Text study – Genesis 32:22-31

The first lesson text for this Sunday (21st Sunday after Pentecost) comes from Genesis 32:22-31.  This is the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  At the beginning of the story we are only told that a "man" engages Jacob in a wrestling match, but later we figure out that the "man" is God (vs. 26 is out first hint and then vs. 30 confirms our suspicion).

In verse 26 Jacob is wrestling with this "man" when the "man" asks to be let go.  Jacob refuses until he receives a blessing.  I wonder if Jacob is not only wrestling with God but wrestling with some inner "demons".  Earlier in Genesis, Jacob steals the blessing from his older brother, Esau, by tricking their father.  In fear of his brother, Jacob flees.  Now Jacob is faced with seeing his brother for the first time since his deception.  Jacob stole a blessing early on now he wants a "real" blessing from God Himself.  Is this Jacob seeking forgiveness and validation from God? 

In verse 27 God asks for Jacob’s name and then changes his name to Israel.  At this point God has not blessed Jacob/Israel.  Next Jacob wants to know the name of his "opponent", but I wonder if that deep down inside, Jacob knew.  After God refuses to reveal His name, He blesses Jacob/Israel.  Israel then limps on his way – ultimately to face Esau.

So the question is, "What do we take from this text for today?"  A few questions/thoughts to ponder:
(1) If the "man" wrestling with Jacob is indeed God, why could He not over power Jacob in verse 25?  Was this God’s way of seeing how serious Jacob was about reconciliation?

(2) Why was Jacob so intent on receiving a blessing?

(3) What would have happened if Jacob honored the request of the "man" to let Him go?

(4) Is the point of this text the wrestling match?
Three years ago I preached on this very text.  At the time I focused on the fact that even though we like to jump to the end and experience the joy of the blessing, its the wrestling match that changes us.  Maybe this text is not so much about Jacob/Israel receiving a blessing, but that Israel was willing to wrestle with God and not give up.  Israel was ready to make a change.  Israel was ready to do things the right way, instead of receiving good things the wrong way.

Through faith we know the end of the story through Jesus Christ.  Through faith we know that Jesus won the battle over sin, death and the power of the devil.  Through faith we know that this life is not the end.  Through faith we know the "blessing".  But maybe we need to focus more on the wrestling match, because it is through the wrestling that we are changed.  Through the wrestling we are refined, strengthened, encouraged, tested, encouraged some more, etc, etc.  This is not to see whether we are worthy; whether we will give up or not; whether we should receive the blessing, but rather to help us endure until the ultimate consumation of the blessing through the death of our bodies.

What are your thoughts on this?


2 thoughts on “Text study – Genesis 32:22-31

  1. A line from the following passage – Gen 33:10 – strikes me. Jacob and Esau have met for the first time in twenty years, and they are graciously arguing about whether Esau should accept Jacob’s gift (the gift of livestock is described in 32:13-15, and is offered to assuage any lingering animosity from Jacob’s trickery of twenty years earlier). Jacob insists that Esau accept the gift, saying: “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor” (33:10).

    Having seen and wrestled God at the river and surviving – an amazing feat in the belief of those days – he is equally amazed (and relieved) that he has seen the brother whom he wronged and survived. An encounter – a struggle – with God can allow us to encounter, face, be with others whom we otherwise might not be able to face. That’s what happens at the communion rail, baptismal font or confession of sins, no?

  2. Thanks for the insight! I like what you said. When we have an encounter/wrestling match with God, we are indeed strengthened to face people we would normally not be able to face because of anger, pride or what have you. And when Jacob saw Esau’s face he indeed saw the face of God. After all, when we forgive like Esau did are we not showing the love of God?

    As for your comment about the communion rail – At the communion rail we are all children of God receiving God’s grace – all unworthy – all sinful – but all loved and forgiven.

    Thanks again, Chris.

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