Wrestling with God

Jacob Wrestling the Angel - Léon Bonnat

Jacob was no angel, but he wrestled one.

In the course of the night, Jacob arose, took his two wives, children and servants and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had taken them across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, Jacob was left there alone.

Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled. The man then said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go until you bless me." "What is your name?" the man asked. He answered, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed."

Jacob named the place Peniel, "Because I have seen God face to face," he said, "yet my life has been spared."
At sunrise, as he left Peniel, Jacob limped along because of his hip.
- Genesis 32 .

Some say Jacob wrestled with an angel, some that he wrestled with God. The scripture tells us he "contended with divine and human beings" and prevailed. It's also suggested that the wrestling here is Flesh Vs. Spirit in Jacob's heart.

Whoever are the opponents here, we know several things for sure. Jacob was no angel. His name in Hebrew means "trickster" and indeed he had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright. Even here in Genesis 32, Jacob is hustling off in the dark of night to escape his brother's advance on him and it's then that the wrestling event ensues.

What kind of spiritual wrestling do we engage in?

Angels are God's messengers: how do we wrestle with God's messages to us? in his word? in our conscience?

Do we try wrestle with God himself? Does something within prod us to square off with God, hoping him pin him with our hurt or anger?

Or is it the struggle between the flesh and spirit that provides the mat on which we wrestle with choices and consequences?

The good news in the Jacob story is that God seems to respect our wrestling and that we can survive our match with the Divine. We survive not because we are the superior contestant but rather because God calls the match before we suffer defeat. I like the Bonnat study above because for all of Jacob's muscular strength, the angel is clearly larger, stronger, overpowering and just about to pull Jacob's right leg from under him. We do not escape unscathed when we go up against God. His hold leaves its mark on us or, as in the case of Jacob's hip, deep within us.

Many of us wrestle with issues human and spiritual. Some of us may be in the first period of the match and some of us may be limping away from the mat! Our divine opponent allows and respects our struggle and although greater than stronger than us will never take advantage of our lesser strength. In a wrestling match one learns about one's own strengths and weaknesses and about one's opponent. In the wrestling here, there is much to learn and nothing to lose.


  1. I don't like the photo.

  2. I find the photo sexual.

    Almost to the point of being pornographic. They are two nude males. They are in sexual positions.
    Need I state my case???

  3. I like the photo. I think Leon Bonnat captured the "struggle" very well.

  4. Many readers end up on this blog because they Googled words such as "wrestling/God/Jacob/angel." At least a couple of times a day, frequently more often, my SiteMeter reports that yet more readers have arrived through searching these terms.

    What I can't figure out is the interest in this biblical story. Why is it so frequently searched? Anyone out there got some ideas about this?

  5. I did indeed come here by way of a Google search for Jacob wrestling. My concern at the moment is trying to determine if Paul in his letter to the Ephesians was intentionally refering to the adversary that Jacob wrestled against when Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12: "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

    The angel (as per Hosea 12:4) wants to leave before dawn (is it then a "ruler of the darkness"?)

    Jewish tradition is that this is a fallen angel that served as the guardian of Esau. But Christian tradition is often stated to be that this was a Christophany. Obviously the two positions are diametrically opposed. But it appears that Paul is taking the traditional Jewish position.

  6. Interesting! The connection between the Genesis and Hosea texts is clear to me but I'm not sure that Ephesians has either in mind. What leads you to see Paul referencing the Jacob incident here?

  7. The key to understand this picture can be solved after reading this book «Scarred by Struggle, Transformed» by Hope
    Joan Chittister
    William B. Eerdmans Publishing 03/03 Hardcover $20.00
    ISBN: 0802812163

    I just did it, it is a beautiful picture reflecting all of us...


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and PRAY before you think!