Bob Schwartz

Tag: Jacob

Wrestling with Yourself, Part 2

The previous post about the biblical episode of Jacob wrestling with a man or an angel or God is entitled Wrestling with Yourself. Why so?

In the family saga, Jacob comes from a long line of people on an important mission, which mission they use as a rationalization for some sharp practices and lying. Abraham lies about his wife, saying she is his sister. Isaac lies about his wife, saying she is his sister. Jacob lies to his father Isaac, with a plan devised by his mother, saying he is his brother and stealing his brother’s blessing. After the wrestling episode, Jacob’s sons will lie to him, saying their brother is dead, while in fact they have left him to be taken into slavery.

We wonder just what sort of entity Jacob is wrestling with. The Hebrew word ish makes it sound as if it is a man, but the details of the story say otherwise. One enlightening view says that Jacob was actually wrestling with himself. Given his history and the history of the family, such psychological conflict is understandable.

The wrestling match ends in a tie, that is, Jacob refuses to give up, even though he is injured. This is exactly what happens if you wrestle with yourself. You can’t win, but if you don’t give up, you can’t lose either. At best, you come out of the match transformed. Hurt and pained, perhaps, but different enough to merit a new name.

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Wrestling with Yourself

The Action Bible, illustrated by Sergio Cariello (Genesis 32.24–32)

Jacob Wrestles All Night with an Angel or with God

Yaakov is left alone, and a man wrestles
With him until daybreak.
When the man sees he has not won against Yaakov,

He strikes him on the hip socket,
And as he wrestles with him
Yaakov’s hip comes out of joint.

Then he says, “Let me go. Dawn is breaking.”
But Yaakov says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
So he tells him, “What is your name?”

And he answers, “Yaakov.”
And he says, “You shall no longer be called Yaakov, but Yisrael,
For you have fought with God and men

And you have won.”
And Yaakov tells him, saying, “Please tell me your name.”
But he says, “Why are you after my name?”

And there he blesses him.
And Yaakov names the place Penuel, saying,
“I have seen God face to face and I am alive.”

The sun rises over them
But Yaakov is limping because of his hip.
Therefore, the children of Yisrael

Do not eat the thigh muscle of the hip
Because he (the nameless) struck Yaakov
On the socket of his hip.

Willis Barnstone, Poets of the Bible