That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” –Genesis 32:22-24
I would love to be an owl in a nearby tree and watch this fascinating event unfold.
You may read Genesis 32:22-32 here: Bible Gateway.
Several questions surface after reading this passage. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Why did Jacob send everyone on ahead as he stayed behind prior to meeting up with Esau?
After 20 years to ponder how—or when—Esau might kill him (for cheating Esau of both his birthright and blessings), tomorrow would be the big day. Would Jacob live or die?
Distressed and terrified, Jacob lagged behind to pray. Hosea 12:3-5 tells us that Jacob’s wrestling not only involved physical tenacity, but also weeping and supplication.
Is this passage to be taken as an allegory or literal account?
It seems apparent that the writer of this passage (probably originally Jacob) meant for this account to be taken literally. Even the name Jabbok means “Wrestler” in memory of Jacob’s amazing experience. If Jacob ever chalked his experience up to just being a dream, he had a permanent limp to remind him of his physical wrestling match.
Layman’s Bible Commentary notes: “The man [Jacob’s wrestling opponent] is deliberately crippling Jacob at the point of his greatest strength [the thigh being the largest and strongest muscle connection of the body].”
“Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon,” (vs. 32).
Hmm . . . an interesting development, especially prior to meeting Esau. Jacob would be weak from wrestling all night. Definitely not in his best fighting form!
But why would God send Jacob off limping (besides a reminder of this unique encounter)?
The Apostle Paul—who had a lengthy list of credentials—said: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Corinthians 11:30). Why?
Our weakness, when given to God, gives Him an opportunity to fill us with His power. God was teaching Jacob to rely on Him instead of relying solely on his smarts and energy. Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) writes: “He [Jacob] must know fully his own weakness, but even more he must know the power of God and his right to claim that power.”
I think God was teaching Jacob to look at the big picture, instead of focusing so much on his stressful situation of meeting Esau again. There was more at stake here. God had an important mission for Jacob. For the Messiah would come through his descendants.
Was Jacob’s wrestling opponent a man, an angel, or God?
Angels often appeared in the form of men in those days. The passage from Hosea 12:3-5 also indicates that Jacob “had power over the angel, and prevailed.” However, according to Jacob, this was no ordinary angel: “Because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared,” (vs. 30). So Jacob names the place Peniel, which means “face of God”.
But how could Jacob touch (and see) God’s face and still live?
Morris writes: “This would have been utterly impossible, had not God veiled Himself in human form (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 6:16).
If the man was God, why does verse 25 say He couldn’t overpower Jacob (vs. 25)?
Morris explains: “This, of course, does not suggest that God was weaker than Jacob, but does show that God desires men to persist in prayer and that He delights to yield to such prayers. . . . There is such a thing as prevailing prayer, when the request conforms to the will and the word of God, (Luke 18:7; Luke 18:1). Jacob’s experience symbolizes all such prayers.”
God gave some Bible people new names to symbolize how God had changed their lives. In fact, Revelation 2:17 says: “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
These white stones are significant because they represent new hearts that God has cleansed from sin. The new names given show that God has accepted and declared his children not guilty.
Israel means “he struggles with God”. Jacob, the ambitious “heel-grabbing” deceiver had grown to one who struggles with God and overcomes. Morris also notes that Israel means “One Who Fights Victoriously with God.” It has also been rendered “A Prince with God” and is translated in this verse, “as a prince hast thou power.”
I love that God answered Jacob’s prayer in such a personal way: in the form of a real wrestling match! Jacob, who had formerly twisted situations and manipulated people probably never imagined that he would literally wrestle God (and learn some important lessons in the process!) God definitely knows how to get our individual attention. He longs for a personal relationship with each of us (Revelation 3:20).
God is still in the business of transforming lives. God initiates the change, but we must press on if we want to grow in Christ-like character.
I love that God can take the weak and broken strands of our lives and weave them into something beautiful for His purpose. . . . Have a terrific week!