourself.
I want to ask you today, are you ready to walk in God’s ways? Are you really ready to change?If you are, then just watch what God will do.
The story of Johnny Cash’s life and spiritual struggles offers hope to anyone who has had trouble staying on the straight and narrow path—and reminds us that God redeems broken lives and makes them whole again. My new book, Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon is a fascinating look at a unique and talented musician and follower of Christ!