He looked across the river at the retreating figures. His brow furrowed and a tear traced down his left cheek. The uncertainty of the future sat like a five-hundred-pound weight on his gut. The last hours had been a blur of action, sorting the animals, sending the groups with specific instructions, saying good-bye to his children. Twenty years had slipped by, where had they gone? He was bent forward with grayish hair and beard befitting his middle age. The years had left him richer, yes, but wiser?
He closed his eyes for a moment and saw his brothers’ face. Jaw set, red hair, face flushed, eyes narrowed. “When dad dies, I’ll kill you”. He was almost frightened by how powerful and vivid the image was. He opened his eyes and was at the river again, the water quietly moved past. The bank opposite him was empty now. The sun hid behind the horizon. The messy clouds, drab gray sky and impending darkness were a metaphor of his life. Desperate loneliness silently enveloped him.
The man tackled him from behind. He landed hard, clawed at the ground, squirming to get away. The man pushed his face into the mud, trying to asphyxiate him. Panic lent him strength. He rolled violently, momentarily freeing himself. Up to his knees, hands ready, breathing heavily. For a moment he wondered if his uncle had sent this man, who must have followed all day and waited until he was alone. The collision of their bodies was almost silent. They were on the ground again, rolling, kicking, strangling. He was fueled by a mad desire to subdue his adversary. He understood that defeat could mean death.
The faint gray before dawn touched the eastern horizon. His rival was spent, yet attacked once more. Sharp pain seized his hip and coursed up his back. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to pass out. Sweat beaded his forehead. He couldn’t tell if the hip was dislocated or fractured.
“Let me go, for day has broken”
The stranger's voice was deep and calm, despite the exertion of the night.
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
He wasn’t sure why he said it. What right did he have to demand anything from this man.
“What is your name?”
Such an obvious question. Had this man not known whom he was attacking?
“I am Jacob.”
There was so much packed into those three words, almost eighty years of struggle. He had fought with Esau in the womb and grabbed at his heel as Esau emerged first - the older son, ostensibly the son of promise. He had replaced Esau, taking his birthright and then his blessing. He bargained with God at Bethel, demanding safety, bread to eat and clothes to wear. He had taken advantage of Laban, building a fortune, then leaving. He had come to this river bank and sent ahead multiple groups of animals, lavish gifts to buy the affection of Esau. He was the deceiver, the supplanter.
The sky was pink; a new day was beginning. The stranger rose to his feet and looked down at Jacob. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” And the stranger blessed Israel.
The sun was bright and hot. He picked his way, haltingly, across the Ford of Jabbok. He couldn’t walk straight, his hip ached with every step. He was exhausted from the sleepless night. Wrestling had left him disheveled and dirty. He had a new name, a new identity. He thought of his meeting with Esau and hope filled him. He was blessed by God.