Nuggets from Genesis 32 — Jacob’s Dark Night of the Soul

Genesis 32:24, Wrestled with him. Why did Elohim wrestle all night with Jacob? Why not just wound him early on and save the time and trouble? What does this teach us about the long-suffering nature of Elohim who will continue to strive with us and our fleshy tendencies and self-reliances until we finally submit to him and recognize that only through him can we have real strength and victory, though we might end up physically lame in the process?

Let’s break this story down.

Why the wrestling all night “till the breaking of the day”? What does night and breaking of day represent metaphorically with regard to our spiritual walk?

What does this teach us about faith, the struggles of this life and about not giving up until the very end when the blessings and dawning of a new day are about to break forth?

Jacob received the new name of Israel during this time (verse 28). Through this struggle, he took a quantum leap spiritually and became a new man with a new identity. Has this ever happened to you? Don’t we progress spiritually only out of crisis? “There is no gain where there is no gain,” as the saying goes.

What were the results of Jacob’s struggle? Verse 32 says of Jacob, “as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he limped upon his thigh.” Penuel means “faces of El.” Taking a little poetic license (at the drash/allegorical or third level of Jewish biblical interpretation) here, we could paraphrase this verse as follows:

“As Jacob emerged out of the darkness of self-reliance, the face of Elohim shined favorably upon him as he no longer relied on the flesh.”

Pause to reflect on this for a moment and take quick stock of your spiritual walk in the light of these words.

Who are some other notable Biblical characters besides Jacob who struggled with trying to achieve their divine mission through human means? How about Abraham with Hagar, Moses when he murdered the Egyptian, Samson, or Peter when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant? Can you think of some others? What did these men learn about walking in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh?

Genesis 32:28, Jacob but Israel. Jacob/Ya’acov means “heel snatcher/holder or supplanter,” while Israel/Yisra’el meansPrince of El or El Prevails/Prevailer with El.” What can we learn about the change of Jacob’s character as reflected in the changing of his name? Who is the focal point of the name and the initiator of the action in the first name … in the second name? What can we learn from this for our own faith walk?

Genesis 32:32, The muscle that shrank. Please notice that the sinew, representing the strength of the flesh, only shrank. It was not removed. What does this signify spiritually with regard to the redeemed man’s old sin nature?

At the point in one’s spiritual journey when one is regenerated by the Spirit of Elohim, a man doesn’t lose his identity, personality or soul (i.e., his mind, will and emotions). What then happens to a person’s soul? It must be transformed and renewed by the Spirit of Elohim to be conformed to YHVH’s perfect will (Rom 12:2). The soul-man will still try to assert dominance over the spirit-man, but man must learn to submit to the Spirit of Elohim.

Paul discusses the struggle between the soul and the spirit in ­Romans  7:14–25. This is the same struggle that Jacob faced in his dark night of the soul. There he died to his own will and finally submitted totally to that of his Heavenly King.


Did Jacob Wrestle with the Pre-incarnate Yeshua?

Genesis 32:24–32, Jacob Wrestling With the Messenger of YHVH. In verse 24 we read,

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled with a man [Heb iysh, Strong’s H376] or heavenly messenger [i.e. Heb malak]. (KJV, see Hosea 12:4)

In the following passages, we see that this man was Elohim.

You have power with Elohim and with men, and have prevailed. (verse 28, based on the KJV)

… for you have striven with the Divine [Elohim] and with man and have overcome. (verse  28, The ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach and Chumash)

Then Jacob says that he has “seen [Elohim] face to face” (KJV, CJB and The Soncino Edition Pentateuch, Second Edition). The two standard Orthodox Jewish versions of the Torah, The ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach and The ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash, and Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah commentary The Pentateuch (by Judaica Press) all read, “For I have seen the Divine face to face.” Here they have translated the Hebrew word Elohim as the Divine (OHBP OHVKT/Elohim panim).

Which translation of the word Elohim is the correct one? Before resorting to human sources to solve this dilemma, does the Word of Elohim itself interpret this passage for us giving it clear light? Most assuredly so. In Hosea 12:2-5 we read,

[YHVH] hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he reward him. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had strove with [Elohim]. He strove with an angel [Heb malak or heavenly messenger in many instances referring to YHVH himself, as noted elsewhere in this work] and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication to him; he found him in Beth-El, and there he spoke with us; and [YHVH Elohim] of hosts; [YHVH] is his name. (based on the KJV)

The Stone Edition Tanach renders this passage as follows (starting in verse four):

In the womb he seized his brother’s heal, and with his strength he struggled with [an angel of] God; he struggled with an angel and prevailed; [the angel] wept and beseeched him: ‘In Beth-el He will find us and there He will speak with us.’ HASHEM is the God of Legions; HASHEM is His remembrance. (bracketed supplied word are in the original)

So which translation is correct? The first one indicates Jacob was wrestling with a Heavenly Messenger who was none other than YHVH Elohim, while the second translation is cast in such a light as to imply that Jacob was wrestling with merely an angel.

Does the word Elohim mean the Divine? It is interesting to note that in the Authorised Version the word Elohim appears 2606 times in the Tanakh. It is translated as God 2346 times, god 244 times and several other words less than five times each (e.g. judge, goddess, great, mighty, angels). As in all cases with a word which can have several meanings, the context of the Scripture passage will determine its meaning and its subsequent translation from the original language into English. The word divine was not employed in the 1611 Authorized Version (KJV) in reference to Elohim anywhere in the Tanakh, since the word had a pejorative connotation (as in divination or one who divines the future). This is not the case in our modern parlance as the modern Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines divine in its primary definition as “relating to, or proceeding directly from God, being a deity, directed to deity.” All standard English (Christian )versions (NKJV, NAS, NIV, NRSV) translate this passage as “God face to face” and none use the term “the Divine face.” The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesinius Hebrew-English Lexicon defines Elohim (in those Scripture passages where it is a clear reference to deity, as opposed to a goddess or a human judge) as the true God, Yahweh is (the) God. Never does this Hebrew lexicon define Elohim as the Divine. Similarly, nowhere does the TWOT in defining the word Elohim suggest that the Divine could be an appropriate substitute for the title of YHVH, Elohim. So we must ask, why do the two Jewish translations of this passage (noted above) seem to run cross grain to a plethora of other translations, both Jewish and Christian, as well as noted lexicographers to translate it as they do? Is this a case of translation bias? Could translating Elohim panim as Elohim face to face as so many other translators do be a tacit admission that Elohim can appear as a man, hence giving credence to the Christian assertion that Yeshua was Elohim in the flesh? It is interesting to consider this. But before jumping to conclusions, let us examine other passages in the Tanakh where Elohim and man seem to come face to face. How do the Jerwish sages treat these passages? How do their commentaries explain these difficult passages?

What do some leading rabbinic commentaries say on these passages? Continue reading