Wrestling with strange men in the night

Genesis 32
Jacob sends an envoy ahead of him to tell his brother that he has returned. The envoy comes back and tells Jacob that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob then splits his camp in two, figuring that Esau can only attack one, leaving the other to get away. Then he sends ahead of him many animals as gifts for his brother. Finally, Jacob moves his immediate family across a river, leaving him alone. Then a man appears and wrestles with Jacob until sunrise. The mystery man, unable to win, dislocates Jacobs hip. The man asks to be let go, and Jacob refuses until the mystery man blesses him. The mystery man then asks Jacob’s name, then tells him his new name is Israel. Jacob then asks for the mystery mans name, who asks “why do you ask my name?”. The mystery man then blesses Jacob, and Jacob named the place Peniel (or Penuel, as it’s spelled in the next paragraph). Jacob then limps away, and we are told that this is why Israelites don’t eat the sciatic muscle of the hip socket.

So Jacob, alone in the middle of the night, suddenly finds himself in a wrestling match with an unknown man. This man is never outright stated as being God, however I think the implication is there. If this was the intent of the story, to convey that Jacob literally wrestles with God, then it is interesting that God could not prevail. Jacob is equally adept at handling God, as God is at handling Jacob, until God dislocates Jacob’s hip that is. I’ve looked ahead a little, and don’t see why this is necessary. It seems that the point was so that Jacob’s name could be changed to Israel, however, this doesn’t seem to change in the writing, as Jacob is still referred to as such in the next chapter.

But I still don’t understand why this is necessary. First off, why wrestle? What does this prove? Second, God promised to look after Jacob, and his first act when Jacob return to his homeland is to dislocate Jacob’s hip? If this was God wrestling with Jacob, why was it so difficult for this omnipotent being to best the human Jacob in a physical match? Or was God just taking it easy on Jacob. Though this still leaves me wondering, what was the point?

Lessons I Learned:

  • It is best to buy your brothers love with gifts when he is holding a lifelong grudge.
  • Man might be able to best God in a wrestling match.
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