Jacob wrestles with God

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“Jacob Wrestling with God.” Oil by Herbert Mandel

About this series: A narrative exploring the stories behind the paintings of late artist Herbert Mandel as explained in the context of the Biblical texts they’re derived from, by his son-in-law, Jim Robidoux.


This Bible story is the best of all. It tells how God’s chosen people became the greatest nation on earth, and beyond.

Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, born to Isaac and Rebecca. After waiting 20 years for children, their answer to many prayers had finally arrived. These boys in Rebecca’s womb would wrestle for position even before being born. Esau was first born and Jacob followed soon after, holding onto Esau’s heel.

Esau would grow up to be a skillful hunter and a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man dwelling in tents. Esau was his father’s favorite, while Jacob was favored by his mother. And so it was that Jacob was envious of Esau’s position in their family.

One day when Esau was returning from the field, famished and exhausted, he asked Jacob for some stew.

“Sell me your birthright now,” Jacob replied.

“I am about to die, then what good would a birthright do me?” said Esau.

Jacob demanded that Esau swear it to him now, so Esau swore to his brother and sold his birthright to Jacob. Esau refreshed himself with Jacob’s bread, wine and red stew, while Jacob made plans for the future.

When Isaac grew old and as his vision was failing he called Esau to his side. Isaac said to Esau, “I am getting old and don’t know the day of my death. Please bring me some of your delicious wild game that I love, and I will bless you before I die.” Rebecca heard everything and went to Jacob as soon as Esau left for the hunt.

Isaac’s father Abraham had received many blessings and promises from Yahweh the one true God. Abraham and Isaac had waited on God for heirs and receivers of promises to their families. The land that was occupied by the Canaanites was promised both to Abraham and his son, Isaac. Descendants of Abraham would be too numerous to count even though only Isaac was considered his seed. Now was the time to pass on those blessings, especially God’s promise to send kings through Isaac’s line and bless the whole world through his offspring.

Rebecca convinced Jacob to fool Isaac and steal the blessings that were intended for Esau. He dressed up like Esau and tried to smell and even feel like the hairy Esau to get his father’s blessing. Jacob lied to his father, saying “God helped me to be successful and quickly find wild game to get back to you, my father.” So Isaac blessed Jacob just like Abraham had blessed him, and  Esau’s place in the family was gone. Esau’s place in history was nullified and Yahweh would be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

As soon as Esau was able to present his food to Isaac he was told he was too late. Someone else had gotten his blessing and there was nothing that Isaac could do to fix it. Esau screamed in horror and insisted that his father find some blessing for him, too. Once Isaac gives Esau words of wisdom and some concessions Esau is left intensely upset with Jacob. And after leaving his father’s tent Esau vows he will kill his brother Jacob soon after Isaac dies.

Rebecca learned about Esau’s revenge and worked with Isaac to send Jacob far away to live with her brother, Laban, chosen to help Jacob and  find him a wife. Laban takes Jacob in and keeps him safe until Esau calms down. Jacob is visited by the angels of God in a dream on the way to live with Laban. In his dream he hears God’s call and sees God’s angels and makes his vows to Yahweh. “If God will be with me and keep me in the way that I should go and take care of me and bring me back to my father’s house in peace, then He will be my God.”

Jacob would live in Paddanaram for 20 years. He would marry two of Laban’s daughters after being tricked by Laban on his wedding night. He was blessed by God with 11 sons and flocks and herds, maid servants and man servants but would flee from his uncle and his cousins after he fell out of favor with the family. Laban and his superior forces chased down Jacob’s group for seven days after they had a three- day head start. God visited Laban in a dream the night before he met up with Jacob and God told Laban, “Don’t say anything to Jacob good or bad, and do him no harm.”

Jacob and Laban made a pact to do no harm to each other and Jacob and his group continued on their way home. Jacob again encountered God’s angels and understands God is faithful to protect him wherever he went. He then sent messengers ahead of his group to Esau hoping to find favor in his sight. After his men met with Esau they returned to Jacob and told him, “Esau is coming to meet you with 400 men.” Jacob was terrified by the news and decided to split his group into two camps, so that if one camp was attacked the other might escape.

Jacob then prayed to the God of Abraham and Isaac and reminded Him that it was His will he  return home and Yahweh would do him good. He thanked God for His steadfast love and care knowing that he was unworthy of all of God’s blessings. He pleaded his need for protection from Esau and his superior forces just as he was protected from Laban. Jacob then sent gifts to his brother ahead of his group, hoping to appease him and be accepted  by him coming home.

Jacob stayed that night in his camp but moved his wives and children away from him and was left alone. And a man wrestled with him to the break of day.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob he touched his hip socket and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.

“Let me go, for the day has broken”, said the man, but Jacob would not. Jacob insisted on a blessing first. Then the man told him his name would no longer be Jacob, but now Israel because he had striven with God and man and prevailed. After this blessing Jacob declared “I have seen God face to face and yet I survived.”

After this supernatural encounter Jacob limped away and saw his brother coming in the distance. He went ahead of all his people toward his brother bowing down to him seven times on the way. And Esau ran ahead of his group and fell on Jacob’s neck and kissed him and both men wept.


Jim Robidoux is father of four, lives and works in Manchester, and also writes about life in The Life Section – specifically, his own. He enjoys bicycling to work, urban gardening, exploring his Christian faith, and watching the Phillies at Billy’s. And he happens to be married to Manchester Ink Link editor Carol Robidoux. He can be reached at jrmetalman@comcast.net.