Studies in the Life of Jacob Part 2: Jacob at the Jabbok, Israel at Peniel -- By: Allen P. Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 142:568 (Oct 1985)
Article: Studies in the Life of Jacob Part 2: Jacob at the Jabbok, Israel at Peniel
Author: Allen P. Ross

Studies in the Life of Jacob
Part 2:
Jacob at the Jabbok, Israel at Peniel

Allen P. Ross

[Allen P. Ross, Chairman and Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]


Why is it that many people of God attempt to gain the blessing of God by their own efforts? Faced with a great opportunity or a challenging task, believers are prone to take matters into their own hands and use whatever means are at their disposal. In it all there may even be a flirtation with unscrupulous and deceptive practices—especially when things become desperate.

Jacob was much like this. All his life he managed very well. He cleverly outwitted his stupid brother—twice, by securing the birthright and by securing the blessing. And he eventually bested Laban and came away a wealthy man—surely another sign of divine blessing. Only occasionally did he realize it was God who worked through it all; but finally this truth was pressed on him most graphically in the night struggle at the ford Jabbok.

By the River Jabbok Jacob wrestled with an unidentified man till dawn and prevailed over him, and though Jacob sustained a crippling blow, he held on to receive a blessing once he perceived that his assailant was supernatural (Gen 32:22–32). That blessing was signified by God’s renaming the patriarch “Israel,” to which Jacob responded by naming the place “Peniel.” But because he limped away from the event, the “sons of Israel” observed a dietary restriction.

Gunkel, comparing this story with ancient myths, observes that all the features—the attack in the night by the deity, the

mystery involved, the location by the river, the hand-to-hand combat—establish the high antiquity of the story.1 It is clear that the unusual elements fit well with the more ancient accounts about God’s dealings with men. To be sure, something unusual has been recorded, and the reader is struck immediately with many questions, some of which probably cannot be answered to any satisfaction.2 Who was the mysterious assailant? Why was he fighting Jacob and why was he unable to defeat the patriarch? Why did he appear afraid of being overtaken by the dawn? Why did he strike Jacob’s thigh? Why was the dietary taboo not included in the Mosaic Law? What is the meaning of the name “Israel”? What is the significance of this tradition?

Von Rad warns against the false expectations of a hasty search for “the” meaning, for he along with many others is con...

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