He took them and sent them across the stream, then sent his possessions across; and Jacob was left alone. Then some man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he did not defeat Jacob, he struck Jacob’s hip socket, so that his hip was dislocated while wrestling with him. The man said, “Let me go, because it’s daybreak.”-Genesis 32:24-27
In ancient times, crossing a river was symbolic of overcoming hazard and moving to a new chapter in one’s life.
In this sense, Jacob crossing over the Jabbok to meet Esau is a watershed moment in his life.
In fact the word “Hebrew” comes from the Akkadian “ipuru” which means “one who crossed over“.
Now rivers were believed to be infested with demons.
When Jacob suddenly finds himself wrestling with some “man”, I suspect that he may have thought he was wrestling a river demon.
The man’s urgent request, “Let me go for dawn is breaking” would have fortified this belief that the man was a demonic being who must not be seen and therefore had to leave before the sun arose.
So who was this being that Jacob wrestled?
Verse 25 says that Jacob wrestled with an “ish“, which is Hebrew for “man“.
However, let’s take a look at verse 31.
Jacob called the place P’ni-El [face of God],
“Because I have seen Elohim face to face, yet my life is spared.
So verse 31 makes it clear that this being was divine.
However, why does it first say that Jacob’s opponent was a man, and then say it was Elohim?
This question brings us face to face with a puzzling dilemma that has confounded theologians throughout the ages.
I am talking about the confusion that arises when the distinction between man and God becomes blurred.
I need to take a moment to talk about angels.
It is pertinent to this discussion and also there is a lot of confusion in the church regarding just what an angel is and what it means when an angel appears etcetera.
First, to put it simply, an angel is a bearer of a God’s divine Word.
This Word could be a divine message that is delivered or it could be a divine command that is carried out.
For example, the two angels that laid waste to Sodom and Gomorrah were carrying out a divine command.
Now here’s the thing.
In Scripture, there are instances where the distinctions between the bearer of a divine message (Angel of the Lord) and HASHEM Himself become blurred.
For instance, Haggai and Malachi are referred to as “Angels of the Lord”.
But were they divine beings?
The answer is no.
They were flesh-and-blood human beings like you and me delivering God’s message to mankind.
Or how about Hagar?
An angel spoke to her.
But she responded directly to HASHEM.
So this was another case where the lines of demarcation were blurred.
However, as followers of Yeshua, this shouldn’t be too strange too us.
Think about it.
Yeshua was the bearer of the divine Word.
He was also the divine Word.
He was also a flesh-and-blood human being.
As paradoxical as all of this is, this is the truth that the Scriptures testify to.
So did Jacob wrestle a man or God?
Um, hmmm, well, both.