Genesis 32:22-32 – Jacob Wrestles with God


Genesis 32:22-32


God commends Jacob for his successful wrestling and blesses him with a new name and a new shape for his future.


One of the more remarkable narratives in the Jacob story focuses on God’s wrestling with Jacob and blessing him. Fearful and vulnerable, Jacob is about to reenter Canaan and confront his brother Esau. God struggles with him for an entire night. This encounter anticipates–indeed shapes–Jacob’s encounter with his brother.

The most unusual, even stunning, feature of this story has to do with God–that God would engage Jacob physically and then not prevail. God here appears in human form to encounter Jacob with a comparable level of power (one should not think that God could have pinned Jacob at any moment God chose). As for Jacob, he is not passive or submissive; he holds his own with God and, even when struck, retains the power to grant God’s request for a release (though daylight would mean death upon seeing God). Yet, God retains the power to grant Jacob the blessing he desperately wants.

God breaks the impasse by making the first move: blessing Jacob and giving him the name Israel. The name is interpreted to mean that Jacob has been successful in his struggles with God and human beings. The blessing seals the prior promises (28:15) at just the point where Jacob’s life is most in danger. God binds himself to go with Jacob into future struggles (see 33:10).

Overall, this story may be viewed as a God-initiated exercise in human becoming–shaping and sharpening the faithfulness of human beings for the challenges to be faced in their journeys.