The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the first book of the Torah, Genesis. The text is Genesis 32:22-30 (23-30 in the Hebrew) and describes the wrestling match between a patriarch, Jacob, and the pre-incarnate Son of God. We are now deep into the Pentecost season and this text reflects the Church and its place in the world. The Church Militant is under constant attack by the world, our flesh and the evil one. How do we contend against such powers? They are too strong for us, but there is One who has and continues to fight in our place on our behalf.

Jacob has spent his entire life living up to his name as the “heel-grabber” or “supplantor.” He has wrestled with Isaac (his father), Esau (his brother), Laban (his uncle), and now he is wrestling with God Himself. Thus, the best way to understand his name change: “You have wrestled with God and man, but now I will wrestle FOR you (Israel)” (vs. 28 in the English translations and vs. 29 in the Hebrew). This fits the continuing pattern throughout Scripture. God is the One who goes into battle for Israel—who fights in their place—and God is the One who will/has fought against sin, death and Satan on the Cross in our place, as our substitute. Frequently, the verse following is translated as, “You have striven with God and with man and have prevailed,” but this seems to miss the big point of the wrestling match. The name Israel can also be translated as, “God strives,” and, of course, when God strives, He always prevails.

Contextually, Jacob and his family are on their way back to Canaan and his brother Esau is on his way to meet him with a large group of men. Since their last encounter was unpleasant because Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, Jacob is very concerned. So, he sends everyone across the stream of Jabbok and spends the night alone wrestling with a man, who is, in fact, the Angel of the LORD. Obviously, Jacob recognizes he is wrestling with God because he names the place, “Peniel,” because he has seen God face-to-face.

Again, a reminder, the verse numbering in the Hebrew differs from the English translations. Thus we begin with verse 23.

32:23 וַיָּקָם (vai-Ya-kom) root: קום (koom) Qal: “to rise up; to arise”

וַיִּקַּח (vai-yik-Kach) root: לקח (law-kakh) Qal: “to take”

שִׁפְחֹתָיו (shif-cho-Tav) from: שׁפחה (shif-khaw) “maid; maid-servant; slave-girl”

מַעֲבַר; (ma-a-Var) “ford; crossing”

32:24 וַיַּעֲבִרֵם: (vai-ya-a-vi-Rem) root: עֲבִרֵ (aw-bar) Qal: “to cross; to cross over” “he crossed them over” It appears Jacob does this in anticipation/expectation that the LORD will visit him. He has done this before as he left Canaan and the LORD appeared to him at the top of the “ladder.”

32:25 וַיֵּאָבֵק: (vai-ye-a-Vek) root: אבק (aw-bak) Niphal: “to wrestle”

הַשָּׁחַר (hash-Sha-char) “dawn; break of day; morning twilight”

The language here indicates this an actual physical wrestling, not a spiritual one.

32:26 יְרֵכוֹ> (ye-re-Cho) “hip; upper thigh; thigh”

וַתֵּקַע (vat-Te-ka) root: יקע (yaw-kah) Qal: “to dislocate”

Obviously, Jacob is not winning. Rather, he is being tested as to his tenacity.

32:27 שַׁלְּחֵנִי (shal-le-Che-ni) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Piel: “to release; to let go”

32:29 שָׂרִיתָ (sa-Ri-ta) root: שׂרה (saw-raw) Qal: “to strive; to contend; to persevere”

32:30 וַיִּשְׁאַל (vai-yish-Al) root: שׁאל (shaw-al) Qal: “to ask”

Sermon Outline

Title: Who is the Wrestler?

  1. Who is the wrestler?
    1. There are two obvious wrestlers in Genesis 32: Jacob and the LORD.
    2. The LORD wins the match even though Jacob thinks he wins.
    3. Jacob’s new name and blessing tell him he is NOT the wrestler.
  2. Who is the wrestler? Is it me?
    1. We insert ourselves into the story.
      1. “I wrestle with God in prayer and get everything I want.”
      2. “I wrestle with evil and the evil one and win a great reward.”
    2. We are NOT the wrestler.
      1. We ARE in a battle against evil but…
      2. …we cannot win the fight.
  3. Who is the Wrestler?
    1. Jacob’s new name identifies the Wrestler.
      1. “You wrestled with God and man…
      2. …but now God wrestles FOR you.”
    2. Jesus is the Wrestler.
      1. He has battled sin and Satan on the cross.
      2. He daily fights for us by Word and Sacrament.
      3. Jesus is the Wrestler and He is the Winner.
      4. Jesus’ victory is our victory.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Genesis 32:22-30.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Genesis 32:22-30.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Jeffrey Pulse of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN (and Craft of Preaching fame) walks us through Genesis 32:22-30.