By Angela Song
Earlier this year, I found myself unusually tired. Tired of being afraid, tired of having so many fears, tired of the fishbone that’s been stuck in my throat since the age of seven. Out of desperation, I got into a shouting match with God, only to find that He was leading me to the Jabbok River, to a vision of Jacob wrestling the angel of God. That night, He gave me a revelation of who I was in the Spirit, but before I could fully claim it, I had to wrestle Him to prove that I would commit to an enduring struggle for a new name if that was what it meant to be free. He won.
What we don’t know was that before we catch Jacob on the other side of the ford, wrestling with the angel of God, he was already wrestling—with himself, his past, past condemnations. He was wrestling a calculating mind, his fear of death, an even greater fear of man. When he sent his wives and all his possessions across the ford that night, it was out of desperation. It was desperation that told him that he needed to be alone that night—that an Encounter was waiting for him.
Did he know that even with all that he had accumulated over the years—the prestige, his material possessions, the privilege and cushion of protection—he was essentially the same person? Jacob, the Deceiver. He was Jacob, the Manipulator. The Manipulated. The Cheater. The Cheated. So when we catch him at the ford, alone, under the cover of night, we see that it is already happening: this groaning for a new name. Because when it finally came down to it, he would have given everything away—servants, animals, title, privilege—for a little Peace. Reconciliation. A new beginning. And perhaps what he didn’t understand as a spiritual condition, the Lord was leading in the natural, towards the other side of the river, to fight with the only thing that could stand up in front of the presence of God: himself.
You see, the hunger was so deep inside Jacob, it was put to a physical test. It had to be a visceral fight because everything up to now had been a mental battle—a battle of manipulation and deceit, twisted words and the bitterest of silences. But Jacob, being weak, a mama’s boy, a man with soft hands and an even softer will, had to feel desire eating through his layers of weakness until it manifested in a physical fight. And as he fought, revelation was happening.
As he persevered, the gravity of who he was fighting with began to dawn on him, and the hunger for what he could have, the Destiny he had been called into, made him bold. What he didn’t know (or perhaps he knew) was that the more he chose to stay in the fighting, wrestling with all that he thought he had, he was being given more. More hunger. A supernatural strength (for how could he endure glory without being consumed?). A vision for his second-rate life.
Then the man touched Jacob’s hip, pulling it out of socket, for out of his hips would he birth new nations—descendents as numerous as the stars of the sky, the sands of the vastest sea, as multi-colored as light passing over a golden harvest. Jacob had pushed all the way to the breaking point, the point where even that heavenly being could not overpower him. Desire overpowered what was impossible.
When did Jacob’s blessing fall? Was it towards the end when he was walking away? Or when the angel began wrestling him in the secret place? When the socket of his hip was wounded? Or was it when he got his new name? It came in them all. The blessing started with Jacob’s form—posturing himself to wrestle as his heart had been wrestling all those years. It was the position of fortifying his inner man (for hadn’t his spirit yielded to a divine battle?)—a posture of submission and desire. The blessing came in the wrenching of his hip for it released Jacob into his Destiny as Father of the Nations. And whether or not Jacob understood what all would come out of his saying, “Yes Lord, more!” perhaps that was not the point at all. What God had foreordained to come through Jacob would happen with Jacob experiencing, fully, the pains and joys of his own destiny and his role in God’s divine work.
But the sweetest blessing, the most personal and piercing, was the blessing of a new identity. He would no longer be burdened by the name that had weaved his destiny in the flesh: as Deceiver; the name that was full of oppressive memories, the shame of his past, things he had no control over and all the others he had willfully tattooed on his life.
It was a name he could not have ever given himself. It was too big, too extravagant: the One who had Struggled with God and with Man and had Overcome. It is apparent to us, his struggle in the secret place, behind the ford, with the angel. But in what way did he overcome men? The heart that needed to prove, to contest and barter, manipulate, deceive, coax; the heart that was constantly in fear of men, constantly striving, waiting for their Yes’s,wounded by their No’s; the heart that shook and trembled at men’s threats, the near and audible ones, and those faraway. The heart which inclined itself to men more than to God was overcome. This was Jacob’s greatest blessing, his sweetest. For out of his name came freedom, and with freedom: transformation.
And when he walked away from that scene, mangled and in tears, with broken body parts, perhaps there were more essential parts that were broken that day. An old name. The old man. An old nature. It was that Encounter that ruined him. For out of the ruins emerged something holy.
After such an encounter, when we open and find ourselves still in the natural, still drawn with flesh and blood, and even that, more mangled than when we came in—a part of us beings to doubt. Was that for real? Did he really call out a new name, a new Destiny? Did I really feel a hunger burn, a boldness overcome me? Did I really touch Him? And perhaps the most natural thing to come out of those lips that are so often a slave to our doubts, our quiet fears, is a question: What is your Name?
For though He has spoken to us, confirmed it in all our hours of groaning and resisting, holding on and fighting to let go, with His arms opened wide, His heart exposed, enfolding us into its very center, we cannot contain all that we’ve beheld in the fading glow. And the fact that we know His Name.
He has already exposed His heart. Your name was borne out of His: the great I AM. For all the times you’ve seen Him face to face and doubted, for each time He’s encountered you in ways impossible to describe, and fear has gripped your heart, God has always held out these two words: And yet.
And yet the Lord, yes, the Lord, has carried you beyond the place of natural response to a place of holy Encounter. The place where your life was spared. And out of this, you will walk: into a new Destiny.
Angela Song is finishing her last year at Talbot Seminary, pursuing an MA in Pastoral Counseling. She is an admirer of Rainer Maria Rilke and W.B. Yeats and likes to write for long stretches of time in a cabin in the woods. To contact Angela, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.