Summary: An exposition of the story of Jacob’s wrestling of the Angel/God that reveals the importance of prevailing faith through the suffering and temptation in our lives.


Genesis 32:22-32


Now as you may or may not know, Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and the younger son of Isaac. Now the name Jacob, as Genesis 25:26 confirms, comes from the Hebrew word “heel” and was understood to mean “heel-grabber” or, translated idiomatically “cheater” or “swindler”. If Isaac and Rebekah were alive today they might have named Jacob “used car salesman”.

And we see too that up to this point in Jacob’s life he had manifested a character that lived up to his name. He had cheated and swindled his older brother Esau out of his inheritance rights as the first born and had stolen his father’s blessing (chs. 25-27). Then, in order to escape his brother’s retribution, Jacob moved into his father-in-law’s home (who incidently was an extrordinary swindler himself) and the two took turns cheating each other. Finally, Jacob decides to move back into the promised land and face the possibility of his brother’s wrath.

Now what follows next is a story of a great wrestling match with a mysterious opponent who ambushes Jacob in the middle of the night. It is intended to capure our attention by summarizing the whole of his life to that point. Jacob wrestled and struggled against everyone and everything. He wrestled against his circumstance as the younger child, against his father’s favoritism, against Esau, and against his father-in-law. And even though he resorted, at times, to unethical and sinful tactics, we are meant to see that the root of his wrestling was a tenacious desire for the blessing of God.


Lets note some important features in this story. . .

22 Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream. And he sent across whatever he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone,

A. The writers of the Old Testament never added unimportant words when they recorded the stories of Holy Scripture, so everything that is recorded here is important. Our author first takes great care in the beginning sentences of this passage to assure us that Jacob is alone and without any resources. His wives, maidservants, children, and all his posessions were sent to the other side of the Jabbok.

B. Verse 24 tells us that a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he [the man] had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.

Now we should ask here the question that the text itself does not immediately answer: Who is this mysterious man? If we are meant to understand that it is indeed a man the best guess would be that it was his brother Esau. Hosea 12:4, the only other reference to this story in the Old Testament identifies the attacker as an angel. Finally, judging from Jacob’s reaction at the end of the match it seems to be that the mysterious adversary is God himself.

30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

C. So we are left to conclude that this "man" or "angel" is really God assuming human form (what theologians call a theophany) to attack and wrestle Jacob. It is a disconcerting thing to think of God as an adversary and attacker who fights against us, but this is the plain sense of the passage.

D. And it is here that the story has application for us. You see, what Jacob went through in his actual, physical wrestling with God is what we all go through, at one time or another, spiritually in our relationship with Christ. There are times in our life in Christ that times of difficulty and temptation, reveal God to be our enemy and adversary. He ambushes us in the circumstances of our lives by providentially removing our hedge of protection and thereby exposing us to trial, temptation, and persecution.

E. God is our adversary. In fact, he is at war with everything that is a part of our natural, sinful disposition before him. We should not be surprised, at times that he ambushes us and wrestles us to the ground. This is the only way that he can drive us from the He is at war with our self-sufficiency, self-fulfillment, moral laziness, and pride.


26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, ‘Jacob.’” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

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