Genesis 32:22-32

22 And he arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of Jabbok.

23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had.

24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.

25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.

26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”

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

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

29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”

31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.

32 Therefore to this day the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.

Jabbok (v.22) = wrestler (a name probably given to it later in commemoration of the events in this passage)

The events of this passage are referred to in Hosea 12:2-6: The Lord also brings a charge against Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his deeds He will recompense him. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God. Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; he wept, and sought favor from Him. He found Him in Bethel, and there He spoke to us—that is, the Lord God of hosts. The Lord is His memorable name. So you, by the help of your God, return; observe mercy and justice, and wait on your God continually.

The passage in Hosea helps to explain this crisis in Jacob’s life. God had a controversy with Israel because of her disobedience. She finds herself faced by great danger: this danger was God’s instrument of discipline for her, and the hand that was wounding her was, in effect, the Divine hand; but instead of clinging with weeping and supplication to that faithful God who would surely have delivered here, she sends for help to Syria and to Egypt. The prophet points back to Jacob, and reminds the nation that he did not act as they now are doing. When God had a controversy with him because of his faulty life; and when as a consequence Jacob found himself in deadly peril and realized that God Himself was behind that peril, and that it was not with Esau his brother that he had to contend, but with the Angel of Jehovah Himself; and when sore broken by that mighty hand he ceased to wrestle and clung with weeping and supplication to the very God that wounded him, then it was he got the victory and the glorious name of Israel. …

It is the broken heart that begins to experience what Divine power means. Better for the sun to rise upon a limping Israel than to set upon a lying Jacob. Jacob, for his misconduct was exiled from the promised land, having nothing but his staff. He returns a wealthy prince, but lamed. So Israel cast out of Jehovah’s land because of her sin will return with abundance, but broken and contrite in spirit. — Williams, page 34.

The King James Version uses the word “halted” for “limped” in v. 31, as does Bultema (below).

“I will assemble her that halteth,” says God in Micah 4:6. God promises great things in the context. Nothing less than a peaceful and converted world. We can make it a rule of prophetic interpretation, however, that when God says glorious things of the nations  of the earth, then He must speak in that connection of Israel’s restoration, and thus we find it here. He will think of His halting Jacob, for is He not the God of Jacob? He halted upon his thigh, we read of Jacob in Geneses 32:31-32; and with a direct allusion to that episode in Jacob’s life at Peniel, we read [in Michal 4:6]: I will assemble her that “halteth.” The same verb “tzala” is used and not “pesach” which also means “to limp,” “to halt.” The halting of Jacob that is finally saved will be the elect remnant, but that remnant will at the same time be representing the whole elect nation. A third time does Scripture allude to the halting Jacob of Peniel when it says in Zepheniah 3:19: “I will save her that halteth.” — Bultema, page 62.

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After dispatching the droves, Jacob remained behind with his family and the rest of his company to spend the night in the encampment by the river Jabbok, a stream which flows west into the Jordan, entering ti about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. They were at first north of the Jabbok, while of course Esau was approaching from the south. — Morris, page 498.

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In Jacob’s evaluation, his combatant was more than even an angel. It was none other than the Angel, the pre-incarnate Christ, because, according to Jacob’s testimony, he had “see God face-to-face.”

This experience must, therefore, have been an exceedingly important event in the history of man’s redemption. Jacob, whom God had chosen to be the father of the children of Israel, through whom He would finally come into the world not only in the form of man but as the very Son of Man, was facing the greatest opposition to the accomplishment of his divinely ordered mission. If Esau were to be victorious here, all of God’s plans and promises would be defeated, and the world would never have a Savior.

It was essential that Jacob receive both understanding and assurance concerning the supreme importance of his mission. He must learn clearly, as he began the establishment of that chosen nation, that God was all-sufficient and that he had been prepared by God to accomplish this incomparable task. he must know fully his own weakness, but even more he must know the power of God and his right to claim that power. …

As the day began to break, Jacob was still holding on, refusing to let go until God would give him full and final assurance of permanent blessing. According to Hosea’s commentary, this “wrestling” on Jacob’s part involved weeping and supplication, as well as physical tenacity. Hosea compared Jacob’s holding to the Angel with his tenacity in holding onto his brother’s heel as he was born, both testifying of his great desire to be the recipient of God’s greatest blessings and responsibilities.

When God saw that He could not prevail against Jacob, He finally gave him the blessing he sought. This, of course, does not suggest that God was weaker than Jacob, but does show that God desires men to persist in prayer. …

To remind Jacob perpetually of the experience, the Angel imposed a physical injury on him, which evidently consisted of a slight dislocation of the ball-and-socket joint in the thigh. This would inhibit Jacob from any undue presumption against God, since he would know that God really only allowed him to prevail; but at the same time it would never let him forget that God indeed had promised in this most unique encounter to bless him forever.

Before He pronounced the blessing, the Angel, to show the transition between Jacob’s time of preparation and his time of fulfillment, called attention to his name, Jacob, by asking him to state it. He is no longer to be the “Supplanter,” but the “Prevailer.” The name “Israel,” which Jacob received that night, and which has continued to be the name of his descendants for thirty-seven hundred years, means “One Who Fights Victoriously with God.” It has also been rendered “A Prince with God,” since it is derived from the two words Sarah-El with the word sarah meaning “fight, or rule, as a prince.” It is the word which, in this verse, is translated “as a prince hast thou power.”

Jacob then, after the Angel has asked his name, felt he must also ask the Angel’s name. … The Angel responded by a rhetorical question, “Why do you ask my name?” Jacob already knew who it was. he had been earnestly praying to Jehovah, and Jehovah had answered his prayer …

When the Lord had departed, and the sun had risen, Jacob found he had to limp because of his thigh. This was no mere dream he had experienced, but an actual physical struggle; and he would carry the resulting injury with him as a token of it all of his life. … Because of this, the children of Israel had adopted the practice of not eating that particular muscle (probably the portion of the hindquarter containing the sciatic nerve) when eating meat. God did not command such a practice … but it did indicate the importance of this event in the minds of those who practiced it.

Jacob named the place “Peniel,” meaning “The Face of God.” Jacob marveled greatly that he had actually been allowed to see and touch God, and that he had survived to tell the experience. This would have been utterly impossible, had not God veiled Himself in human form, of course (Exodus 33:20; 1 Timothy 6:16). The name of the place, as given by Jacob, was not forgotten. Though slightly changed in form, to Penuel, it continued to be known by that name until at least the days of the divided kingdom (1 Kings 12:25). — Morris, pages 500-502.

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Jacob’s spiritual struggle is here epitomized as well as brought to a climatic resolution by God when, being left alone, a man appears and wrestles with him until daybreak. That this “man” is in fact God Himself in human form—i.e., specifically, the Son of God—is evident from the collective evidence of (1) Jacob’s thigh being dislocated just by the man’s having touched it; (2) the man’s changing of Jacob’s name to one better suited to his covenant position (“Israel” meaning “God strives” [i.e., on behalf of Jacob]—not “he has striven with God,” which is incongruous with (a) the imperfect [i.e., ongoing] Hebrew tense, (b) the normative presentation of God as the verbal subject in theophoric names, and (c) the ongoing covenant reality of Jacob’s position as intended by God, the Namer, which hearkens back to God’s identically-motivated changing of Abram’s name to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 (and, more generally, with Christ’s changing of the names of those who submit to him in faith); (3) the man’s reference to Jacob having striven with God—which, while reflecting the overall trajectory of Jacob’s life to this point, also clearly refers to the present struggle/wrestling match between Jacob and the man himself; and (4) Jacob’s naming of the site of the wrestling match “Peniel,” meaning “The face (or the ‘presence’) of God,” for as Jacob himself explains (and the inspired narrator does not “correct” him), “I have seen God face to face” (v.30). In this respect a word should also be said about the typical translation of the man’s statement to Jacob in verse 28 that he (that is, Jacob) has prevailed: this does not mean that Jacob won the wrestling match by overpowering the man—which is hardly consistent with all that we have said above—but rather that, having in the end been forcibly subdued by God (who, after all, dislocated his thigh), Jacob has finally attained the “victorious” (i.e., beneficial) status of a true child of God—that is, not just a benefactor of the material promises of the Abraham Covenant, but also—and more importantly—of it’s more selective spiritual promise of the blessing of saving faith. Paradoxically, therefore—though completely consistent with the biblical (OT and NT) picture of true and growing faith, Jacob “prevails” (i.e., comes through victoriously in a more holistic material-spiritual sense) through submission. Indeed, this is precisely Jacob’s point at the end of verse 30, in which the statement usually translated “yet my life has been preserved” is properly (that is, literally, and much more consistently with the aforementioned), “and my soul has been rescued (or, ‘saved’).” In this case the picture with which we are presented is that of a man who, as C.S. Lewis has described the process leading up to his own turning point of faith, was brought to God (by God) “kicking and screaming.” Jacob’s spiritual “turnaround” (i.e., conversion) is further emphasized by his naming of the altar he erected outside of Shechem “El-Elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:20), meaning “El (is) the God of Israel”—”Israel” at this point referring specifically to Jacob (as opposed to the later nation)—bringing us full-circle to the positive dénouement of his divine challenge in Genesis 28:20-21. — Wechsler, pages 239-241.

I copied a lot of quotes about this passage. First, I think my commentaries do a good job of explaining what was really happening here—the moment when Jacob actually personally trusted God and became the head of God’s chosen people not just physically but also spiritually. And second, I believe the coverage of this passage explains an important principle of Bible study. The Bible is not only a record of God’s plan to redeem humans, but also of His plan to redeem the Earth. He created the planet to be the dwelling place of humanity. When mankind fell, the world became broken. God will redeem the world (Romans 8:21—see also the verses included in the study of that verse), and He will do it through Israelthat’s the point of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation. The histories in the Old Testament of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, etc. aren’t just to give us good examples. They show how God plans to redeem the world itself—and humanity—through Israel and ultimately through His Son, Jesus Christ. The present dispensation of grace is a parenthesis in God’s plan. Of course, He knew all along that it would happen, but He didn’t reveal the fact until Israel had rejected Him and was set aside for a time. This all explains why the body of Christ (the Church, believers from this dispensation) will be raptured before God restores Israel and completes His plan to redeem the world through that nation. We aren’t part of the plan to redeem the world—our destiny is in heaven. We should always remember this when we study the Old Testament and try to figure out why God gave us all the history of Israel. The Old Testament is for us, but it isn’t to us or about us. We can learn a great deal about God from it, and we are supposed to use Israel as an example of how to relate to Him, but it’s a lot more that just illustrations of faith.

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