The man is ...

an enemy

wrestlers

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Some interpreters thought that Jacob struggling 'with' God meant 'with God's help', as this would fit with God's favour and blessing shown to Jacob. Some, understanding God to be transcendent, non-physical and unchanging, were also uncomfortable with a story that seemed to describe God in such a physical form. For example, in the early Christian tradition, Origen argued that God 'wrestled with' Jacob by being on his side, rather than as his adversary (Kugel, 387). Jacob wrestled against a human enemy, and prevailed because God wrestled with him, on his side.

This interpretation overcomes some problems:-

  • It shows God's support and love for Jacob, rather than the puzzling notion of why God would choose to fight someone God had chosen and blessed.
  • It accounts for the physical, threatening presence of the opponent.
  • It gets past the problems of identifying the opponent as God -
                - why would God be unable to defeat Jacob?
                - why would God have to ask Jacob to let go?
                - why would God have to flee at dawn?

And yet this solution creates more problems than it solves:-

  • This interpretation seems to force the text to say more than is actually there, by almost adding a third character (God) into the fight.
  • Why would an enemy bless Jacob and give him a new name?
  • This approach seems to go against the understanding expressed by Jacob, when he names the place Peniel ('face of God').

Another way of avoiding talking about God in such anthropomorphic terms, and yet also accounting for the supernatural themes in the story, is to identify the 'man' as an angel of some kind.

   

 

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© Kirsten Abbott 2004