Genesis 32:25-30 - So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak...

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak." But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." (Genesis 32:24-30)

Did Jacob wrestle with God?

Many sectarian institutional teachers have interpreted that Jacob was wrestling with God. But was He?

The text clearly states that a "man" wrestled with Jacob. The word "man" is translated from the Hebrew word, אִישׁ ('iysh). This means, according to the lexicon in the order of usage, "a man, a husband, a human being, person - in contrast to God." It can also mean, "servant, mankind, champion and great man."

It is clear from the Hebrew that a man wrestled with Jacob. The word "man" is mentioned 6 times in six verses. Why would the scriptures say "man" if Jacob wrestled with God?

Or was God pretending to be a man?

Consider this statement carefully:
"When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man."
Would the Supreme Being not be able to overpower Jacob? Such a notion contradicts the omniscience of God. The Supreme Being can overpower anyone and anything. God is the Creator and Destroyer of all things, and He is more powerful than any force - what to speak of a man.

Or was God only pretending to be a man? Was He basically toying with Jacob?

Not that God does sometimes play with His servants. But does the text say that? Actually, no. It would be quite easy for the text to clearly state that God was wrestling with Jacob.

Actually, the text says quite the opposite. It says,
Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."
Would the Supreme Being have to ask Jacob to let him go because it was daybreak? Why would the Supreme Being need to do that? Would God have to ask someone to let Him go?

What the text says is that this man did have some special ability to affect Jacob's hip. But how did he affect Jacob? Let's consider this carefully.

We also know that the person wrestling with Jacob - "the man" - asked Jacob: "What is your name?"

Does God need to ask anyone's name? In Genesis 31 we find that God spoke with Jacob personally and addressed him as such. Or is God forgetful? Certainly not.

This is all besides the fact that the scriptures are clearly describing the person wrestling with Jacob as a "man". God never becomes a "man." God is always God. He is always the Supreme Being. He is never forgetful. Nor weak.

Why did Jacob ask for a blessing?

Why then would Jacob ask him for his blessing, and why does the man change Jacob's name? And why did "the man" say, "you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome"? And why did Jacob call the location of their wrestling match, "Peniel" and say "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared"?

We find a clear indication of who wrestled with Jacob:
Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is the camp of God!" So he named that place Mahanaim. (Genesis 32:1-2)
So here we find that it was God's angels met with Jacob. And because of that, Jacob called that place, "the camp of God." This is a clear indication of what also took place at Peniel. Just because the "man" said that he struggled with God doesn't mean that Jacob was literally wrestling with God.

Here the word "angels" comes from the Hebrew word, מַלְאָךְ (mal'ak), which literally means, "messenger, representative" according to the lexicon.

Indeed, the "man" also said that Jacob struggled with "humans" in the same statement. Does this mean that Jacob literally held a wrestling match with all of humanity as well? No.

Jacob didn't literally wrestle with all of humankind - just as he didn't literally wrestle with God.

But why does the text say, But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

As we see throughout the scriptures, God isn't the only person who can bless others. We find, for example, among others, Isaac blessed Jacob (Genesis 28:1), Melchizedek blessed Abraham (Heb. 7:1), Jacob blessed Pharaoh (Genesis 47:7), and Joshua blessed Caleb (Joshua 14:13).

The pattern here is that the Prophets can bless others. The Prophets were God's messengers.

Angels are also God's messengers, and they can also bless others.

When we put this together with the introduction to Genesis 32 - that the angels of God met him - we can make sense of this event and the text.

How can God communicate without appearing?

This test illustrates one of the central means for God's communications within the physical realm: God can communicate to us via His messengers.

Throughout the scriptures, we find descriptions of clear communications attributed to God, yet there no clear statement that God appeared personally. We saw this with Abraham seeing the "three men" from the desert, and also from an angel appearing to Jacob yet saying "I am the God of Bethel." (Gen. 31:13)

Elsewhere we find communications from God coming through dreams with no appearance by God, and references to his angels. What is going on with these?

Quite simply, God utilizes His personal servants as His messengers. God's loving servants can be empowered to speak on His behalf. And those who hear those messengers clearly, understand God is speaking to them.

As His messengers, these loving servants of God have the ability to teach others and to reveal the person of the Supreme Being to their students. The "man" was clearly God's messenger, as he instructed Jacob. And Jacob understood that instruction to be coming from God.

Is the wrestling match allegorical?

The "man" Jacob wrestled with was God's messenger. And the "wrestling match" is an allegorical explanation for what occurred between God's messenger and Jacob - which could well be called a wrestling match simply because Jacob was wrestling with - struggling with - the concept of surrendering himself to the will of the Supreme Being.

And this struggle can occur within any of us - should we become connected with the Supreme Being through His messenger. We struggle with the idea of giving up our own desires and surrendering our will to the Supreme Being's will. This is the meaning of "you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome." While this is an extremely advanced stage of consciousness - to even begin to wrestle with this - Jacob's allegorical wrestle indicates that indeed he surrendered himself to God's will. This is confirmed by the word "overcome."

Note that the word "overcome" - here comes from the Hebrew word יכל (yakol), which can mean being victorious, but in this context it refers to having strength. This is not related to physical strength - as a relationship with God does not involve physical strength. It involves spiritual strength.

What is spiritual strength? Spiritual strength is the ability to counteract our self-centered forces that breed greed, envy and those things that follow. Spiritual strength is not simply counteractive - it is proactive, because it comes from love. It comes from wanting to please the Supreme Being and His messengers.

God's messengers are pleased when God is pleased. Should a person meet such a messenger of God, and should God's messenger introduce the student to God, the student will be blessed with the ability to regain their own unique relationship with God.

This is what is occurring in this text. Jacob met God's messenger and allegorically wrestled with God's messenger concerning his surrender to God.

Once Jacob surrendered, he asked for and was "blessed" by God's messenger, who then instructed Jacob.

Jacob's meeting with God did not occur within a wrestling match. This is not an event to be taken literally.

Whether they say He was playing with Jacob or not, the description of "the man" is certainly not the description of the Supreme Being.

And yes, God does have fun with His loving children. And He might wrestle with one of His servants. But He is always God. He never becomes a man.

But God's messengers can become men - or women. The Biblical scriptures reveal that as God's messengers introduce God to others, those others who become empowered will have the opportunity to introduce still others to the Supreme Being.

This forms a distinct lineage of teachers and their students throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. And this precisely what we see among the various teachers - referred to as Prophets - of the Old Testament.

Why is this important? The Supreme Being could appear to any of us at any time by Himself. He doesn't need help.

But He utilizes those who want to serve Him to introduce others because He enjoys the process of relationships. He enjoys being introduced and He enjoys being sought after. This is because He is God - and God enjoys love.

That is why God created us. He wants us to love Him. He wants us to choose to love Him. His position is God and our natural position is His loving servant. That is why He created us. To exchange loving relationships with Him.

What is the meaning of the hip in this story?

The story makes it sound that because "the man" could not otherwise defeat Jacob he had to dislocate his hip. Does God have to use a sneaky facility to defeat others?

No. The Hebrew words translated to "hip socket" are כף (kaph) and ירך (yarek). The central meaning of the word כף (kaph) is not thigh or thigh joint. It can mean "palm" or "hollow or flat of the hand" or "sole of the foot" or more importantly, "power" according to the lexicon.

And the word ירך (yarek) typically describes the side or flank of something as well as the loins - the seat of procreative power. This might be the thigh in the case of a man's body - but in this case, the text is not referring to a man's loins or hip socket.

The text is referring to a weakness being exploited by a certain power. The two words כף (kaph) and ירך (yarek) relate to "the man" - God's messenger - finding Jacob's weakness - his critical weak spot that each of us has. A particularly tender area.

Just consider a person's weak spot and how that can be compared to a part of the body. When we hit our "funny bone" for example, we will say that the "funny bone" is a particularly tender spot of the body.

The other indication that כף (kaph) and ירך (yarek) do not describe the hip socket is because "the man" only had to "touch" the spot. In what circumstance does "touching" produce results?

Each of us has a tender spot that can be "touched" by someone. Being "touched" at our tender spot is something communicated today with the phrase, "he pushed my buttons." Such a phrase indicates that the person found a special weakness and exploited that weakness.

Such an occasion may also lead to the situation where someone "touched their heart."

The reality is that after struggling - allegorically wrestling - with God's messenger, God's messenger 'pressed his buttons' and touched Jacob's heart. And through this process, God's messenger revealed the Supreme Being to Jacob, producing a change in heart.

This is what God's messenger can do. He can touch a person's heart by revealing the loving nature of the Supreme Being. This will produce a change of heart in the person - causing them to change their direction in life - from a self-serving nature to their innate God-loving nature.

Religious institutions do sometimes discuss this idea of "love for God" - which is taught throughout the scriptures as the goal of religion. But in order to love God we must know Him. He must be revealed to us. This is the process that God delegates to those who want to serve Him and please Him - to introduce others to Him. At that point of introduction the Supreme Being will reveal Himself.

Therefore it is important we do not blindly accept teachers simply by the fact that they paid tuition and graduated from a seminary college. This has nothing to do with representing the Supreme Being. Only a person who has been personally introduced to God can personally introduce others to the person of God.

One of the odd things about this story about Jacob is the last verse in Genesis 32:
Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon. (Genesis 32:32)
This is quite odd, because the narration is supposing that it was recorded contemporaneously, yet this last verse starts with "Therefore to this day the Israelites..."

This phrase indicates that Genesis 32 was not written contemporaneously. At the time of this story, there were no such people called the "Israelites," since Jacob had just been renamed. What is clear is that this event is being recorded as retold centuries later from an oral tradition. Who recorded it and is the story accurate?

Was Jacob renamed as Israel?

Yes, sometimes the messenger of God may change the name of the student. But is this what is going on with this text?

The word "Israel" - taken from ישראל (Yisra'el) - means "God prevails!" This is a praise of God. It is not the name of a person. And שם (shem) - translated to name - relates to not just any name, but specifically to "the Name (as designation of God)". שם (shem) means to glorify or memorialize this Name - the Holy Name of God.

In fact, this verse is not re-naming Jacob: He was instructing Jacob to glorify God in a certain way. In this case, to glorify God with ישראל (Yisra'el) - or "God prevails!" This is a clear glorification of God, which can be incanted or sung or simply spoken to one another - a way to praise God.

This verse is not about re-naming Jacob. In this verse, God's messenger is calling upon Jacob to glorify God's Holy Names.

According to God's messengers, this is how a person becomes linked up with God.

Consider another translation of this verse in Chapter 32 of the New Book of Genesis.