The man is ...

God

wrestlers

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Identifying the mysterious opponent with God seems to fit with the interpretation given in the story itself, in verse 30 [31]. This is also a particularly popular interpretation, favoured by many commentators (e.g. Cotter, 244-248; Brueggemann, 266-271).

There are good reasons to adopt this interpretation of the identity of the man:-

  • This may well be the identification Jacob makes in verse 30[31].
  • The 'man' seems to have supernatural power, able to disable Jacob with a touch.
  • Within the overall structure of the Jacob stories, this story is paired with another night-time vision of God (Gen 28.10-22).
  • Although usefulness ought not be the only criterion by which interpretations are judged, nevertheless, it may be noted that the theological stance that understands the relationship with God to be one of struggle and engagement, has proved helpful to many people (e.g. Vawter, 351; Holmgren).
  • The depiction of God as difficult, opposed to us, and mysterious can address human experience in ways that portrayals of God as 'nice' cannot.

And yet, this interpretation creates difficulties with the inner logic of the story:-

  • Why would God want to wrestle physically with a person?
  • If the opponent is God, why couldn't God defeat Jacob?
  • Why would God appear in such a limited human form?
  • If Jacob knows who he is wrestling, why does he ask his name?

Some interpreters didn't like to describe God in such adversarial, limited and physical ways, and so dealt with this discomfort by identifying the man as an enemy.

   

 

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© Kirsten Abbott 2004