- Locate the passage
After sending his family ahead, Jacob spent the night alone. During the night, he encounters a “Man” who changes his name, his posture, and his life. The event parallels the nation of “Israel” who would bear his name as well as his “struggle” with God. The nation honored this event by refusing to eat that part of Jacob that God touched.
The passage is narrative. It records the conversation between Jacob and the “Man.”
- Determine the structure of the passage
32:22-23 – Jacob is completely alone
32:24-25 – Wrestling with God
32:26-29 – Desiring a greater blessing
32:30-32 – Walking with a limp
- Exegete the passage
This text chronicles the story of when Jacob became Israel.
This is the second Divine presence Jacob encountered on this journey – the angels at the “camp” and the Lord by the ford (32:22).
The text records that Jacob was alone and afraid. Nevertheless, he wrestled with the “Man” all night.
Much of Jacob’s life to this point has been about wrestling. He wrestled with his brother for a birthright and a blessing; he wrestled with Laban for his family and wealth; and here, he wrestled with God for a blessing much greater than the blessing he had stolen from Esau.
32:22-23 – As this pericope begins, Jacob has with him only what he had when he first left home (no family; no flocks; no servants).
- He sent over everything that he had
- All his wealth, which had been the pursuit of his life for the past 20 years, seems insignificant now
32:24 – Wrestling with God alone at night
- The episode mirrors what will become the history of the nation of Israel (wrestling with God). It also serves as a picture of the “struggle” believers may endure to receive God’s blessing.
- Jacob’s insistence to hold on serves as a model for believers through dark, lonely nights.
32:24 – A “Man” wrestled with Jacob
- No explanation is given for the attack by the unidentified “Man.”
- Other references to Divine encounters identified as “men” include: Gen. 18:2; Josh. 5:13-14; Judges 13:3; Ezek. 1:26; Dan. 3:24-25
- The thinly veiled mystery of the identity of the “Man” is finally resolved in 32:30. It is unclear if Jacob knew who it was with whom he wrestled all night.
- Hosea 12:4 – Hosea records that Jacob wrestled with an “Angel.”
- The episode is another “reminder” (like the angels) of God’s presence with Jacob according to His promise
32:25 – This verse does not suggest weakness of the Lord or a “discovery” of something that He did not know. It, rather, suggests the resilience of Jacob not to let go.
- Even after Jacob was injured, he did not let go.
- The man struck Jacob in the hip (Hb. “yarek”). This word can mean, “thigh; side; or loin.”
- This is the location where Abraham had his servant place his hand when he made a vow (i.e. a binding vow) to be faithful in finding a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:2; Cf. Gen. 47:29; Jer. 31:19; Ezek. 21:17).
- It is also the word used in Gen. 46:26 (Cf. Ex. 1:5) describing his offspring. They are described as All the persons who went with Jacob to Egypt, who came from his body (“yarek”).
- The significance of Jacob being struck in the hip could refer to loins as in the source of his procreative ability. Or, it could refer to the significance of his vow that he made to the Lord.
32:26 – Jacob is still seeking a blessing. It is not clear if he was yet aware of the identity of his opponent (he asks, “What is your name?”)
32:28 – In a tradition that is rich in both Testaments of changing names to reflect a new life’s purpose (i.e. Abraham, Peter), God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.
- Jacob will no longer be known by the dubious nature of his earlier life (trickery, grabbing by the heel), but by his wrestling with God
- Jacob’s new name cannot be separated from his limp. The “shrinking” of his muscle (32:32) corresponds to the expanding of his faith.
32:29 – Jacob’s request to learn God’s “name” mirrors the request of the “Man” for Jacob’s name. The request to know the “name” of the “Man” is Jacob’s attempt to learn the identity of the “Man.”
32:30 – Jacob (and the reader) is finally clear on the identity of his assailant.
- “Peniel” (as also does “Penuel” in vs. 31) means “face of God” or perhaps, “facing God.”
- Jacob explained the origin of the name as the place where he met God “face to face” (Hb. “panim el panim”).
- Jacob’s new name is marked by the changing of the name of the place where his Divine wrestling match occurred.
- Jacob also recognizes that also he was credited as having “prevailed” (32:28) in the match, it is only by God’s grace, and not his strength that his life was preserved in the encounter.
32:31– The rising of the sun marks a new clarity (light) in Jacob’s life. He’s still limping, but walking more straight.
32:32 – The Hebrew people recognized the significance of Jacob’s divine encounter and commemorated it by not eating the part of Jacob’s body that the Lord touched.
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
Exp. Like, the appearance of the angels in 33:1-2, one might ask what is the purpose of Jacob’s Divine encounter at the ford. Here, the purpose seems two-fold: first, it is another reminder of God’s faithfulness to His promise of Divine presence with Jacob (even when he is alone); second, it is a clarification that the blessing that Jacob ultimately needs won’t come from Isaac, but from the Lord. And, that is the blessing worth fighting for!
Learning alone with God in the Struggle
- Sometimes lessons of faith come when we are alone with God
Exp. Jacob’s intention was to be alone. Whether or not he anticipated spending all night with the Lord is unclear. Though, his prayer (32:9-12) suggests his intention to seek Him.
Exp. Jacob’s purpose in being alone is not stated in the text, though his aloneness is twice emphasized (32:21, 24).
- Sometimes our greatest clarity in faith comes from our time alone with God
- Sometimes lessons of faith come when we are wrestling with God
Exp. The passage depicts God as the aggressor. But, the encounter has a Divine purpose. It is unlikely that Jacob knew during the struggle of the night what he would learn in the revelation of the morning. But, he did know enough to hang on.
Exp. Sometimes, the most spiritual thing we can do in the struggle is hang on.
Exp. Jacob’s testimony, “I won’t let go,” is a model for believers in their struggles of faith.
Exp. Even after his struggle with God, Jacob still had to face his brother (and now with a limp!). But, what he learned in the struggle changed him – and it also changed his strategy in preparing to meet Esau (33:3). Now, he will face his brother first and not hide behind his family.
- Sometimes lessons of faith come when we are prevailing
Exp. While the “Man” credits Jacob with “prevailing,” it becomes clear that God allowed Jacob to prevail to teach Jacob a lesson in the struggle.
Exp. Jacob learned that he needed the Lord’s blessing more than he needed his brother’s (or his father’s) blessing.
- Sometimes lessons of faith come in defeat
Exp. Jacob realized that God had supernaturally preserved him. He “saw” God face to face and God preserved his life.
Exp. Jacob’s limp was a blessing. Sometimes, God has to allow us to be wounded in the struggle to experience His blessing!
App. It may be that things God does or allows in your life that appear to be a “limp” or an obstacle, may turn into a blessing from Him.
After encountering God, Jacob walked straighter with a limp than he walked before God touched him.