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Did Jacob Physically Wrestle With God?

A question was raised in our Facebook Bible Daily Reading Group concerning Jacob’s wrestling encounter with God as described in Genesis 32. Was this a literal, physical wrestling match and if so, why?

Yes, Jacob’s interaction with God in Genesis 32 was a literal, physical encounter. There is no reason to read the text any differently and Jacob’s lifetime physical impairment, that being a limp, is evidence of the physicality of the narrative. However, the physical nature of this remarkable experience does not negate the text’s obvious spiritual underpinnings. The wrestling between Jacob and God was a physical encounter mandated by spiritual unrest.

I believe the “man” Jacob wrestled against was more than just an angel, but was the “Angel of the Lord”, a phrase sometimes used to denote the very presence of God, such as when Moses encountered God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2). Even more so, I typically believe the Angel of the Lord as described in Genesis is the pre-incarnate Christ, so that Jacob is wrestling with none other than Jesus Christ in Genesis 32.

Jacob had reached a place where his lifelong striving with others had left him spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. Even from inside the womb, Jacob was “grabbing” at Esau’s heel in order to become the firstborn and claim the benefits thereof. He was a man of deception and lies. He was a man on the run. He was a man with a tremendous promise from God and yet was struggling with the nature and timing of that promise.

So God mercifully makes himself available for a struggle. And Jacob was right to engage. Because no matter the course of events our life has taken, it is ultimately God with whom we must do business. We do well to remember that God creates both the light and the dark (Isaiah 45:7) and that all trials to our faith in Christ Jesus ultimately flow through His providential care. And so God makes himself available to us, available for us to wrestle with and grapple with, and all the while he is fighting alongside us and for us, even while being the one with whom we are wrestling. It is a delicious truth of our faith that only God could muster up.

What happens as God was fighting for Jacob and against Jacob is that He finally wounds Jacob’s hip. Notice carefully the text at Genesis 32:6 – Jacob says he “will not let go.” He has moved from wrestling with God to clinging onto God. And so it is with God’s mercy, that so often He wounds us because He is for us. Clinging to God is key for faith and it frequently requires our wounding. Our human flesh is just too prone for boasting if it came through any other means.

For what it’s worth, I believe the encounter with God lasted until morning so that Jacob or anyone else would not have accused him of having a dream. His name change and limp were lifelong reminders of God’s mercy and Jacob’s change of heart. He moved from striving to clinging.

And so may we all.

2 Comments

  1. I was reading this story to my son the other day and it brought to my heart and mind many questions about this encounter. Thank you for this blog I found in a google search. My heart and soul are in agreement with your explaination. Thank you. Kelly from Shreveport, LA

  2. I want you to know that this hit me right in the stomach. You answered all my questions regarding this passage of scripture.
    So many times I believe we read looking at the literal meaning and forget to look at the more underline meaning of the text.
    I can say that I feel I am at this point in my life. I grew up on church and was saved at a young age; then in my young adult age, left
    What I had knew and strayed. I re-dedicated my life to The Lord as well as my husband about 3 years ago. I was literally “on fire” for God and immediately got involved in church work and telling people about Christ. It was wonderful. But I, as a lot of Christians, allowed life to steal my joy at times. God has blessed my family and myself so much. At times, I get these uneasy feelings within my spirit. It’s one of those things you can’t put your finger on or say what exactly is wrong. I know a spiritual battle or trial is coming soon. Some of these times it has been that God is trying to move me to another level in my spiritual walk with him. Maturing in Christ would be the proper way of calling it.
    I have had some health issues come up within the last few years that have affected me. It has wore on me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I had to quit my job and close a company that I helped start and build from the ground up. A career that I had worked at for nearly 20 years. I have faced many challenges in the last year to bring me to the point I am at. Our family is struggling financially due to one check ceasing to come into our home. I went thru a literal “burnout” and I am still having some battles in my mind due to these changes. I am having one of these spells of “uneasiness” in my life now. I feel like this one is much greater battle coming on. I pray that I am sensative to the Holy Spirit and His voice during this time. God may require something of me that is totally out of my comfort zone. I know that this was uplifting to tell me that no matter how hard I wrestle as long as I cling to him; I will come out still standing. Much more, I will have eternal blessings. Praise God for who he is and what he can enable us to do through him. Praise Him for what He can bring us through. Thanks for this post! God bless you! (Sorry it was so long)

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