< link rel="DCTERMS.isreplacedby" href="krusekronicle.typepad.com" > Kruse Kronicle: Jacob or Israel

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jacob or Israel

The same night as Jacob’s prayer at Penuel, Jacob had yet another encounter with God.

Gen 32:22-32 NRSV

22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28 Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." 29 Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

There are many different takes on this story. What we do know is that Jacob was born clutching Esau's heel. Jacob struggled with Esau and prevailed. Then Jacob struggled with Laban and won. At the time of this encounter, he had just sent everyone on ahead of him and was standing alone. It was then that he was confronted a mysterious opponent who wrestled with him through the night. Some have suggested that this was Esau and others an angel of God. The passages itself seems to indicate God himself in some limited human form.

Jacob wrestled through the night, demonstrating his perseverance and stamina. These were worthy traits that had served him well. Yet with one touch, God injured his hip joint, the key point of strength for a wrestler. God took away his strength, both physically and metaphorically. Immediately Jacob initiated a verbal struggle with God as he grabbed hold of God and demanded a blessing. Jacob’s perseverance went from reliance on his own abilities to boldness in weakness. He saw the face of God and lived.

The name Jacob means “supplanter” or “deceiver.” Jacob had been under the illusion he could always prevail by using his cunning and skill. God removed the illusion. God said his new name was Israel which means “wrestles with God” (and wins His blessing.) Jacob now recognized true victory was through bold reliance on God. The illusion of self-reliance was gone. For his physical and spiritual descendants, there has been an endless struggle over which name to claim: Jacob or Israel.


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