The night at the Jabbok – Jacob wrestles with the angel

To fight against death and the devil—this is nothing new to Christians. But to fight against an angel? An old story retold.

Jacob is one of the patriarchs from the Old Testament. He fought against an angel, or better, he “fought with” an angel, we read in the Bible. Here is the short version of the whole story. Two brothers, Jacob and Esau, had gone their separate ways because of a dispute. They were not only completely different, but were sworn enemies. Their paths had taken them off in different directions, but now they were to cross again after many years. The situation was likely tense.

The night before his encounter with Esau, Jacob was sitting on the banks of the river Jabbok all by himself. He was attacked by a stranger, who wrestled with him until daybreak. When this man realised that he could not get the better of Jacob, he struck him in the thigh, dislocating Jacob’s hip. Jacob, who was strong and intelligent, felt that the power of God was at work here. He would not let the stranger go and said: “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” Jacob came out of the fight with a limp, but prevailed. At the end of the fight, there was a new name: Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32). For Jacob’s descendants, who would carry this name, this story would be of immense importance.

The name says it all

Why the change in name? In Antiquity, names were not only a label of identification, but an expression of the bearer’s essential nature. The name reflected a person’s character. “Jacob”, for example, was associated with intrigue, deception, and misconduct. “Israel”, on the other hand, meant “fighter for God”. Jacob had obtained blessing by deception, and Israel won it by fighting for it. Jacob resorted to a trick, while Israel fought openly and above board. Jacob, the deceiver, became Israel, the fighter—a new name, a new identity, a new authority.

“Christian” is more than a name

In a way, this still applies today. What do Christians do with such a story? The obvious is to interpret the name. What is “Christian”? And if something is labelled “Christ”, does it really contain Christ. Here are a few answers in random order:

  • Christians believe in God. They honour Him. They trust Him. They worship Him!
  • Christians ask God for blessing and know that this can never be bought!
  • Christians believe in God’s good creation, they protect and respect it!
  • Christians are people who respect other people, even if they are different!
  • Christians help those who are down up, give alms, and do not get rich at the expense of others!
  • Christians fight against injustice, defend peace, and choose love!
  • Christians believe in miracles, and that they themselves are a miracle!
  • Christians are hopeful and and feel like a future!
  • Christians allow themselves to be transformed into better people and so honour the name of God!

There are many more answers. It is up to us to add a new one every day …

Oliver Rütten

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Peter Johanning
Bible Study , Divine service, Doctrinal instruction