24 ¶ And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. 29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. 31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. 32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
We do not know until later that when God appeared or walked with a person it was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word by which all things were created, the second part of God called the Son of God, the physical image of God’s person (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15). He is in other places called the angel of God or the angel of the Lord, the meaning of an angel being an appearance of someone who is also somewhere else, which we have seen (see Genesis, chapter 16, 21, 22, 31).
Isaiah 63:9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.
God walked with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). He spoke to Noah (Genesis 6). He appeared to Abraham (Genesis 12, 17, 18). He appeared to Isaac (Genesis 26). God spoke to Jacob in a dream (Genesis 31). Here, God in the form of a man, which would be the preincarnate Jesus Christ, confronts Jacob when he is alone. They have this colossal wrestling contest. Wrestling is perhaps the oldest combat sport known to man.
Wrestling is mentioned in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, in Greek mythology, in Hindu, and Persian writings. It is depicted on very ancient cave art in Mongolia and on Egyptian tombs. Preachers have long played out this scene as an example of contending with God in prayer for something that you want.
Paul says that we contend against spiritual beings that inhabit the spaces above us.
Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
While any wrestling we do is spiritual in prayer and fighting our flesh this was a bonafide physical wrestling match in the flesh, at least for Jacob anyway. I would be careful talking about wrestling with God in prayer. We do not get things from God by trying to pin Him down in prayer or forcing something from Him. God’s mercy does not come to us through our force.
Ephesians 6:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
The promises offered to us are not awards we win in a fight with God.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We receive these things by trusting in Christ’s resurrection.
Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
And by believing what Jesus said about Himself in John 14, that He is the only way to God and that He is in fact the image of God the Father. In John 3:36 believing on Christ is defined as believing what He said. So, in;
Acts 16:31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
There is no athletic contest with God involved. If there is a wrestling match, it is between you and your flesh. But, what we can say here with certainty is a principle of holding on to God and not letting go, which some of us have done. We need to understand in all ways and at all times that it is God who is in control of our destiny. There is no war with Satan, who can do nothing without God’s permission, and no ransom paid to Satan for our souls, as the ransom is paid to God by God. See Exodus 30:12. But, as the parable of the friend pleading with his friend for food in Luke 11 and the parable of the unrighteous judge in Luke 18, it is expected that we will be persistent in prayer and not give up.
To make this a spiritual principle we have to understand that God often makes Himself apparent to us in reality for nothing happens that is not either caused by God or permitted by God; no cell function, not a beat of your heart, or not even sickness and death. For instance, someone you love is sick, very sick. You pray fervently for their release from the bondage of sickness. It means a lot to you that they get well. Do not, “let go,” but pray fervently, fast if you are led to by the spiritual and emotional urgency of the situation, but understand you may be wounded in the process. It may be God’s will that the one you love must go to Him. But, your persistence and sincerity will result in a blessing and you will be changed by the, “struggle.” This is just one example of possible applications and preachers have come up with many others.
Jacob holds on and refuses to let go until God blesses him. He is given the name Israel which typically is said to mean "God prevails" or "God contends" but here the meaning in context ironically refers to Jacob prevailing with God. Jacob demands that his opponent tell him His name. But, there is no need. Jacob knows with whom his encounter has been. Peniel and Penuel are two spellings of the same word. There may be another reason but one reason for including both spellings is the question among Jewish authorities regarding the spelling, I have read. Both mean ‘to see God face to face.’ Who then has Jacob wrestled with?
John 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?
Hebrews 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
Colossians 1:15a Who is the image of the invisible God…
Those who trust in Christ’s righteousness and realize they are spiritually bankrupt and destitute on their own shall see God face to face. They are made clean and pure by Christ. (see Job 11:4; Psalm 24:4; and Proverbs 20:9 for pure as clean.)
Mt 5:3 ¶ Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
(The preparation of a heart to receive Christ is found in Psalms and Isaiah, among other places.
Psalm 34:18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
Isaiah 66:2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.)
Jacob will carry with him, in his limp, a reminder of a very close encounter with the living God. He has had impressed upon him the unseen power of God in the company of angels he met. He has been impressed with the immediacy of God in his life with the encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ. These are two things that should give us pause as we face uncertain events ahead. There is invisible to us a great host which God can and will use for His purposes and God Himself does not only meet us in close encounters but His very Spirit dwells inside of us by virtue of the faith He gave us when we believed. (i.e.; Romans 3:22; 8:9.)