From: All God’s Angels
The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32:22-30)
We stay with Jacob for another night’s visitation. It is many years since his dream at Bethel, but once again he is traveling, this time on his way back home. He is very much afraid of meeting up with his brother, Esau, whom he last saw after tricking him out of his inheritance and his father’s blessing. Since that time things have gone well for Jacob, though thanks in part to his continued scheming. His efforts have gained for him great wealth, and also the distrust of others. No wonder he himself is so untrusting. Still, Jacob returns home with a retinue of family, servants, and flocks, by every apparent measure seeming to be a model of success. He is even met by a vast army of angels when he first sets out, an encounter that perhaps was less a greeting than a solemn harbinger of what was to come. (Genesis 32:1-2)
Who, then, was this “stranger” who came to Jacob in the night? The Bible simply says that it was a “man,” but we already know that God’s angels sometimes take human form in order to make themselves presentable to human eyes. In this case, it was more than the face and the voice of an angel that Jacob encountered. This was a visitation with a muscle.
It is interesting that this story is usually identified as Jacob wrestling with the angel. In fact, Jacob does wrestle and actually prevails in the contest, holding fast to his not-unfriendly opponent until he obtains a reward. But the story could just as easily be named, “The Angel of God Comes to Wrestle with Jacob,” for it seems evident that this is precisely what the angel came to do. God is apparently not above taking us on, face to face, and arm to arm.
What must the scene have been like in Heaven’s courts? Such speculation is always just that – speculation – but can we imagine hearing something like this: “My messenger, I have a particularly dirty job for you tonight. Don’t wear anything you are afraid of tearing. As you know, my servant Jacob, whom I love, is very cunning and strong in soul; he has succeeded in getting his way in almost everything he sets out to do. He does not yet know the depth of his own helplessness. But, tonight, almost for the first time, he is afraid. And he is alone. The time has come for him to learn an important lesson. Go meet him. When you see him, say nothing, but wrestle him to the ground. You may wound him – you must wound him – but you must also let him think that he has won the match. In truth, he will know that he is weaker than you, and so he will ask you for my blessing. Give it to him, generously. Thanks to what you are about to do, he will be made ready for what lies ahead.”