Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 3 (KJV)
Jacob Called Israel
Devotional Reading: Romans 11:25–32
Background Scripture: Genesis 32:22–32
22 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.
23 And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.—Genesis 32:28
God’s Exceptional Choice
Unit 1: God Calls Abraham’s Family
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Recount the reason for Jacob’s trip.
2. Explain the text’s focus on names.
3. List attitudes and actions of Jacob to emulate and to avoid.
How to Say It
Elohim (Hebrew) El-o-heem.
A. Defining Struggle
The image of Jacob wrestling under the night sky with a mysterious individual has captivated thinkers, artists, and writers through the centuries. The sheer number of artistic endeavors that depict this event speaks to the text’s influence. Renaissance painters and modern alternative musicians have all used this event from Scripture to inform their art.
However, Jacob’s struggle is more than a provocative backdrop for creating art. Nor is Jacob’s struggle merely a stand-in for the battle between good and evil. Instead, the struggle would define Jacob and his descendants.
B. Lesson Context
Today’s text comes from the larger set of narratives regarding Isaac’s son Jacob and his conflicts with others. Jacob’s struggle with his brother Esau began at their birth (Genesis 25:26, lesson 2). Their conflict became more intense by Jacob’s scheming (and meal preparation) when he acquired his brother’s birthright (25:29–34). Later Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing set aside for firstborn Esau (27:6–36). Jacob’s scheming destroyed his relationship with Esau; Jacob was “hated” and threatened by his brother (27:41). In response, Jacob fled to the household of his uncle Laban (28:5).
Jacob worked seven years for his uncle to gain the hand of Laban’s daughter Rachel in marriage (Genesis 29:18). However, Laban required that Jacob first marry Leah, leading Jacob to another seven years in service to marry Rachel (29:26–27).
Jacob flourished during his time in Laban’s land, but the relationship between the two men soured (Genesis 31:2). This was due to Jacob’s perception of unfair treatment regarding his payment from Laban (31:6–7). In response, Jacob and his wives took all that they owned and left Laban’s household in secret (31:17–21). Ultimately, Laban confronted Jacob and the two agreed to a covenant (31:44). Jacob’s struggle with his uncle had subsided.
Today’s text comes as a part of Jacob’s preparation to meet his brother. If Jacob returned to the land promised by God, then he would have to be on good terms with Esau. Jacob initiated contact by sending messengers to request grace from Esau (Genesis 32:5). Esau responded with a promise to appear—along with 400 of his men (32:6).
This response brought fear and distress to Jacob. It would appear that the time had come for Esau’s threats to be fulfilled. Jacob responded with alarm: he divided his camp (Genesis 32:7–8), prepared gifts for Esau (32:13–20), and approached God in prayer (32:9–12). Jacob’s fear was understandable; God had promised him descendants (28:14). An enraged Esau would likely not only kill Jacob but also Jacob’s household. Jacob, known for his scheming ways, openly admitted fear of someone else’s scheme.
Throughout his life, Jacob’s clever planning had generally paid off in his favor, often to the detriment of others. A mysterious struggle would now define Jacob in unimaginable ways.
I. The Struggle
A. Jacob’s Situation (vv. 22–23)
22. And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.
That Jacob rose up to travel during the night could indicate that he desired secrecy regarding his movements. Esau might have been made aware of Jacob’s presence (see Genesis 32:20). As a result, Jacob may not have wanted his exact movements to be noticed. Nomadic travelers in the desert, similar to Jacob and his household, may have preferred to travel during the cool of the night.
While unnamed here, Jacob’s two wives were Leah (Genesis 29:21–23) and Rachel (29:28). Jacob also had two womenservants turned surrogate wives: Bilhah (30:4) and Zilpah (30:9). At this point in his life, the four women had given him a total of eleven sons. Another son (Benjamin) would later be born to Rachel (35:16–18), giving Jacob a total of 12 sons (35:22b–26, see lesson 4).
The text does not mention Jacob’s daughter, Dinah (Genesis 30:21). While she was likely present with the family at this time (34:1), her exclusion from the narrative could be because she did not participate in the night expedition over the ford Jabbok.
The Jabbok is identified as an eastern tributary of the Jordan River. The river served as a boundary for non-Israelite kingdoms (see Numbers 21:24; Deuteronomy 2:37; Joshua 12:2) and Jacob’s descendants (see Deuteronomy 3:16).
23. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.
By sending his wives, servants, and children over the brook, Jacob planned for their protection. He was concerned that his upcoming interaction with his brother would prove to be dangerous for his family (see Lesson Context).
B. Jacob’s Injury (vv. 24–25)
24. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
As the night progressed, Jacob prepared to meet his brother. Scripture describes instances when God spoke to His people in their solitary moments (see Exodus 24:2; Daniel 10:8). Though Jacob’s family had left, he was anything but alone in the night.
Out of the night’s stillness, a figure who appeared as a man approached Jacob. This occurrence is an example of a theophany, a specific appearance or manifestation of God to humanity. Some theophanies consisted of what appeared to be God in human form (see Genesis 18; Exodus 24:10; 33:11, 18–23; etc.). However, other theophanies demonstrated God’s self-disclosure through non-human manifestations (see Exodus 3:2; 19:18; Numbers 22:28; etc.). These events confirmed a person’s relationship with God and provided confidence of His work (see Genesis 16:13; Exodus 4:10–12; Numbers 22:22; Joshua 5:15; Judges 6:16–17).
This appearance consisted of more than dialogue. Instead, a skirmish between Jacob and the so-called man resulted. The pronunciation of the Hebrew word translated as wrestled sounds similar to the pronunciations of the Hebrew words for Jabbok and Jacob. The repetition of sounds would have been evident to original audiences and would have reminded them that Jacob jostled at the Jabbok!
What Do You Think?
How should believers respond when they feel left alone by God or others?
How can believers apply Psalm 102:1–7; Matthew 15:21–28; and 2 Timothy 4:16–17 to these situations?
A Nocturnal Struggle
At my family’s encouragement, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor regarding a possible case of sleep apnea. The doctor questioned my sleeping and breathing habits and put me through a variety of tests. The results proved my family’s concern—I suffered from sleep apnea. The doctor suggested that I begin using a breathing device known as a CPAP machine when I slept.
The device delivers pressurized air through a mask fitted over the nose or mouth. The first night I used the device, the mask triggered a sense of claustrophobia in me. The second night was worse. While dreaming that I was using the mask incorrectly and that my doctor was trying to communicate with me, I struggled with the actual mask and ripped it off.
Jacob struggled throughout his life—with his brother and with God. These struggles came to a head as Jacob jostled at the Jabbok. What life struggles are affecting your relationships? Have you made plans to resolve those issues? —C. R. B.
25. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
Jacob had reason to be confident in his physical strength. He had spent 20 years in hard service to his uncle (Genesis 31:38–41; compare 29:2, 10). The mysterious man saw Jacob’s strength firsthand and prevailed not against him. This was no ordinary wrestling match; each wrestler was unable to gain an edge over the other!
However, Jacob suffered an injury when his assailant touched him. Win or lose, this experience affected Jacob’s body. That the injury occurred after the assailant could not gain an upper hand might emphasize a level of equal physical ability between the two, or that the man was holding back for Jacob’s sake.
The exact nature of Jacob’s injury is unclear because the underlying Hebrew words are difficult to translate. The word translated thigh could refer to a person’s side (Exodus 32:27) or upper leg (28:42; Judges 3:16, 21). It could also refer to procreation or descendants (see Genesis 46:26; Exodus 1:5). The hollow region would describe the part that joins with another part of the body.
The severity of Jacob’s injury is unclear. This is one of only four times in three passages where the Hebrew verb translated as out of joint is used in this particular manner. The other uses speak to God’s Spirit departing (Jeremiah 6:8) and to the alienation experienced by Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians (Ezekiel 23:17–18). While the exact details of Jacob’s injury are unclear, his hip separated in a way not intended for a hip to move.
II. The Debate
A. Dual Demands (v. 26)
26a. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh.
Despite striking a blow to Jacob, the assailant demanded that Jacob let him go. That the day breaketh gives insight on the duration of the struggle—the night had passed without resolution. Perhaps the assailant was concerned that dawn would reveal his identity, to the detriment of Jacob (compare Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22).
26b. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
Risking further injury, Jacob would let his assailant go only on one condition. Jacob held on and made a certain demand—he wanted something he was not entitled to receive (compare Genesis 25:29–34; 27:35–36; see lesson 2).
Jacob’s demand does not provide further detail regarding the reason or nature of the request. Perhaps Jacob desired divine blessing as he prepared for his upcoming interaction with his estranged brother. Or perhaps Jacob desired confirmation of the viability of God’s promises (see Genesis 28:13–14). The scheming Jacob again sought to swing things in his favor.
What Do You Think?
How would you describe a life that is considered “blessed”?
How might the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–12) inform your perspective on the makeup of a “blessed” life?
B. Different Designation (vv. 27–28)
27. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
Names in the Bible often reveal insight on a person’s character (1 Samuel 25:25; compare Proverbs 22:1) or their characteristics (Genesis 25:25; Luke 8:30). Names can even describe the situations surrounding a person’s birth (Genesis 41:51–52; Exodus 2:22; 1 Samuel 1:20; 4:21; 1 Chronicles 4:9). That the mysterious man asked for Jacob’s name forced Jacob to reveal an insight regarding his nature (see below). In this instance, Jacob answered honestly (contrast Genesis 27:19).
The underlying Hebrew for the name Jacob sounds like a Hebrew verb for the act of grasping (see Genesis 25:26, see lesson 2). The pronunciation was also similar to a Hebrew word regarding acts of deception (27:35–36; see Jeremiah 9:4). Both descriptors were fitting for Jacob.
28a. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel.
In Scripture, the change of a person’s name signaled a personal change for that person (Genesis 17:5, 15; 2 Kings 24:17; Acts 13:9; compare Isaiah 62:2). No more would Jacob be known as a deceiver who grasped for personal gain. Abraham’s descendant, a recipient of God’s covenant promises, received a new name.
The meaning of Jacob’s new name, Israel, reflects his life of struggle. The el syllable found in the Hebrew language is often used as a referent to the Hebrew word Elohim, a name for the God of Israel. (This is the underlying word for God in Genesis 1.) When that syllable is found in Hebrew names, it speaks to something regarding God. For example, the name “Bethel” (Genesis 35:15) means “house of God”; the name “Elimelech” (Ruth 1:1–2) means “God is my king”; the name “Ishmael” means “heard by God” (Genesis 16:11).
Jacob’s renaming also gives us insight into the poetic passages where both names are used. Such dual usage indicates parallelism, where one thought is expressed in two ways (examples: Psalms 22:23; 78:21; Isaiah 10:20; Jeremiah 2:4; Micah 3:1).
What Do You Think?
How does being called a Christian affect your behavior and interactions with others?
How might names like disciple, sister/brother, or believer indicate a different aspect of your identity in Christ?
28b. For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
The Hebrew word used to indicate a struggle of power (see also Hosea 12:3–4) sounds very similar to the first two syllables of Jacob’s new name. Jacob’s new name reflected his struggles in life—with God and with men. Like a powerful prince, Jacob had found and would find success in both contexts. Even so, the proclamation did not condone his methods (see Genesis 27:23–33).
The declaration that Jacob prevailed serves as a bit of foreshadowing. Jacob had not yet found favor in his brother’s eyes. The success that Jacob found in this wrestling match was the preface to a successful reunion with his brother. What’s in a Name?
Your family name may give insight into the possible occupation of a distant relative who had the same name. A person named Smith may have a blacksmith in their ancestry. Or a person named Cooper may have descended from a person who repaired wooden casks or barrels. However, names are not always indicative of present realities. For example, I may be named Boatman, but I have never owned a boat!
Jacob was known as a trickster who took advantage of others through deception. His name was appropriate (see lesson 2). However, Jacob was given a new name and the possibility of a new legacy. Would he be known for his scheming ways or for his relationship with the Lord? What legacy would you like future generations to recall when they consider your name? —C. R. B.
C. Divine Delight (v. 29)
29. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
Jacob desired a more intimate knowledge of God. However, this was not the time for God to self-disclose more fully (compare Exodus 3:14; 6:3). The mysterious figure scolded Jacob for asking his name. Instead, the figure blessed Jacob in that moment. This would not be the only time Jacob would experience a blessing from God (see Genesis 35:9; 48:3).
Centuries later, Manoah, the father of Samson, had a similar divine interaction and requested the name of the mysterious figure (Judges 13:9–17). In response, the figure declared that his name was “secret” (13:18; translated “too wonderful” in Psalm 139:6).
III. The Results
A. Protected at Peniel (v. 30)
30. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
Jacob recognized the significance of the night’s events. In the struggle, he had encountered and seen God. Very few individuals could claim to see God face to face. However, this expression did not necessarily indicate a physical face-to-face interaction with God (see Exodus 33:20; compare John 1:18). Instead, the expression was an idiom to speak to the intimacy of the experience (see Exodus 33:11; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 5:4; 34:10).
The prophet Hosea described this “man” (Genesis 32:24, above) as an “angel” (Hosea 12:4). This interpretation alludes to the sense of mystery experienced during divine interactions. However, Jacob’s declaration indicates that he saw this mysterious assailant as more than a man or an angel.
If a particular location was spiritually meaningful for the people of God, a significant name was provided for that location (see Genesis 22:13–14; 28:18–19; 35:15). The name Jacob gave this location reflected the relational closeness of his experience. The Hebrew word Peniel means “the face of God.” The exact location of Peniel is unknown, but it can be assumed to be east of the Jordan River.
This is the only mention of Peniel in the Old Testament. However, the variation “Penuel” (Genesis 32:31, below) likely referred to the same location. In the era of the judges (about 1370–1050 BC), this location served as a critical juncture in the narrative of Gideon (see Judges 8:5–9, 17). Jeroboam I, king of Israel (reigned 921–910 BC), would later rebuild the city (1 Kings 12:25).
Dual meanings are possible regarding Jacob’s declaration on the status of his life. On the one hand, Jacob could have been reflecting on his survival despite believing he had seen the face of God (compare Judges 6:22–23; 13:22).
On the other hand, Jacob could have been proclaiming an answered prayer. Previously, Jacob requested that God rescue him from his brother Esau (Genesis 32:11). The underlying Hebrew root for this request is used again when Jacob proclaimed this his life was preserved (compare 33:10). Jacob could trust that the rescue he desired would come to pass because he had been blessed by God.
What Do You Think?
What feelings arise when you think about seeing God face-to-face one day?
How might 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 3:19–24 describe the transformed life of a follower of Jesus?
B. Remembered by Relatives (vv. 31–32)
31. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
The turning of a new day as the sun rose upon him marked newness surrounding Jacob: his name and his physical affliction. As Jacob left Penuel (see commentary on 32:30, above), his walk was halted as he limped. The injury he suffered to his thigh during the night continued to affect him. Perhaps the injury stayed with Jacob for the rest of his life, a permanent reminder of his interaction with God.
What Do You Think?
How should believers respond to a mental or physical ailment for which healing doesn’t seem to have occurred?
How might Psalm 41:3; 2 Corinthians 4:7–12; 12:6–10; and Revelation 21:4 inform your answer in this regard?
32. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.
An editorial comment clarifies the significance of Jacob’s injury for future generations of the children of Israel. A sinew is a tendon, a connective tissue that joins bone and muscle (see Job 10:11; Ezekiel 37:8). Later Jewish tradition interprets the sinew which shrank as the sciatic nerve that runs through the muscles of the hip and into the upper thigh. The command eat not of this body part is not found elsewhere in Scripture. However, the prohibition is found in later Jewish commentary. The dietary practices of Jacob’s descendants bore witness to his encounter that night.
A. The Clenched Hand of Prayer
English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830–1894) used the example of Jacob’s struggle in her poem “Alas My Lord.” Rossetti interpreted Jacob’s struggle as a demonstration of “the clenched hand of prayer” that she desired her readers to practice. The poem concludes with a petition to the Lord “to hold Thee fast, until we hear Thy Voice” and “see Thy Face.”
We may be tempted to judge Jacob’s stubbornness because of our familiarity with his story. However, we can admit that we need “the clenched hand of prayer” to sustain us during our struggles. God is present—we only need to open our eyes.
Jacob’s struggle humbled him and gave him a new identity before God and man. When we struggle—spiritually or physically—our faithfulness to God will point others to Him. He is the one who can give true rest (see Matthew 11:28).
O God of Jacob, You are present in our struggles. We ask that You use those moments to reveal yourself to us in a unique way. We want to better understand Your will and direction and follow it in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Despite the darkness and amid our struggles, God is present.