This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings
Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
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. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When 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. 26Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28Then the man* said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,* for you have striven with God and with humans,* and have prevailed.’ 29Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel,* saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore 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. <!– 33 –>
Jacob and Esau Meet
33Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ 6Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; 7Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. 8Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favour with my lord.’ 9But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’ 10Jacob said, ‘No, please; if I find favour with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favour. 11Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.’ So he urged him, and he took it.
The struggle with the angel who is an appearance of God is an image of what has been happening in the story so far: Jacob, in all his adventures has been wrestling with God and God’s purpose for his life. Now as he he makes the decision to risk an encounter with his wronged brother, he enters into combat with God and demands his blessing. Why? After all, he already has enjoyed God’s blessing. In this moment he becomes a different person, someone capable of carrying the blessing of the ancestral God into a new generation in the land of promise, and he therefore demands a new blessing, which he receives, along with a new name, Israel, which the narrator takes to mean “one who struggles with or prevails upon, God.”
But the narrator means us to understand that above all Jacob has wanted this face to face encounter: the relationship with God has become for him more important than the blessings he craves. The image of him crossing the brook is very profound: the sun comes up, signifying his new life; and yet he limps, signifying the cost of struggle. Later when he meets with his brother’s forgiveness, he tells him that his face is as the face of God. From now on the image of God’s face will mark all his encounters. He sees in others, as in himself, the image of God.
The magnanimity of Esau is another of the narrator’s great surprises. A man initially depicted from the point of view of Jacob as a muscle- bound fool, turns out to be wise and generous. The story depicts both the sly wisdom of God and also the astonishing capacities of the human character. In partnership with God, human beings find their true humanity.