Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 30th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Jacob and Jesus’s wrestling with the divine

Jacob struggles with the angel, by Rembrandt (...

Jacob struggles with the angel, by Rembrandt (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know the story. Jacob and the Angel wrestle throughout the night… until the break of day. If you don’t, it is found in Genesis 32.24–30.

The daybreak is important, as pointed out in IVP’s OT background:

leaving at daybreak. The reference to time indicates both the length of the struggle between Jacob and the divine being and serves as an indicator of Jacob’s lack of perception during the fight. Daybreak or “cock’s crow” are often found in folklore as the moment when powers and creatures of the dark lose their power to affect humans, though this is not a familiar element in ancient Near Eastern literature. In this case the issue is not one of potency, but one of supremacy (as indicated by the naming) and discernment (see v. 29).1

The trial of Jesus takes place at night. He is arrested after supper (Mark 14.43–52). The trial before the Sanhedrin takes place throughout the night (Mark 14.53–65). We are given a glimpse that the trial (Peter’s?) would be over at daybreak, with the crowing of the cock (Mark 14.66–72).

We are then told that at daybreak, Jesus was bound at turned over to Pilate (Mark 15.1). I find it interesting that John (19.36) picks this motif up (maybe? maybe I’m stretching here) and notes that the legs of the criminals would be broken but Jesus died before this could happen in order to fulfill a prophecy.

Is the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel a background to the trial of Jesus? Maybe. I’m not willing to say one way or the other right now.

But, if it were, then how does this underscore the trial of Jesus, if not the person of Jesus?

Jacob (Israel), wrestles with the Angel/Divine being (the Incarnation) and subdues him, requiring a blessing to let him go.

What do you think? What if Jacob’s story is meant to be invoked in the trial of Jesus? How does it inform your reading of it?

  1. Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 32:26–30.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


2 Responses to “Jacob and Jesus’s wrestling with the divine”
  1. The first question, why would the NT writers use E instead of P? If they used P, all the possible symbolism goes away.

    Jacob’s name changed to Israel at Peni-El or Beth-El? Gen 32:24-30 (E) and 35:9-15 (P).

    I don’t get it. Jesus wrestling with himself? Besides, Jacob was kind of a skunk. Jesus and Josiah comparison would be more likely, I think.

    • Gary – the nt writers only had reception rather than redaction!

      No – I don’t mean to imply Jesus was wresting with himself, only that the trial is pictured as a theomachy

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