In Genesis, Did Jacob wrestle with an Angel? If so, then why?
I think there are two Bible passages about this story. The shorter one is Hosea 12:3-4. In the womb [Jacob] took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed, he wept and sought his favor. source A longer story is told in Genesis 32:24-30. And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peni′el, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” source I think Jacob wrestled with an angel, but it seems to me that both passages can be interpreted as meaning either an angel or God Himself wrestled with Jacob.
The reason Jacob wrestled with an angel appears to be related to the name Israel, which I think means “He strives with God.” The nation of Israel was named after the patriarch Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with the angel. Perhaps God wanted to give him this name in order to symbolize the future struggles of the nation of Israel. The nation had a semi-regular habit of rebelling against God, at least in my reading, and God’s reactions seem to be a significant feature in the rest of the Old Testament.
A lot of the events in Genesis have prophetic significance. The events symbolize something in the future. Perhaps Jacob’s wrestling with the angel to obtain a blessing is something God permitted in order to symbolize that the nation of Israel would wrestle with God but would eventually be blessed with the Messiah.
Just my thoughts. Please let me know if they are helpful. God bless!
Many times when reading Scripture, I ask myself, “Why is it in here?” We know it is to reveal something to us about God and our salvation. We contend against God when we sin; however, when we love God and strive to bless Him through our obedience, repentance, and by virtue of the Sacraments, He promises us that we will prevail.
It was not God Jacob wrestled with.
D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:
Ver. 24. A man, &c. This was an angel in human shape, as we learn from Osee xii. 4. He is called God, ver. 28 and 30, because he represented the person of the Son of God. This wrestling, in which Jacob, assisted by God, was a match for an angel, was so ordered, (Ver. 28.) that he might learn by this experiment of the divine assistance, that neither Esau, nor any other man, should have power to hurt him. It was also spiritual, as appeareth by his earnest prayer, urging, and at last obtaining the angel’s blessing. (Challoner) — The father will not refuse a good gift to those who ask him with fervour and humility. Jacob had before set us an excellent pattern how to pray, placing his confidence in God, and distrusting himself, ver. 9, &c. (Haydock) — It is not certain, whether Jacob remained alone on the northern or on the southern banks of Jaboc. (Calmet)
The angel was from God; therefore, he wrestled with God. In the same fashion, if someone rebels against the Catholic Church, he is rebelling against God because Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and is the Head of the Church. When we see “angel of the Lord” in the OT, it can be the pre-incarnate Jesus, e.g. the angel of the Lord that visited Abraham. God is spirit
That is simply not the case. You are wrong.
That is simply not the case. You are wrong. Jacob wrestled with an angel. He did NOT wrestle with God.
That is fine.
Could this event perhaps be symbolic of Israel’s struggle with sins, or something like Israel’s struggle with trying to keep God’s Commandments/Covenant?
That’s how I’m interpreting it so far…
I really tire of cut and paste from the Haydock Commentary as if it were the singular infallible word on Scripture. George Leo Haydock was a very talented priest who left a valuable legacy to the Church, but at the end of the day he was just a man and his commentary is exactly that - his own commentary, and nothing more.
Most theologians agree that this is one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, almost completely out of place in the narrative thread, much like the circumcision of Moses’ son and the “Bridegroom of blood” comment by his wife.
I appreciate not giving commentaries more authority than they hold- yet reading and contemplating multiple sources (Church Fathers, Saints, traditional and contemporary commentaries e.g., Catena Aurea, Haydock’s, Navarre, Ignatius, Great Adventure, etc…) we can get some rich spiritual lessons. As long as one isn’t steering into waters exegetes should know to avoid.
I also find it beneficial to visit any Papal ponderings on such, if it’s exists.
Night is the favourable time for acting secretly, the best time, therefore, for Jacob to enter his brother’s territory unseen, perhaps thinking to take Esau by surprise. It is he, however, who is surprised by an unforeseen attack, one for which he was unprepared. Having used his cleverness to try to escape a dangerous situation, he thought he had managed to have everything under control; instead he now finds himself forced to enter a mysterious struggle that catches him alone and gives him no opportunity to organize a proper defence. Unarmed, in the night, the Patriarch Jacob wrestles with someone. The text does not specify the identity of the aggressor; it uses a Hebrew word that indicates “a man” in a generic sense, “one, someone”; it is, therefore, a vague, indeterminate definition that purposely keeps the assailant shrouded in mystery. It is dark, Jacob does not manage to see his opponent clearly, and even for the reader, for us, he remains anonymous; someone is opposing the Patriarch, and this is the only certain data supplied by the narrator. Only at the end, when the wrestling is over and that “someone” will have disappeared, only then will Jacob name him and be able to say that he had wrestled with God.
The episode, therefore, takes place in darkness and it is difficult to ascertain not only the identity of Jacob’s assailant, but also how the struggle is going. On reading the passage, it is rather difficult to determine which of the two contenders is gaining the upper hand; the verbs used often lack a specific subject, and the actions take place almost in a contradictory manner, so that when it looks as though one of the two is winning, the next action immediately denies that and shows the other to be the victor. At the beginning, in fact, Jacob seems to be the stronger and of his opponent, the text says, “he did not prevail over him” (v. 25); yet he strikes Jacob’s hip at its socket, dislocating it. Thus one thinks that Jacob would have to give in, but instead it is his opponent who asks him to release him; and the Patriarch refuses, setting one condition: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (v. 27). The one who tricked his brother and robbed him of the blessing of the firstborn now claims it from the stranger, thus perhaps beginning to perceive some kind of divine meaning, but without yet being able to recognize it for certain.
His rival, who seems to be held back and therefore defeated by Jacob, rather than giving in to the Patriarch’s request, asks him his name: “What is your name?”. And the Patriarch replies: “Jacob” (v. 28). Here the struggle takes an important turn. In fact, knowing someone’s name implies a kind of power over that person because in the biblical mentality the name contains the most profound reality of the individual, it reveals the person’s secret and destiny. Knowing one’s name therefore means knowing the truth about the other person and this allows one to dominate him. When, therefore, in answer to the unknown person’s request Jacob discloses his own name, he is placing himself in the hands of his opponent; it is a form of surrender, a total handing over of self to the other.
However, in this act of surrender paradoxically Jacob too emerges victorious because he receives a new name with the recognition of his victory by his adversary, who says to him: “You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed” (v. 29). “Jacob” was a name that recalled the Patriarch’s problematic beginnings; in Hebrew, in fact, it recalls the term “heel” and takes the reader back to the time of Jacob’s birth when, as he left his mother’s womb, he held onto the heel of his twin brother (cf. Gen 25:26), almost prefiguring the unfair advantage he would take over his brother in adulthood; however the name Jacob also recalls the verb “to deceive, to supplant”. Well, now, in the struggle in this act of surrender and submission, the Patriarch reveals his true identity as a deceiver, the one who supplants; however the other, who is God, transforms this negative reality into something positive: Jacob the deceiver becomes Israel, he is given a new name as a sign of a new identity. Here, too, the account maintains its deliberate duplicity because the more probable meaning of the name Israel is “God is strong, God is victorious”.
Therefore Jacob has prevailed, he won — his adversary himself says so — but his new identity, which he has received from the adversary himself, affirms and bears witness to God’s victory. And when Jacob in turn asks his opponent his name, the latter refuses to say it, but reveals himself in an unequivocal gesture, giving him the blessing. The blessing that the Patriarch had requested at the beginning of the struggle is now granted him. However, it is not a blessing obtained through deceit, but one given freely by God, which Jacob can receive because he is now alone, without protection, without cunning or tricks; he gives himself over unarmed, agrees to surrender and confesses the truth about himself. Therefore, at the end of the struggle, having received the blessing, the Patriarch can finally recognize the other, the God of blessings: Truly, he says, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (v. 30), and now he can cross the ford, the bearer of a new name but “conquered” by God and marked forever, limping because of the injury he received (v. 31).
Biblical exegetes give many interpretations to this passage; the scholars in particular recognize in it literary connotations and components of various genres, as well as references to some popular accounts. But when these elements are taken up by the authors of the Sacred texts and incorporated into the biblical narrative, they change their meaning and the text opens up to broader dimensions. For the believer the episode of the struggle at the Jabbok thus becomes a paradigm in which the people of Israel speak of their own origins and outline the features of a particular relationship between God and humanity. Therefore, as is also affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “from this account, the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance” (n. 2573). The Bible text speaks to us about a long night of seeking God, of the struggle to learn his name and see his face; it is the night of prayer that, with tenacity and perseverance, asks God for a blessing and a new name, a new reality that is the fruit of conversion and forgiveness.
For the believer Jacob’s night at the ford of the Jabbok thus becomes a reference point for understanding the relationship with God that finds in prayer its greatest expression. Prayer requires trust, nearness, almost a hand-to-hand contact that is symbolic not of a God who is an enemy, an adversary, but a Lord of blessing who always remains mysterious, who seems beyond reach. Therefore the author of the Sacred text uses the symbol of the struggle, which implies a strength of spirit, perseverance, tenacity in obtaining what is desired. And if the object of one’s desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and love, then the struggle cannot fail but ends in that self-giving to God, in recognition of one’s own weakness, which is overcome only by giving oneself over into God’s merciful hands.