Jacob Demands a Blessing?

I’ve often heard the place in the Bible where Jacob wrestles with God used to encourage people to wrestle with God in prayer. They are encouraged to demand God’s blessing and not give up until they receive it. Something about this approach has always bothered me – maybe the fact that there appears to be no humility in this approach?

God sets Himself against the proud (the insolent, the overbearing, the disdainful, the presumptuous, the boastful)—[and He opposes, frustrates, and defeats them], but gives grace (favor, blessing) to the humble. -1Pe5:5;Ja4:6

Is this what Jacob really did? Did Jacob really wrestle God and demand a blessing? Did he wrestle God until he received a blessing? Is this a good model for prayer? Let’s take a look!

From the study below some interesting things can be seen.

  • Jacob did not initiate this wrestling –  God did.
  • At first, Jacob did not even know he was wrestling God
  • God’s touch on Jacob’s hip cripples him – a devastating blow
  • Jacob was wrestling in his own strength
  • Jacob asks for a blessing after he stops wrestling, after God cripples him, after he recognizes the “man” he was wrestling as supernatural
  • The asking for a blessing does not sound like a demand — Jacob was weeping when he asked.  Jacob came to the end of his own self-sufficiency.
  • Jacob receives his blessing only after he stops wrestling with God and comes to the end of his own self-sufficiency. Only after he “sees God face” and recognizes God as God.
  • Jacob’s prayer in v11 has more to do with him being afraid of his brother than asking for a blessing.
  • Jacob’s prayer of v11 was answered. Was this answered prayer the blessing or was the blessing Jacob’s recognition of his need for God – he came to the end of his self-sufficiency and saw God’s face?

Coming to the end of your own self-sufficiency – isn’t this exactly what being humble means?!

Jacob Wrestles Bible Study
Genesis 32
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

From NetBible Gen 32:24

  • Reflecting Jacob’s perspective at the beginning of the encounter, the narrator calls the opponent simply “a man.” Not until later in the struggle does Jacob realize his true identity.
  • The verb translated “wrestled” (וַיֵּאָבֵקvayyeaveq) sounds in Hebrew like the names “Jacob” (יַעֲקֹבyaaqov) and “Jabbok” (יַבֹּקyabboq). In this way the narrator links the setting, the main action, and the main participant together in the mind of the reader or hearer.

25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.

From NetBible Gen 32:25

  • “injured”; traditionally “touched.” The Hebrew verb translated “struck” has the primary meanings “to touch; to reach; to strike.” It can, however, carry the connotation “to harm; to molest; to injure.” God’s “touch” cripples Jacob – it would be comparable to a devastating blow..

26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

From NetBible Gen 32:26

  • Jacob wrestled with a man thinking him to be a mere man, and on that basis was equal to the task. But when it had gone on long enough, the night visitor touched Jacob and crippled him. Jacob’s request for a blessing can only mean that he now knew that his opponent was supernatural. Contrary to many allegorical interpretations of the passage that make fighting equivalent to prayer, this passage shows that Jacob stopped fighting, and then asked for a blessing.
  • He took his brother by the heel in [their mother’s] womb, and in the strength [of his manhood] he contended and had power with God. Yes, he had power over the Angel [of the Lord] and prevailed; he wept and sought His favor. He met Him in Bethel, and there [God] spoke with [him and through him with] us— -Hos12:3-4

27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

From NetBible Gen 32:27

  • What is your name? The question is rhetorical, since the Lord obviously knew Jacob’s identity. But since the Lord is going to change Jacob’s name, this question is designed to bring focus Jacob’s attention on all that his name had come to signify.
  • Jacob[03290] = heel holder or supplanter
  • [Esau] replied, Is he not rightly named Jacob [the supplanter]? For he has supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright, and now he has taken away my blessing! Have you not still a blessing reserved for me? -Gen 27:36

28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

From NetBible Gen 32:28

  • The name Israel is a common construction, using a verb with a theophoric element (אֵל’el) that usually indicates the subject of the verb. Here it means “God fights.” This name will replace the name Jacob; it will be both a promise and a call for faith. In essence, the Lord was saying that Jacob would have victory and receive the promises because God would fight for him.
  • You have fought. The explanation of the name Israel includes a sound play. In Hebrew the verb translated “you have fought” (שָׂרִיתָsarita) sounds like the name “Israel” (יִשְׂרָאֵלyisrael ), meaning “God fights” (although some interpret the meaning as “he fights [with] God”). The name would evoke the memory of the fight and what it meant. A. Dillmann says that ever after this the name would tell the Israelites that, when Jacob contended successfully with God, he won the battle with man (Genesis, 2:279). To be successful with God meant that he had to be crippled in his own self-sufficiency (A. P. Ross, “Jacob at the Jabboq, Israel at Peniel,” BSac 142 [1985]: 51-62).

29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there.

From NetBible Gen 32:29

  • Tell me your name. In primitive thought to know the name of a deity or supernatural being would enable one to use it for magical manipulation or power
  • blessed – The verb here means that the Lord endowed Jacob with success; he would be successful in everything he did, including meeting Esau.

30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

From NetBible Gen 32:30

  •  Peniel means “face of God.”
  • I have survived. It was commonly understood that no one could see God and live (Gen 48:16Exod 19:21, 24:10; andJudg 6:11, 22). On the surface Jacob seems to be saying that he saw God and survived. But the statement may have a double meaning, in light of his prayer for deliverance in v. 11. Jacob recognizes that he has survived his encounter with God and that his safety has now been guaranteed.
  • Jacobs PrayerDeliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. -Gen 32:11

31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.

For God Who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts so as [to beam forth] the Light for the illumination of the knowledge of the majesty and glory of God [as it is manifest in the Person and is revealed] in the face of Jesus Christ (the Messiah). -2 Cor 4:6

32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.


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