Monday, December 17, 2007

Crazy and Christmas

So, I've been studying Genesis this fall, and I've thorooughly enjoyed it. Recently, I spent some time in the "Jacob wrestles with God" passage (ch. 32). I'll share two thoughts about it, one crazy and one Christmassy.

First, could it be that the "man" Jacob wrestles with is not God, or even an angel, but rather Esau? Here are some supporting facts/inferences from the text:
  1. Esaus knew Jacob was coming, but Jacob wouldn't have known whether Esaus was coming or not. Thus is it reasonable to suppose that Jacob wouldn't have assumed this man was Esau.
  2. They hadn't seen each other in 20 years. Thus, it is reasonable to suppose that Jacob would not have recognized Esau.
  3. Esau was the "hairy" outdoorsman, and would not have been easily beaten by Jacob in a wrestling match.
  4. Esau was probably still angry at Jacob, and wanted to confront him.
  5. The "man" renames Jacob -- who better to do this, since Jacob was the "supplanter" of Esau? "Your name shall no longer be "supplanter." This could be a means of reconciliation.
  6. The "man" says, "You have striven with God and men." (emphasis mine)
  7. Jacob asks his name, and the "man" seems surprised, as if Jacob should know.
  8. We can explain v. 30 "I have seen God face to face" by supposing that Jacob, still unaware that this was Esau, thought he had wrestled with a divine being. (I admit, this is a stretch -- the weak link in my case.)
  9. Esau was probably strong enough to dislocate Jacob's hip. (plausible?)
  10. Here's the kicker: in ch. 33, when Jacob does meet Esau, Jacob offers him bountiful gifts, and says to him, "for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably."

If nothing else, it's interesting. Thought-provoking. Probably wrong, but thought-provoking.

Second, here's the Christmassy thought . . .

Suppose this is God with whom Jacob wrestles. Have you ever stopped to think on this event? GOD incarnate visits Jacob and wrestles in the dirt. The omnipotent Creator of a billion galaxies put on flesh and embraced Jacob. We need to stop and meditate on the wonder of the incarnation more often. "Immensity cloistered in a womb" as John Donne puts it.


Blogger Joel said...

Posts like this one are why I'm glad you are back blogging. I haven't thought about the "Jacob wrestles with God" story for years. My first memories of this story as a young child were: a) it seemed odd for God to appear among humankind, and b) it seemed odd for God to be on the losing end of such a battle and need to pull out the super secret dislocate-your-opponent's-hip-with-a-thumb move. However, being schooled in the Bible as a literal document thinking, I was never inclined to question the veracity of the story. Now, with a few more decades behind me, I'm more comfortable entertaining interpretations of such stories that are not literal. Okay, with that said, I don't know where the exact holes are in your argument. Your supposition seems just as, if not more, plausible than the notion that God manifested on earth in human form and lost a wrestling match. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. Here is my question: if Esau was the combatant, how does, or does that, change the impact of what happened?

9:02 PM  
Blogger chris said...

That's a good question. It does seem to lessen the impact, since the nation of "Israel" seems to find its apellative beginnings here, via divine ordinance. If Jacob's descendants were going to bear the name "Israel" for the next few millennia, you'd think it would be a divine designation.

As for the literal problem . . . I have no problem accepting a figurative or metaphorical or whatever sort of interpretation when appropriate. Is it appropriate here? Not sure why. If one accepts a literal incarnation in Jesus, then this (wrestling thing) seems consistent with God's way of doing things. I don't think anyone would say that God actually lacked the power to subdue Jacob. But if God appeared in order to have some sort of confrontation with Jacob, what purpose would it have served to pulverize Jacob into dust, as God could have done instantaneously? It seems that this little "charade" served a very precise, premeditated purpose. (Just as in many other cases.) Unless one is going to dismiss all miraculous events as metaphor out-of-hand, then why dismiss this one?

Here's another way to think of it: I think many of the things God does are odd or baffling to me, and I think that is appropriate. (I did not say that God does things that are illogical or ridiculous.)

8:40 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

I always thought that it was odd God did not instantly "win." I never entertained the notion that perhaps, God did so by design. That notion makes perfect sense after reading your discussion. That's what I get for always thinking you play the game to win, not to teach a lesson.

9:31 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I can just see you now, wrestling on the floor with Piers -- "Hah! I pinned you sucka! Who's your daddy?!"

11:30 PM  

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