In the Bible, a new name is almost always a symbol of a new beginning and a new life. When God wanted to give Abram a new life and blessing, he gave him a new name in Genesis 17:4-5
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.
When God wanted to give Sarai a new future and an expanded family, he gave her a new name in Genesis 17:15.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
When God wanted Hoshea to live out his role as a new leader among the children of Israel, he gave him a new name in Numbers 13:16.
These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.
When Jesus wanted acknowledge Simon’s role of leadership among the disciples He gave Simon a new name to In John chapter 1, verses 40-42.
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).
Lastly in In this portion of scripture, when God chose to chronicle the transformation that He willed to take place in the life of Jacob, the supplanter, God gives Jacob a new name. Moreover, his new name signaled a new beginning in his life. In fact, one could argue that after the changing of his name, Jacob now has a brand new life.
This is why potential wives practice writing the names of their intended husband’s over and over. They know that their new last name signals a new beginning in their new lives. This is also why newly adoptive parents become so incredibly excited to see their last name on the birth certificate of their newly adopted child. They know this one act of changing the last name will provide a new and different future for their new child.
Well, in verse 28 of our text, God gives Jacob a name change to mark the new date of his transformation and probable conversion. Up until this time, Jacob had been the name of this man, known for his lies, cheating and deceit. In fact, the very last time Jacob had been asked about his name, he lied to his father. Genesis 27:18-19
So he went to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done just as you told me; please arise, sit and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.”
He lied to Isaac, but He cannot lie to God. The name of Jacob suggested that He would be a person of questionable character. However, God has to change his character and His name. How does God do it?
The body of water today that is known as the “Jabbok” is known in Arabic as the “Wadi Zerga,” which means the “Blue River.” It flows westward into the Jordan River about twenty five miles north of the Dead Sea.
Jacob sent his two wives and their two servants along with his eleven sons and they crossed over the ford of the Jabbok. A “ford” is a shallow area in a river or stream where people and animals alike can cross over to the other side without being swept downstream. Everything that he has that belonged to him is now on the other side of the Jabbok. Note, verse 24 tells us that Jacob was left alone. It is the dead of night and Jacob is trembling and alone in the darkness. He is afraid of the events that await him on the next day, as he is scheduled to meet his estranged brother Esau, who is accompanied by four hundred men and has years before previously vowed to kill him over the stolen blessing of His father. He cannot turn around and return to the place from which he’s come, because Laban, his scheming and conniving Uncle is standing in the blackness of his past and would love nothing more than for Jacob to return with his daughters and grandchildren to put Jacob back to work. Jacob finally figured out that it was Laban’s intent all along for Jacob to leave him empty-handed with nothing to show for twenty years of hard labor. So yes, Jacob is afraid and alone.
Moreover, he is agitated and cannot rest. He lays down to go to sleep only to get up again to send the people he cares for the most in his world over to the other side of the Jabbok. He had previously divided his company up into two separate parts so that if his brother attacked the first company, the second company could possibly escape with their lives and possessions intact. He devised a plan to appease his brother, and possibly abating his anger through offering him gifts. He sent two hundred female goats, twenty male goats, two hundred ewes, twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows, ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. Each were separated in a group of their own kind by themselves. Genesis 32:20 of the text records Jacob and his thinking at the time;
and also say, ‘Behold, your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he said, “I will appease him with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”
The livestock was a sizable gift, and yet Jacob was still terrified at the prospects of meeting his brother. The gift to appease his brother was now on the other side of the brook. He sent all of his possessions over to the other side of the Jabbok as well. The family that he loved dearly had crossed over to the other side of the brook. Jacob was finally alone. There was nothing left to distract him from the regrets of his past and the possible realization of his future.
The Bible says that suddenly, this hand from the darkness of the night seized Jacob and entered into hand-to-hand combat with him. Who was this? What did he want? How did he approach me unnoticed? Is he a thief, wanting my possessions? Was he an assassin sent by Esau to kill me? Jacob goes through a litany of possible scenarios while all the while fighting for his life. He had to wrestle with this unknown individual who has begun an all out war with with Jacob.
The Bible simply calls him “a Man.” However, we know that he is a preincarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ.
It is important to notice one huge fact. Jacob is not wrestling with “the Man.” If fact, it’s the other way around. “The Man” has come to wrestle with Jacob.
Arthur W. Pink explains this assault of Jacob in this way;
“Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators are agreed– it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him the all-important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.
Have you ever had God wrestle with you–when you have wanted your way or were persisting in some course that you knew displeased him? I imagine you have, since most of us have fought with God at some period of our Christian experience.”
It is clear that we are in a constant battle with our will. Our wills want to win over God and we would like nothing more than to have our way, instead of obeying God’s commands. Sin will hang on till the very end. It is not easily dissuaded.
In order to get the best of Jacob, “the Man” dislocates Jacob’s hip. In other words, he wrenched Jacob’s hip out of joint. At this point, the Assailant gave Himself the advantage over Jacob. God will always win the fight that He begins.
James Montgomery Boice says it this way;
“Have you never had your life put out of joint by God? Have you never had your own little plans dislocated? Of course you have. You were trying to do something contrary to God’s will, and suddenly, out of the blue, God used sickness or a loss of a job or some severe setback or a disappointment to bring you to the end of yourself and turn you to him. I do not suggest that every sickness, loss, or disappointment comes because we are out of the will of God. God sometimes has other purposes with these things. But sometimes—sometimes quite often—he uses them to bring us to our senses.”
And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
Jacob becomes aware of who he is dealing with and instead of fighting, he starts clinging to “The Man.”