Jacob Wrestles at Jabbok

[It would be incorrect] to identify Jacob’s opponent as a malevolent spirit or demon. Clearly, the inclusion of such a demon would run counter to the patriarchs’ beliefs.

The second potential candidate for Jacob’s wrestling partner is Esau. Esau has the most to gain in preventing his brother Jacob from returning to Canaan, the land of his inheritance. If Jacob were to die or be diverted, the way would be clear for Esau to regain the blessing and inheritance of the firstborn. If this is the case, then Esau takes the place of the river-spirit in the traditional story. While some have suggested that the “man” with whom Jacob wrestles is Esau himself, others have suggested that Jacob’s partner is simply the personification of Esau. In other words, what Jacob wrestles with is his fear of Esau. Jacob’s fear of Esau is made emphatically clear by the extreme actions taken to defend his family and appease Esau’s wrath, as well as in his prayer for divine protection – “Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him.” While there is some logic to this choice, the idea of Jacob wrestling Esau and winning would negate the need for the rest of the story. With victory won at the Jabbok, there would be no need for Jacob to bow to Esau or offer him an appeasing gift.

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Author: Glenn McWilliams

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Bible reference(s): Genesis 32:24-30

Source: “2013 Vayishlach.”

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