How Isolation Gives Way to the Next Level
“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his 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 has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:25-28, ESV)
All over the Bible, there are stories of all kinds of different people who loved God and served Him. People like Paul, who was a murderer-turned-evangelist that suffered and endured remarkable trials in the name of Christ. People like Ruth, who was fiercely loyal to family and was blessed for her faithfulness. People like Jonah, who ran from God’s call on his life and had to be transported to his destiny via the belly of a whale.
Every page of the Bible tells the story of another person who loved God and is an illustration of His
love for us. Each person is relatable, struggling with real life stuff. Each one is flawed and nuanced and despite all that, they are strong and beautiful examples of the Lord’s grace, patience, and power.
Jacob is no exception.
The story of Jacob is funny to me. There’s a certain prestige that goes along with his name, being the grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac, and the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. In all rights, he is a kind of founding father to the Jewish– and by extension, Christian– faith. He is known for his relationship with God and for the unquestionable blessing he lived under.
And sometimes, we tend to forget that the blessing that Jacob had over his life was stolen, manipulated away from his older brother, Esau. Sometimes, we forget that Jacob’s wealth and comfortability were tricked away from his boss, Laban. Sometimes, the prestige of Jacob’s bloodline dulls us to the fact that Jacob, although blessed, was wildly flawed. And the weight of that prestige pulls him away from feeling relatable to us.
For me, I read Jacob’s story, and I see parts of myself. I see the small and petty parts of me that want to strive outside of God’s will. I see the persuasive personality traits I have that make me both a brilliant people’s person in positive lights, yet nervous and tricky in defensive positions– and that’s just me being honest. Because in Genesis 32, we see Jacob in a moment of struggle; he is about to see his brother Esau 20 years after he stole Esau’s blessing from their father, Isaac.
Jacob knows how he would react in Esau’s position, and that’s partly why he starts to frantically come up with plans to spare his life. First, he splits his whole camp into two, thinking if Esau comes and attacks one camp, maybe the other one can get away alive. Then he petitions the Lord, begging for mercy and for His protection. Finally, Jacob decides that he’s going to try and impress Esau by sending all of his possessions out in a procession ahead of him. Dividing his possessions and servants into groups, he sends them out one by one, telling them to present themselves as gifts to Esau, saying that there is more behind them along with Jacob. Maybe, if Jacob can impress Esau with his wealth and generosity, his brother will show him mercy.
The night before Jacob sees Esau, he sends his wives and children off in the last group, leaving himself alone in a camp. Here, he wrestles a man all night, not knowing that this unknown man was actually God. By the morning, Jacob and God are still struggling against one another, when Jacob says he won’t let go until the Lord blesses him.
It’s there, while he’s alone and fighting against God, that God gives Jacob a new identity. Up until this point, Jacob was a smooth-talking trickster. His name means “underminer” in Hebrew. Jacob’s wealth, clout, and self-importance all came from his knowledge of the fact that he was smart and persuasive. Sometimes, we draw our pride or our sense of self from our past. Sometimes, we become comfortable with the identity we’ve made for ourselves and so we cling to the things we made in our own strength: our relationships, our wealth, our achievements, etc.
But what Jacob didn’t notice is that in trying to impress his brother, he was actually taking everything that made him self-important and stripping it away. And it was only in that moment– when Jacob had no wives and children to distract him, no wealth to congratulate himself with, and no servants or friends to reassure him and make him comfortable– that God showed up.
And not only did He show up, but Jacob got a whole new identity, triggering a whole new chapter of his relationship with God. At that moment, when Jacob isolated himself and let go of all his persuasions, God gave him a new name: Israel, which means God-wrestler, and ultimately is the name of the nation we know today– the nation God promised would come out of Jacob’s bloodline.
So what did God do at that moment? God set Jacob up to move into his destiny by giving him a new identity, a new name, and a constant reminder of who God called him to be. Jacob– the deceiver, the manipulator, the trickster, the sweet-talker– was now going to be Israel– the father of a nation, someone who fought for his destiny against man and God and came through it. And God came through in the last moment… the literal night before Jacob had to face his brother and the manipulations of his past.
I don’t know about you, but these past few months have felt like a never-ending battle. Personally, for weeks, I’ve felt pressed and tried and tested by God in all areas, and I know I am not the same in feeling that. Many times, I’ve come to what I thought was the end of my rope and my breaking point, yet still, God brings me through it.
So if you’re feeling that exact same way– If you feel like you’ve been fighting God for what seems like a very long and very endless night, take courage. In this season, God is separating you from the things that have created a false sense of identity in your life so that He can remind you of what He created you to do. The very fact that you feel pressed today is proof that you will be all the more powerful tomorrow. Sometimes, He has to remove us from all the situations and communities that create a distraction in our hearts and take away from full devotion to Him. In removing us and stripping us down to just ourselves, just the person He created us to be without all the mechanisms we put in place to make ourselves more comfortable, He is able to do His work in us and work out the things that are holding us back from a deeper relationship with Him.
God tends to work on the ones He intends to use the most. Keep wrestling, friends. Keep fighting for that new name. Keep pressing in for that new identity. Daybreak is coming, and you’ll be glad you didn’t give up.