Friday, January 2, 2009

He Struggles With God

How can you tell if God really likes you? He renames you. Sometimes, the names that God would give to people would foretell something about that person's life. For example, Abram was renamed by God to Abraham, literally “father of many”, because he would be the father of many nations. Sometimes, the names just marked a significant event or accomplishment in that person's life.

On a different note, there is some debate over whether or not God has a physical form that can be seen. In several accounts in the OT, God, or in some cases the angel of God, dwells on earth with man and physically interacts with him. The majority of modern believers do not consider God, the Father, to have a physical form. To reconcile this belief, these OT accounts of physical interaction are often dismissed as being only angels with physical forms that represent God. Some even theorize that these physical apparitions of God in the OT were actually God, the Son, Jesus.

In this study, we examine the curious case of when God physically appears to Jacob and renames him Israel. Before this moment, Jacob and family are traveling and are about to cross a river on their way to meet his brother, Edom/Esau. Jacob had prayed to God that He would keep His promise and not let his brother kill him, and he had sent a bunch of gifts to his brother to pacify any lingering hard feelings due to Jacob's past dishonesty.

He Struggles With God
In Genesis 32:22-31, we find the interesting tale of when the patriarch Jacob gets renamed to a name that is today practically synonymous with the Holy Land. Jacob is renamed Israel. It starts out when Jacob is all alone one night, having sent all of his possessions, including his family and servants, across a river which was en route to Edom/Esau, his brother.

The text in the short story is rich with important details that lose their effect when dissected piece by piece without a complete read. So here is the critical text; Genesis 32:24-30:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that He could not overpower him, He touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak."

But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

The man asked him, "What is your name?"

"Jacob," he answered.

Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

Jacob said, "Please tell me your name."

But He replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then He blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." NIV
In this text, it is plain to see that God has a face. God has a physical form, and that form is of a man. Whether this is supposed to be the Father or the Son, we can not say. It is “a man” that wrestles with Jacob, and Jacob claims to have seen God face to face.

Note that this is not to limit God, to say that He could not take on any form He wanted to take. However, this does draw a close parallel with the various gods of ancient days that typically had a humanoid form. Man created gods in his own image.

One thing I find particularly interesting: God, omnipotent God, in man-form could not overpower Jacob. It would seem as though God gave up super powers in man-form. Almost...

The next curious event is that God, when He saw He could not win, fought dirty! He used His super powers to “touch” Jacob's hip socket joint to wound him. Is that the kind of God you can respect out of love and dignity, or the kind you respect out of fear?

Though not stated explicitly, one may ascertain that the reason for this dirty move was to somehow try to gain a physical advantage. Clearly as the story plays out, this seems not to have worked. And so, this would seem to be a failure of God's omniscience.

Jacob is renamed Israel, which literally means “he struggles with God”. God sites the reason for this renaming as being “because [Jacob had] struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Past tense. Although one could say that Israel, the nation, has struggled with and continues to struggle with God. From that perspective, that name seems like a prophesy. But in truth, nearly all nations and nearly all peoples struggle with the concept of god. We are all Israel.

I'll leave you with some study questions to ponder: What did God hope to gain by wrestling with Jacob? Was it His intension to lose the match all along? If this was just an opportunity for God to meet with Jacob personally and bless him, why did God choose to wrestle with him?

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