God Wrestled With Jacob (Genesis 32:24)

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Normally, when we talk about this event of Jacob wrestling with God, we phrase it exactly like that — Jacob wrestled with God.

Let’s be clear here, though. According to Genesis 32:24, it says that the instigator was “the man,” not Jacob. Jacob is completely alone; it’s “the man” that wrestles with him.

So who is this “man” and why does he pick a fight with Jacob? As we deduce from their conversation in Genesis 32:26-30, the man is a representative of God. 

This isn’t the first time God has interacted with Jacob…in the wilderness…when Jacob was alone. In fact, the first time around, God just gave Jacob a vision. Jacob took a rock for a pillow and looked up to see angels ascending to Heaven and descending on a ladder to earth.

That vision, in my understanding, was to reinforce the blessing for Jacob. If so, then what’s the purpose of this one? And why does God choose a wrestling match to interact with Jacob?

For starters, Jacob’s life has been defined by struggle. Ever since he left his parent’s house, he’s struggled with different people: Laban, for his deceptions; Rachel and Leah, for their infertility. Now, he’s about to struggle with his older brother, Esau.

But Jacob’s life has also been defined by companionship with God. Since he was blessed, he’s continued to increase in spite of these struggles.

The intersection of these two ideas is what I think is really at the core of this encounter. Engaged in a struggle with this “man,” he is wounded in the hip. Still, he continues on. The match goes until daybreak — most likely through excrucating pain — until the “man” blesses him. 

A lot of people assume that Jacob knew that this “man” was divine, solely because Jacob asked the man to bless him. I don’t think that’s a given; after all, Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, and he wasn’t God (though he was a picture of Jesus’ priesthood in the New Testament).

By the end of the struggle, though, he knew who the man was. He claims that he has “wrestled with God, and prevailed.” As he limps off the battlefield, he knows that no one or nothing will ever compare with a direct struggle with God.

Which is good, because the next morning, he comes face to face with Esau.