Sunday, March 15, 2009

Did Jacob really wrestle with God?

Is Jacob really wrestling with God? How can this be if God is a Spirit (Genesis 32:22-32)?

Jacob’s wrestling with an angel epitomizes the whole of Jacob’s life. He had struggled with his brother (chapters 25, 27), his father (chapter 27), and his father-in-law (chapters 29-31), and now he struggles with God (ch. 32). Jacob’s own words express the substance of these narratives about him: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Here is a graphic picture of Jacob struggling for the blessing–struggling with God and with a man (32:28).

The unexpected and sudden introduction of this man (v. 24), who wrestles in the dark with Jacob, captures something of the event itself. By the time their contest comes to an end, Jacob is convinced that his opponent is God himself (v. 30). This is not improbable, given that God had previously come to Abraham in human form (18:1-15). The story contains an interesting wordplay in the Hebrew: God wrestles (ye'abeq) with Jacob (ya'aqob) by the Jabbok (yabboq).

Significantly, Jacob emerges victorious in his struggle. His victory, even in his struggle with God, came when the angel “blessed him.” The importance of the name “Peniel” is that it identifies the one with whom Jacob was wrestling as God. Jacob’s remark that he had seen God face to face did not necessarily mean that the “man” he wrestled with was in fact God. Rather, when one saw the “angel of the Lord,” it was appropriate to say that he had seen the face of God.

–NIV Bible Commentary & ESV Study Bible

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