A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: Jacob wrestles till dawn and is named Israel


Jacob wrestling, image by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing available through Creative CommonsSome years after Jacob had left his father’s home, he decided to return. He was fearful of meeting Esau, the brother he had cheated so many years previously.

On his way back to his own country of Canaan, Jacob stopped for the night by the Jabbok river. He sent his family on ahead across the brook, but did not do so himself, preferring to sleep alone. 

During the night an angelic man wrestled with Jacob until dawn. Neither of them was winning the struggle but the unknown man managed to dislocate Jacob’s hip. Still Jacob continued wrestling and when the man wanted to leave, Jacob refused to let him go until the man had blessed him. 

The mysterious man asked Jacob his name, and when Jacob told him, the man stated that from now onwards, Jacob would be known as ‘Israel’ (which means ‘contends with God’), because he had wrestled with God and men and had won. 

The man refused to tell Jacob his own name but gave Jacob his blessing. Jacob realised that he had seen God face to face and yet survived, and so he renamed the place Peniel (which means ‘face of God’).

The story illustrates:

  • God had a purpose for Jacob’s life, but Jacob had to acknowledge that he needed God’s blessing first (rather than try and manipulate events as he had before)
  • God is pleased when people persist in trying to get to know him better, despite difficulties.

Related topics

Big ideas from the Bible: Patriarchs

Bible References

Genesis 32:22-30
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