Friday

17 November 2017

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak … So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’” (vv. 24, 30)

Psalm: Psalm 119:129-144


Background

In the 20 years since he fled his brother Esau's murderous intent, Jacob had married, fathered 12 children (verse 22 says "eleven" because in those patriarchal times his daughter Dinah (Genesis 30:21) was not counted), and become a very wealthy herdsman. Now, however, he was returning home, fearful of what reception would await him, not least because Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men (Genesis 32:6). The events of the passage took place at night with Jacob some way behind the rest of his family and entourage, as he worried sleeplessly about the coming day.

Jacob identified the man who wrestles through the night with him as God in verse 30 though it is not clear at what point he realised who his assailant was. There are other places in the Old Testament where God appears as a man, including Genesis 18-19, Judges 6 and especially Judges 13 where there is a similar request for, and refusal of, the divine visitor to give a name (Judges 13:18-19).

Jacob's birth name carries the meaning of supplanting others, whereas the new name "Israel" could mean "he strives with God" or "God strives" but more likely "God rules", signifying that Jacob has, at last, found someone who can get the better of him. But he receives the blessing he asked for as well as a new name (verse 29). Moreover he had not been killed as it was assumed would happen to anyone who looked God in the face (Exodus 33:20), but merely sustained a disability; this will keep the experience of this night in his consciousness all life long, and his descendants will remember the event by never eating the sciatic muscle.

This is the third time (see Genesis 28:19; 32:2) Jacob named a place where he had had an encounter with the divine; Peniel means "the face of God".


To Ponder

  • Have you ever struggled all night with an issue and finally found it resolved at daybreak? If so are there ways in which you might see that God was in your struggle?
  • Where do you stand in the debate about whether it is appropriate that people carry a name through their life merely because their parents liked the sound of it, or that a name should say something about the person who bears it? Why do you like, or not like, your own name?
  • Are you like Jacob, longing for a family reconciliation, but fearful of attempting it? How might this story encourage somebody who is in that situation?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

 

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