Genesis: Jacob Prepares to Meet Esau & Jacob Wrestles With God
Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau. The messengers returned with news that Esau is coming to greet him with four hundred men. Jacob feared that his brother was coming to kill him. Jacob prayed, divided his people, and sent messengers ahead of him with offerings to his brother. While Jacob was alone, with the messengers bearing gifts ahead of him, he wrestled with a man near the river. Jacob was winning, and daybreak neared. The man knew he could not prevail so he struck Jacob on the hip dislocating his leg. Jacob would not relent unless the man blessed him, and the man did. The man was Jacob’s god according to the story and renamed Jacob to Israel. Then the man left.
This story offers many topics to discuss. Jacob, the trickster, continues to outsmart his enemies. But more interesting are the topics brought up in the story of Jacob Wrestles With God. (What two men do not enjoy grabbing at each other along a riverbank just before dawn, especially when the other is a deity? That is just good sport!) This story provides an example of the anthropomorphic conception of god—god exists in this world and is not omnipotent nor transcendent. The Bible wrestles with the idea that god is anthropomorphic or transcendent throughout—that is one explanation why there are two different creation myths in genesis.
The annotations give insight into the name Israel. It literally means El rules. El is the head god of the Northwest Semitic pantheon, which implies that the people of this time were polytheistic. Here the name Israel is intended to mean “the one who strives with god”. It is interesting that god’s chosen people are known as those who conflict with him.
The final interesting note is the justification for a dietary regulation. Because Jacob was struck on the hip by god, the Israelites are not permitted to eat the thigh of any animal. A ridiculous hindrance of people’s dietary freedom; chicken thighs are delicious.
Overall, the story is an interesting allegory for the creation of Israel.
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