PASSAGE: "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 he 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" (Genesis 32:24-29).
COMMENT: There are several reasons why I find this story so constantly resonant. First is the total confusion of pronouns. It becomes difficult to tell who is doing, and saying, what to whom. And that's the point. Jacob is wrestling with himself! He is confronting his own guilt and fear and anxiety about consequences for past actions. He could have stayed with his entourage and faced his brother in the morning. The fact that he recognized the need to be alone with his own shadow self indicates that he was aware and willing to face his past. (John Sanford's book The Man Who Wrestled With God is an excellent and entertaining guide to the Jungian dimensions of the story.)
The second important aspect of the story is found in the line "I will not let you go unless you bless me." It's important for all of us, if we find ourselves wrestling with our own shadow selves, that we not look for the easy way out. We must hang on for the blessing; otherwise, we'll just have to do it again somewhere further down the road.
And the third key point, of course, is the name change—always a sign in the Bible that a deeply significant transition has taken place. Jacob means “supplanter”—someone who is always trying to take someone else's good—a trickster. Israel means (roughly) “the one who strives with God.” Jacob was able to achieve personal success but nothing more. Having wrestled with the angel of his own conscience, he is now Israel, and he will be the father of the Twelve Tribes.