I made a discovery during a writing lesson plan for my Old Testament class on the Book of Genesis. We were discussing the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have always been curious about the angelic tussle in Genesis 22-32.
Until I read Genesis 33:1-11, I never realized the significance of Jacob's bout with the unnamed angel. Let me provide a little context of the situation between the two brothers leading up to chapter 33. Esau being the elder brother was supposed to inherit the firstborn blessing from his father Isaac. However, his mother Rebecca favored the younger son Jacob. Through a bit of chicanery Jacob attained the blessing from Isaac and a rift divided the brothers for most of their lives.
What's in a Name?
The name "Jacob" actually means supplanter in reference to Genesis 27:36. This poses a dilemma for those that claim Jacob as a rightful patriarch of the Jewish faith. It is by way of Jacob's struggle with the angel and the angel's inability to defeat Jacob whereby a conversion takes place. In Genesis 32:28, the angel states, "You name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed."
The immediate next encounter with Esau a reconciliation occurs. Their exchange is as follows,
8Then Esau asked, “What did you intend with all those herds that I encountered?” Jacob answered, “It was to gain my lord’s favor.”9Esau replied, “I have plenty; my brother, you should keep what is yours.”10“No, I beg you!” said Jacob. “If you will do me the favor, accept this gift from me, since to see your face is for me like seeing the face of God—and you have received me so kindly. 11Accept the gift I have brought you. For God has been generous toward me, and I have an abundance.” Since he urged him strongly, Esau accepted (Genesis 33:8-11).
Name Change= New Life
Allegorically, Jacob's wrestling match with the angel may be viewed as a foreshadowing of the sacrament of Confession. Anytime a name change occurs in the Bible a conversion takes place. One of the more notable instances is in the Acts of the Apostles where Saul encounters Christ and becomes Paul.
I urge you to have a wrestling moment with God. Let Him work in you and change you from a "Jacob" or "Saul" and transform you to an "Israel" or "Paul". Practical tips during this Lenten season to grow in holiness may be to read the Scriptures and go to Confession. Let us journey together as we grow in holiness.