Jesus Wrestles with Jacob…Genesis 32:24-30

This is a first in a series of posts on the Old Covenant appearances of Christ.  All Scripture references are from the King James Version.  We’ll start with a few verses on the whether or not one can see God.

John 1:18  No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

Exo 33:20-23  And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:  And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:  And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

These and other scriptures tell us that no man has seen God at any time and that if someone did see God that person would die[1]. It is actually the face of God the Father that man is not allowed to see.  Moses saw God the Father’s back parts.  Daniel and John could see enough about Him to tell He was seated on a throne and also that He had hair and hands[2].   They weren’t allowed though to see His face. 

Many times in the Old Covenant scriptures there are events that indicate men are seeing the face of God yet they do not die.  There is even one event where a man wrestled with God – the event we will look at in this post.  If we understand the Son rightly, there is no reason to think that this is not the Son that is being seen.  In other posts we have seen that the Son was physically manifest before the creation of the worlds.  That’s what the titles “The Firstborn of Every Creature” and “The Bright and Morning Star” refer to.  We know from the transfiguration that the Son has the ability to show and hide His glory at will[3].  

What scriptures would it violate to say the Son physically appeared to men prior to the virgin birth?  What about Hebrews 1:1-2, where Paul says that in times past God spoke to the fathers by the prophets and in these last days has spoken unto us by the Son?  I don’t think this is violated.  There is a significant difference between the nature of the Old Covenant appearances of the Son and the time when He walked this earth 2000 years ago.  In the Old Covenant appearances of the Son the encounters are typically brief and limited primarily to communicating with one or a few people.  Two thousand years ago the Son walked the earth for thirty-three years speaking to us through an example that started in childhood and continued all the way to death.  Any man living or passing through the land of Palestine could have seen and talked with the Son of God during this time.  Further, His deeds and teachings were observed and recorded by those who followed Him such that we can benefit from this example even today.  Truly, this was a different way of speaking to us than had been experienced in Old Covenant times.

You might ask, if the Son had already been manifest as a man, how could He enter the womb and be born as a babe?  The answer is simply that this is exactly what happened as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah prophesied that the Lord would start a new thing in the earth with a miracle in which a woman compasses a man (Jeremiah 31:22). 

I think that because of the way men have been taught to view Christ and the virgin birth it doesn’t at first seem right to think that the Son would have been physically present in Old Covenant times.  However, if we just let the scriptures speak, this is what we find.

So let’s look at our first event, The Son of God comes down from heaven and wrestles with Jacob.

Gen 32:24  And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled  a man with him until the breaking of the day.
Gen 32:25  And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
Gen 32:26  And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
Gen 32:27  And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
Gen 32:28  And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Gen 32:29  And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
Gen 32:30  And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

If you read this literally and simply it is clear that Jacob wrestled with God.  He was amazed – he had wrestled with God and didn’t die.  This is a reference to this truth that Jacob knew very well – you cannot see the face of God and live.  For those Jews with an eye to see this would have been a significant new dimension to their understanding of God and a further refinement of this truth about seeing the face of God.  They would have learned that God has a physical body – you can’t wrestle with a spirit – and that you can see the face of God and live.  The Jews would be learning that God manifest in the flesh – that is the Son of God – can be looked upon and handled as the Apostle John put it in 1 John 1:1-2.

Some believe that it was an angel who wrestled with Jacob. This is based on Hosea 12:4 which refers to this event and says Jacob had power over the angel.  However this is letting the translation of a word override very clear statements made by Jacob. 

The Hebrew word malak, translated angel in this passage, means messenger and is not used exclusively for angelic beings.  If you take this into consideration and also take into account the literal translation of verse 30  you get back to the simple truth that Jacob wrestled with God.  The literal translation of verse 30 is, “for I have seen ‘Elohiym face to face, and my life is preserved.”  ‘Elohiym is a name for God.  For example, ‘Elohiym is the word used for God in Genesis 1:1: In the beginning God [‘elohiym ] created the heaven and the earth. 

It seems odd to us that God would wrestle with Jacob, but God does things that are not our ways. There is important symbolism here portraying a major theme of God’s relationship with His chosen people. This event foreshadowed how God and Israel would contend with one another resulting in Israel’s failure to walk with God.  This failure to walk with God was symbolized by Jacob’s thigh injury that likely caused him to walk with a limp – i.e. an abnormal walk – for the remainder of his life.  The fact that at the end of the wrestling match Jacob persuaded God to bless him points to how in the end God will return to the Jews and heal them.  This truth that in the end the Jews will turn back to God and He will heal them is a major theme in the scriptures (see for example Isaiah 6 and 10).

Jacob physically wrestled with God in Genesis 32.  Specifically he wrestled with the Son of God, the One who is the physical manifestation of God.  As they wrestled Jacob saw God’s face and commemorates the event by naming the place  the wrestling match occurred Peniel – the face of God.

[1] John 1:18, John 6:46, John 14:7-9

[2] See Revelation 5:5-7, Daniel 7:9-14.  In this event, the Son is receiving His inheritance from the Father.  This transaction occurs by the Father handing the Son a book (Daniel 7:14). Significantly, both the Father and the Son have the form we recognize as a man.  The difference is the Father is a spirit with that form, the Son is a physical being with that form.  Knowing this gives further meaning to statements like “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Genesis 1:26)” and “who [referring to the Son] is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15),” and “Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his [referring to the Father] shape” (John 5:37).

[3] Mark 9:1-9


3 Responses to “Jesus Wrestles with Jacob…Genesis 32:24-30”

  1. 1 Eric August 30, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    That was very informative. I have believed that was Jesus whom wrestled with Jacob for awhile but I was always confused as to why in Ezekiel He was called and angel. Thank you for sharing. I think the best reason for reading the old testament is to find where Jesus is in every book. May Jesus bless you and keep you always

  2. 2 godfrey December 5, 2012 at 6:51 am

    was there an instant in the old testament era that Jesus made physical appearances?

  3. 3 hayesrod December 7, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Yes Godfrey, Jesus appeared many times in the Old Covenant. This site speaks about several of them. Also, If you look on the right side of the site I have a “My Shared Box” where you can download a free booklet, One of the chapters covers Old Covenant appearances of the Son of God. Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

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