In fear of meeting his brother, Esau, Jacob sent his family away. That night, alone, he wrestled with a man until daybreak (Gen. 32:24-32). The man touched Jacob’s thigh at the hip and put it out of joint. He told Jacob to release him but Jacob refused, saying he wanted a blessing. The man told Jacob his name would no longer be Jacob but Israel, since he struggled with men and God and prevailed. Then the man blessed Jacob. Jacob asked the man’s name but he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Jacob realized it was the Lord he wrestled with and named the place, “Face of God”—“For I have seen God face to face and I have been delivered.”
We can see the cross and resurrection in this episode. The struggle and pain of the cross is evident in Jacob’s wrestling with God. This struggle ends at daybreak, the time of day when Jesus was raised from the dead (Matt. 28:1; Luke 24:1). The resurrection saw a transition from the weakness and apparent defeat of the cross to newness, power, and prevailing. Jesus raised, in truth, a New Man. Jacob’s renaming foreshadows this.
As the head and origin of God’s people—Israel—Jacob shows our participation in Christ. All his family and those that would descend from him were represented as he wrestled God. All were connected to his prevailing. We too died with Christ and were raised with Him. We were in Him for the weakness and defeat of the cross. We were in Him for the newness, power, and prevailing of resurrection.
In this passage we can also see the work of the Spirit within. The realities of Christ’s death and resurrection must be worked out within. They cannot remain objective or theological facts only. Our sinful natures encounter the Spirit within. Galatians 5 and Romans 7 describe the wrestling between the Spirit and the flesh that happens within us.
The place God touched Jacob—where the thigh meets the hip—was symbolic to Hebrews of man’s procreative strength, his ability to produce. It was also the place where a sword was worn. God touched and disabled the core of Jacob’s strength, virility, and ability to fight. As was said, Jacob was renamed Israel, which means, “He prevails with God.” Ironically, Jacob prevailed when the seat of his own ability to prevail was maimed.
The Spirit touches us also at the core of our ability, strength, and self-reliance. Any true working of God within will cripple us. This must be. The Spirit is making the suffering and weakness of Christ’s crucifixion a reality within. How can we hope to know Jesus and not know Him in this way? We can’t. We cannot prevail with God apart from struggling with Him (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:11-12). In the same ironic way as Jacob, we prevail through the damaging of our power to prevail.