How could Jacob defeat an angel of the lord in his wrestling match?  Did God make the angel powerless?   And why did the angel ask Jacob to leave him as sun was rising?  Why did he even need permission?


I am afraid that there are certain things in the scriptures for which we will simply have to settle for not knowing.  The story of Jacob and the man (he is not described as an angel in the Hebrew) is an example of this.  Who was this “man”?  He certainly was not an ordinary man.  Was he an angel?  The truth is that we really do not know, but it seems to be a reasonable assumption.  We do know that Jacob described the encounter as having seen the “face of God,” so surely this was a spiritual being of some sort.  Was the “wrestling” an entirely physical sort of thing, with wrestling moves and tests of physical strength, or was it more a spiritual or metaphorical wrestling?   Again, we do not know.  It certainly seems odd to us that Jacob and this being were apparently almost equally matched.  To me this implies that the test of strength was not purely a physical one.   Again, though, the answer is we simply do not know the answer to these questions.   Why was the time limit to this “wrestling” match sunrise?  For the fourth or fifth time, we will be wise to admit that we simply do not know.

Why was Jacob’s name changed to Israel at this point?  For this question we have more evidence.  Abram had his name changed to Abraham when God established a covenant with him.  When God chooses a man for a particular purpose, he tends to give that man a new name.  The same applies to Simon/Peter as well.

The events at Peniel are loaded with symbolism and we would do well to focus more on the symbolism than the details of the events.  In this event man confronts God, man asks God for a blessing, God blesses man, but God reminds man of his power and authority.  In this story Jacob/Israel is a symbolic representation of the entire nation of Israel, but as a foreshadow, he represents all those who seek a relationship with God as well.

John Oakes

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