In the book of Genesis we are told of Jacob's battle with God (Genesis 32:24-32). This fight is in fact an internal fight in Jacob's heart, which oscillates between grace and legalism.
Let us remember that Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau whom he deceived many years ago. Esau went out with a mini-army to meet Jacob. Jacob is terrorized by the memory of his sin and its consequences (Genesis 32:7); he is desperate for a solution. He plans to divide his possessions into two camps, to preserve one half in the event of an attack by Esau (Genesis 32:7-8). He relies on his cunning to get out of it. But he quickly realizes that this is insufficient, and he goes to pray, appealing to God's grace: "I am too little for all the 'chesed' graces and for all the fidelity you have used towards your servant..." (Genesis 32:10).
The Hebrew word 'hesed' refers to the divine principle of bestowing blessings on those who do not deserve them. When he prays, Jacob reorients his heart toward grace.
However, immediately after this beautiful prayer, Jacob does something that we also do: he wants to repay grace. Indeed, verses 13 to 20 describe the various contingents of flocks and gifts that he sends before him to purchase his brother's forgiveness. Jacob's reasoning is reported to us in verse 20: "I will appease him 'kaphar' with this gift that goes before me."
'Kaphar' refers to atonement. Behold, Jacob leaves the land of 'chesed' to go towards the land of 'Kaphar'. He leaves the field of grace to go to that of works.
Sometimes we ourselves oscillate between these two attitudes. We are like the Galatians who began with grace but returned to salvation through the observance of legalistic rules. We see God as someone who will hold us accountable for our sins and who must be appeased by our merits. God does not love us based on what we do or give, he loves us because of Christ who atones for our sins.
We have two choices: to depend on the atoning work of Christ or to depend on our own efforts. We sometimes, like Jacob, oscillate between these two attitudes. A little grace and a little legalism.
During the night, God will destroy all legalistic hopes in Jacob. This fight with God illustrates an inner struggle in Jacob. God is going to eliminate Jacob's hope of getting out on his own. He won't be able to run away from his brother, a little tap on the hip is enough. The struggle ceases when we abandon our efforts to rest in His grace.
"Lord, I pray that I remain grounded in grace. May every believer be rooted in the depths of your grace! In the name of Jesus, amen!"