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Genesis 32:22-32 – Jacob Wrestles with God

Summary

God commends Jacob for his successful wrestling and blesses him with a new name and a new shape for his future.

Analysis

One of the more remarkable narratives in the Jacob story focuses on God's wrestling with Jacob and blessing him. Fearful and vulnerable, Jacob is about to reenter Canaan and confront his brother Esau. God struggles with him for an entire night. This encounter anticipates--indeed shapes--Jacob's encounter with his brother.

The most unusual, even stunning, feature of this story has to do with God--that God would engage Jacob physically and then not prevail. God here appears in human form to encounter Jacob with a comparable level of power (one should not think that God could have pinned Jacob at any moment God chose). As for Jacob, he is not passive or submissive; he holds his own with God and, even when struck, retains the power to grant God's request for a release (though daylight would mean death upon seeing God). Yet, God retains the power to grant Jacob the blessing he desperately wants.

God breaks the impasse by making the first move: blessing Jacob and giving him the name Israel. The name is interpreted to mean that Jacob has been successful in his struggles with God and human beings. The blessing seals the prior promises (28:15) at just the point where Jacob's life is most in danger. God binds himself to go with Jacob into future struggles (see 33:10).

Overall, this story may be viewed as a God-initiated exercise in human becoming--shaping and sharpening the faithfulness of human beings for the challenges to be faced in their journeys.

Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob Wrestles at Peniel

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When 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. 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28Then the man* said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,* for you have striven with God and with humans,* and have prevailed.’ 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel,* saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

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10 February 2011

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