Beresheet (Genesis 32: 3 [verse 4 in the Hebrew Bible] to 36:43)
In my study of the weekly Scripture portion this past week, I must admit that I have been wrestling with the text and the wel-known story found in Genesis 32:24–30 (25-31 in the Hebrew Bible):
Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And when he saw that he 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And he said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 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. So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”
There are many interpretations of this above text, and indeed some of them contradict one another. At the heart of the debate is with whom did Jacob really wrestle? Was it God Himself? Or was it an angel? Some argue that it was God Himself because of verse 30, “So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’” Yet others will say that it was the angel of the Lord since in Hosea 12:3–4a, it is written, “In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God. Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed….” I personally don’t want this debate to distract us from the profound reality of the text, which is the fact that Jacob’s divine, intimate encounter brought about a very significant change: his name was changed to “Israel” which actually was a fulfillment of the prophetic call on his life to father the 12 tribes, from which the entire Jewish people would descend.
Jacob’s struggle or wrestling with God holds personal significance for me; I also went through a time where I had my own personal type of “wrestling” with God, wrestling with the question of whether I, a Jewish man, could really embrace Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah, and the Son of God. Going through this time of struggle actually allowed me to have a true experience with God. God met me right where I was, and mercifully gave me an unmistakable encounter with Him so that I came to a place where I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He existed, that Yeshua was His Son, the promised Messiah. It was not a moment of feeling, but an unmistakable encounter that changed my life.
I now know for sure that it is the most natural thing for anyone from the original tree of Israel (“Jewish”), to become of follower of Yeshua our Promised Messiah; only through Him can we return to the Father because only Yeshua satisfies the Father’s requirement for atonement. Only though faith in Yeshua are we able to see God face to face, and continue to live, not just in this life, but also in eternity!
In conclusion, I don’t know if Jacob wrestled with God Himself, or with His angel (divine messenger). But I do know that Jacob’s wrestling brought him a new identity, through which God chose to bless the world, and to restore the world back to Him.
This article originally appeared on Hope for Israel, November 30, 2017, and reposted with permission.