Jacob wrestling with God

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
Hey everyone, ive heard many different opinions on whether Jacobs "wrestle" with God. Does anyone have any good early church fathers commentary on this issue? Ive heard some say it was a spiritual wrestle in prayer with God, and others say it was both spiritual and physical. But what do our early church Fathers say about this?


  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    From St. Gregory Nazianzen's Second Theological Orations (Oration 28)

    XVIII. Thus Enos "hoped to call upon the Name of the Lord." Hope was that for which he is commended; and that, not that he should know God, but that he should call upon him. And Enoch was translated, but it is not yet clear whether it was because he already comprehended the Divine Nature, or in order that he might comprehend it. And Noah's Genesis 6:8 glory was that he was pleasing to God; he who was entrusted with the saving of the whole world from the waters, or rather of the Seeds of the world, escaped the Deluge in a small Ark. And Abraham, great Patriarch though he was, was justified by faith, and offered a strange victim, the type of the Great Sacrifice. Yet he saw not God as God, but gave Him food as a man. He was approved because he worshipped as far as he comprehended. Genesis 32:28 And Jacob dreamed of a lofty ladder and stair of Angels, and in a mystery anointed a pillar — perhaps to signify the Rock that was anointed for our sake— and gave to a place the name of The House of God in honour of Him whom he saw; and wrestled with God in human form; whatever this wrestling of God with man may mean...possibly it refers to the comparison of man's virtue with God's; and he bore on his body the marks of the wrestling, setting forth the defeat of the created nature; and for a reward of his reverence he received a change of his name; being named, instead of Jacob, Israel— that great and honourable name. Yet neither he nor any one on his behalf, unto this day, of all the Twelve Tribes who were his children, could boast that he comprehended the whole nature or the pure sight of God.

    Source (Bolding mine)

    From Master Origen's De Principiis (Book III)

    5. We are not, however, to suppose that each individual has to contend against all these (adversaries). For it is impossible for any man, although he were a saint, to carry on a contest against all of them at the same time. If that indeed were by any means to be the case, as it is certainly impossible it should be so, human nature could not possibly bear it without undergoing entire destruction. But as, for example, if fifty soldiers were to say that they were about to engage with fifty others, they would not be understood to mean that one of them had to contend against the whole fifty, but each one would rightly say that "our battle was against fifty," all against all; so also this is to be understood as the apostle's meaning, that all the athletes and soldiers of Christ have to wrestle and struggle against all the adversaries enumerated—the struggle having, indeed, to be maintained against all, but by single individuals either with individual powers, or at least in such manner as shall be determined by God, who is the just president of the struggle. For I am of opinion that there is a certain limit to the powers of human nature, although there may be a Paul, of whom it is said, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me;" or a Peter, against whom the gates of hell do not prevail; or a Moses, the friend of God: yet not one of them could sustain, without destruction to himself, the whole simultaneous assault of these opposing powers, unless indeed the might of Him alone were to work in him, who said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And therefore Paul exclaims with confidence, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me;" and again, "I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." On account, then, of this power, which certainly is not of human origin operating and speaking in him, Paul could say, "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor power, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." For I do not think that human nature can alone of itself maintain a contest with angels, and with the powers of the height and of the abyss, and with any other creature; but when it feels the presence of the Lord dwelling within it, confidence in the divine help will lead it to say, "The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the enemies draw near to me, to eat my flesh, my enemies who trouble me, they stumbled and fell. Though an host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in Him shall I be confident." From which I infer that a man perhaps would never be able of himself to vanquish an opposing power, unless he had the benefit of divine assistance. Hence, also, the angel is said to have wrestled with Jacob. Here, however, I understand the writer to mean, that it was not the same thing for the angel to have wrestled with Jacob, and to have wrestled against him; but the angel that wrestles with him is he who was present with him in order to secure his safety, who, after knowing also his moral progress, gave him in addition the name of Israel, i.e., he is with him in the struggle, and assists him in the contest; seeing there was undoubtedly another angel against whom he contended, and against whom he had to carry on a contest. Finally, Paul has not said that we wrestle with princes, or with powers, but against principalities and powers. And hence, although Jacob wrestled, it was unquestionably against some one of those powers which, Paul declares, resist and contend with the human race, and especially with the saints. And therefore at last the Scripture says of him that "he wrestled with the angel, and had power with God," so that the struggle is supported by help of the angel, but the prize of success conducts the conqueror to God.

    Source (Bolding mine)
  • why does one say he wrestled with God in human form and the other say he wrestled with an angel in human form? Which one is it?
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    This just illustrates how the Fathers sometimes have varying opinions on one subject. I believe that the common view is the one held by St. Gregory Nazianzen, though Master Origen's is no less interesting. In the end, I suppose, the decision rests on you on which interpretation you prefer. What really matters is the meaning behind the event. To me, wrestling with God means that, no matter what adversities we face, we cling tightly to God, refusing to let Him go, until He gives us His blessing. This could be in prayer, in service, in work, in school, in anything we face in life; we never let go of God even to the point where we may become injured.
  • I agree, but I really want to know whether this was a physical or nonphysical "wrestle" with God... I cant seem to find many saying from the early church fathers.. Does anyone know any other church fathers than commented on this???
  • From A Patristic Commentary on the Book of Genesis by Fr. Tadros Malaty page 240-241:

    Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day” (Gen. 32: 24).
    Having crossed, together with his family, the stream of Jabbock, Jacob was left alone to  meditate; as though he was getting  ready for his encounter with his brother Esau, through an  encounter with God. A man appeared to him, who some scholars believe to be an angel in the  form of man. He was not the Word of God, but represented the divine presence. Jacob says: “For
    I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved
    ” (Gen. 32:30).
              And, it was said to him: “For you have struggled with God and with men, and have  prevailed” (Gen. 32:28).  “When He saw  that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint, as He wrestled with him” (Gen. 32:25).
              Namely, the angel saw that Jacob, in his struggle, did not surrender but resisted all night;  a situation, in which, as the angel appears, as though defeated by man, He lightly touched the  socket of Jacob’s hip. Jacob insisted, not to let the angel go “until He blesses him” (Gen. 32:26); realizing that he was dealing with a heavenly Being.

              St. Augustine comments on this episode, saying: [Why did Jacob wrestle with Him and caught Him? Because “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12), Why did he wrestle? In order to take Him by labor; as whatever we get after strife, we hold to it more strongly. [sup]1[/sup]] And he also says: [The man defeated the angel;  yet the conqueror persists on holding the angel until He blesses him. What a great mystery! The defeated blesses the conqueror! He was defeated, because He chose that, to appear weak in His flesh form, although in His greatness, He was strong; “For though  He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.”  (2 Corinthians 13:4) [sup]2[/sup]] What happened with Jacob,  before his encounter with Esau, to overcome him with love, refers to what the Lord Christ did, coming as weak, carrying our nature, to occupy the last row, to be counted as a trespasser, and to bear the disgrace of the cross; but, risen from the dead, He blesses our nature, and renews it in Him!
              St. Ambrose believes that what happened with Jacob concerning the socket of his hip getting out of joint, refers to  the fellowship of his passion with the Lord Christ, who will incarnate through his seed, saying: [In his passion he acknowledges the heir of his body, and by Him he would pre-identify the passion of his heir, through what happened to the socket of his hip. [sup]3[/sup]]
              The  struggle  ended  with  the  angel  asking  Jacob  about  his  name,  not  that  He  does  not
    know it, but in order to change it to a new name fit for him as a struggler, saying to him: “Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God, and with men, and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:28).
            And as said by St. Clement of Alexandria: [The new name was presented to him for the new people [sup]4[/sup]], as though this gift was not granted to Jacob personally, but to the whole people of God, as a sign of their spiritual strife.
            Jacob called the name of the place ‘Paniel,’ namely, ‘God’s face,’ considering  himself fortunate to have seen God face to face, and his life is preserved with sunrise, Jacob set forth to join his family, encouraged by these visions and that struggle.


    1. On Ps. 148.
    2. On Ps. 80.
    3. On Belief of Resur 2:100.
    4. 1 Paedagogus 1:7.

  • The reference from which Fr. Malaty quoted St. Clement, (found here.)

    [quote= St. Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus Book I, Chapter 7]

    Since, then, we have shown that all of us are by Scripture called children; and not only so, but that we who have followed Christ are figuratively called babes; and that the Father of all alone is perfect, for the Son is in Him, and the Father is in the Son; it is time for us in due course to say who our Instructor is.

    He is called Jesus. Sometimes He calls Himself a shepherd, and says, I am the good Shepherd. John 10:11 According to a metaphor drawn from shepherds, who lead the sheep, is hereby understood the Instructor, who leads the children— the Shepherd who tends the babes. For the babes are simple, being figuratively described as sheep. And they shall all, it is said, be one flock, and one shepherd. John 10:16 The Word, then, who leads the children to salvation, is appropriately called the Instructor (Pædagogue).

    With the greatest clearness, accordingly, the Word has spoken respecting Himself by Hosea: I am your Instructor. Now piety is instruction, being the learning of the service of God, and training in the knowledge of the truth, and right guidance which leads to heaven. And the word instruction is employed variously. For there is the instruction of him who is led and learns, and that of him who leads and teaches; and there is, thirdly, the guidance itself; and fourthly, what is taught, as the commandments enjoined.

    Now the instruction which is of God is the right direction of truth to the contemplation of God, and the exhibition of holy deeds in everlasting perseverance.

    As therefore the general directs the phalanx, consulting the safety of his soldiers, and the pilot steers the vessel, desiring to save the passengers; so also the Instructor guides the children to a saving course of conduct, through solicitude for us; and, in general, whatever we ask in accordance with reason from God to be done for us, will happen to those who believe in the Instructor. And just as the helmsman does not always yield to the winds, but sometimes, turning the prow towards them, opposes the whole force of the hurricanes; so the Instructor never yields to the blasts that blow in this world, nor commits the child to them like a vessel to make shipwreck on a wild and licentious course of life; but, wafted on by the favouring breeze of the Spirit of truth, stoutly holds on to the child's helm—his ears, I mean—until He bring him safe to anchor in the haven of heaven.

    What is called by men an ancestral custom passes away in a moment, but the divine guidance is a possession which abides for ever.

    They say that Phœnix was the instructor of Achilles, and Adrastus of the children of Crœsus; and Leonides of Alexander, and Nausithous of Philip. But Phœnix was women-mad, Adrastus was a fugitive. Leonides did not curtail the pride of Alexander, nor Nausithous reform the drunken Pellæan. No more was the Thracian Zopyrus able to check the fornication of Alcibiades; but Zopyrus was a bought slave, and Sicinnus, the tutor of the children of Themistocles, was a lazy domestic. They say also that he invented the Sicinnian dance. Those have not escaped our attention who are called royal instructors among the Persians; whom, in number four, the kings of the Persians select with the greatest care from all the Persians and set over their sons. But the children only learn the use of the bow, and on reaching maturity have sexual intercourse with sisters, and mothers, and women, wives and courtesans innumerable, practiced in intercourse like the wild boars.

    But our Instructor is the holy God Jesus, the Word, who is the guide of all humanity. The loving God Himself is our Instructor. Somewhere in song the Holy Spirit says with regard to Him, He provided sufficiently for the people in the wilderness. He led him about in the thirst of summer heat in a dry land, and instructed him, and kept him as the apple of His eye, as an eagle protects her nest, and shows her fond solicitude for her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, and bears them on her back. The Lord alone led them, and there was no strange god with them. Deuteronomy 32:10-12 Clearly, I trow, has the Scripture exhibited the Instructor in the account it gives of His guidance.

    Again, when He speaks in His own person, He confesses Himself to be the Instructor: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Exodus 20:2 Who, then, has the power of leading in and out? Is it not the Instructor? This was He who appeared to Abraham, and said to him, I am your God, be accepted before Me; Genesis 17:1-2 and in a way most befitting an instructor, forms him into a faithful child, saying, And be blameless; and I will make My covenant between Me and you, and your seed. There is the communication of the Instructor's friendship. And He most manifestly appears as Jacob's instructor. He says accordingly to him, Lo, I am with you, to keep you in all the way in which you shall go; and I will bring you back into this land: for I will not leave you till I do what I have told you. Genesis 28:15 He is said, too, to have wrestled with Him. And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled with him a man (the Instructor) till the morning. Genesis 32:24 This was the man who led, and brought, and wrestled with, and anointed the athlete Jacob against evil. Now that the Word was at once Jacob's trainer and the Instructor of humanity [appears from this]— He asked, it is said, His name, and said to him, Tell me what is Your name. And he said, Why is it that you ask My name? For He reserved the new name for the new people— the babe; and was as yet unnamed, the Lord God not having yet become man. Yet Jacob called the name of the place, Face of God. For I have seen, he says, God face to face; and my life is preserved. Genesis 32:30 The face of God is the Word by whom God is manifested and made known. Then also was he named Israel, because he saw God the Lord. It was God, the Word, the Instructor, who said to him again afterwards, Fear not to go down into Egypt. Genesis 46:3 See how the Instructor follows the righteous man, and how He anoints the athlete, teaching him to trip up his antagonist.

    It is He also who teaches Moses to act as instructor. For the Lord says, If any one sin before Me, him will I blot out of My book; but now, go and lead this people into the place which I told you. Exodus 32:33-34 Here He is the teacher of the art of instruction. For it was really the Lord that was the instructor of the ancient people by Moses; but He is the instructor of the new people by Himself, face to face. For behold, He says to Moses, My angel shall go before you, representing the evangelical and commanding power of the Word, but guarding the Lord's prerogative. In the day on which I will visit them, Exodus 32:33-34 He says, I will bring their sins on them; that is, on the day on which I will sit as judge I will render the recompense of their sins. For the same who is Instructor is judge, and judges those who disobey Him; and the loving Word will not pass over their transgression in silence. He reproves, that they may repent. For the Lord wills the repentance of the sinner rather than his death. And let us as babes, hearing of the sins of others, keep from similar transgressions, through dread of the threatening, that we may not have to undergo like sufferings. What, then, was the sin which they committed? For in their wrath they slew men, and in their impetuosity they hamstrung bulls. Cursed be their anger. Genesis 49:6 Who, then, would train us more lovingly than He? Formerly the older people had an old covenant, and the law disciplined the people with fear, and the Word was an angel; but to the fresh and new people has also been given a new covenant, and the Word has appeared, and fear is turned to love, and that mystic angel is born— Jesus. For this same Instructor said then, You shall fear the Lord God; Deuteronomy 6:2 but to us He has addressed the exhortation, You shall love the Lord your God. Matthew 22:37 Wherefore also this is enjoined on us: Cease from your own works, from your old sins; Learn to do well; Depart from evil, and do good; You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity. This is my new covenant written in the old letter. The newness of the word must not, then, be made ground of reproach. But the Lord has also said in Jeremiah: Say not that I am a youth: before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before I brought you out of the womb I sanctified you. Jeremiah 1:7 Such allusions prophecy can make to us, destined in the eye of God to faith before the foundation of the world; but now babes, through the recent fulfilment of the will of God, according to which we are born now to calling and salvation. Wherefore also He adds, I have set you for a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah 1:5 saying that he must prophesy, so that the appellation of youth should not become a reproach to those who are called babes.

    Now the law is ancient grace given through Moses by the Word. Wherefore also the Scripture says, The law was given through Moses, John 1:17 not by Moses, but by the Word, and through Moses His servant. Wherefore it was only temporary; but eternal grace and truth were by Jesus Christ. Mark the expressions of Scripture: of the law only is it said was given; but truth being the grace of the Father, is the eternal work of the Word; and it is not said to be given, but to be by Jesus, without whom nothing was. John 1:3 Presently, therefore, Moses prophetically, giving place to the perfect Instructor the Word, predicts both the name and the office of Instructor, and committing to the people the commands of obedience, sets before them the Instructor. A prophet, says he, like Me shall God raise up to you of your brethren, pointing out Jesus the Son of God, by an allusion to Jesus the son of Nun; for the name of Jesus predicted in the law was a shadow of Christ. He adds, therefore, consulting the advantage of the people, Him shall you hear; Deuteronomy 18:15 and, The man who will not hear that Prophet, Deuteronomy 18:19 him He threatens. Such a name, then, he predicts as that of the Instructor, who is the author of salvation. Wherefore prophecy invests Him with a rod, a rod of discipline, of rule, of authority; that those whom the persuasive word heals not, the threatening may heal; and whom the threatening heals not, the rod may heal; and whom the rod heals not, the fire may devour. There shall come forth, it is said, a rod out of the root of Jesse.

    See the care, and wisdom, and power of the Instructor: He shall not judge according to opinion, nor according to report; but He shall dispense judgment to the humble, and reprove the sinners of the earth. And by David: The Lord instructing, has instructed me, and not given me over to death. For to be chastised of the Lord, and instructed, is deliverance from death. And by the same prophet He says: You shall rule them with a rod of iron. Thus also the apostle, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, being moved, says, What will you? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, in the spirit of meekness? 1 Corinthians 4:21 Also, The Lord shall send the rod of strength out of Sion, He says by another prophet. And this same rod of instruction, Your rod and staff have comforted me, said some one else. Such is the power of the Instructor— sacred, soothing, saving.
  • The Scripture text points strongly to the fact that the Angel was one of the appearances of the Son of God in the OT.  The majority of the Church Fathers treated it that way as well. Accordingly, the Church teaches the Angel as a personification of the Son of God.
  • [quote author=imikhail link=topic=11746.msg140540#msg140540 date=1309442119]
    The Scripture text points strongly to the fact that the Angel was one of the appearances of the Son of God in the OT.  The majority of the Church Fathers treated it that way as well. Accordingly, the Church teaches the Angel as a personification of the Son of God.

    I dont get it, so it was an angel in the form of a man and the angel represented God?
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    Angel can refer to either an actual angel taking human form or it can refer to a pre-incarnation theophany of Christ. Sometimes in the Old Testament, when Christ appears, He is referred to as the Angel of the Lord.
  • As Cephas said the Son of God's appearances in the OT were referred to as an Angel.

    One of the angels' tasks is to send a message. God sent His Son to declare His love to mankind and the language of the OT portrays this fact.
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