Genesis 32:28 - Jacob vs God: win, lose, or draw?

In Genesis 32:28, after Jacob's wrestling match, God says (ESV):
“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
The Hebrew text can be found here.

Some translators apparently balk at the idea of Jacob prevailing against God; I don't know enough Hebrew to be able to tell for certain.

Commentators opinions seem to differ widely, for instance:

- we can prevail against God in prayer
- we can achieve a win over God but it will not be to our advantage (Jacob went away limping)
- the match was in fact a draw (Jacob won't let the stranger go) :
(I quite like this idea).

Can anyone shed light on the Hebrew? What do others think of this mysterious episode?

Comments

  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    I guess this is one of the struggles where the outcome isn't defined by win, lose or draw?
  • BroJamesBroJames Shipmate
    I’ve looked at Kidner (IVP), Brueggemann (Interpretation), Robert Alter and Gordon Wenham (Word), and none of them say anything about any problem in translating the Hebrew word as ‘prevail’. Its semantic range includes ‘to be able’, ‘capable’, ‘overcome’, ‘prevail’, ‘have victory’.

    There is an interesting assonance between the root of the verb (יכל) and Jacob’s name (יעקב), although the verbal form in the text (תוכל) doesn’t show that.

    Most of them note Jacob as both victor and vanquished, and the inevitable corollary is that the same is true of the man who wrestled with him.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    In a straight-forward sense, Jacob won: the angel gave him a blessing before Jacob released him. As for the Hebrew nuances, there are a couple of excellent places to check: first, Rashi's comments on the Tanakh (you may have to click the "Show" button at the top of the page), and second, Robert Alter's Tanakh with commentary. Alter references Rashi's point (but in a more easily-accessible way) in his comments:
    It will no longer be said that the blessings came to you through deviousness ('oqbah, a word suggested by the radical of "crookedness" in the name Jacob) but instead through lordliness (serarah, a root that can be extracted from the name Israel) and openness.
    Everett Fox, in his translation of the Torah with notes, adds that it is as if the angel is saying that he can't be blessed with such a name as Jacob. He further suggests that the angel in effect removes Esau's curse. FWIW
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    BroJames wrote: »

    There is an interesting assonance between the root of the verb (יכל) and Jacob’s name (יעקב), although the verbal form in the text (תוכל) doesn’t show that..

    It's just assonance - no linguistic connection

  • BroJamesBroJames Shipmate
    Yes. I know that. Entirely different roots and spelling, but sometimes Hebrew wordplay is aural. Although in this case the likelihood of its being a wordplay depends on how like the verbal form used would be to bring the sound of the root form to the reader's/ hearer's mind.
  • BroJames wrote: »
    Yes. I know that. Entirely different roots and spelling, but sometimes Hebrew wordplay is aural.

    Puns, even. The Hebrew Bible is replete with them.
  • MamacitaMamacita Kerygmania Host
    @tclune, thanks for the helpful links!
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I don't know enough about this to know what I'm talking about, but the assonance may only work in modern Hebrew. It may not have done at the time when it was written.
  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited January 11
    The thought that struck me was that Jacob "won" in a Jesus sort of "he who loses his life shall find it" kind of a way. Having sent all his flocks, wives, servants etc. ahead of him, he's come to the end of himself; and so now God can get really started on him, new name and all.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    The thought that struck me was that Jacob "won" in a Jesus sort of "he who loses his life shall find it" kind of a way. Having sent all his flocks, wives, servants etc. ahead of him, he's come to the end of himself; and so now God can get really started on him, new name and all.
    I agree with this. I guess I read the verse as if it read, "for you have struggled with God and humans, and have prevailed against yourself ." I don't know enough Hebrew to know if such a reading can be supported, but that's an interpretation that makes sense to me. Jacob won by losing his "looking out for number one" attitude, with God's help.

    For example: Jacob putting his children and wives and possessions ahead of him across the stream may be understood as a narcissistic and cynical act of self-preservation. Jacob expected trouble from Esau, but instead of owning up and confronting him personally, he sent his wives and children ahead to experience any violence that might come. If the attack came to him, crossing the stream would delay the attackers enough for Jacob to get away and save his own skin. God was so furious at this self-centred act that God showed up in person to kick Jacob's ass, literally. In the end Jacob won by losing his addiction to self-preservation at all costs; he goes out in front to meet Esau, and possible violence, the next day.

    A therapeutic interpretation might see this as a dark night of the soul. Jacob won by losing his addiction, kind of like rehab. It wasn't fun and he got his ass kicked in the process, but he came out a new man.



  • Leaf wrote: »
    I agree with this. I guess I read the verse as if it read, "for you have struggled with God and humans, and have prevailed against yourself ." I don't know enough Hebrew to know if such a reading can be supported
    Neither do I, but reading around suggests it's hard to get away from the sense also being 'prevailed against God'. Besides, it's clear from the preceding narrative that the 'angel of the Lord' realises he at least cannot win...
    For example: Jacob putting his children and wives and possessions ahead of him across the stream may be understood as a narcissistic and cynical act of self-preservation. (...) A therapeutic interpretation might see this as a dark night of the soul.
    I can see the logic of the first interpretation (Jacob was certainly taking no chances!) but I prefer the second.

    I find the mental image of this fight compelling, and I think it's true that inevitably, in times of trial or dark nights of the soul, we feel very much alone without cynical self-preservation needing to be invoked.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    I find the mental image of this fight compelling, and I think it's true that inevitably, in times of trial or dark nights of the soul, we feel very much alone without cynical self-preservation needing to be invoked.

    I find it compelling too. Wrestling in the dark and emerging from the fight both wounded and blessed - that's a powerful image.

    Tangent regarding Jacob's narcissism: if it's any exculpation I think Rebekah was responsible for Jacob's "self-preservation at all costs" attitude, from which condition God kicked his butt and healed him. (Rebekah's excuse was that she was trying to make a way to help her second son in a world that unjustly favoured the first, especially as her husband favoured the first. Isaac's excuse was that he was trying to make up for his father's heinous treatment of his own first-born, showing Esau the love and acceptance that Ishmael should have had from Abraham. But now I'm getting into "turtles all the way back" territory, sorry.)

    To focus on Jacob prevailing against God: in what way can he be said to have prevailed against God? I have no trouble with the idea, I'm just considering it. Would it be analogous to imagine a father allowing a toddler to "win" at wrestling? Did something Jacob do inspire mercy in God and prompt God to change a plan, and if so is that considered a win? Is this making too much of what may have been an offhand name etymology?

    My husband works with a Chinese colleague, a man who felt he should choose an English first name, and selected "Winner" (this is absolutely true and factual.) Given Jacob's background, it would not be at all surprising for him to choose a new name that emphasized his struggle and triumph.

    A weirder and more playful image is that Jacob won the wrestling match against God Incarnate, aka Jesus, who showed up at Jabbok Ford. :smiley:

  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Leaf wrote: »
    To focus on Jacob prevailing against God: in what way can he be said to have prevailed against God? I have no trouble with the idea, I'm just considering it. Would it be analogous to imagine a father allowing a toddler to "win" at wrestling? Did something Jacob do inspire mercy in God and prompt God to change a plan, and if so is that considered a win? Is this making too much of what may have been an offhand name etymology?
    First. the usual gloss is to see the being that Jacob wrestled as an angel or other heavenly representative of the Almighty. There is a folkloric flavor to the story, of course. Jacob prevails by surviving until it is almost dawn. The jin seems to need to be gone by daylight, and so gives in to Jacob's demand.
  • Apropos of nothing, "Jabbok Ford" sounds like the name of a character in Star Wars.
  • I think you have that the wrong way round.
  • Okay, "Star Wars" sounds like a character in Jabbok Ford.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Apropos of nothing, "Jabbok Ford" sounds like the name of a character in Star Wars.

    Ha! I was following the English naming custom of the local feature plus "ford", resulting in names like Stafford, Bradford, etc. No doubt if the wrestling place had been on English soil it would be known as Jafford :smile: And while Jabbok Ford does sound like the result of a liaison between Jabba the Hut and Harrison Ford (ugh, Rule 34 things I never needed to think about) and thus the Star Wars universe, Ford Jabbok would certainly belong to the Hitchhiker's Guide universe.

    But on to prevailing. The more I think about it, the more this seems to me like a casual gloss, tacking the idea of prevailing on to the etymology of Jacob's new name of "God-struggle".

  • finelinefineline Purgatory Host
    I have been thinking about this, and here is how I interpret it - just from reading in English translation, as I have no knowledge of Hebrew. I'm looking more at the big picture. Jacob had been struggling all his life, with people bigger and more powerful than he. His brother Esau, right from the start. It's always about win or lose for him - only one son can get the blessing and the birthright, and it's not him. He's the youngest - the second twin - and he's not his dad's favourite. Life is pitted against him. So he learns to win by cheating and deceiving, and he still doesn't really win - he has to run away from situations.

    So then God gives him the chance to have a proper, fair fight. Well, not really fair, as it's against God, but it's God in human form, and letting Jacob have this chance - to be real, not to have to deceive, but to express himself directly and with force. And he does - he doesn't run away or lie, but wrestles. No doubt a symbolic thing for him - being able to finally do this, and also a marker that he is no longer going to be a cheater and deceiver. His name will now be changed. Of course there is no winner or loser, because that is not what our relationship with God is about, but he was in that winner/loser mindset from childhood, and God met him where he was and let him battle it out, so he could get beyond it. Because that sort of mindset is quite a hindrance in life, and would definitely hinder his communication with God.
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