The Greatest Wrestling Match Of All Time

Bible Book: Genesis  32 : 24-32
Subject: Jacob; Prayer; Blessed by God; Trust in God

Genesis 32:24-32

In the sport of wrestling there are some big names, such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Cactus Jack, and many others, and fans of that sport like to recall some of the great matches that have taken place through the years—one of the most memorable having taken place on January 4, 1999, during which “The Rock” (Wayne Johnson) smashed “Mankind” (Mick Foley) in the face eleven times with a steel chair. Of course, if those blows had been delivered full force, for real, Mike Foley would probably have been maimed for the rest of his life, or even killed. Nevertheless, there was indeed a great deal of genuine violence in that and other renowned matches, with such well known wrestling stars as Rick Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and Lou Thesz.

But none of these can even remotely compare with the remarkable wrestling match that is recorded in Genesis 32:24-32.


vs 24 “So Jacob was left alone....”

The Bible makes it clear that sometimes we need to be with other people: Romans 14:7, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.”

However, at other times we need to be alone. Jesus set that example for us; Mark 1:35, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”

Sometimes our best, clearest thinking is done alone; sometimes our most effective praying is when we’re alone, just us and God.

vs 24 “...and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.”

There is a tremendous amount of mystery in this episode, mystery too great for us to unravel. However, we mustn’t let the mystery cause us to miss the tremendous practical lessons which come into focus here—so let’s look for those as we proceed to study these verses.

Throughout this account, the individual who wrestled with Jacob is referred to as a “man.” However, after the wrestling match is all over, look at Jacob’s comment in verse 30: “

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’”

Hosea 12:3-4 says this concerning Jacob: “In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel; as a man he struggled with God. He struggled with the angel and overcame him; he wept and begged for his favor. He found him at Bethel and talked with him there—“

So, Jacob identified the “man” as God, and the prophet Hosea identifies this “man” who struggled with Jacob as both “God” and as “the angel.”

In Genesis 18 we read of “three men” visiting Abraham [Genesis 18:2], and it turned out that one of the “men” was God himself, while the other two “men” were angels. So, here were both God and angels taking on the form of “men” [Genesis 18:13, 17].

Regarding the “man” who wrestled all night with Jacob, there are at least two possibilities as to his identity.

He could have been an angel—that is, a being created by God—who so uniquely and directly represented God that wrestling with him was the equivalent of wrestling with God himself.

A second possibility is that this “man” actually was God—in which case he would have been the preincarnate Christ. John 1:18 (KJV): “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

In support of that last possibility, bear in mind that both the Hebrew [malak] and Greek words [angelos] for “angel” literally mean “messenger” or “one sent,” and John 3:34 speaks of Jesus as “he whom God hath sent.” In addressing the Father in heaven, Jesus said, in John 17:18, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” In John 20:21 we read: “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”


Although the word “prayer” is not used in this passage, clearly that is what was happening. Jacob was seeking a blessing from this “man,” this angel who may have been the incarnate Jesus—and that’s the very essence of prayer: asking God to bless us. The blessing we seek may be of various types—for physical healing, for forgiveness, for strength in times of weakness, comfort in times of sorrow, for courage in times of fear, for deliverance in times of danger—and the list goes on. But Jacob was seeking some type of blessing, which means that he was praying.

The fact that Jacob was “wrestling” with the angel, or with God, means that sometimes prayer is difficult and strenuous—which explains why many of us don’t pray very effectively—we’re not willing to put out the effort. James 5:16 says, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Notice that Jacob wrestled all night with the angel, or with God.

While it isn’t true that the power of prayer depends on the length of it, at the same time it does often take a long time for us to get into real praying condition—to bring ourselves to the point of facing up to our sins, or to the point of surrendering ourselves to the will of God.

That truth is taught in the parable of the friend who comes at midnight asking for bread, found in Luke 11:5-10, and in the parable of the unjust judge, found in Luke 18:1-8.

Even the Lord Jesus sometimes prayed for hours on end. He had no sin to confess, for he was the one perfect man who ever lived, but he nevertheless sometimes prayed for great lengths of time. For example, just before he chose his twelve disciples, Luke 6:12 says, “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

When you and I face big decisions, we need to spend whatever amount of time it takes to be sure that we’re doing the right thing.

Sometimes we need to pray for long periods of time to bring ourselves to the point of accepting the inevitable, seeking comfort from God, and asking God for strength to endure what lies before us. I think of the example of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. In Matthew 26:36-39 we read:

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Matthew tells us that Jesus prayed that same thing three times that night. He was fully God, but also fully man—albeit the one perfect man—but as a man, the reality of the cross looming before him was an agonizing thing to face.

Another account of that same fateful night is given in Luke 22:39-44:

And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Jacob’s wrestling all night with the “man,” who was a special angel or the incarnate Christ, also teaches us a lesson about persistence. Someone has wisely said, “Prayer is not wearing down God’s resistance, prayer is laying hold on God’s willingness”—but sometimes it takes a long while in prayer before we surrender to God’s will and thus are in condition to lay hold on God’s willingness. The reason it took so long for Jacob to obtain a blessing from the angel was that the angel refused to bless Jacob until Jacob was willing to face up to his sin. Ephesians 6:18, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”


vs 25 “When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of

Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”

If this “man” was a special angel sent from God the Father, or if he was the preincarnate Christ, why could he not overpower Jacob? Is not God all-powerful?

God is, indeed, all-powerful. So what was happening here? Apparently the phrase “could not overpower him” means that he, the “man,” was striving to convince Jacob to give in. As we shall see, giving in was going to necessitate Jacob facing up to his sins in order that God might bless him—and apparently up to this point Jacob had not been willing to acknowledge his sins.

So, in order to move things along and get Jacob to the point where God wanted him, the “man” “touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.” In the Complete Jewish Bible, translated by David H. Stern, verse 26 says that “his hip was dislocated.”

vs 26 “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’”

Let’s look at the “man’s” plea, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” We have seen from his dislocating of Jacob’s hip with a mere touch that he has divine power—thus, had he so desired, he could have totally disabled Jacob or even killed him. Why, then, does he plead, “Let me go”? He is saying, in effect, “Jacob, end your struggling. Face up to your sins, get right with God, and then you’ll be in a position to be blessed.”

“But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” Jacob is still struggling, still wrestling, still yearning for a blessing, but doesn’t yet understand what he must do in order to receive it.

So, the “man” decides to bring the matter “to a head” by asking a penetrating question.

vs 27 “The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’”

Throughout the Bible, we find that God often jarred people to face the truth by either asking a question or making a thought-provoking statement. An example of the latter approach is found in Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at in John 4.

When he spoke of salvation in terms of living water and she failed to get the point, he made a statement that brought conviction to her heart. John 4:16-18: “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

Because Jesus thus confronted her with her sin, she was convicted, and realized that he was the Savior that God had promised to send. John 4:28-30: “The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.” John 4:42, “And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

So, in spite of all the wrestling, in spite of his yearning for a blessing, Jacob still has not gotten the point as to what would be required in order to receive that blessing. Thus, the “man” decides to “cut to the chase” and bring Jacob’s struggle to a conclusion. He asks, “What is your name?”

“‘Jacob’, he answered.”

Don’t let the brevity and seeming simplicity of that answer cause you to miss the profound transition that was taking place here. The name “Jacob” means “supplanter,” “trickster,” “deceiver.” By telling the “man” his name, Jacob was saying, in effect, “I am a rotten character. I have lied, cheated, and deceived, and I am here and now ‘owning up’ to those sins.”

Now Jacob is, at last, in a position to receive the blessing that he has so desperately sought. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.” Proverbs 28:13, “ He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”

vs 28 “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’”

Jacob is now a changed man, and in token of that profound change, the “man” also changes his name to “Israel.” The Hebrew word for “Israel” has been variously interpreted, but the most likely meaning is “a prince with God.”

vs 29 “Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’”

Being vividly aware that this “man” with whom he has been wrestling is no mere mortal but is divine, Jacob wants to know him better, so he asks his name—because in Biblical times names were often indicative of identity and character.

I am reminded of how the apostle Paul expressed the deep yearning of his heart in Philippians 3:10: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;”

Paul had been saved on the road to Damascus, but he wanted to know Christ better—and that, in effect, is what Jacob was saying here in verse 29.

vs 29 continues: “But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.”

The “man” was asking a rhetorical question, to make Jacob think. He was saying, in effect, “Jacob, think about why you are now wanting to know me better. It is evidence that you are now a changed man—and now you are in a position to receive the blessing that you have so desperately sought.”

vss 30-32 “spared”—Jacob realized that he was still alive because of the mercy of God.

And it is because of God’s mercy that you and I are spared, and are alive today.

Lamentations 3:21-26: This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.

The Complete Jewish Bible translates verse 33 as follows: “This is why, to this day, the people of Israel do not eat the thigh muscle that passes along the hip socket....”

As best I can understand, Orthodox Jews, even today, do not eat that part of any animal. That restriction is not part of the Mosaic law, but they do it simply as a reminder of Jacob’s experience, and of how that experience illustrates the fact that a person who earnestly and persistently seeks God will be blessed.

David H. Roper, in his sermon entitled “Defilement that Delays,” summarizes it like this:

This clash was the climax of Jacob’s lifelong ambivalence, resisting God and yet relying on Him. Now, utterly defeated and exhausted, Jacob gave up and gave in. Old Jacob was finished. He could no longer survive without a vice-like grip on God, clutching Him, clinging to Him.

....Jacob went on his way dragging his leg, but the sun was rising on a new day and a new life for the man whom God had subdued. All craft and cunning was gone, his combativeness turned at last to dogged dependence upon God. Jacob was a new man. ....Jacob’s wrestling, though a literal match, was symbolic of the spiritual struggle that occupies us....He will touch whatever it is that causes us to stand against Him. Our dreams may fail, our businesses may fold, our best-laid plans may go awry....These effects are not signs of God’s wrath and displeasure but evidences of His love....he would tell you that the best day of his life was the day God put him on the mat.”

It is even so with you and me. The greatest day in the life of any person is the day he gives in to the Lord by repenting of his sins and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. 2 Peter 3:9 says, ”The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Acts 20:21, “...repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Henry Van Dyke put it like this:

With eager heart and will on fire,

I fought to win my great desire;

"Peace shall be mine,” I said; but life

Grew bitter in the weary strife.

My soul was tired, and my pride

Was wounded deep; to Heaven I cried,

"God grant me peace or I must die";

The dumb stars glittered no reply.

Broken at last, I bowed my head.

Forgetting all myself, and said,

"Whatever comes. His will be done";

And in that moment peace was won.